Run. Run. Run. Run. Don’t slow down. Run. Run. Run. Run. Run.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? LEAVE HER ALONE!” A voice shrieked from behind a tree. He stopped. He turned. I collapsed.
Over the summer, I started dating a man from a neighbouring city. One night we were talking by the park. It was in the middle of summer and I was wearing a skirt. He brushed it aside and put his hand on my knee. I held my breath. I looked at it and then at him. He smiled. I didn’t. His hand slowly started moving up my leg, under my skirt. “No Chenge, don’t.” I whispered, but he didn’t stop. His smile widened as he moved towards me, “I’ve bought you gifts, I’ve looked after you, you owe me.” I struggled against his grip and ran through the park. Suddenly a voice came out of the darkness, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? LEAVE HER ALONE!”
I carried on running for a bit before my legs stopped working. I collapsed to the ground, drenched in tears and sweat. “You’re safe now” the same voice whispered, “he’s gone.”
And that’s how I met Bakari. I’d seen her at school, and I’ve heard about her, but we hadn’t spoken. Bakari: He-She.
Her parents moved to our town a few years back. The family kept to themselves because He-She, I mean, Bakari, was… different. She didn’t act like all the other girls, she didn’t act like any girl I’ve ever known. Up until this point, I had never interacted with her-him much, as I felt uncomfortable, and would join in when the other kids mocked and made fun of her-him.
We started meeting in the park after school, just chatting, getting to know each other. “I’ve always been different” she told me. “Even as a small child, I thought that when I grew up, I’d turn into a man one day. One day I told my mother. She looked at me like I was crazy, thinking it was just one of those strange things children say sometimes. But as I grew up, my mother realised it wasn’t just one of those things. She watched me struggle to be a girl, when she knew that inside, I have always been a boy. At first, my father tried to change me. He said that you can’t just decide you’re a man, if you’re born woman. He’d force my mother to make me beautiful dresses, he forced me to grow my hair long and wear make up. But eventually, my mother convinced him that it just wasn’t going to work. And slowly, very slowly, he realised that I wasn’t the daughter he expected, but I could be the son he never had.”
Another day we saw a happy couple walking through the park. I told Bakari that I never wanted to date again, that Chenge had frightened me too much. That I’d rather be alone. That was when Bakari really opened my eyes.
“I told you before that people have always tried to change me.” He said. “I know that Chenge scared you, I understand. Men have tried to force themselves on me to ‘fix’ me. They thought that if they could get me into bed, they could make me want to be a woman. At first I was afraid, and sometimes I still am, but I know who I am and I know I am strong. Now you need to realise that you are strong too”.
Bakari taught me understanding, open-mindedness. He showed me what true friendship was. He taught me how to be strong, even in the toughest of times. He didn’t just save me from a monster, he taught me not to be a monster. Even though he had monsters around him all the time.
The kids at school were horrible. They called Bakari names. They wouldn’t let him into the bathrooms. He used to have to hold it in until he got home. They said he was a freak. That he had a movie playing in his head that he needed to switch off to be normal.
Bakari taught me kindness, but had never felt it himself. It was time to show him that being different doesn’t matter.
One day I told him to meet me in the park, close to where he’d saved me that day. When he appeared in the distance, I ran over to meet him. He looked at me with a smile and gave me a big hug. Walking back towards the clearing, he told me about his day, about what he’d cooked his mother for dinner and then, mid-sentence, he stopped. In the clearing, where my friends were waiting for me, they stopped chatting too, looking from me to Bakari in confusion.
“Bakari, these are my friends.” I said, gesturing at them. “This is Bakari everyone, my very best friend. Let’s sit and I’ll tell you about the time he saved my life”.