This person sat next to me in a bus headed to the city. I was seated next to the window, like I always prefer to, and they occupied the seat next to me to my right hand side. As the vehicle snaked its way through the afternoon traffic, I became aware of an extra pair of eyes staring out of the window with me. I turned to look at them and maybe gauge whether I needed to hug my handbag tightly (this is Nairobi, after all). Unfortunately, scrutinizing this person did not help. It instead left me confused. Thus I christened the person X.
X because I couldn’t tell whether she or he was a female or a male. I never thought, in my wildest imaginations that there would come a day when I could be unable to tell another human being’s sex by physical appearance.
X donned a pair of skinny jeans and loafers on their feet. I couldn’t tell if they had a blouse, shirt or t-shirt underneath the leather jacket. Had there been no leather jacket to contend with, I would have caught a glimpse of X’s chest and immediately solved the mystery that was the sex of X. Damn this July cold that has everyone layering and hiding some crucial evidence in the process!
What had me even more confused was the face. I had to observe it stealthily lest they caught me staring. That X was light-skinned was not a cause of contention. X had facial features that fitted those of any female you could think of. But, alas X had a moustache!
And not just any moustache. Some ladies have moustaches you know. Miniscule moustaches that are shaved or waxed every now and then to keep them in check. Not X’s moustache though. X had a very well trimmed, very prominent moustache. It was dark, therefore contrasting against X’s light complexion. It was kempt. It was there not by accident but on purpose. You could almost picture X standing in front of the mirror and using a small comb to arrange the strands in a neat pile above the lip. It was almost as if he or she had walked into the barber shop and specifically instructed the guy in charge to be extra careful with it; “Trim it well. Don’t take out too much, or too little. Kiasi tu” X might have instructed.
Beneath the moustache was a pair of pinkish lips. I say ‘pinkish’ because they were in a grey area between wearing lipstick and being naturally pink. I was confused. Plus I had to look away because, you know…staring is rude.
At this point, my curiosity was piqued and I went in for another look.The eyes. X wore eyeliner. Not the inconspicuous brown or other-soft-color kind of eyeliner. A bold, very dark, Goth- like black eyeliner.
At this point, I was almost convinced that when this person woke up that morning, he or she set out to deliberately confuse me.
I looked out of the window as the bus maintained its course with reggae music blaring from its speakers. I looked out all right, but my mind was on this person, this human seated next to me who for the life of me, I could not tell whether he was a man, or she was a woman.
I noticed that X sat like a man, with legs wide apart. In fact the left leg almost touched mine. I instinctively shifted in order to create more personal space. I have noticed many men sitting like that; one leg facing west, the other leg facing the far, far, FAAAAR East as if they are allergic to each other.
Curiosity unsatiated, I waited for X to look elsewhere then I continued my scrutiny. I noticed the hair.
It was short Ellen DeGeneres- style. It was dyed a very subtle, soft maroon color. I observed X’s hands as they handed over fare to the conductor and they looked soft. Like those of a woman. Not necessarily manicured, just neatly trimmed nails. Apparently keen on trimming stuff, this one. The hands were feminine – I can say that with authority.
I was almost convinced at this point that X could be a woman. But there was the moustache! The distinguished moustache was hard to ignore. I wished at that point that the jacket could come off and this disturbing mystery would be solved. I was dwelling so much on it that it was bothering me.
When we reached our destination, we all stood up to alight. There were no hips on X to write home about. I therefore resigned to the fact that I would never know if I took a ride to town seated next to a man or a woman.
The liberal world we live in today has effeminate men. Their hands are soft, they wear flower-scented colognes, they get manicures and pedicures, they visit the salon to have cornrows plaited on their heads – you might even have to share your blow-dryer with them.
Add to the confusion the fashion trends today; Boyfriend jackets, boyfriend jeans, boyfriend blazers, skinny jeans, Unisex shoes. Is it any wonder I was confused? That person could easily have been David Beckham without the side burns or Janet Reno complete with spectacles, seated next to me that day.
I don’t know which is worse though; Eyeliner (in this case, Guyliner) on a man, or a moustache on a woman.