a tale in weekly parts
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.
Bernie eventually found Jonas in the work area between the male and female blocks, surrounded by a couple of dozen men. A few women hovered around the outside of the group. Although contact between the sexes was forbidden under the danjang’s rules, it was far from unusual for a few women to listen in to the male workgroups’ conversations and report back to the rest of the women on what they had learned. Bernie waited close by and listened in to what Jonas was saying.
“…will be a terrific replacement for the Rev. I know he’s new here and hasn’t really got to grips with the history and culture of the place, but apart from being – though he won’t thank me for saying it – a solid leader, he also has both male and female points of view,” he heard Jonas say.
“How can he do that” one of the men asked.
Bernie was horrified to hear Jonas reply, “He must never know I told you this, but Bernie used to be a woman.”
“You mean he’s trans?”
“Well, I suppose yes — but no. Definitely not. It’s much more complicated than that.”
Bernie had heard enough. This German/Canadian, or whatever he was, white man channelled his former self. Pulling himself to his full height and feeling the repressed anger at the injustices that his people had borne for centuries, he burst into the group, touched Jonas firmly – very firmly – on the shoulder and said, “Sup, my man?”
Jonas picked himself up from the dusty ground, brushed himself off and started all over again.
“Bernie; I didn’t know you were here!”
“You don’t say! And here was me, thinking you knew I was here when you say things like ‘he won’t thank me for saying’ and ‘he must never know I told you this’.” Bernie’s eyes closed to slits as he hissed, “You done me wrong, boy,” and stormed away from the meeting, striding angrily back towards block 3358 and his bunk.
Jonas shrugged his shoulders, looking at the group with an expression somewhere between embarrassed and confused, and ran to join Bernie.
“Bernie,” he said when he finally caught up with his friend, “it’s not how it sounded.”
“You what? Not how it sounded? Enlighten me then, boy, how exactly was it?”
“Look. The guys are upset about the Rev dying. They relied on him to bring some sanity into this craziness. He gave them a purpose. I just—”
“Purpose? What purpose? What you mean is he used the situation to sell them religion. Typical!”
“You’ve spoken with him, Bernie. You were at one of his so-called prayer meetings. Did he try to convert you?”
“And he didn’t try to convert anyone else, either. If he was trying to do missionary work, bringing people to the church, he failed miserably. No, he saw his job as being to bring the men into faith—”
“I knew it! Like I said; typical.”
“Faith in themselves, Bernie. Faith in their ability to bear the nonsense we have to put up with here, and faith that they could, one day, come out of the other side.”
“And how, pray, are they supposed to do that?”
“I don’t know that. Neither did he. I suppose it can be different for each person. Whatever makes it possible for a man to carry on, that’s what he was promoting.”
“And what makes it possible for you to carry on, Jonas? Where is your faith?”
“My faith was in the men and women in these camps, Bernie. That, and in the Rev’s ability to support them. But it’s changed now.”
“What is it now?”
“What do you mean?”
“I now believe that you can have more sway with the danjang than the Rev ever did. That you know what is best for the women as well as the men, and that you can persuade him to improve our conditions here. Not all at once, of course, but little by little. A rule relaxed here, a permission granted there. These things can add up, Bernie.”
“And how am I supposed to be able to do that?”
“Bernie. You’re unique. White and black, male and female. You’re an enigma because you don’t fit neatly into any of the usual categories. He won’t have any easy way of putting pressure on you, and he knows it and that will unnerve him. On top of that, whether you know it or not, whether you admit it or not, you are persuasive; charismatic. Why don’t you run with it for a while, and see if I’m not right.”
“It still doesn’t feel right. I can’t do what the Rev did.”
“You don’t have to, Bernie. All you need to do is take the job and develop it into yours. Your way. Not the Rev’s way or anybody else’s way. Take it where you want to, and the men and women of these camps will follow.”
“Can you guarantee that?”
“I can guarantee that.”
“I need to think,” Bernie said, taking his leave of Jonas and heading to his bunk.