I sat quite still for a few moments after reading Blue’s statement. I was hurt by his uncompromising and accusatory tone. He had somehow got the idea in his head that I was uncaring about the tragic situation that he had found himself in. There was only one thing for me to do, to put this right. So I booked myself a weekday passage on the ferry to Broadmoor Island.
After a calm and uneventful crossing we arrived at Broadmoor harbour just before mid day. It was bright and sunny and I enjoyed the short walk to the town centre. It was a neat town with just one main street. There were shops around a central market square. I stopped at a newsagent’s nearby to buy some cigarettes and get my bearings. The owner pointed me in the direction of the main Post Office.
The postmaster was a genial man who had seen perhaps sixty or seventy Happy New Years in his time. There were a few round coffee tables in his shop and I sat to have a drink. The old man brought over my coffee asking which part of the mainland I was from. He was a talkative soul and we chatted for a bit about life in general.
“So what brings you here?”, he asked. I told him that I was an insurance assessor and that I was following up a claim for a Ms Carla Topping. The trouble is that we had somehow lost her address details and needed to contact her. I had been sent here by Head office urgently. I wondered if he happened to know where she lived.
The nice man drew himself up to his full height of five foot and three inches and puffed out his chest importantly. “I know where everyone on this Island lives, and I can assure you that I have never heard of a Carla Topping.” He saw my surprise and continued, “There is a big house at the top of the hill over there”, He pointed in a direction behind me. “It is called Broadmoor Manor and is owned by Laurie Stopping, the last governor of the old prison.” The postman said that Mr Stopping had recently lost a son in a ferry accident. He went on to tell me that there was a daughter, Carmine, who was a teacher in the school just across the square from where we were. He felt that it would be unwise to disturb the family with my enquiries at this time. Perhaps he could introduce me to Carmine the next day when she came into the post office during her mid-morning break. I liked his idea and so I bade him good bye and went to seek a room for the night.
The next day, by mid morning I had taken my place at the coffee table and was reading the local newspaper when the post man whispered excitedly, “Here she comes, act natural, now, and let me do the talking.”
Carmine Stopping would stop any man’s heart for a moment. She looked as beautiful as she did on photos of “Carla” that Blue had shown me. When she spoke it was in the same clear voice that had answered my “oga wrong number” stunt on the afternoon that I had said Kwaheri to Blue at Heathrow.
My postmaster pal explained to her why I was here. She was watching him intently and did not notice that I was watching her as her chest heaved quickly up and down as she listened to what the postmaster had to say. When he had finished she turned to me, calm as you like and said in a cool voice, “I guess I can give you all the information that you require, Mr Kondoo. I just need to go back to the school right now and ask someone to look after my class. I will meet you here in about half-an-hour.”
She left the shop shutting the door quietly and Postman Pat looked at me with a silly grin on his face. “Do you two know each other?” He asked, winking slyly. I assured him that this was the first time that I had met Ms Carmine. I asked him about the brother that had died at sea. The postman said that he had only known him by sight. He was a quiet lad who kept to himself.
Carmine was true to her word. She opened the shop door some twenty minutes later and nodded at me. Taking my cue, I thanked the postmaster and went outside. We walked in silence for a moment before she asked, “So you are Woolie? I have heard so much about you.” She smiled for the first time but I could see pain in her eyes. We chatted for a bit as we slowly walked down towards the harbour. It was another clear day and one could see for miles out to sea. We saw several Ocean going vessels making their way across the channel. Carmine surprised me by naming every ship and telling me what country it came from and where it was bound for. We found a bench overlooking the harbour and sat to watch as the sea-birds dived into the water to emerge again with silver fish wriggling in their bills.
Carmine took a deep breath and said, “How could things have gone so wrong?” She looked at me, saying, “Would you believe me if I said that we did not set out to deceive anybody?” I nodded and said that she did not come across as some wicked con-artist or scammer. “Why don’t you tell me what happened”, I said.
Carmine seemed relieved for the opportunity to get things off her chest. Once she started talking she would only stop to take an occasional sip from a water bottle which I had brought from the post office. As we sat there over-looking the harbour, watching the noisy diving sea-birds she told me the troubled and difficult tale of a young man.
Carmine had two older sisters Amanda and Jennifer. They both lived on the mainland now and almost never came to the Island. After they were born their father, then a harsh prison governor demanded that the next child must be a boy. The next child was Carmine and father was livid. It is said that he was mean and cruel and brutal to his wife. In a strange twist, just over ten months later, their mum gave birth to a baby boy. In drunken rejoicing father called him Charles, because he was the heir.
It was Ma who first noticed that Charles was different from other boys. He preferred to play with the girls and their toys. His father took him to play football in the park and he enjoyed it. When he got back home, however he wanted to help Ma with dinner and house work. Ma said to the girls once that little Charles had said to her that “There was a mix-up and I was given a boy’s body”
When Pa heard about this he was unforgiving. Charles was sent away to boarding school to “toughen him up.” He played rugby and cricket but in the school holidays he would play piano and practice dance at the parish hall. Anyone on the island who did not go to Uni joined the Royal Navy. Charles had passed his A-Levels well enough to do a good degree but Pa insisted that he join up. By all accounts he had a good time. There were numerous deployments and they travelled all over the world in the 8 years that he was there. It was during one tour that they ended up in Thailand. This opened his eyes to the fact that he was not the only person who felt the utter misery of being trapped in the wrong body.
He took his next annual leave in one big chunk and went back to Thailand where he started the long process of re allignment. This is about the time when Blue first appeared on the scene. At first it seemed like just a bit of fun. Blue sounded like a decent enough character and so they chatted and emailed all through the difficult times. Blue was not here to see how Charles was transformed into Carla. Something about this transformation seemed to strengthen their friendship. Blue told Carla of how he had been in a serious car wreck years ago and how he had spent a couple of weeks in hospital. It was friends who visited him and kept him going. Carla saw in Blue the friend who would keep her going.
There was one problem. Father. We did not have the courage to tell him what Charles had done. When he came back to the Island he stayed with me at my teachers’ quarters. He needed money to fund his ongoing hormone treatment courses so he got a job on the ferries. He was employed as Charles Stopping because all his Sea Man ship certificates from the Navy were in this name. She did not tell Blue that she was working on the ferries. The transformation period would soon be over and she was going to meet Blue properly for the first time. It was Blue who had insisted on going to meet her at Portsmouth.
That last day Carla was very excited. She just could not keep still. She was up and down. She went to see Ma and said good bye to her. Pa was at the bank where he is a part-time director. She called him and spoke to him for an hour on her mobile.
Carla came back to Carmine’s for some last bits and pieces. She called Blue on her mobile at 11.00 pm and told him that everything was in hand. She then connected her charger and changed into her Ferry Crew uniform. The two siblings walked down to the harbour as brother and sister for the very last time.
The ferry sailed at midnight. When Carmine got back to her house later she was crying so much that even if she had noticed the phone connected to a charger she would not have realised its significance just then.
Carmine sighed deeply as she came to the end of her story. She looked like someone who had just put down a huge weight from off her back. I took her hand in mine and I thanked her. She said “Wooi Woolie don’t thank me. You now have to relay all this to your friend, no?”