S***

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“They… they’re saying you’re such a slut…”

I was thirteen, and the above line was murmured to me by my then-best friend, whom I’ve rather lost touch with and I hope is doing well. At thirteen, I wasn’t very shocked; not because I’d heard worse, but because I didn’t know what it meant.

“Papa, what’s a slut?”

“It’s a sexually promiscuous woman.”

Well, I didn’t know what ‘promiscuous’ meant either, but rather than talk more during a tense CSK match, I sought out the next best source- a dictionary.

In the columns of the gigantic, moth-eaten Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary Of The English Language, I found that I’d been termed someone who has sex with any man who asked. Please don’t run for the dictionary; that’s not how it’s phrased, but my copy’s halfway around the world.

Which, I reasoned, was rather ridiculous, because we were thirteen; who wanted to have sex anyway? It sounded like an uncomfortable business.

(It had been the late Khushwant Singh who had contributed greatly to my sexual education. I don’t recommend it)

That’s not to say it didn’t sting, of course; which teenager doesn’t dread being gossiped about? On the other hand, a whole new world of insults now opened up before my slightly-shocked eyes, although it took three years for me to actually use any. When I did, though, it was to a boy: with the air of someone delivering her coup de grace, I informed one of my classmates that he was, in fact, a man-whore.

“You should say gigolo.” He replied. I was late to the party, it seemed, and not fashionably.

You might wonder why I’m writing this now. And yes, while there’s a part of me that’s gleefully typing up words like sex, whore, gigolo, for all and sundry, I still feel something like a bee-sting when I type the word slut.

There it is again.

That’s one word I try not to use. It may have slipped out at some point over the years, but I try. There’s something particularly filthy about it- and even, I feel, something maliciously female. I can now easily call a man a whore without tacking the ‘man’ to it, but slut always seems so pointedly female.

Slut-shaming. I hate the term. I hate the practice. I hate the casualness of it, how easy it is when the target is a ‘she’.

A sexually promiscuous woman. But a man is just a playboy. A Man.

This isn’t a rant against slut-shaming; honestly, I don’t quite know what this is, even. I don’t often dislike words in and of themselves- even stuff I’ve made my peace with. But slut is one thing I’ve never been able to find middle-ground with. Maybe it’s personal. Maybe society’s ease with it. I don’t really know.

At any rate, it’s a good word to dislike.

Fifteen Minutes.

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It don’t matter if you’re black or white

It don’t matter to me, little girl hiding behind your mama’s skirts, that your skin’s fairer than mine, that mine is darker than yours, and so it isn’t going to matter to you. It don’t matter to me that your skin looks like pretty pink roses when you blush. I look like I just got darker. I look like them berries on yonder bush, and I don’t care, and neither do you.

You don’t tell me who I can be friends with, coz you not my mama, and you ain’t got the damned right. And don’t you call them that, coz I can give you lotta names, and you don’t wanna hear ’em. You don’t wanna know what I can make you if I don’t like you.

Because where do you get off thinking that you can choose my friends?

We will stand to face it all, together- as sky falls.

We see the rocks coming in, flaming rocks, burning, meteorites. They’re headed straight for us, and I can already tell that running isn’t going to do a damned thing. So I do the only thing I can- the only thing that makes a mite of difference- the thing I swore I would do, back then in better times when blood was what flowed through our veins, and love meant together forever.

I take your hand, and we take that lump of flaming rock on our chests, together. Because sometimes there is no forever.

I’m breaking the habit tonight.

It’s blood on the walls, or perhaps it’s paint. I can’t tell the difference anymore, all I know is that I put it there. I can’t hear, but I can feel my throat hurting, and my mouth is open, so I guess I’m screaming again. It’s louder than anything I’ve ever heard before, so I cover my ears with hands that look like bleeding claws when I hold them before my eyes.