I fell in love when I was eight, though I didn't fully appreciate it till later.
It was a small boy, not as tall as me, who came to ask if they could have their ball back from our front garden.
When I say garden, it was only a few feet of grass and a rose bush in front of a terrace house. But that meant we were better than the street-fronted ones whose doors opened onto the pavement.
I said only if I could play with them, which puzzled him.
"Girls don't play football," he said, and I clutched the ball to my chest.
"You're one short in the team," I answered. "Four versus five."
He smiled and I fell in love.
It was just a kick-about in a cul-de-sac, with goalposts chalked on one wall and two pullovers at the other end. They tried to argue, but gave in, so I joined them.
No, I wasn't very good, but I joined in.
Until Grandma came out and shouted at me.
"Hinal! Come in immediately!"
But sometimes I kicked a ball in the park with the boys, and I became friends with that small boy, Mukund Patel.
It was years later when I had my first period, and Grandma said we must think about marriage that I realised.
I was in love. I wanted to be Mrs Patel.
But I shouldn't have said it.
She snorted. He was just a shop boy. Mukund was too grand a name for the likes of him. They must find a suitable match for me. I was not to worry, they would find someone in due course, but must start looking around.
I cried and Mum hugged me, and said it was too early to talk about such things.
Grandma (Dad's Mum) was a snob. Always concerned with caste and position. The way she talked, you would think she was a princess back home, and Dad was very high class. Mum was a bit lower -- she made that clear -- but it was all right for a girl to marry up a bit.
And if you think race prejudice is a thing only the whites do, you should have heard Grandma. The blacks she despised, and the Pakistanis she hated. If I were to marry a white Christian doctor or lawyer that would do, but a Muslim one over my dead body (not hers).
But if they were so grand why had they come to England? Dad worked in a car factory. Grandma said he was a manager, and Mum went along with it, but his hands were those of a manual worker.
I couldn't bring him home, or visit his home, but I saw Mukund at school, and often in the shop. It was a corner shop, a general store, but also had Indian food, Indian magazines and Indian videos.
Our video recorder had been expensive, but Grandma insisted we needed it to keep up appearances, and Dad was so proud when people came round to watch films or sport he had recorded. Mukund never came round of course.
My eldest sister went on holiday to India with Grandma. Me and my middle sister were so jealous. It cost a lot, of course, but it would be nice for her to meet her family.
Only Grandma came back, and showed us pictures of the wedding. It was a cousin with a high-ranking civil servant job, and our sister would learn to be very happy like Grandma and Mum had.
We gave Mum and Dad a hard time, but they said they didn't know. We didn't believe them.
Of course, that trick would not work again, and we sat in stony silence when suitable boys were presented to us.
I hated my Grandma, and I hated my name because I had been named after her. Mukund never used my name, which I appreciated.
My sister went to university and met a law student, an English boy. Grandma grudgingly accepted, though she was disappointed that it would not be an Indian wedding. The bride was in an English white dress, but we were in our Indian best.
Mukund did not attend, of course, but waited outside, and managed to grab me for a moment.
"You look beautiful," he said. "Will you marry me?"
And I said yes, and kissed him in full view of everyone.
There was nothing Grandma could do. Eventually we married.
The eight-year-old boy had grown up into a big handsome man, and he looked wonderful in a gorgeous silk sherwani in red and gold. Now he was much taller than me. I loved and was so proud of him.
Grandma came to the wedding. I think she thought it wouldn't be legal otherwise, but she wore her second-best outfit. One of his friends gave us a football as a wedding present!
I went to live with him over the shop with his parents, which was a bit cramped. Then they managed to get a shop in a converted 3-storey Victorian building, so we had most of a floor to ourselves.
Grandma did not come to the shop or to see us. When we went round to my parents, she went to her room. We went to her funeral of course.
But I avoided using my name, because it was her name. I told my husband and his parents that Mrs Patel was the most wonderful name for me. Darling or love was fine, of course, but I never tired of him calling me Mrs Patel.
In public I addressed him as Mr Patel, and tried to keep his name secret. He was my Mukund, my Lord Shiva, mine only. There were few relatives in England, so customers who became friends still called us Mr and Mrs Patel.
Oh, how I loved my Mukund! How wonderful it was to walk down the street with this big man, so proud and protective of me! Mr and Mrs Patel! I loved how he was still a silly boy, but also how he possessed me in bed.
I loved the children he gave me. We were Mum and Dad to them, of course. I'm not sure if they knew our names. His parents moved out, and gradually took less part in the business as they got older. It was our shop, and did well enough.
We had been married for nearly thirty years when I learned of my husband's desire.
He wanted to be a woman.
To understand my response, I must say something about us. Mukund was my soulmate. There was sexual desire, of course, especially in the early days of our marriage, but we were in love before that as children and just as much after the passion declined. We had not stopped making love, but things had grown much quieter as we got older. It had never been the most important thing in our lives, though a good way of expressing our love.
Just being together with him was the most wonderful thing in the world, and it seemed to me he felt exactly the same. Working in the shop, doing the everyday chores, just being with him was enough. Lying in bed together, chatting until we fell asleep was precious. I had always supposed that sex would peter out anyway -- it was already quite infrequent -- but it did not bother me.
There was a moment of shock.
But I realised I could not give him up.
He didn't want to have an operation, or to have sex with men. He just wanted to dress and behave and be treated like a woman. He couldn't explain it.
I suppose that if I had been able, I would have been a bit of a tomboy. It was only my family that kept me in line like a good Indian girl. Mukund's parents had been much more relaxed when I moved in. His mum wore western clothes and often slacks. It was Mukund who encouraged me to wear a sari in the shop. He said it was good for customers, and we should embrace our heritage. He liked me to dress up if ever we went out, and I was glad to do it just for his sake.
For so long he had wished it had been on him.
Then he sometimes put on a sari at home, though the children made it difficult.
The neighbourhood changed. More Poles, fewer Indians and Pakistanis. Even the Indians who remained used traditional clothes less. We were just a local shop with British goods. We still stocked Indian food, but a lot of British people bought it. So I mostly wore slacks or jeans, except for special occasions.
With the children gone, he was able to dress as a woman when not in the shop. Fortunately, saris are pretty much one size. It would have been difficult to get a dress to fit him, but we managed a skirt, and some long tights. He could wear pretty underwear all the time. I taught him to cook, and he loved making meals for me.
But with people having cars and more and more supermarkets, things became hard for local shops like ours. We had to open long hours, seven days a week, and he didn't like me being alone in the shop in the evenings, so couldn't enjoy his female time then.
Eventually we were working all hours and losing money, so we sold the shop to a developer. We didn't get a lot, but were able to get a flat and have some money for our old age.
The children were pleased. We were told to enjoy early retirement and not think about leaving anything for them, as they had good jobs.
We took a trip to India, and saw my oldest sister, who had divorced and married a man of her choice, which was nice.
My husband spent more time as a woman, and got quite good at it with makeup and so forth. I loved him and loved the time together. But the trouble was, we were no good at free time. We had been so busy for so long we didn't know what to do.
And he wanted so much more than dressing up in the flat (and hiding when the doorbell went).
Eventually we worked out a trick. I started wearing saris again, and we would go out walking as a couple till we were known in the evening. Then one day it was me in the trousers and him in the sari. There was a bit of height difference, but less because I wore high heels and he didn't.
Just occasionally, as it was getting dark, we would get in the car and go somewhere quiet and walk around, talking and holding hands. It was such a simple thing, and it made him so happy.
It was Anita, our eldest daughter, who made the suggestion.
"Mum, Dad. You're not really enjoying retirement that much are you?"
We said of course we were, and she laughed.
"It's obvious you don't know what to do with yourselves. Listen, Jay [her husband] says there's a new village development and they're looking for some people to run a shop. It probably won't be too busy. It's more of a community service, so you don't have to buy it -- they'll pay you a salary."
I could see there was something else. There was obviously a problem.
"The thing is, I think it's a sort of gay community. You know, men with men, and women with women but older middle-class. No clubs and loud music, but you might see some men in drag, and such. Just a dormitory village, I think, for respectable people. Now I know you're fairly broad-minded, so I thought I'd mention it. Otherwise it seems very nice. Shall I give you the details?"
We said it was worth a thought.
The architect had a long phone call and explained it was more a transgender community, and there would be what looked like men in dresses, and former women living as men. People who just wanted to get on with their lives quietly. If we had any religious objections...?
We said we were interested, and he arranged to collect us and drive us that Saturday.
It was a tasteful modern development outside a major city -- close enough for commuting, but far enough to be rural. The buildings were not all the same, but were fairly harmonious. There had been a small village called Tranford, just a few houses and a pub. The pub was still there, the only original building, and there was a community centre. Next to it they were just finishing the shop. It was a traditional style, that is, a house in the form of a flat above a shop. There was even a little sitting room at the back where we could be when there were no customers, and a bell on the door!
"Is everything all right?" he asked looking very concerned.
My dear husband was crying, and I knew why. We had seen men openly in dresses, and now we were being offered a shop like his parents had.
We had to explain, and then it was all decided.
They had a little party in the community centre to welcome us, and we both wore saris.
It was such a lucky break; I could hardly believe it. Anita explained she had seen her Daddy putting on a sari sometimes when he didn't know she was about, and guessed that he was missing more than running a shop. Then Jay, a lawyer, was doing some conveyancing and told her about Tranford.
Her Daddy cried again, when she told him.
I can't express how happy we were. There is no need for us to open long hours, but we are busy enough dealing with stock and customers. Just a couple of hours in the morning with the newspapers, an hour at lunch and 4 till 8 in the evening. We know the villagers sometimes go to other shops in the city, as we don't stock everything, but they try to patronise us as far as they can. In turn, we try to supply things they might want, including ingredients for Indian dishes made properly, not from supermarket packets.
It is, as promised, a quiet community of people who just want to get on with their lives, mainly couples, mostly a man and a woman, though one or both may not have started that way.
Many of the villagers have had operations to change sex, but Mukund is happy just to be dressed and treated like a woman. He is nearly six feet tall (even more in heels) so would find it difficult to be accepted anywhere else. I am happy in slacks and jeans. He wears saris in the shop, because he said it is our culture, and one of us should!
There is a wonderful woman called Liz, (with a husband called Sophie). She started out making dresses for him, and now does it as a business for other men, online. She made some lovely clothes for my darling husband. It has made him so happy to be able to walk around in them, and meet people. Just in the village, of course. It is his man clothes when we go into the city for supplies. I generally wear a sari when we visit a couple of Indian shops in the city. It's nice when others are, and I think I get a better deal.
Though many Tranford people go into the city to work, a fair proportion work from home, and there are a couple who are full-time housewives, but tend to organise the social side. It's very much a village community. We get invited to dinners and have others around.
There are good number of people who were once men but have now become completely women, happy as wives to adoring husbands. But we're not like that. I admit I wear slacks a lot and don't wear a bra except when dressing up, because I have quite small breasts, and it is more comfortable without it. But I'm not a man, don't wish to be, and am not pretending to be one. And my husband wears a bra, female clothes and makeup (except when we go into the city). But that is as far as he goes in being like a woman. It would be difficult to fool anyone, and he doesn't try, just looks as nice he can in a female style. He was always a gentle soul, not macho, anyway. There are a couple of others like that.
It may sound strange but our sex life came back. He is just so happy in his dresses, but in bed he is a man in every way.
I don't like to be called Hinal, and I don't want any other name. So although we know everyone by their first names, I am still Mrs Patel. And Mukund is my private name for the special person in my life. I don't wish anyone else to use it. Although he acts and is treated like a woman, he is still Mr Patel.
Maybe it's unusual, but then Tranford is an unusual place.