Hazeem Okonjo – The Unconquerable Heart

From our book, ‘The Unconquerable Heart’



A Marginalized Soul’s state of Mind:

Hazeem Okonjo’s Painful Past:[1]

[1] AUTHORS’ NOTE: This chapter relates to Hazeem’s gender identity issues and his transitioning phase, hence, he will be addressed by female pronouns, she/her/herself, throughout the chapter.

Hazeem was born Hazeemah – genetically female, but she always cherished the male side from a very young age. She was born to a devout single Muslim mother, who migrated to America from Nigeria even before she was born. Throughout her formative years, she was marginalized by society and family. In her junior high, she was branded a tomboy and was looked upon as a pariah by fellow gals, as she hanged with boys. As a teenager, she was rebuked by boys and scorned at by gals for exhibiting her ‘alternate sexual identity.’ She yearned for a gal’s company but there were no takers for her, in her orthodox neighbourhood.  Even her mother, Isoke Okonjo, fought to change her daughter’s ‘peculiar’ attitude throughout.

But, Hazeemah was a natural philosopher who was rigid to the core. She had her own set of beliefs and she never backed down from standing by them. She had a rebellious streak to her, and she often argued at college debates that the words ‘Liberalism and Equality’ that were ordained in the American constitution, were not completely exhaustive and were just phony adjectives formulated by the ‘Founding fathers,’ to trump up a false American spirit, and that those words were never true to their spirit in letter and word, in all of the ‘Great Nation’s’ democratic existence, as they never got ingrained in the American soul. She cherished to break free from the conformist attitudes of the hegemonial society and desired to live in a liberal and free thinking society that was more welcoming of people with alternate opinions and sexualities.

It was one such rebellious days during her college sophomore year, when Hazeemah decided to end her agony and make peace with herself by turning as Hazeem in at least her outward appearance. But little did she know that her own mother would form the first impediment in that transition. She trimmed her hair, bandaged her chest tightly, wore a sweatshirt and jeans and stepped out of her room. Isoko had just completed her midday Namaz, and she went about slicing vegetables in the kitchen. She noticed Hazeemah as she stepped into the Kitchen to fetch herself some corn flakes, and Isoko was completely shocked to see her daughter in a completely new, trimmed close cut hairdo.

‘Back in Nigeria, people would have stoned you to death.’ Isoko said viciously as Hazeemah picked a cereal packet from the shelf.

‘Mom, I ain’t Nigerian.’ Hazeemah said calmly.

‘Allah will not spare your soul.’ Isoko shouted restlessly. ‘You’re committing a heinous crime.’

‘Let Allah, decide that.’ Hazeemah said, tossing cereal into a bowl and mixing it with milk, trying to be as patient as possible.

‘Just marry Bashir, he’ll take good care of you.’

‘Mom,’ Hazeemah looked seriously into her mother’s eyes. ‘I ain’t marrying your brother or any male for that matter and that’s final.’ she said, chomping on her late breakfast.

‘What is everyone going to say about our family? You have three more sisters. How will they get married?’

‘Am looking for a job, I will leave the house soon. Don’t you worry.’

‘You have no respect for your community, for your faith, for your family and not even for me, your mother.’ Isoko nagged without caring for Hazeemah’s feelings.

Isoko’s nagging got onto Hazeemah’s nerves and she impatiently threw the cereal filled bowl onto kitchen floor and stormed out of the house, closing the main door behind with a loud thud, even as her anguished mother looked on with disdain filled eyes. Hazeemah had been through with her mother’s conservative grooming for a long time then and she just couldn’t take it anymore.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Later that evening, when Hazeemah returned home, she found Bashir, her mother’s younger brother, seated beside her in the living hall watching television. Their faces were forlorn and they flashed inimical looks at her. Hazeemah owing to the morning quarrel, didn’t feel like wishing her uncle, so she just proceeded towards her room without even bothering to give him a glance.

Bashir was offended at Hazeemah’s insensitivity towards him, ‘Hazeemah, let’s go out for dinner.’ he proposed all of a sudden.

‘Sorry Bashir, am not interested.’ Hazeemah replied without even bothering to look back. She closed the room behind and Bashir looked at his sister. Isoko raised her hands expressing helplessness. Having had resolved something, Bashir nodded his head sympathetically at her and then got up.

He approached Hazeemah’s room slowly. Steel handcuffs hung by the back pocket of his jeans. Isoko looked on as Bashir entered the room and locked it behind him.

A little while later, Hazeemah’s shrieks were heard in the living hall, but Isoko stayed indifferent and raised the volume of the T.V channel, trying to drown her daughter’s helpless screams in the din of the idiot box. Her other three school-going daughters rushed down the stairs, from their upstairs rooms, overhearing their elder sister’s screams.

‘Go back to your rooms!’ Isoko shouted at her daughters and the three bewildered gals meekly traced their steps back to their respective rooms.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

It was around eight in the morning, the next day, and Bashir had just left Hazeemah’s room after a whole night’s unabashed forcible romp with his niece. The ‘Giver of Light’ hadn’t dared to resume his duties as yet. The weather was foggy and the thick curtains shrouded the room in absolute darkness.  A small bed bulb flickered in a corner of the room relentlessly, trying to make its presence felt on its sole occupant – a hapless naked soul that nurtured a rebellious streak to stay different.

Hazeemah, fully naked, lay on the bed face down with her left hand cuffed to the frame of the wrought iron bed. She and the bed sheet were soiled in blood and the room reeked of its rancid smell. She was famished, her head ached, her loins pained and she was devastated psychologically at having been marginalized so brutally at her own home and that too at the hands of the very soul that birthed her. She had tried all night not to hate her mother, she reasoned to herself that her mother was a just a prisoner of her beliefs, but then she couldn’t come to terms with the barbaric idea of a mother stooping so low to get her point across. That whole night, her thoughts bled and bled, until her cannabinoid receptors became anaemic and totally unreceptive to the idea of familial bonds and emotions all together.

Isoko slowly approached her daughter’s room, with a plate full of toasted bread and a cup full of minced lamb gravy. She planned to appease her sulking daughter by baiting her with her favourite dish, but little did she know that her daughter was pretty difficult to be baited upon. The unlocking sound of the doorknob startled a half awake Hazeemah. She rolled sideways, shivering in fear to take a glance at the door. It was her mother, but Hazeemah was not pleased. Isoko, pulled up a chair and sat by Hazeemah’s bedside. She didn’t carry the slightest hint of remorse for having administered her own daughter’s rape.

‘Come on, break a little bread. I made your favourite, minced lamb gravy.’ Isoko goaded placing the plate beside Hazeemah.

‘Mom, nothing is going to change. Please don’t let me suffer.’ Hazeemah begged without bothering to look at her morning morsel.

‘It is Allah’s command, that I put you on the right path.’ Isoko replied calmly.

‘That mother fucker is raping me mom!’ Hazeemah cried in pain. ‘How’s that Allah’s command?’

‘Eat up.’ Isoko said with a stern face. ‘Bashir has given his word to marry you.’

‘To hell with him.’ Hazeemah shouted, kicking the plate off the bed. ‘I’m not marrying that mother fucker in a thousand lives.’

Without responding any further, Isoko stood up and turned around to leave.

‘Mom! Mom, please untie me. Please…’ Hazeemah begged her mother heart-rendingly.

‘Not until you get pregnant.’ Isoko declared mercilessly and closed the door behind her.

Hazeemah, a champion arguer and a beacon of liberalism broke down, her pathetic cries drowned in the dark room, muffled between the cushy pillows.

True to her word, Isoko kept her daughter captive for the next one month, until she got pregnant. Later, one of Hazeemah’s younger sisters who pitied on her, mustered enough courage to saw the iron bar of the bed, with a hacksaw blade from the garage and let her loose. Hazeemah ran from her home, got herself aborted and never returned back.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Perseverance in the Pursuit of heralding a Liberal Society:

The Dining Hall of Hazeem’s House:

The pangs of desperation and a sense of nothingness that were forcibly injected into Hazeem’s psyche during that horrendous month, continued to shape his outlook. Hazeem was a changed person. From that day on, he no more identified the Gender Identity Disorder (GID) that he faced, as an individual problem but identified it as a societal issue that needed to be addressed.

He felt the need to create awareness among the ‘conformist crowd’ on the issue of ‘Alternate Sexuality’. People needed to talk about it, people needed to think about it, and people needed to be sensitized about the subject, so that they could be more welcoming of such people, thereby creating a favourable environment to kids of future generations who experienced GID. He dreamt of a day where no individual was discriminated against, on the basis of his or her sexuality and every kid who faced GID was encouraged to choose the manner in which he or she preferred to shape their lives, and not in the manner in which the ‘conformist society’ demanded them to be.

This was something that was on the back of his mind always from then on, but with his limited financial resources, he couldn’t do much. He was forced to fend for herself and the opinions just stayed within him. But the opinions didn’t die – they shaped his body and soul. He was determined to change the world. But he needed a launch pad and ‘GOD’ sent him ‘Munna.’ Early on, he identified Munna, as the perfect ‘Face of the Marginalized Soul,’ that would make heads turn and take notice if he said something, standing beside Munna.

Munna was his statement to the world. He was his weapon – A weapon with which he planned to quell the prejudiced notions of the conformist crowd. He would do anything, to get him to the pinnacle and he wouldn’t rest until he achieved it. He had already sacrificed his identity as a male and reverted back to his biological female status officially, and had even gotten his marriage to Kaalika Devi, now Carlos Daniel, as per legal proofs of Identity, legalized as per U.S Marriage laws and had brought Munna to the U.S on a dependent Visa, which otherwise was impossible, owing to the prejudice the LGBT community faced at the hands of the Immigration Department.

Now all of Hazeem’s efforts were about to vanish into thin air…

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _



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