I walk, clutching onto my books, alternating between a sheepish glance upwards and a nervous glance downwards and I walk like I don’t belong there. I just keep walking until I reach a crossroad, in my mind, where I know I need to stop and face it. My bare head, flowing hair, sleeveless shirt, all a supposed disregard to the religion I was born in and chose to follow.
It wasn’t my religion or my god that forbade me from my chosen forms expression, speech, and art, but in fact its men that did. My religion, like most other, if not all, implores me to be a worthy human being, pure in thought and intention and generous in nature and attitude. It taught me to be daring, within reason, to be outspoken, if righteous and to be scared of no one but the lord himself, for he is the creator, but the men, the mere mortals who chose to interpret his will, who have by birth or choice or maybe even deceit chosen to be His messengers tell me otherwise.
They look at my bare hands and try to convince me to be ‘pure’. They look right into my eyes and ask me to look away. They measure my ‘purity’ by the number of times I blink away; they approve of me when I cover my head in any way. The women too, follow in the suits of these men. They adore them, maybe, dislike them possibly, revere them, perhaps but follow them nonetheless. The women walk up to me and teach me virtues of a kind, they take my hand and with a gentle touch, a sweet tone and threatening tales, beseech me to change my ways. To take a path that lead to eternal heaven. When I don’t budge and my sleeves don’t return, they come back to me with a promise of love, of devotion, of kindness and of course, of heaven. And when I smile and decline, they rudely turn, the love, the kindness, the gentle touch have been replaced and I, declared me a lost cause and an influence, to be at best, tolerated.
Not all men, of course, neither all women. The men and women of knowledge, smile at me with a genuine smile. Some teach, some follow, some condone. People of knowledge, of the sciences, the arts, history and the law, often teach me the ways of my world, of the god I follow, of the principles he laid down.
I absorb them all only to blurt them out, confused, at best, at the dinner table at home. Concerned by the knowledge, worried by my sleeves, I’m quizzing my god and my minds dizzy. Is my God so petty that he’ll punish me for my choice? Is he so insecure that he’ll abandon my faith in another being? Is he so small that rituals not virtues could send me to hell?
I’m received with a smile and tender hand, I’m reassured that my God, a God, the God, is all but one. His forms may differ but his love won’t falter. That my skin won’t matter, and my virtues weighed, that merely prayer won’t guarantee a place in his heart. I’m also told, with a sigh and a frown, that men seek power, and authority so bitter that if need be, God will be their weapon. Not all men, I’m warned, and that I’m told, is my task at hand.
To believe my god but pick his true messengers. To follow my heart, but fulfill my destiny, to survive for myself but to live for others. To not just be human, to be a conscientious, kind, generous human. And that I’m told is my only task and that is what my God, a God, the God will judge me on.