Chapter 1. That winter, the flower bloomed

Year 2014.

I stepped off the plane excited. After grueling boredom squeezed in nine hours of flight, I finally reached one of the developed, if not richest, countries in the world! This is one of the opportunities that I never thought – not a single once – would have happened.

International travels are always glamorous. They always are – just by the sound of it. But together with the glamour, one must keep up with the long walks in the big airports, long queues in the immigration unit or passport control, long waiting periods for your luggage from the conveyer belt, and hurdles to get a cab to your hotel.

It was eight o’clock in the evening when I was able to finally step out of Melbourne’s international airport. For me who had never been to a cold place before, I thought Melbourne was icy cold! Three layers of clothes failed to shield me from the nasty sting of the winter air. Despite people walking past pulling their luggage behind and eager to get in somewhere warm, I stopped to embrace myself and rubbed my hands against my arms. I stood straight with my feet closed together, and shrugged while puffing breaths out. I was a tad disappointed because I did not see a vapor that was supposed to go out of the mouth when it is very cold.

“Inad! Dah-lin!” I heard someone called from inside the airport. It was Vicky, a colleague, who was also leading herself out of a packed airport. Vicky is a middle-aged transgender woman from Tonga, a country in the Pacific, who also works in the same advocacy as I do. She was with her other three transgender women friends from the Pacific.

I thought of walking towards them, however, the weather must have frozen my whole body but my face because I was only able to display a smile. She walked to me gracefully, her hands elegantly clasped over her belly. Standing 6 feet 2, she bent over to offer soft kisses to both of my cheeks which belong to a body that only stood 5 feet 6. She finally hugged me and the faux fur of her white coat gave me the comforting warmth. In a low tender voice, she mouthed “Dah-lin!”

“Hey. . . nice to see you again!” I delightfully greeted.

“You are still pretty, huh?” she replied. “Our flights arrived almost at the same time. We must be picked by the same bus. Is this your first time in Melbourne?”

“Yeah! And I feel very cold! I am very new to this very low temperature!” I remember it was 8 degrees Celsius at the moment. We began walking towards the waiting shed nearby. I was dragging my luggage behind me, while the rest pushed their respective trolleys carrying a number of baggage in different sizes and colors.

“Honey, trust me, it is below zero in New Zealand,” Vicky’s friend excitedly jumped in the conversation. “Hi! I am Lily. I came from Cook Islands, but I will be relocating soon to New Zealand. This is Darren (pointing to one person), and this is Regine (pointing to the other).”

Lily is a pretty lady. She has the mix of Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander features, although her Middle Eastern accent was more prominent.

“Hello. I am Inad,” I introduced back to them, and offering my hand to Lily which she pleasantly shook. “It is wonderful to meet you. You must have many great experiences to share for the sessions that we will be attending?”

“The bus is here, babies! Come now.” Vicky interrupted, waving her hand lowly. “Carry your own luggage to the trunk, oh-key?”

After getting all the pieces of luggage inside the trunk, we started to board the bus one by one. I decided to board last so that I can savor the stingy cold that I just felt the first time. Vicky, who came before me, said with concern, “Come quickly, dear. The cold can be annoying.”

I just returned a smile. It was not annoying at all. I enjoyed it. It was my first 8 degrees Celsius weather in my entire life!

“Come on now,” she insisted. “The weather may slow you. But big things are waiting, dah-lin!”

I found my way up on the bus, with another bag on my back. I passed Vicky’s seat as the doors behind me closed. I gave some smiles and exchanged more greetings as I pulled myself into the farthest row. Seated alone, I rested my legs, grappled a tiny stretch, and grabbed my bag towards me. I reached inside to check my bottles of Lamiviudine, Nevirapine and Tenofovir.

Five years ago, I learned about my HIV diagnosis. I thought that was my life’s end. And it was. My previous life ended, as another one began.

I sat in awe as we hit the road, savoring my first international trip. My heart felt joy so intense that it felt heavy my eyes started to swell. I started to live a life that creates new beginnings. That bus ride was a trip to unfolding opportunities and unfamiliar yet exciting experiences.

For every beginning my life creates, is a testament of the strength of my resiliency, the energy of my intentions, the authenticity of my emotions, and the persistent sense of self.

It was winter in Melbourne. But the flowers bloomed.