A Small Adjustment
Copyright © 2016, A_M_L
Julie and her mother Miranda had gone through a tough time. Julie’s father had walked out on his family in favor of another woman. The subsequent divorce proceedings had been most unpleasant. They left Miranda with little financial support for herself and her teenage daughter. Things were looking up now though. After starting to work full time again the mother recently got a big promotion at her realty firm. She was now in charge of the city’s new up and coming neighborhood. A poorer immigrant part of town had lately started to flourish, meaning there was much real estate money to be made for a talented business woman. The firm had supplied Miranda and Julie with a house there and a home office. They had just moved and it was the morning of Julie’s mother’s first official workday in the new territory.
“Mom, what are you wearing?” Julie asked.
Her mother had just appeared at the breakfast table, wearing one of the skirt suits she usually wore. Except the silk scarf that usually went around Miranda’s neck was now loosely wrapped over her hair instead. “The investors I’ll be meeting with are Muslim men, it’s a sign of respect” she explained. “Might help close a deal.”
“Oh, good idea” remembering the lean years Julie enormously appreciated everything her mother did to get them back on top.
The following morning Julie again saw her mother turning a neck scarf into a simple headscarf.
“You got the feeling your clients valued your gesture yesterday?”
“I think so…” Miranda hesitated. “But although they show me the utmost respect, I still get the feeling they are not entirely comfortable doing business with a woman.”
“They’ll get used to you, I guess.”
“I do hope so.” Miranda sighed. “Almost everyone I’ll be dealing with is Muslim. It’s very important I can put these people at ease.”
This issue became Miranda’s number one worry over the following weeks. Her work was going okay, but certainly not great. She was moving towards selling a few of her firm’s lots, the process went at a snail pace though. Cause there was a tangible feeling of distance between Miranda and her clients. They simply had problems with the notion of a business woman. Which made them apprehensive every step of the way. She needed to solve this before her employers decided to do something about it.
“Mom, isn’t this a bit much?” A surprised Julie questioned her mother one morning a few weeks later as she entered the kitchen.
The woman had traded her regular attire for a far more modest one. The skirt was now ankle-length. Her silk headscarf now wrapped around her in a far more severe manner, not a single hair peeking out. “I believe it’ll make my clients more comfortable with me” Miranda herself was visibly not entirely comfortable though. “What do you think?”
“You look great mom” it was strange seeing her mother like that. But realizing how important this could be for their finances Julie wanted to be supportive. People often dress a certain way for work, there’s nothing weird about that right?
Miranda’s instincts had been correct, a woman dressed as she now was had a much easier time doing business with people of the Islamic faith. They definitely started to warm to her. And she herself got used to her new work attire soon enough. Although considering how much she worked, it was almost her standard clothing style now. Worn from dawn until she got ready for bed late at night. Only those few times a week she went jogging or to the gym was she seen out of the house in anything but headscarves and long skirts. Something Julie also got accustomed to seeing her mother in. Her feelings no stronger about this garb than the skirt suits Miranda wore before.
It was the results that counted for both mother and daughter. And there were plenty of those. Miranda’s superiors were most pleased. Deals got closed, contracts got signed, buildings and empty lots changed hands. Until it all faltered.
Something was moving through the business community of the neighborhood’s Muslim population, against Miranda. All the good relations she’d fostered the last couple of months quickly turned sour. Not having any idea what happened, what she did wrong. She wasn’t able to figure it out either. But whatever it was, Miranda needed to fix it quickly. Or the goodwill of the realty firm would soon collapse too.
The mystery was solved by Zohra. A local young woman who came to clean their house once a week. After Miranda grilled her a few times the cleaning lady finally relented the truth. It turned out the locals felt manipulated. They applauded the fact she dressed to their standards but then noticed Miranda only did so when seeking their business. Modesty has to be more than just a selling tool, the Muslim community expected some consistency.
“Julie we need to talk” the girl had just come home from school and found her mother waiting, in what had now been their living room for three months already.
“That’s okay m…” seeing Miranda made Julie stop mid-sentence in shock. Was this really her mother? She knew the face, all the rest was most unfamiliar though. This went a little further than just covering the hair and a long skirt. Miranda was now wearing a long loose dress shapelessly covering her entire body from the neck down in black. With an open coat of a similar shape and size, over that. “Come on mom, what are you wearing now? This is going way too far!”
“Not by the standards of the people that live around here” Miranda defended her choice. “To them this is only proper. And we are both dependent on them for our financial survival, they are my customers.”
“They can’t expect this from you” Julie disagreed.
“They don’t, but I can’t force them to be comfortable doing business with me either” Miranda defended her choice.
“Fine, I shouldn’t get too worked about what you wear to work I guess” she relented.
“It’s more than that though dear” her mother carefully interjected. “This doesn’t just end with my office hours, for neither of us.”
“I’m not involved with this!”
“You are, everyone knows you are my daughter. My clients see you on the streets, their children go to the same school. How you appear out there reflects on me, affects my business.”
“So” Julie sighed. “What is exactly is it you expect me to do?”
“Nothing much dear” her mother was relieved she’d won the argument this easily. “Just a small adjustment to your wardrobe. No tight pants, no short skirts and…”
“A headscarf?” Julie glared at her mother.
“I wouldn’t call it that” trying hard not to lose her daughter’s cooperation. “Just loosely wrap a scarf around your hair when on the streets. Like the weather’s been lately, it wouldn’t look out of place at all.”
“I guess I could do that” her daughter gave in. “For a little while at least. If I don’t like it…”
“Just give it a chance dear, please.”
Julie honored her mother’s wishes and did give it a chance. As Miranda slowly won back her clients confidence, Julie got used to the more modest side of her wardrobe and covering her hair. Not entirely though, she only applied it roughly. Some chestnut strands were always sticking out. But seemed enough to comply to her mother’s wishes.
In any case Julie found the small style adjustment had no actual downsides for her, didn’t hinder in the slightest. It in fact turned out to be a big popularity boost. The past few months she’d been having problems with making friends at her new school. But now it was easy all of a sudden. A clique of Arab girls had welcomed Julie in their midst and she felt right at home. Well, almost that is.
“What on earth are you wearing?” Miranda was most surprised by her daughter’s attire in which she appeared at the breakfast table. Dressed in black shapeless robes, only the girl’s face and hands were showing.
“It’s an abaya mom, a lot of girls at school wear one” she stated.
“So you borrowed one from your friends?”
No, actually I used my allowance to buy a few. With matching headscarves too, not at all expensive” Julie seemed quite pleased.
“But why?” Miranda was flabbergasted.
“To better fit in here” the most modestly dressed girl replied. “You should get some too.”
“I don’t know about that” Miranda felt she had already exceeded her personal limit concerning veils.
“Please mom, do like I did” her daughter tried to convince. “I promise you it’ll help business.”
Julie had made a good case. No reason to not take her new style one step further. Miranda had already given up working out outside the house when she became a full time hijabi a little while before. Wearing an abaya in all black wasn’t going to ask anything more of her. Dressing as the more pious local women could only help her.
Indeed it resulted in Miranda’s clients having a deeper respect for her, never before did their wallets open so easily.
It worked out great for Julie too. Her new attire took some getting used to yes. But never before did she have so many good friends, for the first time Julie really felt like she fitted in. She was seriously starting to consider conversion to Islam too.
In the same period that her daughter was contemplating religion Miranda got wind of a Saudi prince looking to invest in the area. Rumors spread he was looking into a number of big projects; a shopping mall, mosque and business center. If Miranda closed such a deal the commission she’d receive would be staggering. Enough to retire in fact or maybe start her own realty firm.
Unfortunately the prince was supposedly as conservative as he was wealthy. He was unlikely to agree to do business with a woman. Or could the man be convinced otherwise?
“Wow mom, awesome!” Julie exclaimed with much enthusiasm.
“What?” Miranda was startled. Her daughter had taken her by surprise while she was trying something out in the hallway mirror.
“Please mom, can I wear one too? Please!” The girl begged her mother.
“I’m just trying it on child” the older woman assured. It being a black faceveil. In combination with her abaya and headscarf. Her hands, her eyes and a thin strip of skin between them was all that was visible of Miranda anymore.
“I want to wear niqab too mom!”
“This is just for an important meeting tomorrow. Just a one time thing to please a very important potential business interest. I’ll only wear it for a few hours at most and it has nothing to do with you!”
“But won’t you be meeting this person regularly from then on? You’ll at least have to wear it again then. And he might not accept that you dress differently the rest of the time, remember the issues we already had. Also it might please him even more that you have a daughter that dresses just as modest.” Her daughter stated her case with much vigor.
“We shouldn’t get our hopes up” mother tried to reign in the girl. “Me getting as far as this meeting is already a miracle. This interview is nothing more than a long shot. I have to try, although I sincerely doubt anything more will come of it.”
“But in case something does?” Julie tried. “Can we please become niqabis then.”
“Yes Julie” sighing at her daughter’s strange obsession. “I guess in that unlikely event we’d have to.”
Miranda regretted those words for a long time to come. The impossible had happened, the prince wanted to work with her. And as much as she tried, Julie just didn’t let her to back down even a little from her prior promise. It already saddened her to think of how long it had been since she’d seen her daughter’s hair, now most of her face was obscured full time as well. Even after asking her so many times to least not wear the veil when they were home alone. She just wouldn’t remove it.
While the abaya had brought her acceptance, the niqab made Julie the belle of the ball. An example to all of her Muslim friends. In addition to making her one of the most popular girls in school, it also relieved the uneasiness the young woman sometimes felt about her appearance. In her own mind the cone of black satin looking back from the mirror was about as attractive her reflection could possibly get. Why ever remove it? The only thing you couldn’t do in it was shower.
Meanwhile her mother eventually got over her original misgivings. Miranda couldn’t mind the faceveil all that much once the money started pouring in. The prince kept her quite busy as he was buying numerous properties. Each time with a nice commission for her. The man admitted this was the first time he’d worked with a woman so closely, even remotely so. And expressed being pleasantly surprised by Miranda’s capabilities. Even hinting at a possible high ranking job opening she could fill within the prince’s own company.
A little while later an official offer came. Miranda received a letter from the Saudi prince’s overseas office. It informed her they were now actively recruiting employees for a local affiliate of his company. In which Miranda was considered for the top position. It however also informed her that they still had reservations with employing Western women, let alone in management. For this reason every female job candidate for the new branch would need to follow a weekend long seminar before being considered. Daughters or other women living with the applicant were invited to come along. Julie certainly felt up for it.
At first Miranda did as well, until the weekend actually started. The company had rented a fancy hotel downtown, the entire place. And had made some changes to the staff. Only women were on duty, all just as veiled as Julie and Miranda were. It turned out the seminar was in fact all about veiling. Teaching their potential employees to live as Muslimahs of the strictest kind. A number of job seekers left in disgust as soon as they realized. Miranda soon wished she had the courage to join them. The things that they were promoting! Not so much them asking to avoid substances like alcohol and pork, no. She had a problem with all the proposed clothing and accessories.
It turned out the way they were currently outfitted was far from being the pinnacle of Islamic modesty. There were gloves, all manner of thicker veils. That was still within reason. But then there were all the restraints; the gags, the cuffs, the shackles, armbinders, suits,… The remaining applicants were invited to try out whatever they wanted. Miranda chose to decline most of it. Julie was another story though. She tried on everything! Even being the only one present that dared to be restrained in the fearsome purdah suit. A contraption of heavy rubber, which left the occupant hardly able to move and deprived of all senses. Miranda begged the supervisors to get her daughter out of it again, as soon as the last strap had been buckled. Fortunately the girl didn’t seem at all traumatized or even shaken by the experience as her mother had feared.
It was Sunday night back at their hotel room. Miranda was nervous as hell. Finally came the part of the weekend she was actually here for; the interview. For all that the Saudi’s had put her through she still really wanted the position originally offered. They’d have it made if she did. Never again would her family have any financial troubles. But what was expected of her in turn was something else. Every applicant would be asked to what extent they and their household would adopt a strict purdah lifestyle. The prince expected a considerable submission to his values and customs. Those who went the furthest being most likely to be hired for a choice position.
Miranda was handed over a note, by Julie’s gloved and cuffed hand. It read:
I suggest a standard attire of gloves, an eye veil and a gagging purdah hood.
“No Julie, that’s still way to extreme for me. For either of us for that matter.” Mother and daughter had been negotiating like this for an hour now. Miranda already talked her down from a moderate version of the purdah suit. Moderate meaning you could see a little, hear a little, move a little and not much else. But the girl kept dragging her heels as Miranda tried to convince her of a more reasonable manner of dressing. Julie appeared to have had a lot of fun with all these outlandish accessories this weekend, but didn’t she realize they were talking about full time in this stuff?
“An eyeveil is certainly out of the question. For my work I need to see a computer screen, read documents.
Another note was passed by a covered and restrained hand:
That shouldn’t be a problem, you’re allowed to flip it back whenever your alone. So you can still do all that in your office.
“I need my ability to read when I’m in the company of clients too girl. As will you in the classroom.”
So we’re going with just the gloves and the hood?
“Just the gloves” unlike Julie this was the only thing she’d taken up wearing this weekend. Miranda thought she could just about stand it, even during work hours. Unlike the few other items she’d tried the last two days. “We’re already full time niqabis, it’ll have to be enough.”
You really think that it will be enough for them?
“Fine, you win!” Miranda grabbed a large ballgag from the table and buckled it firmly around her head. It appeared she might be passing a lot of notes from now on, starting with during the upcoming interview.
The strangest job interview of her life, a successful one too though. A few days later Miranda was informed she was to become regional manager. She had been found more than capable. And the Saudi prince was willing to settle for a niqabi that ‘just’ observed standard voice modesty. At least for now. When accepting the job she had to promise to be open to the suggestion of observing stricter purdah later on. Once they figured out a manner in which it didn’t interfere with her duties. This was all in her contract.
Miranda managed. It turned out her new duties didn’t include much of face to face (meaning face to veil) contact anyway. Most communication between her and others was handled by emails. And soon enough she got used to typing in gloves. Got used to doing everything in slippery satin gloves in fact. The new restrictions meant a tough time but she adjusted well enough. What was a sore jaw compared to the impressive wage the gagged woman was earning? Just persevere a little while and she’d have enough to retire most comfortably.
Miranda did worry about how she’d get her daughter back from this madness. In her eyes a kind of insanity had gripped the girl’s mind. Julie had gotten obsessed with the practice of purdah. Envisioning the most heavily veiled and restrained life possible as an ideal. It had gotten beyond what Julie’s school was willing to put up with. They did not care for a student who was voluntarily mute. Miranda had originally seen a chance in this to make her daughter take a step back in her strict attire. Unfortunately the prince had a solution ready that further enabled Julie. A heavily veiled Arabian woman was arranged to come to live with them; Hasna. The silent ghost both serving as a tutor in Julie’s school subjects as in the practice of extreme purdah.
It soon turned out she wasn’t there just for Julie, but for daughter and mother. Pushing both the willing and the unwilling to strengthen their purdah regime. And there was little Miranda could do to resist these attempts in the long run. The contract she’d signed with the Prince’s company specified she had to be open to stricter measures. Either she complied or lost her job and would have to pay a staggering financial penalty. What choice did Miranda have?
Julie wishes you strength. And wants to assure you that you’re doing the right thing.
This is what Miranda read on a note passed to her by the domineering yet eternally silent Hasna. She needed some encouraging words today, but would greatly have preferred to have heard them directly from her daughter. Instead the black clad figure she assumed was Julie just stood there motionlessly.
Miranda quickly scribbled a reply:
Why does she not pass her own notes?
After handing it over to the other woman, she soon received an answer:
She won’t be writing any anymore. Your daughter has chosen a new way of life. She has opted for a full purdah suit.
Upon reading this Miranda’s first impulse was to rip out her gag and scream at this fundamentalist bitch. Unfortunately her gag was locked on, her key not nearby. So she would have to express herself in writing again:
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY DAUGHTER?
Hasna took some more time writing the next message:
I only gave her exactly what she wanted. Julie desired an existence of quiet contemplation. Our royal employer supplied the means to make this possible. She has now voluntarily removed herself from the world. Completely insulated from all distraction and temptation. This was completely her own choice, believe me.
Miranda had a lot of trouble believing it. She knew what a full purdah suit entailed. Not something anyone would voluntarily want to be enveloped by, no matter how pious or brainwashed. A full purdah suit is what rich Islamists of the strictest kind forced their daughters and wives into. Thick layers of rubber and tight straps that enforced an inability to even move. Just a minimal shuffle of the feet, the rest of the body was kept utterly motionless. A hood that made uttering any noise, seeing or hearing impossible. The wearer was incapable of perceiving anything beyond the garment that imprisoned them.
Forget all desires Julie had until now, this was something she’d already regret. Miranda knew that her girl had to have been tricked into trying on this punishing attire. And now that she was completely restrained by it, there was no way out. No way to communicate that this was too much. Helplessly trapped in a suit designed for permanent wear.
You have no right, I’m her mother. Get her out of that thing now!
To which Hasna replied:
You are in the employ of the Prince, I have every right. You signed a contract. One of its stipulations was that you would allow your daughter to follow a strict purdah regime. You are not allowed to interfere with this if you want to keep working for the Prince. You’re free to quit this job of course. But if you do so within the first year it will cost you dearly. The financial penalties will ruin you. You’ll lose everything and be left deep in debt. You and your daughter will be destitute. All because you would not respect your employer’s and daughter’s wishes for just twelve months. Is that really the choice you want to make?
It was the choice she wanted to make, yes. However it appeared it was not something Miranda could afford to choose. It would be another nine months before she could get out of this without losing all her earnings and more. The reluctant niqabi already long since decided that she’d retire at that time. The latest of the Prince’s demands had already been unbearable enough without this latest revelation. But could she let her own daughter bear the brunt of this entire ordeal for such a lengthy stretch of time? It must already be hell for her under all those layers. Just imagine the heat combined with already hours of total sensory deprivation.
Then again, the kind of financial ruin they’d be facing was likely to haunt Julie for the rest of her life. If she could just hang in there for another nine months they’d end up affluent instead. But was it really worth the kind of trauma she’d be put through? What would such punishing regime lasting for months without end do to an adolescent mind?
Miranda walked over to her daughter. The thickly shrouded figure showed no hint of the purdah suit underneath. An impenetrable eye veil meant that not even her muting, blinding, deafening hood could be perceived.
The mother hugged her daughter and felt a startle, completely surprised by the gentle touch. Stirring inside that inflexible shell. Miranda thought she faintly felt the girl struggle against her restraints. Helplessly fighting the inescapable suit. The woman’s heart bled. She had put them in an impossible situation.
Then it was time for Miranda to face the consequences of her ambition herself. A new purdah regime had been forced upon her by the Prince’s company. It was decided she could still perform her duties in attire a lot stricter than what she currently wore. Hasna would dress her now. It didn’t come anywhere close to what Julie had to endure, yet it would still be quite extreme.
Her limbs were to be limited in freedom. A chain between her legs meant she’d only be able to walk scantily faster than Julie. As her ankles were locked in shackles, so were her wrists. An adjustable chain connecting them to the belt around her waist.
Also new was a purdah hood, not unlike Miranda’s daughter was wearing. She’d be permanently gagged from now on as well. Liquefied food simply getting pumped into her mouth. The mother’s hood would allow sight and sound, at least some of the time. It would be up to Hasna to decide when her charge needed the use of her hands, ears or eyes. Since it was weekend, not today.
Everything was topped off by her usual all covering garb, with a heavy face veil added that obscured the entire face. At least if any part of Miranda’s face had still been uncovered.
Those months were to be the most trying in Miranda’s life so far. If you could call it a life. The new purdah regime completely dominated her existence. She could do nothing but work, sleep and eat. And not enjoying any of it. Hasna made sure of that, a cruel mistress. Only allowing the woman use of her hands, hearing or sight when it was absolutely necessary. None of all three outside her working hours. And even then a few minutes of sound was a rarity. She was truly utterly miserable. However how did any of that measure up to what Julie must be going through? That was the true source of the mother’s pain.
Miranda was counting down the days. In only a few weeks she’d be able to quit her job without grave repercussions. Julie and Miranda would be free again and well off financially too. It was in that last month that Hasna gave her a letter:
I need to inform you of something. Just before your daughter entered complete purdah we made an agreement with her. Having found a way of life that was perfect for her, Julie let us make some arrangements for the future. Agreeing to wear a full purdah suit was her end of the bargain. A marriage to one of the Prince’s sons is what she is to receive in return.
The girl is at the airport right now. Boarding a private plane that will soon head towards Saudi Arabia. You are allowed to join her however. With the condition that you’ll travel in a garment identical to what she has been wearing. The Prince’s family is very strict when it comes to female attire, you must understand.
Nod if you agree and you’ll be together again soon.
It so happened that nodding was one of the few motions Miranda could have made at that time. Her hands were again restrained beside her body. There would be no way for her to somehow catch that plane without Hasna’s help. Rushing to save her child that had signed her life away. Or was it Miranda herself that had done that? One small adjustment at a time.
It was an impossible choice. The woman had no illusions of what would happen to her once she had entered the latex folds of that merciless suit. Something Julie had already found out months ago. Miranda gave a nod.