I woke up and, as usual, glanced to my right to check the time on my DVD player. But it was covered by some discarded item of clothing so I couldn't read it. Outside, the street was quiet, only the noises of a few cars and the occasional footstep. Birds were singing. It must have been quite early, though the sunshine looked bright already. Weekend, of course, so always a bit quieter.
Some rays spilled through the gaps at the top of my curtain rails, casting flickering shadows of the trees outside onto my white ceiling. I just lay there looking up at the play of light and dark. I felt no compulsion to move. No urgency to pee or eat. I just lay there quietly, looking at the patterns moving gently on the white plaster, feeling peace and restedness suffusing my body.
More and more, my history of disturbed sleep, the paralysis and visits and terrors that I'd suffered since I was a child seemed, themselves, to have become like fading dreams, dissolving in the brightening sunlight of a summer Saturday morning. Magically, my recurrent sleep problems had disappeared over the long summer. For a while it had seemed like a precariously grasped peace - the gap between bouts of a chronic attack of hiccups. But more and more, I was sure that something had changed. I'd somehow entered a new phase of my life over the summer holidays.
I hardly even dreamt any more.
I stretched, luxuriating in the sensation of my muscles and bones meshing and sliding under my skin. I scratched an itch under my right nipple then let my arm fall to my side, palm up and fingers slightly curled. I lay breathing shallowly, losing myself in the shadowplay above, making out forms and shapes, conflicts and struggles in the rippling shapes on my ceiling, like a hidden story being played out just beyond the boundaries of this world, only grasped in fleeting shadows, out of the corners of your eyes, or in the depths of sleep.
Gently, I drifted off and back into that place, which I could now visit and return from without harm.
I woke an hour or so later and rose. I felt utterly refreshed. A light breeze was blowing through the kitchen of my flat. My housemates Lorna and James seemed to have gone out already so I was alone as I padded semi-naked through the empty flat, wiping surfaces, straightening piles of magazines, eating crumbly toast with damson preserve and drinking lotus green tea. My mobile rang once: Mocha, no doubt wanting to know about how we were getting to the club tonight. I let it go to voicemail. Later for all that. James' tacky pink mosque-shaped clock on the mantelpiece read 9:48. He'd bought it on Brick Lane last year just after we'd moved in for the new term at college.
I watched a blackbird perched in a tree outside the kitchen window. He seemed to be looking back at me with his beady eyes. Soon it became a question of who would blink first. I sipped my citrus scented tea, not wanting to be the first to weaken. We stared into each others' eyes for what must have been a minute. Then he broke off. I felt an absurd feeling of triumph. He turned on his branch, lifted his tail and let out a small poo that dropped quickly out of sight, glanced back at me, then flew off, quicker than I could see.
That told me.
I finished my tea, took the mug and my plate to the sink and went to have a shower.
As I patted my long, bleached blonde hair dry, I looked at myself in the large mirror in the bathroom, critically analysing the figure looking palely back at me through the steam and condensation.
Skinny, tall, undoubtedly boyish, made doubly (and paradoxically) so by the hairlessness that I maintained carefully, shaving on average every other day, all over, even down there. It's a full time job, this. But why? What difference was I making to anything?
Would the world care that here was another tranny working hard to evoke the lost girl, my shadow twin? Born together in the darkness, one (me), expressed outside, the other, her (also me), hidden inside and pushing gently outwards to fill the cavities that my body didn't manage to inhabit on its own.
I raised my skinny arms, examining my hands critically in the mirror. You could imagine these were a girl's forearms, certainly. There was no masculine heft to the musculature. The wrists slender and bony, like those of my cousin Akiko whose brown, slim upper arms I remember feeling a pang of jealousy for when visiting home one long ago Japanese summer. She'd used to cycle over from her house to play. She was a tomboy, always covered in scuffs and mud, more boisterous than me; slightly older too and starting to show signs of puberty.
I was doubly trapped even then, between girl need and boy reality, between West and East, uncomfortable with the Japanese language I'd only learnt sketchily before moving to England, uncomfortable in my skin and body which was slowly and surely developing away from the girlish ideal held close to the other body inside my head. I found Akiko's games rough and I cringed when she laughed at my clumsy Japanese, but I idolised her. She looked like me. A girl me, close enough to see how I might be if I found the girl inside. Akiko was dead now. She'd developed a severe psychotic mental illness in her early twenties and hung herself in the mental hospital to which she'd been committed.
I lowered my slender arms with the painted nails (Rocker by MAC). Yes, they'd do. But what about the rest? Well, I guess the face was fine. We Oriental types do seem to have a bit of a genetic advantage when it comes to trannying. Looked at from most angles, my face and head, though on the large side, could easily pass for either gender. Brush a little rose on my high cheekbones, dab a shade of metal and paint some lines of definition on my almond eyes under my thinly arched brows and wipe an artful moistness onto my rather plump lips, angle the chin just so, throw back the shoulders, and ah, there she was again. Hello you. The lost girl.
But look down now and you'd see the fakeness of the illusion. Oh, the legs were fine. A little too bony, and knobbly on the knee maybe, but slender and long and lustrous under a short skirt with a little sweet smelling baby lotion rubbed in to make them glow. But the skinny, long torso of a young man was what spoiled things. The too-long ribcage that contained the small heart of the girl-me that I had slowly killed as I'd grown into manhood, the incriminating flatness of my chest, the small, hairless cock which I could hide and tuck and eliminate, like a Stalinist photo-retouching purge on my anatomy. But the incriminating negatives were always filed away between my thighs and ready to be released.
I wondered what it would be like to have the light heft of budding flesh pulling on my chest. I tucked my balls and cock away and squinted and posed, just imagining seeing the change happen in the mirror I faced; imagining I'd see my body shrink and grow and bud and swell like the oceans shaped by the moon's tidal pull. Mutable. In flux. Inchoate. Fearful but resolute.
It was almost too late to change.
It was never too late.
The BBC News channel was full of the usual humdrum quarter hour cycle of modern life (is rubbish). Credit crunch, celebrity big-hair drunkenness, fatalities home and abroad, comings and goings in the football transfer market, fuel panic, the obligatory weekend animal story.
I was sitting half dressed and smoking, waiting for my friend Amy to call - we were supposed to be meeting up for brunch. I couldn't decide whether to be a boy or a girl and so I was hedging my bets in my skinny jeans which worked both ways. A curious story began to unfold as I watched disinterestedly. The blonde news anchorwoman, all concerned eyes and serious mouth, overlaid with the headline "MYSTERY DEATH IN WILTSHIRE". We now hand over to our reporter on the scene.
Cue professionally windswept looking man in a light grey jacket and blue shirt who was standing in a field somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Behind him a bustle of activity, striped tape demarking crime scenes and police lines, white suited figures and fingertip searches, the visual fetishes of the media's idea of violent death. He was explaining how a farmer had discovered a dead body in a new corn circle that had appeared the night before in the middle of one of his fields. A young Asian man. No sign of a struggle, no apparent cause of death. To all intents and purposes, it seemed he'd laid down in the middle of the field early that morning and just died of natural causes.
The weirdest thing, explained the reporter, was that it looked like the corn circle had formed around the dead body, somehow. Apparently there was something in the way the plants around him had been crushed that showed that the elaborate pattern could only have formed after the body had found its final resting place.
The irate farmer being interviewed didn't care about the death of a dark-skinned man on his land of course. His interview was full of glowering resentment against the supposed pranksters who'd finally arrived on his property after years of despoiling other farmers' crops with their impossible, intricate geometric earthworks.
My phone bleeped and I broke away. It was a text from Amy about where and when to meet. I got up and continued to dress, leaving the rolling news to roll ever onwards in the background.
"People can't take their eyes off your nails," Amy said, forking a mouthful of huevos rancheros into her mouth, "can they?"
We were sitting at the tables outside a cafe in Highgate Village. Amy had come up from her new flat in Bethnal Green and we were to go for a walk in Kenwood afterwards.
i laughed, fluttering my carmine claws round in mock menace. "I guess they expect a boy to have black nails if they're painted at all," she observed.
It was true. Waitresses, passers by, young diners on nearby tables; people seemed mesmerised and confused by my nails in particular. Not by my faint eye makeup, or the eyebrows. It was the nails that sent the duplicate signals, got the mystified looks. I'd decided to go "boy" but hadn't been arsed to remove the nail polish. Besides, I enjoyed the visual terrorism, which was never that dangerous to indulge in during daytime.
I listened as Amy burbled on in her pretty South Welsh lilt about all and sundry. I was a good listener, not too voluble myself and I was attracted to those who could dominate a conversation with half a person like me. Mocha too. She was a talker. Fuck yes.
I wondered one day if I'd find someone with whom to share conversations like that. You know, someone permanent. A nice boy who'd love someone like me.
I'd never been that successful in matters of love.
I guess I attracted people with fevered desires, rather than people who'd desire me for who I was.
It was worst at the club of course, the admirers who came to leer and paw. We had a weird symbiosis with them, girls like us. Not quite dependent, not quite contemptuous. Members of different species who'd somehow become intertwined in the food chain without realising it. The bottom feeders and the open swimmers, joined by a subtle web of want. Even the cab drivers who took us there and back. You could tell that some of them were in it for that - a quick blow job for the fare. We were often hard up, or after a thrill, or, after all, just wanted some human company, however brief.
I remembered that one mini cab driver, from a few months ago. He'd told me his name as I'd left his car, leaning out with a lopsided smile. I couldn't remember now what it had been, but I remembered that smile, and his nice hair. Part of me wished I'd done something with him, but I guess that there's so much danger there. It's just not worth the thrill. Is it?
But what if he'd been the 'one', that cute, tall, Asian boy? Too late now. I'd seen him a couple of times after that but then he'd stopped coming to get fares at the club, with his long hair and his big eyes. So I guess he wasn't the one. Pfft. A mini cab driver. Thank god. Can you imagine?
"Oh my god did you see this?" interjected Amy, oblivious to my reverie, pointing out a story in the paper in front of her. I took another sip of coffee and munched on my blueberry pancake, craning my neck to make out the story in The Guardian that she was reading. "It's sooo spooky, like."
"Oh yes," I said. "I was watching a report about that on the news when you texted me, actually."
"Says here that his car was found three fields away from where his body was, upside down, it was like it had crashed through a hedge. Except that the field was miles away from any road! It's gotta be a prank. But he's dead!" She shivered. "That's so sick!"
I nodded. "It does sound like a bad joke somehow." I looked up suddenly as a screaming child ran randomly by us, heading down Highgate Hill, chased by an irate looking adult. Amy and I smiled at each other.
She read on, in a dramatic voice: "More mysterious still are the indications that someone else had been severely injured in the apparent crash of the abandoned car. Large quantities of reportedly human blood were found on the passenger side and a seat belt seems to have been hastily cut on that side as if to release an injured passenger. However no traces of injury or struggle have otherwise been found and there is no sign of a body. There have been no admissions to local hospitals or mortuaries that seem consistent with the gruesome discoveries, and of course, the body of the unidentified Asian man in the field itself is completely injury free. Police are urging anyone who might have further information to contact the incident room at Devizes. The Asian man's body was removed earlier and a post mortem is expected later today."
Amy's favourite blood dot earrings glinted in the sunlight as she leaned over, with a mischievous smile on her pixy face, "do you think it's aliens?" She got a cigarette out and started rummaging around in her bag.
"I'm sure it's got absolutely nothing to do with immigration," I joked, watching her light her fag with a lurid pink matchbook from the club. "Hey, where did you get that?" I asked suddenly. "You've never been down to the club have you?"
She shook her head, smiling up as our rather dishy waiter cleared our plates and left the bill. "You must have left it at my flat," she explained. "I found it by the side of the sofa."
She looked at the logo on the front of the matchbook, which showed a pair of open, fishnet clad legs, with the club's name printed vertically in-between. "Well classy, it looks like," she said, giggling, "your workplace."
I laughed. "Only the highest class establishments for me," I said, putting a ten pound note down on top of hers.
We had a wonderful walk in Kenwood's grounds and on the Heath. It was a precariously beautiful autumn day. The kind that masquerades as summer, still, with the hint of a fresher breeze, dry, on the cusp of too hot. Amy said it was the sort of day that was made for walking in the country. Even this deep into September, there were people swimming in the ponds.
Back home, I had a whole afternoon and evening to kill before I had to worry about Mocha picking me up in the cab for work. I was freshly shaved everywhere so all I'd have to do was get made up and dressed.
I sat down on the sofa and put the telly on. Within five minutes I'd drifted off to sleep.
I'm not sure if I dreamt. If I did, I didn't remember it.
Much, much later, I was alone in the back of a minicab on the way home from the club, making our way up the deserted orange-lit hinterland of the Holloway Road, like I did almost every Sunday morning.
I'd just poured Mocha back into her flat. I'd been quiet all night. Ever since getting up this morning I'd felt a sense of calm very different from the agitation I'd been used to all my life, and which worked against me in the high energy environment of the club. Mocha had tutted as I'd sat silently at the bar, smiling faintly, after we'd arrived, sipping my Margarita. "What's the matter with you LADY?" she'd huffed, striding off towards the dancefloor towards a group of admirers watching, tongues-out, chins on the floor.
She'd turned and looked back at me, as if beckoning, but I hadn't joined her. She didn't talk to me all night after that. But I still took her home. She was my friend.
Now I sat quietly in the back seat of the minicab, looking out at the quiet, dark street as it went past.
The driver, a middle aged black man with an African accent I couldn't identify, watched me in the mirror. I smiled and he looked away.
Then my eye was caught by an ornament hanging down on a piece of string from his rearview mirror. It was the strangest thing. I could barely make it out, let alone work out what it was meant to be.
Attached to the string was a fuzzy pom-pom, pale blue, the sort you learn to make when you're little using two discs of card and lots of wool. Hanging down from one side of the pompom was a square of rough looking fabric, like hessian, from beneath which projected what looked like a bunch of black pipe cleaners. It seemed so chaotic a thing that I couldn't believe someone has made it or put it there intentionally. And yet somewhere within myself, I had the strangest feeling that it was something vitally important. I couldn't take my eyes off it.
After a while the driver noticed me looking. I looked into his eyes again. "What is it? Do you mind me asking?" indicating the strange thing under the rearview. "A spider?"
He smiled at that. "Ah, my grand-daughter make it. In school." He poked it with his finger and it swung gently under the mirror. "I have no idea what it is, in truth," he went on, "but my wife say I should keep it in here." He chuckled, "for luck."
I was filled with foreboding, watching the thing swing in the semi-dark.
"That thing's not lucky." I said, shivering though it wasn't cold at all. "Not for me, anyway."
I became slowly aware that someone was sitting on the end of my bed. The glowing turquoise digits on my DVD player read 04:21.
I struggled to keep my eyes open, grasped by a huge weight of lethargy. For a while I couldn't focus. There seemed to be a slight mist down there by my feet, concealing a shadowy figure.
"You look beautiful, I just wanted you to know that," said a soft voice that emanated form the dark figure's head.
"You don't know me any more," the voice continued, filled with sadness. "No..." it said, as though correcting itself. "You never did... know me, did you?" The voice was so soft that it was almost a whisper. I struggled to take it in.
The figure raised a faint blur of darkness in front of itself. It's arm. No, his arm. From the fingers hung the ornament from the taxi. The pom-pom head emanated a weak blue glow and its pipe cleaner legs waggled feebly in the gloom under its canvas body. I sensed that, whatever it was, it was dying. It had lived long, seen so much in its time, but these were its final moments.
The shadowy man continued. "You defeated them... Stopped them coming through you into the... the world of men... I wanted you to know that-" He paused, as though it was a tremendous effort to get the faint words out. "You won't remember. But I just wanted you to know, my love, before I'm gone for good... Back to their world..." His voice was becoming so faint that I could no longer hear it, except like an itch in some part of my brain. I realised then that tears were streaming down my face.
I wanted to say something to this strange man on my bed. I tried to move my mouth and the words eventually came, just a vague croak, but just about intelligible. I had to tell him, it was vital that he knew, for some reason, that I'd made the most important decision I'd ever make, just today:
"I.. I.. decided... I'm going to become a woman..." I said slowly and hesitantly, "I decided... today.. to stop... messing about... to become.. who... I really am..." I tailed off, exhausted by the effort of expressing this idea to my visitor, crying silently.
The figure at the end of my bed whispered in my head as I drifted gently back into a deeper slumber. He leaned forward but I was almost oblivious as he kissed me softly on my mouth. "I know, love. I know," he whispered as he departed, voice fading like a drift of snow melting into the spring, "and... you'll be... magnificent..."
But I was already asleep, stepping silently into my future, which would start tomorrow and lead into all the other tomorrows that would follow, and follow, as tomorrows do.
The novella, 'Transformer' is part of the Transformer series, a loose cycle of semi-autobiographical, semi-connected short stories.
'Transformer' is now complete. Enjoy.
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