Metanoia - Unnati Hirwani

I hugged my legs even closer to my chest, trying to become smaller and get enfolded in this darkness. Leaning against this open field's railing, I get startled when I hear a weird noise.

Glancing towards the source of disturbance, I curse myself, rather colorfully if I may add, for not bringing my eye glasses and try to decipher this tall, lanky person who was apparently sitting up a few inches away from me on top of this fence.

I squint my eyes and run them up and down the individual in question. Badly dyed blonde hair with the dark brown roots which were clearly evident, blue eyes with a green camp t-shirt, trousers and a book in hand. An old copy of Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I notice the phone with the flashlight the person was using to read. They get phone privileges here? Wow. This might be slightly better than the hell I expected.

So you're hiding too, huh; I ask the individual though I know the answer. Its goddamn two am in the night, why would someone sit outside in this darkness and spoil their eyesight if they weren't hiding?

Honestly, I have been hiding ever since middle school so it's not that big of deal." They answer and I crack a smile. I can make friends here too.

Well I stopped hiding and look where it got me." I spread my hands to motion to this field and the accompanying grey building dotting this big estate.

Thankfully, they get the funny side of it and laugh. They threw their head back, let their hands dangle down and laughed so authentically, it was almost beautiful to watch them doing that.

Well jokes aside, you're bleeding. How did you get that, They ask with genuine concern, pointing to the rock shaped bruise wrapped around my neck.I want to answer, but I feel too exhausted, too tired to open up. It takes too much emotional energy and

I do not think I have that in me anymore. My neck, my heart both are bleeding and my soul is tired. But I know that this place will be hell if I do not make friends. But shouldn't I get used to it, considering how I'm supposed to end up in hell anyway because I dared to love and be authentically myself and that is somehow the biggest crime in the world? Shaking my head and to avoid getting stuck in this never - ending spiral of bad thoughts, I reply, Its a rather sad story. You sure you have the emotional energy

and mental state to listen to it right now?

They smile again, in a way it reaches their blue eyes which seem to twinkling brighter than the stars here and say,Thank you so much for asking that question and yes, I do."

Well alright then. I'll begin my tale. So in my last conversion camp, one of my friends, a little 14 year old had depression. The conditions prevailing there didn't really help either. He loved the song Mad World, you know. Especially the lyric .The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had. One day, he tried to commit suicide to escape.

The priests, they caught him I gulp and try to fight my tears back but I can't. So I don't. I should be allowed to be myself.

Crying, I continue, "After that, they tried electroshock therapy on him. Of course it work, it never does. He was shaken to his core. So just to provide some support to him, another one of my friends,who loved him, lied with him, on his bed and held his hand throughout the endless night. The priests saw that and then it was game over for them.

The next morning, they dragged them both to the field, tied them both to a stake each and then gathered all the troubled youths are they liked to call us.

They recited Leviticus 20:13, which roughly states A man who lays with another man should be stoned and then, asked all of us to condemn the devil present inside them by throwing rocks at those two.The dyed blonde person grabs my hand and gently squeezes it, silently telling me to go on. So I do.

It was bright morning, the sun was shining heavily upon all of us, it was sultry and the heat was strong, our clothes were sticking to our bodies with sweat. The other kids present there, they started to throw the rocks at the boys. They didn't really have a choice. They would be beaten up by the priests if they didn't do so.

Having reached the crux of the story, my voice cracked again. I could imagine all that happening again. Oh gods, this is triggering. I gulp back my saliva, choke on it, stabilize myself and then continue.

Some of them were crying while throwing the rocks and hurting the two of them, for they wanted to be the two of them. They both were crying too. I just couldn't bear all that pain around so I stepped up, walked up to the smaller boy and hugged him, shielding his body in the process in a way that all the rocks pierced my body.

After that incident, the workers at that conversion camp had enough. They were fed up. I had already convinced three of their own employees to resign so they called up my parents, explained how the devil had got me too deeply and I had to be shipped to an even deadlier camp so here I am I finished my tale at last. And look at the person. I saw approval and pride in their smile and felt at peace after a long, long time.

You seem to be quite a hero, you know. When I was your age, i could barely manage to walk properly,my limbs always resembled an awkward wind chime.

And what';s the scenario now? I dare to ask. Please say something positive. Do not spoil the mood.

Please say something positive. I keep repeating this as a mantra.

Now, I have understood that it all is okay. My body, my soul, I break the binary. I have battled the gender dysphoria and walk with pride etched in every stride of mine. And, I smile again.

Between the two of us, you seem to be the hero. Though I did stand up for my friends, I've done countless of other stuff while battling my internalized homophobia. I honestly threw punches at my middle school crush thinking them to be kisses. I tell them and wipe a tear from my eyes. I seem to have mastered the art of telling sad stories coated with honey and a little bit of bittersweet pride.

They move their hand away from mine to my hair, ruffle it like I'm their little sister and said, Yours is not a sad or a shameful story. It is just a story with sadness and shame in it. It's okay to made mistakes. You are allowed to do that. You are the sum of all your actions, not just your worst ones.I let their words sink into me and I feel strong and powerful and whole again. The sky mimics my mood and the darkness of the night slowly merges into the warm hues of the dawn. I can see the sun emerging. It must be around 6 am now.

Well I'm sure the counselors here won't agree with you on that. Speaking of them, where are those monsters? I've been hiding ever since my parents dropped me off here and they still haven't located me! I say, genuinely curious to meet the people who will try their best or rather worst, to convince me that I'm sometime I'm not.

Oh come on, I've been here with you from the beginning." They say and I freeze. They WORK at the conversion camp? What??

They get up from their weird sitting position, dust their pants off and explain, "Contrary to what the outside world believes, this isn't a conversion camp. This is a safe haven for LGBTQIAAP+ teens. That’s why the name of this camp is Metanoia. We work under the guise of a deadly camp so that we can recruit the teenagers who are in most need of help. My name is Huginn and I am one of the workers here. Who are you?

I look up to their face and notice the sun rising. The rays lightly hit the back of their frame and make their blonde hair glisten in a way it seems almost angelic. Finally, I have escaped and survived those three conversion camps and I can be myself here. I want to cry my heart out and tell this warm person everything. About me discovering my identity as a lesbian, about me denying it, about me burning the pride flag my mother found, about me wishing I was the pride flag.

And I will, I decide. My life can be simple and whole and good now. I may be broken, but everyone is. As Hemingway said, that's how the light gets in. There is finally hope for me now. These people, they will help me.

I contemplate telling Huginn, Huginn? That Norse name translates to Thought. It's so beautiful and befitting. I'm sure their parents didn't name them that. But they aren't what their parents thought they would be so it's okay I guess. It's ironic to think how my parents named me Eve. Eve was made to be a companion to Adam but I can never do that. I am not Eve. I can love, I have dared to love in this cruel world but I haven't loved an Adam and I never will and that's okay.

I again look up to Huginn, get up from that small crumpled up place myself, grab their hand again, notice the symbolic sun rays shining upon our entwined hands and at last, notice the hope still present in this world, in this organization which smartly disguised itself as a conversion camp and answer, I am Pandora.