By Hongwei Bao, United Kingdom.
“Your secret is safe with me,” was Ming’s promise when I told him that I liked boys instead of girls.
Ming was my best friend at school. Wearing the same type of school uniform, Ming looked older and bigger, but we were the same age. We grew up together in the same neighbourhood and our parents knew each other well. Ming was always the first one to hear stories from me. I trusted him on everything and anything. One afternoon after school, we met at the balance bars on the school playground as usual. It was just the two of us. I mustered up courage and told him about my secret.
Ming seemed slightly surprised, but he soon smiled and agreed to keep it a secret for me, as he had done other times. We were best friends after all. After a few push-ups, we headed for our own homes.
The next morning, in the school corridor, just as I was about to wave at him and say hi, I noticed something was different. As soon as he saw me, he dropped his head and continued to walk on, avoiding eye contact with me. In the classroom, I couldn’t help casting frequent glimpses at his side—he wasn’t looking at me. In fact, he remained quiet all day. When the school bell rang, he picked up his schoolbag and left the classroom in a rush. Was it because of my secret? What did he do to my secret?
I ate very little that evening. Mum frowned when she saw the food I’d left in the bowl. Dad threw me a disapproving look and asked me how my day was. “It was OK,” I replied, “lots of homework to do.” I stood up, ready to leave the table.
“Wait!” Dad raised his hand and gestured me to sit down. His eyes looked serious.
After a few seconds of silence, he spoke: “We know it. Ming told his parents, and his dad told me about it.”
I could hear my own heartbeat.
”I’ve asked them to keep it a secret. They’ll make sure Ming doesn’t talk about it either,” Dad added.
A relief, followed by a profound sense of sadness.
“You should learn a lesson from this. Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.”
Horrified by these words, I nodded sheepishly.
“Ming will remain your friend, but he will need more time to understand this,” he consoled me.
I dropped my head, tears in my eyes.
The next morning, in the school corridor and in the classroom, I tried to avoid Ming. The day felt long, and the air was steaming hot. I couldn’t concentrate on the lessons. The words in the textbook jumped around and didn’t make much sense. I wished the Earth would crack open, and I could disappear into the hole. I felt ashamed for what I had done, and for who I was.
Near the end of a day, a small, folded paper ball landed on my desk. I picked it up and unwrapped slowly. Ming’s handwriting jumped into my eyes:
“Can we talk?”
There, on the playground, near the balance bars, Ming told me that he was confused the other day and didn’t know what to do. So he told his parents about it. They simply told him to shut up and keep quiet. But he couldn’t help thinking about it, and about me. He told me that he liked boys too.
—Hongwei Bao (he/him) grew up in China and now lives in Nottingham, UK. He uses short stories, poems, reviews and essays to explore queer desire, Asian identity, diasporic positionality, and transcultural intimacy.