In August this year, we announced the ELLE Fiction Awards. The premise was simple – send us 500 words of original fiction, inspired by picture prompts, for the chance to win a contract with Juggernaut Books as well as the opportunity to be published in ELLE India. Judged by ELLE India’s editor Supriya Dravid, Juggernaut’s publisher Chiki Sarkar, much-loved writer-producer Twinkle Khanna, and author Mahesh Rao, the competition was fierce. However, we’re delighted to announce the winning entry is by Alka Pinto – read her story, the poignant tale of a young transwoman who finds purpose and belonging under the bright lights of the stage – right here.
Maybe this will be my last night at the theatre, she thought, as she looked off stage at the empty seats and sighed. She would miss it. She would miss all of it—the lights, the glamour, her friends. She stood there wearing a crown on her head, with her beautiful black gown skimming the floor and her hair framing her face; as lovely as any Hollywood actress.
She sighed. Life had been good, but it had been bittersweet too. As she scanned the seats, she could almost hear the applause mingling with the catcalls and whistles that would no doubt come, hopefully, amid cheers for an encore. She turned to two seats in the front row. Would the people in those seats be clapping, she wondered. What would they be thinking? “I will not look there,” she said to herself. “I will not look.”
She was the leading lady, and nobody could match her. When the audience spilled out after the show, she was the only one they sought out. They jostled with each other to get a selfie with her, telling her through tears that she reminded them of home, that she made them proud. She looked out at the two seats. She must not cry; it would ruin her make-up. She sighed. ‘The Queen’, people called her. Here, she had been loved by many, and had loved many, but her hunger for home still lingered.
So, she had finally written and asked them to visit. How long had it been? Ten years? More? Except, back then, they knew only a fair young man with almond-shaped eyes and a troubled heart. And so she had left, shedding her gender, little by little, until she finally became herself, fighting to climb one step after another until she reached the world’s most glittering stage.
Tonight had been her finest performance. And indeed, her peers had cried out in amazement, cheering from the wings. The crowd rose as one and pleaded for an encore. She took it all in, like her life depended on it. And afterwards, she returned to her dressing room, stumbling through the claps of her colleagues, her eyes brimming with tears. Here, away from prying eyes, the dam broke in a tempest of sobbing.
Had they come? Had they recognised her? How could they? Only the gentle slope of her lips and her eyes were what remained of the teenager they had sent out into the world.
Her phone rang. She dug it out. It was her father. So she had been recognised after all. It rang again, then a third time. “He must be fighting with security,” she thought. “He’ll want to drag me home; well, he’ll have to find me first.” The phone beeped: a message. She stared at the little icon with a mixture of anger, pride and shame, and then clicked on it. Her cry brought her understudy running in. He found her on the floor, her body heaving as she sobbed. He discreetly glanced at the message on the little screen and comforted her: “You were amazing. We love you. Dad and mum.”