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I Am What I Am

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Faizal wiped the tears from his eyes as he entered the street where he lived. He had been wandering for the past three hours through the night and his body was sore all over. His chest felt heavy and there was a burning pain in his side. He could hardly breathe. He suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to cry out for his mother, but he stood still and stared at their house some paces off. He swallowed hard and continued on.

He had been with Adeeb, his friend, earlier on; they had been to the Waterfront and from there they had gone to Sea Point, on the edge of Cape Town, with two men whom they had met at a restaurant.

A sob wracked his thin body, increasing the pain in his side, making him feel feint. “O, ALLAH! O, ALLAH!” He fell to his knees. “O, ALLAH!” He gritted his teeth, and carefully touched the wound. He wondered if the bullet was still in his body, or had it passed right through? He had been lucky, Adeeb had not. Adeeb was dead!

He reached the front door and rummaged in his pockets for his key, but couldn’t find it. The light at the back was on.

He staggered towards the room that he and his brother Nadeem shared and knocked on the window. He didn’t want his mother or father to know. He hated to think what their reaction would be if they saw all the blood on his shirt. He called out softly to Nadeem, almost willing him to get up. He wasn’t sure how long he would be able to stand there, without losing consciousness. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

“My God! Faizal…?” Nadeem said when he saw his brother in the light, as he opened the door. “My God! what happened to you? You must get to a hospital! I’m going to call Mummy!”

“No!” said Faizal, grabbing him by the arm. “Don’t call Mummy!”

“But you are bleeding. You must go to a hospital!”

“No. I’ll be all right. Just help me get my shirt off.” He sat down on the bed.

Nadeem shook his head. “What happened? Who did this to you?” He had to use a scissors to cut the shirt off. “Did you see their faces?”

“No. I didn’t,” lied Faizal. “They wore balaclavas.”

“O, ALLAH! There’s so much blood here!”

Faizal moaned as Nadeem touched the wound. “They robbed me and took everything I had on me. They shot me!”

“O, ALLAH!” Nadeem shook his head. “O, ALLAH! It’s turning blue! You must go to a hospital! Where did this happen?” He was speaking rapidly, almost incoherently. “Didn’t you see their faces? I mean..? He stared quizzically at his brother. “My God!”

“I’ve told you I don’t know who they were. They wore balaclavas.” He lied, wondering what Nadeem would say if he knew that the men were white South Africans and that he and Adeeb had had to entertain them by performing oral sex on them as well as touch one another intimately while dancing naked on the bed.

“And the Police…? Did you call the Police?”

“Yes. I did.” He lied again.

“And what did they say?”

“Please. Nadeem…” He lay down backwards on the bed “My head is hurting a lot. Get me some tablets please…”

Nadeem was twenty, two years younger than Faizal. He also had his suspicions about Faizal’s nocturnal escapades, and on occasion had caught him wearing their sister Hafeeza’s bra and panties; Faizal had had to bribe him not to tell Hafeeza.

“When are you going to listen, Faizal?” There was a deep frown on Nadeem’s face as he made his way to the kitchen. “Daddy came to look for you earlier on!” He stopped in the doorway.


Nadeem’s frown deepened. “Because he’s concerned about you!”

“Concerned about me?” snorted Faizal. “Concerned about me?” It was more a statement than a question as he pulled a pillow under his head. “He’s more concerned about the Badia name and what people are saying about his eldest son who is gay!”

“Don’t say that!”

But Faizal wasn’t listening, he was thinking about the numerous times his father had knocked his head against the wall when he was younger. His father had thought he was just trying to imitate women by putting on lipstick and make-up and wearing women’s panties. There was also that time when he had just turned seventeen and his friend Adeeb had come to visit. His father had caught the two of them kissing in his room and had barred Adeeb from ever coming to their house again. Faizal had received the beating of his life!

Then there were the times his father had taken him to a therapist to find out if there was anything that could be done to reverse his feminine tendencies – his cross-dressing, wearing of make-up and lipstick, and girlish mannerisms. The old man had spent a lot of money on these sessions. He had also taken him to the local Imam who had simply said that Faizal was being rebellious by wearing women’s underwear and make-up, and, that if he should continue to do so his father should punish him by taking away all his privileges and grounding him indefinitely.

“I AM WHAT I AM!” He had screamed at his father, who at one stage had tried to strip off his clothes and parade him naked before the family. “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

He hated his father! But lying on the bed and staring up at the ceiling, he was suddenly overcome by untold remorse and guilt and a feeling of utter sadness as he once again saw Adeeb’s face before him, pleading for his life with his killers. Adeeb hadn’t wanted to come, but Faizal had forced him.

Adeeb’s killers had taken a sadistic pleasure in ending his life. They had simply ignored his heart-wrenching pleas and laughed loudly as one had jammed a huge gun into Adeeb’s mouth and pulled the trigger. Blood and brain tissue had splattered in all directions, and most of it had been on Faizal who had sat next to Adeeb on the bed. The two men, both tall and heavily built, with tattoos of girls and snakes on their upper arms and dressed in jeans and sweaters, had continued laughing and had said in Afrikaans that this was their way of teaching gays (they used the derogatory term “Moffies”) a lesson that they would never forget.

Faizal sobbed bitterly as he once again heard Adeeb’s voice calling out to him, begging him. “Faizal! Faizal! Please don’t let them kill me!

He pressed his hands to his ears to shut out the voice, but it was inside his head, calling out repeatedly, “Don’t let them kill me! Please, don’t let them kill me!”

The blood started to flow freely from his wound now; sobs wracking his body, he suddenly wished he was dead. He lay like that for a while, thoughts criss-crossing his mind, and feeling very sorry for himself, wondering why it hadn’t been him lying dead in that room now, why he had escaped certain death by the appearance of David, his other friend, in the doorway. But thinking back to that heart-stopping moment when the same man who had shot Adeeb had turned the gun on him, and the shrill cry from David had spoiled his aim, he felt that something mysterious had happened to him when the bullet had struck him in the side. Something very mysterious indeed.

Nadeem was busy in the kitchen, looking for bandages and trying to make as little noise as possible. He was very concerned about Faizal. He had never seen so much blood in his life. He boiled some water and emptied it into a basin. He was seriously considering waking his parents. Faizal didn’t look good to him.

“Nadeem. Help me, please…”

Nadeem jumped; Faizal was standing in the doorway, clutching his side, a strange look on his face.

Nadeem ran over to him. “Faizal! Get back to bed. You shouldn’t be standing here. Get back to bed!”

But Faizal shook his head. “No. I must do this, Nadeem. I must do this!”

“Do what?” Nadeem frowned. “You’re in no condition to do anything. Get back to bed. Please…!”

Faizal came into the kitchen and wet some bandages in the hot water. The blood had caked to his side. “I must do this for Adeeb, Nadeem.” He held the bandage to the wound, pain distorting his features. “I cannot let him die for nothing.”

“What?” Nadeem frowned deeply, thinking that his brother was hallucinating. “How could Adeeb be dead? I saw him earlier this evening and there was nothing wrong with him.”

“I’m telling you Adeeb is dead, Nadeem. He’s dead!”

“Verily from ALLAH we come, and to ALLAH is our return.” He uttered the Quranic verse that every Muslim is supposed to say on hearing news about death or any calamity. “How did he die?”

“They shot him! They shoved a gun into his mouth and they blew his brains out!”

“O, ALLAH! O, ALLAH!” was all Nadeem could get out. “O, ALLAH!”

Faizal didn’t say anything further; he stared straight ahead of him as the same calm, and the same voice that had descended on him in that room where Adeeb had died, took control of him.

He heard the same words again, the words he had heard when, as a child, he had gone to the mosque with his father one Friday and heard a sermon delivered by the local Imam. “IF ALLAH HELPS YOU, THEN WHO CAN DEFEAT YOU? BUT IF ALLAH LEAVES YOU THEN WHO IS THERE TO HELP YOU?”

He couldn’t understand, even now, as he leaned on Nadeem and wiped the dried blood from his side, why he was hearing these words over and over again, hearing them as if directly from the Imam. But one thing he was certain of was that he couldn’t let the men who had murdered his friend get away with it. He couldn’t let those who took pleasure in abusing those weaker than themselves come away scot-free and continue their evil.

He turned to his brother, a pleading look on his face. “You must take me to the police station, Nadeem. I must report this matter!”

“But I thought you said…”

He told Nadeem everything; he didn’t skip any details.

“And you think this has been ordained for you to warn others who may be falling into the same trap as you had?” Nadeem queried when he had finished.

Faizal smiled. “Yes. This is not the first time I have cheated death. But I can certainly say that I shall try never to get myself into such a trauma again.” He squinted at his brother. “Maybe that Imam was right. Maybe I was being rebellious by wearing make-up and women’s underwear, and…” He snickered. “Female mannerisms. But will you help me, Brother? Will you teach me how to become a better brother to you?” They both burst out crying and hugged each other tight.

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