Author: Ashish Rastogi
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 11/15/2022
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, athlete, interracial, sports, coming out, in the closet, rugby, badminton, gay, India
Two men struggle around the closet. One locked inside, shackled by his love of badminton, fearful of the world outside. The other is proud and out, a bull on the rugby pitch, tackling monsters of his past.
To find each other, Saaransh must accept his reality—a proud sports star who can become the symbol of dignity for the queer community in India. Brendon needs to bury the ghosts of his past and find a way to help Saaransh’s self-destruction.
Ashish Rastogi © 2022
All Rights Reserved
Of bees, Babita, and flights.
“This is your craziest hare-brained idea. Ever.” Babita gives me another of her epic eye rolls. “I can’t believe what you are about to do.” She shakes her head in disbelief once again, “Saaransh, please tell me this is only a prank.”
Thank god the freaking out has settled. Babita is now speaking in manageable decibels. She launched a vocal assault when I told her my biggest secret, drawing startled stares from passers-by despite the shut car windows. We pushed and pulled at each other in a verbal fencing duel, interrupted by honks from passing cars. Eh, oh, and nah were the only counter-strikes I managed. But I clenched my teeth, stuffed my hands between my thighs, and anchored my feet to the car floor, not ready to be shouted out of my plan.
Babita huffs, waves her hands heavenwards, and stares at the cars parked in front. My cousin is a pint-size drama queen, but since I am an only child, Babita is more of a real sister. The label doesn’t matter, for in this wide world, she is my wall to lean on.
The thunderstorm of her vocal cords has passed. This brief reprieve is my chance to put together a reasonable sentence. Why did I choose the busiest place to open the door to the deepest part of my soul? In the last few days, ample opportunities were there. We were alone when Babita helped me pack yesterday. She accompanied me to the Krishna temple near my house before our ride here. Even on the drive, we were the only ones.
I kept deferring. Scared. Unsure if the bond with Babita would weather the implications of my words. We have been inseparable from the day in August almost eighteen years ago when she first tied the fancy thread on my wrist on Rakhi with her chubby six-year-old hands. A tether of friendship more robust than the shared genetics in the blood coursing through our veins. Except for my secret. Will this gash bleed our bond to death?
Gosh, the three words. I had worked myself up trying different combinations but found no other way to compose the truth I carry locked and hidden in an airtight iron box in my chest. But once we parked, the truth stared from the windowpane. You must say them now; my silhouette formed by the yellow glow of a lampshade on a pillar nearby screamed. In the dim lights of the parking lot at Terminal 3 of the Delhi International airport surrounded by empty cars, I blurted out, I am gay.
“Yeah, outing myself is a joke.” I scan the surroundings to make sure no one is in the vicinity.
Babita winces, “Sorry, I am not questioning your sexuality. I love you in any and every way. But, Saaransh, your plan?” She places her hand on my forearm and squeezes.
Before she goes on, I stop her. “I am not changing my mind. This is my only chance.” This is about me. A part of my existence gasping for air, drowning in the swamp of family expectations and social norms. She cannot bulldoze me.
“Bhai, I am sure Delhi has a decent gay crowd. Use a dating app. If not here, what about Mumbai? You can go on a date while Karan or I are on standby for a rescue,” she pleads.
“And risk everything? No way, B.”
The hum of the parking lot is broken by an airplane taking off. I glance at the time on my shiny new smartphone. Only ten more minutes before I need to walk through Gate 5 to enter the airport for my flight.
Babita taps my arm. “What about being thousands of kilometres’ away? Alone in a foreign city with no one to call for help. You are risking your safety.”
“Nah. Nothing will happen. I will stay out of trouble.”
Babita’s eyebrows shoot up, and her eyes narrow behind the red-rimmed glasses in the ‘I know you’ face she has perfected over the years. “You and staying out of trouble. Hah!”
My lips stay sealed. I am not engaging with Babita on the topic of my flings with trouble.
“Saaransh, I am two years younger than you, and for the eighteen-odd years I can remember, I have seen enough. We have been in so much trouble together right from the first time you pranked me into hitting a beehive.”
This time I cannot hide the smirk. How would an eight-year-old boy know? Okay, in my defense, I had warned her, but B insisted on playing Pooh to my Tigger, Piglet being too small and pink for her. When Pooh craved honey, what was a big brother supposed to do? Hand Pooh a stick and point her to a hive. After escaping with our lives, I never doubted her aim.
B is right, though. Like those bees years ago, I do attract trouble. No, I am not clumsy. Risk-agreeable is a better label. The risk I am about to take is by far my most ambitious. So damn the hound dogs of danger barking inside my head. Nothing will stop me from galloping down this unfamiliar path.
“B, I need to go. You must promise to keep all this talk a secret. If you tell anyone, it’s over between us.” I extend my pinkie finger to hook with hers and seal our sibling promise.
Babita does not move till I raise my eyebrows. She relents with a sigh and hooks my pinkie finger, pulling in the opposite direction to firm up our understanding. With the truce declared, Babita helps me load my bags on the trolley.
“Okay, wish me luck.” I hug her.
She squeezes. “Please keep sending messages. You don’t want me to lose weight worrying over you.”
“Your losing weight or not worrying has the same probability as us finding any living species in the universe.” I kiss her cheek and walk toward the entry gates to the airport.
“Best of luck and stay safe,” Babita calls as I wave her off.
Safe. Nope. Not in my dictionary. Trouble always finds me. I tap my chest with my fist and inhale. The upcoming two weeks in London will either be an exhilarating adventure or a walk in the fires of hell. Am I ready?