The abrupt transition from boyhood to my teenage years did not go quite the way I expected. My voice broke, and I sounded unpleasant and croaked. I felt uncomfortable in my skin as my own body imposed adulthood on me. The newfound independence that came with growing up, however, was undeniably enjoyable. I realized that the first time my parents let me stay home without them one evening.
The house did not feel much different without them, perhaps a little less stuffy. My parents usually talked very little, and I had no complaints about that. As I reached to turn off the lights and call it a night, the overpowering smell of my mother’s perfume struck me. The intoxicating floral accents flirted wildly with my senses. I stepped in to my parents’ bedroom, something I had not done for a long time, at least not in their absence.
Growing up, I would lie down in my mom’s bed watching her apply her magical makeup in the most immaculate way. The transformation was mesmerizing, like a queen, a glamorous actress getting into character before appearing onstage. I never asked my mother why she put so much effort into her appearance, but I thought she deserved to feel beautiful. I was there when she needed help clasping a necklace or straightening the pleats of her sari. I loved how her eyes would become lively as she applied the thick, smoky line of kohl. I watched with amusement as she inched closer to the mirror and stretched her eyes wide open to examine her handiwork. She would sometimes steal a glance at me. “Should I do your’s too?” she giggled at me, and I laid there blushing, feeling a strange sensation within myself.
Being all alone in the house made me feel mischievous and daring. I saw a glossy magazine lying in one corner of my parents’ room. This was as rebellious as I would dare to be, to pick up a magazine that was inappropriate for my age. On the cover was an actress I recognized instantly. Her demure looks, her sense of ease with her voluptuous body, was nothing like the character she plays in the afternoon soap operas. The photo seemed to be her outlet to rebel against the orthodox characters she played onscreen. All around her were captions about how to slim down for summer, the latest fashion trends and secrets to eat well and to keep your man happy in bed. I don’t know what I was hoping to find, but when I looked up, my face was flushed red in the bedroom mirror.
I was transfixed by a centerfold of a perfume advertisement. A woman and man posed together in a tastefully seductive embrace. Her deep, dark lip color and matching nails spoke to her power and confidence. She had the fire and passion to control the handsome man. With his untidy hair and stubble he didn’t seem like he was enjoying himself, but he did not have much choice. Her perfectly pedicured toes in sexy stilettos stamped him down. I was entranced. I opened my mom’s closest to admire her array of cute shoes for every occasion and color.
I convinced myself that I was just being curious in an innocent, secretive way. A pair of black high heels seemed to be calling my name, but I feared I would fall over if I were to put them on. I picked up a pair of aqua wedges. They looked pretty, and also exuded just the right amount of flirtiness. I loved how feminine my toes looked peeping out from the delicate shoes. They were not painful at all to wear. Suddenly, I found myself sifting through my mother’s vast collection of clothes and makeup, adorning myself with whatever felt right.
As I swirled my body around in front of the mirror, I was startled to see my reflection. The added touch of color to my lips and the deep red bindi on my forehead transformed me into a different person. I had donned a beautifully embroidered shawl, one that I knew my mom loved. I felt the boldness and strength of the woman in the magazine. It struck me how my relatives used to say that I have my mother’s face. That day, I saw a bit of her beauty in me.
I understood my mother’s urge to transform every time she would leave the house on a special occasion. Maybe like me, she liked what she saw in the mirror – a reflection of herself in the way she wanted to be seen. In the transition to adulthood, I may have lost my innocent voice, but I was proud of the secret power I gained to express myself.
Sandy is a Desi grad student, who has traveled far from home in the pursuit to discover his own identity as a genderqueer. When he is not rebelling against the world or his family, he likes to reflects back on his funny episodes of crossing cultural boundaries in a not-so-secretive way.
“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.
I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.
We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!
Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.
If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.
But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.
For BGM Literary, editor Nimarta Narang is honored to work with writer Sri Nimmagadda. In this short story, we follow a man in a gray suit who makes a stop at a church to bide his time before a job interview. Sri Nimmagadda is the Chief Program Officer at MannMukti, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the stigma around mental health in the South Asian community through storytelling and advocacy. He lives in Los Angeles with his dog, Rani, and is passionate about authentically growing inclusion and diversity through storytelling in the entertainment industry. Editor Nimarta was extremely grateful to have Sri join the legacy of wonderful and moving authors for the literary vertical in honor of Mental Health and Awareness month.
A man in a gray suit stands in front of a church and looks up and through the entryway with the resignation of a desiccated man taking a bitter medicine he’s absorbed for years but simply accepts as a fact of his life, however unpleasant. So, the man in the gray suit — a get-up slim but not so lean as to emit a cockish, metrosexual air, scraggly lint escaping the seams across the surface in a manner that supposes either venerability or somewhat tired desperation — thinks about what it means to take a bitter medicine, the trade-off between the instantaneous sour, bitter, wretched, and cloying and the promise of perhaps a better tomorrow, or a better tonight, or a better five-minutes-from-now. After some consideration, this man in a gray suit — an outfit that some would’ve supposed he’d purchased from Goodwill, the night before, for a painfully wrought $95.67 with tax after getting into an argument with his wife about who was going to take the kids to school in the morning and fucking Brenda skipping out on babysitting again — steps inside the church.
This man in a gray suit — armed with a briefcase, and the last and latest copy of his résumé that he’d worked on until 1:30 a.m. the night before after Max and Annabelle had long gone to sleep and his angry, exhausted wife laid restless, in their shared bed, thinking about whether she’d consult the number of the divorce lawyer she’d been recommended by one of her girlfriends in the morning before deciding she’d give her husband another shot just as she had the night before and the night before that and the night before that — paces towards the front of pews almost cautiously, as if someone were watching him, afraid to be caught in the act of being vulnerable and giving himself up to some higher power. Maybe if you go to church and the pastor or some other demure, God-fearing soul sees you, they’ll call you out — who are you? why are you here? — and you’ll realize that for as much ado as people make about the unconditionality of God’s love, they make claims to His love the way they’d claim a parking spot or a position in a queue at a grocery store. Faith, it appears to the man in the gray suit, is really about paying your dues.
So the man in a gray suit approaches the front-most pew — the communion table before him standing guard ahead of a cross. He lays his briefcase down. He sits at the pew. He closes his eyes. Please, he begs Him in his own mind. I need this.
But then this man in a gray suit considers his pathetic whimper to God, how he can’t even acknowledge God by his name, how he begs Please rather than Please God like a weak, unfaithful man who cannot bring himself to say his wife’s name when begging her for forgiveness after his own infidelity. What a mess, he thought of himself. So, he tries again.
Please, God. I need this.
The man in a gray suit considers this again and admonishes himself for his cowardice — when you pray in your head, words and phrases, and sentences and prayers, and pleas twine and intertwine and mix until the signal becomes the noise and you can’t really figure out whatever you’re trying to say. So, for a half-second, you think the only way to get it out of your head is to blow it up so that it all spills out and maybe then God will understand how you really feel — and so he tries again, and puts his prayers to air. The man in a gray suit is not used to coming to church. This is his first time coming in a couple of years. He’s going to need a couple of tries to get this thing down.
“I’m sorry,” the man in a gray suit exhales, “I’m just not used to praying.” But that’s okay. Prayer is a process, the man in a gray suit would find, and what begins feeling ridiculous, or like grasping for spiritual straws, ends up feeling akin to a dam giving way to water; unrestrained, unexploited. So the man in a gray suit — the man who’s come an hour and a half early to an interview because the early bird gets the worm, only to find himself with an hour and a half to kill and nowhere but a church to grace with his presence — prays, and he prays faithfully, and he prays well. He picks up the Bible on the shelf of the pew in front of him, flips it open to whatever page presented itself and begins to read. He closes his eyes, and at that moment he feels safe, like God’s hands envelop him, and that tomorrow will be a better day, and everything will be okay.
Somewhere along the line, this stupid fucker in a gray suit fell asleep in the middle of Galatians and missed his interview.
I organize play dates for my children. They’re friendships remind me of when I was younger when Fridays were consistently set aside for my friends. Now, it seems play is indeed meant for childhood and work is for aging adults. We often can’t find time for ourselves, let alone our friends, who are busy working mothers like ourselves. Or we moved into unreachable corners of this globe, far away from any means of physical communication. It’s fair to say, it’s hard to stay close to friends like when we were in college. Nowadays, it’s easier to travel, but more difficult to bond with others. “My Friend” asserts that we should not end let our friendships fall by the wayside. Even with physical distance and conflicting schedules, we keep our friendships close with kind words on phone calls, regular FaceTime calls, or even encouraging social media comments. Friendship doesn’t end once we become adults.
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