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Right from the start, Paul didn’t like Maria. She had nothing against him but we are careful with people who dislike us. Gabriel had many gay friends in the city. It was a part of his life that Maria had had no contact with until they were housemates. Now, she met some of those friends when they visited the house. One of them was Paul.

Maria was sitting in the back courtyard in a bit of afternoon sunshine which had forced its way through the surrounding buildings. She heard Gabriel and Paul walking from the house and was about to make her presence known when Paul stopped walking.

“Why is that girl from the country living here?” said Paul.

“She’s just a housemate,” said Gabriel.

Something in Gabriel’s voice surprised Maria. Just a housemate, she repeated. I thought we were friends.

“She seems a bit strange to me,” said Paul. “And she has that room at the side of the house. What’s that all about?”

“I don’t know,” said Gabriel getting edgy. “It’s nothing to do with me.”

Nothing to do with me? thought Maria.

“You seem very buddy-buddy with her,” probed Paul not yet satisfied with the response.

“Nah, bro. I already told you,” said Gabriel. “She just lives here. What she does or doesn’t do is of no interest to me.”

Paul took a few more steps and Maria and Gabriel were unavoidably facing each other. Maria did not try to hide the look of hurt on her face.

Gabriel looked mortified but quickly regained his composure and said, “Oh, hi Maria, we are just on our way out.”

Paul, on the other hand, looked neither surprised to see Maria nor sorry about anything that was said.

That evening, Maria saw Gabriel in the hallway. “Have you finished with the bathroom?” he asked.

“Yes, I have,” said Maria. However, she didn’t move from the doorway and so Gabriel had to look at her. “I’m not homophobic but some of your friends are heterophobic,” she said.

“Don’t worry about it, Maria. It’s nothing,” said Gabriel.

“You mean nothing like I am to you?” asked Maria. “I don’t care how body appendages and holes relate to each other,” she said with uncharacteristic bluntness.

“That’s not very nice,” interrupted Gabriel. It wasn’t clear if he thought it wasn’t nice to talk about body appendages and holes or it wasn’t nice to talk about his friends like that.

“You lot have made an invisible club,” said Maria, “and if anyone questions its tenets then the brotherhood turns on them. You all have token women as if to prove how well adjusted you are. They might as well be trophy wives. You don’t want to be equal. You want to be exclusive and special. You are no more special than anyone else.”

Gabriel turned for downstairs and Maria heard the front door close.

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