A Common Hobby
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
“It’s a very fine sample, but I like them a little older.”
Lena turns her head to see who is talking to her. A male voice, especially with a foreign accent is very unusual at a doll exhibition. Her heart nearly jumps when she sees the man. He is a very handsome, late twenties oriental type in an expensive suit. Just her type of man. Lena has to say something.
“I agree. My own collection started with dolls I inherited from my grandmother. In fact I only have a few Barbies I have received as presents. But any doll exhibition within fifty miles and I am there. I’m Lena. Pleased to meet you.”
Lena puts her hand forward and receives a firm self-assured shake.
“Ahmed. I love how you Americans are open to someone they have known less than a minute. May I return your kindness by inviting you for a cup of coffee and an exchange of views about our common interest in collecting dolls?”
Ahmed has pointed towards the corner of the hall, where you can sit down and eat and drink.
“Thank you,” Lena says, “I know it’s a little extravagant, but I would like a Cappuccino please.”
Ahmed says “No problem. Your slim well trained body suggests that you exercise regularly. This allows you to enjoy a piece of cake now and then as well, right?”
Lena smiles as she says “Can you read my mind? When my weight hasn’t increased for a week I usually celebrate with a little cake or chocolate. It’s actually more than a week since my last plate of chocolate, and as you noticed my shape is fine. You look like you could eat a bakery without showing it. Perhaps I could hear about how you exercise as well.”
Ahmed says “Then it’s cake and Cappuccino for both of us. Take a seat here while I order.”
Lena now can enjoy Ahmed from all angles while he walks up to the counter and back.
Sitting down Ahmed says “As I’ve revealed to you I’m not American. I’m Arabian and in the oil business. That might tell you that two cakes and Cappuccino won’t bring red numbers on my account. There is an industry conference here these days, and then I saw this exhibition announced. I can see by looking around here that even in America very few men are interested in dolls. I guess all the other men are only here to please their wives or because they had to drive her here.”
Lena says “You’re right. I’ve never met a man who cared about dolls. Until now. I work at a public library. Even if I couldn’t live without one of those special Barbies they show here, I had to think about it for a very long time and think what I could do without before buying it. Cake can be seen not only on my body, but in my bank account as well. Because of this I mostly collect dolls that are secondhand and then make the clothes for them myself.”
Ahmed says “I know a man with dolls as hobby is very unusual. In my country you can’t do it in the open. But fortunately we can enjoy our hobby with thousands of others through the internet. But Barbie isn’t my favourite either. I’m into the look of old-fashioned dolls as well. Porcelain heads and Victorian dresses. I think I like dolls because real women are rarely seen and difficult to meet in my country.”
Lena tells him “I think I have two … perhaps three porcelain dolls in my collection. They were part of my heritage. I visit doll groups on the internet as well. I call myself Librarian, not a very inventive name but strangely enough it was available.”
Ahmed puts up a smile “Well we do know each other after all. I call myself Shahrazad. I’ve chosen to present myself as female. Then it’s nothing but dolls when we exchange views about our hobby between women.”
One part of Lena’s brain has forgot she discusses dolls with a man, and another part in the background sees the most handsome man that has ever been so close to her and that part doesn’t care what they talk about. The two parts have to meet by saying “Shahrazad! Then we have known each other for quite a while I think. I know you told me you’re busy with the Conference and important deals, but it’s only in the middle of the afternoon and I live close by. Could I take an hour of your precious time to show you my own collection? You’re the first internet acquaintance that I actually meet for real. And I would very much like to show my collection to a fellow doll collector.”
Ahmed says “It’s Sunday. The conference really starts tomorrow. I think I’ve read some of your descriptions of how to make doll clothes from real designs. You make it look so easy. It’s enjoyable just to read about it. I would love to see some of those descriptions realized. Should I call a taxi?”
Lena says “No, I have an old car. It runs very well. My last boyfriend two years ago was a mechanic. The relationship didn’t last, but the car does.”
Just twenty minutes later they enter a small apartment in an old building in a lower middle class neighbourhood. Ahmed looks around. The living room looks quite a bit like a dressmaker’s workroom. Then there is a room filled with dolls. And finally the bedroom, which contains a television and looks like most bedrooms. It looks as if Lena might both eat and relax in here when not working with dolls.
Ahmed says “I feel so much at home here. There are dolls or items connected with dolls everywhere just like in my home.”
They enter the doll room, where Lena looks around the more than hundred dolls in many sizes looking for the porcelain dolls. Spotting them she points out the first one saying “Here’s one of my old porcelain dolls. I think it’s more than a century old. And this one still has the original clothes. The second one over there I made the clothes.”
Ahmed puts his head close to the dolls without touching them saying “They are both very beautiful. Something like that would certainly improve my collection as well.” He points to the original doll with its blue silky gown and red shoes. “Do you mind if I take some pictures of them and the collection in general?”
Lena says “Of course not. It makes me happy thinking that others will enjoy my dolls even if it’s only in pictures.”
While taking the photographs Ahmed continues to talk “Yes I’m so glad I’ve come here. Seeing dolls for real is so much better than in pictures. And your collection is much better than the Barbie exhibition. Can I have a few pictures of you as well to remind me of who gave me such a wonderful experience? You are very pretty as well you know. A long blonde haired, athletic Scandinavian type. No doll face, but a happy smiling one. I’m wondering why you haven’t found a steady guy.”
Between smiling at the camera Lena replies “I’m afraid it’s because my looks don’t match my brains. I always pick up stupid low class men that want a bimbo to decorate their bed and do the housework. And then they learn I’m a librarian with several years of education, who reads thick books and loves mindless dolls better than mindless men.”
Ahmed says “I think you’re a little too hard on yourself. But I have to admit that this apartment might look a little frightening to most men. However at the moment you have a visitor who appreciates the combination of good looks and brains, and even likes dolls. Would you like to spend a little more time with him having dinner?”
Lena says “But it’ll be late then. I have to admit I rarely go out at night because I have to live in such a bad neighbourhood. Also I have to go to work tomorrow.”
Ahmed says “I understand. Of course I don’t want to scare you. We could order some food to be delivered here and put a blanket in the middle of the floor and eat sitting on cushions like they do at traditional meals in my country.”
Lena says “You make it sound like a story from One Thousand and One Nights. You really are Shahrazad! I’ll look up fast food delivery on the internet.”
Ahmed says “You accept that I am buying you dinner?”
“Thank you,” Lena replies.
Ahmed tells her “In that case, if I may borrow your computer, I’ll look up gourmet oriental food.”
They return to the doll room with its inexhaustible number of subjects to discuss. Time flies while they wait for the fine dinner to be cooked and delivered. It’s not a delivery boy, but a fine waiter or perhaps even the chef himself, who brings the food. Having seen the surroundings and seeing Lena in the doorway he looks doubtful, wondering if his efforts will be paid for. When Ahmed arrives at the door in his expensive suit no questions are asked with the pair spending an enjoyable evening talking about dolls. Of course Lena knows much more especially when it comes to clothing, and does most of the talking. Ahmed learns a lot more about her life than she does about his. Around eleven Ahmed knows that he has to leave, if this meeting should not change from sharing a hobby to sharing what a man and women share when alone together late.
He says “Lena, we both have work to do tomorrow. It has been the loveliest day for me in a long while. And I can see you have enjoyed it too. I have thought about how I can end this meeting in a happy way. I can only think of one thing. Would you come and see my doll collection? If you can arrange a long weekend in the coming week you can come home with me and of course I’ll pay your ticket back as well?”
A surprised Lena asks “Do you mean fly with you to Arabia?”
Ahmed says “Yes. I’ve got a private jet. It’s ready when you are Friday morning. And then we’ll have lunch on the way. What do you say? You have my cell number and can think about it till tomorrow?”
Lena says “Oh thank you Ahmed. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Even if my superior gets pretty mad at me for taking days off at such short notice, I’ll do it. Do I just bring some summer clothes?”
Ahmed says “I’m so delighted. Yes decent summer clothes will be fine. It doesn’t matter as my car will take us directly from the plane to my home. And at home I have something you can borrow. But it’s true that morals are strict and women always cover in public in my country. But if any questions should arise just call.”
Lena doesn’t get much sleep as she thinks about the entire day from meeting Ahmed over again and again.
Friday morning she wears her best summer dress. Something she uses for job interviews, when trying to get a job better paid. She hasn’t succeeded yet, but she likes the clothes and can’t afford anything new. Ahmed collects her in a taxi. She only has an old sports bag apart from her hand bag, but Ahmed assures her it’s fine. It’s her first journey outside the country, but she feels safe travelling with Ahmed. The plane has two pilots and a steward just for the two of them. She has re-read One Thousand and One Nights in the days in between and feels this is her magic flying carpet. It is early in the evening when they arrive. Through the windows of the limo taking them from the airport Lena doesn’t see much of his country, but when she gets a glimpse of women, often in cars while they wait at traffic lights, they are all shrouded in black. Lena feels a little naked in her short skirt and sheer pantyhose with her hands showing and her entire head with its long blond hair uncovered. Fortunately the windows are tinted and she can see much more of the outside than can be seen of her.
On arriving at Ahmed’s home the car pauses while the gate is unlocked. Lena sees they are in a walled area and the car comes to a halt in front of a large two storey building. Ahmed says “Welcome to my home!” as the front door opens and a black figure appears. The black female figure bows as they pass the doorway and she closes the door behind them.
Ahmed says “Except for the driver, who must be male, I only have female staff and according to our traditions they are all veiled. But don’t be afraid. Those in contact with you all understand English and will fulfil your wishes if possible. Dinner should be ready soon, and afterwards we can see my collection. You can use the bathroom over there. We eat in twenty minutes.”
During the exquisite dinner they first talk a little more about dolls. All the while they are talking Lena cannot take her eyes of off the maid standing motionless at the end of the table waiting for a sign to change their plates or fill their glasses. It’s impossible to tell her age, beauty or skin colour, because nothing but her outer garments can be seen. From her neck to her ankles is a long black dress with long sleeves. She wears black slippers over black socks and her hands are covered by black gloves. On her head she wears a veil that hangs down from a headband. It covers the entire head, even her eyes.
As an answer to her staring Ahmed says “Maids should not be noticed when not needed. That’s why they are covered in black like all women are in public, to avoid attention. The black dress is called an abaya and comes in many forms and qualities, but always black. The head covering is called a niqab. The outer layer is made of thin see-through material which some women wear flipped back or flip back when clear sight is needed. But the layer below covers all the face except for a thin slit around the eyes, which means the women show little of their face when wearing a niqab. I require my maids always to wear their eye cover down outside their own quarters. But even though nothing of the woman herself can be seen, she is not as much covered as a non-working woman would be. Her eye cover is thin, her arms show and her dress is only to the ankles to allow her to work efficiently. I think you should try to be dressed in black yourself one of the days you are here then you’ll know much more about how it feels to be an Arabian woman. Isn’t it about time we went to see my dolls?”
Lena says “Yes trying Arabian dress would be interesting. I think you can buy an Arabian style dress for Barbie. And the Iranians have made their own Barbie copy which is always dressed in long robes, but none of them has a niqab or cover their face. Perhaps I could make a doll size niqab. But perhaps your dolls are dressed like Arabs already. Let’s go and see!”
They get up and walk towards the other end of the large room where they have been eating. As they get close to a door Ahmed says “Normally my dolls are all over the house, but for you I have gathered them all in one room.”
Ahmed opens the door and lets Lena pass in front of him while he closely watches her expression. In seconds it changes from anticipation to complete surprise. There are no dolls in the ordinary sense. The scene looks more like a display room in a very expensive clothing shop. Scattered around the large otherwise empty room are a number of what look like mannequin dolls, many dressed in expensive evening gowns. Most are standing, a few sitting and even a few decoratively lying on the floor. Some are arranged in pairs as if chatting or adjusting the dress of the other. There is even a pair, who are holding tight and kissing. But perhaps it is a doll collection after all, because the faces are not those of mannequins. They do not try to resemble real humans, but are instead caricatures, too plastic, too large eyes, too large and too red mouths and even some with a porcelain looking surface with eyes and mouth painted more like decorations than to look human.
Her voice trembling from the shock Lena says “You haven’t told me that your dolls are life size … mannequins. I’ve never heard of anyone collecting full size dolls. It’s not something you can collect by buying them from a toy factory or from someone who made them themselves for their children. You have made them yourself? But of course now I see why you don’t make your own clothes. You can get clothes from any woman or millions of shops.”
Lena walks around among the dolls, looking closely at the heads and hands and of course admiring the fine clothes. Many of the gowns look like haute-couture from Paris. The heads are the most interesting, most of them are smooth plastic-like surfaces where the base material is flesh coloured and then other colours are added with paint or makeup. Red lips, rouge chins, brown eyebrows and white, blue and black eyes. The black ‘pupils’ of the eyes are the only areas where Lena finds something weird with most of Ahmed’s dolls compared to ordinary dolls. His dolls have no nose openings and the lips are either closed or the area inside painted to look like teeth or the lips are just an abstract curve with no attempt to look real, but the eyes seems to have tiny holes in the centre of the painted pupils. Ahmed has to explain this detail. The hair on all of the dolls seems to be wigs. The natural look of the hair is of course matched to the face. The only slightly exaggerated human looking faces have natural looking hair, while the porcelain heads, with just ornaments for eyes and mouth, have hair looking as if might be made from pieces of yarn. Lena carefully lifts the long black hair of one of the most natural looking dolls to inspect the back of its head. It’s a completely smooth surface like most of the rest, but printed in black with both Arabic and Latin letters in just the right size to be hidden by the hair the name Bratzlover is printed. Lena thinks she has seen this name somewhere, but can’t remember right now.
Ahmed just lets Lena look without making any comment. Lena asks him if she might lift the dresses to look at the bodies. Ahmed just nods. Lena finds nothing unusual. The bodies are just plain flesh coloured plastic without much detail outside the areas you expect to see when wearing normal clothing. This means the hands and feet are quite natural with nail surfaces painted red. Lena can’t find much more to look at right now and turns to Ahmed “Tell me Ahmed how do you make them?”
Smiling Ahmed tells her “Well, this is one of my investments I’ve turned into my private hobby. Most of our oil is used as fuel all over the world but because of the increasing need for fuel and the limited amount of oil, sometime, in the not-too-distant future, another source of power has to be dominating, but we still have oil. Oil fields won’t run dry as often reported, but it won’t be possible to pump the large amounts we do today, and it will be much more expensive to get it. To be ready for this future we have for many years researched in alternative uses of oil. Best those where it’s a basic indispensable ingredient. Most kinds of plastics are based on oil. One day I was asked to come to a demonstration in a research laboratory I own. Scientists are weird people, so instead of just showing me the properties of their new material on a form of clay or plaster, one of the female workers had volunteered to demonstrate. They had made a full body suit of the vinyl-like material, which she was dressed in, and when I arrived she put on a hood that completely covered her head except for holes at eyes, nose and mouth. She looked like a fetish model and walked around for some minutes talking to me and joking with her colleagues. She then walked to a corner of the laboratory and crossed her arms on her chest. A black sack was placed over her head covering her to the waist. She was exposed to a special light source for two minutes then the sack was removed. ‘Come and feel my legs,’ she said to me. When I felt them they were completely rigid. In fact her entire lower body below where the sack had reached had become rigid. She was half mannequin and half fetish model. I started to ask a lot of questions, but then she said ‘The demonstration isn’t over.’ While she was holding her hands out, posing like a ballet dancer the special light was switched on again. Two minutes later the light switched off and a distorted female voice said ‘The new statue would like to be placed in the centre of the main hall to be admired by everybody.’ I immediately went over and touched her. She was completely rigid like a statue or mannequin. With somebody supporting her body I could hang from an arm, it didn’t move or break. And because of the holes she could still breathe, see and talk. When she had volunteered I of course asked her how long the material would stay like that. Her answer was, surprisingly, that it would probably decay, get soft or crumble, in around a hundred years. But a blowpipe will cut it like butter. Then of course I stepped back from her and said ‘ Please continue the demonstration.’ She was then exposed to light again, this time with a different ultraviolet wavelength and for five minutes. Then someone with a small hammer hit her on the shoulder. The material, now brittle like porcelain, smashed easily and her arm fell down at her side. The hammering continued until she was standing in a gym suit with a pile of shattered pieces at her feet. I immediately increased their funding and the same night I got the idea of having dolls here.”
Lena had listened with increasing apprehension. “Are those in here like the woman in your story, real living women?” she asks disbelievingly, but knowing the answer. Ahmed nods. Lena, with fear in her voice, says “But there are no holes anywhere. How can they breathe, see or talk?”
Ahmed says “What I told you about was the initial demonstration of the material. Since then I have added my own ideas to create dolls that suit my taste. Come and have a look at my stock.”
They walk out of what Lena now knows is Ahmed’s exhibition hall. The room they enter looks like a clothing store. Shelves and racks are filled with women’s clothing. On the floor and along the walls are many gowns placed on clothes stands, this time normal ones without head or arms. There are several racks and shelves filled with black items, which Lena realises is Arab clothing. Lena could spend hours admiring the dresses in here, almost all of which seem to be much more expensive than anything she has ever owned. Ahmed walks straight through, indicating Lena should follow him. At first glance this room looks like a clothes store containing a large number of racks each with shelves with what superficially look like clothes. Nearly all of it is flesh coloured and lots of shelves have hoods with faces on. Looking closer each rack seems to hold parts to make perhaps ten dolls. Heads, torsos with arms attached and pantyhose with painted toe nails. All neatly folded and stacked. Each rack has a name plate in Arabic and Latin. Fawzia, Winnie, Sultana and even Bratzlover, Lena reads. She still can’t remember from where she knows that name. Ahmed goes to a rack with fewer items and a blank name plate. He decides to take a head from an adjacent rack labelled Miniwoman. The name is printed across the back of the face mask as on the one Lena saw previously. Lena takes the mask in her hands and feels its soft, slightly rubbery surface.
Ahmed says “One of the things that the scientists have improved since the first demonstration is that the material is now slightly elastic, making it possible to slip the face hood over the head just by widening the neck opening. And when putting it on other parts of the body it follows the surface beneath quite closely, like a second skin. This both makes it enjoyable watching the dolls and makes features like hands look so natural that you have to be quite close to notice it’s not real skin. But of course the lack of small twitches and other natural movements soon make people think of mannequins or dolls. But look at the inside of the face.”
Lena turns the mask nearly inside out and now clearly sees three small tubes going from the mouth and each nostril down under the chin. Now that she knows where to look she can see the three small holes on the outside as well. The tube at the mouth is larger, its size increased by making it oval. And at the eyes she can actually see light through the small holes at the centre of each pupil.
Ahmed says “The idea I got that night after the first demonstration was that my dolls should be like real dolls except for the ability to walk, until I decided to put them on display. This means no talking or visible breathing holes, but to walk on their own they have to have a very limited sight. You can always cover the eye holes with small pieces of tape, and I have a number of masks made without eye holes as well. For Arab women wearing veils clinging to their face, it’s actually easier taking air in under the chin, which isn’t covered by as many layers. I know this is very different from your doll collection, but what do you say?”
Lena doesn’t say anything for a minute. She then replies, speaking slowly and hesitatingly “I think it’s a kind of a step … forward. I have dolls with many moving joints, but none of them are able to walk on their own. And I have dolls where their eyes can open and close, but of course they can’t see.”
Ahmed says “Would you like to try to be a doll yourself. I won’t make you completely rigid at first. You just put on the suit and adjust to wearing it perhaps with a nice Dior dress, and then, if you’d like to pose for me, I will make you completely rigid for a short while. I think as we are speaking here some of the women in the hall have got their suit off. You can see how this is done later as well.”
Lena is a little afraid of being completely covered in a strange material which can stop her movements. But Ahmed doesn’t look like a serial killer and if the women couldn’t be taken out of the suit soon, he would kill twenty women. It is not likely. And then she said yes to this adventure as a once in a lifetime experience. She had played with dolls for around twenty years. There is only this one chance to try to be the other part. Subconsciously her voice tells about her next concern after her yes “But Ahmed we are not lovers. I’ll have to undress …”
Ahmed quickly adds “Yes of course we only share a hobby. I’m not interested in seeing you naked. The next room is for bathing and dressing. You go in there with a maid to help you, and then when your body is covered I’ll come and guide you through the rest.”
Not having to show herself naked convinces Lena who says “Okay then. Can I just go through that door?” Ahmed says “Yes. You can wait a minute for the maid or start undressing yourself. It’s up to you. She will bring a suit your size as well. Not that size matters so much, but a totally wrinkle free body is best don’t you think?”
But Lena is not really listening as she walks through the door.
Like everything else in the house it’s a very large bathroom. Lena has forgotten her fears as soon as she sees the tub, which is as big as a small swimming pool, with all the bathing salts, oils and fragrances that she could ever want. She is only wearing panties when a maid arrives with a suit. After spending a quarter of an hour soaking in the water, during which time the maid has put on rubber gloves and soaped and massaged her all over, she is dried by warm air. When she is dry the maid rubs oil all over her body, making Lena totally forget it’s the end of a long day, where she has crossed a quarter of the globe.
The maid holds the bottom part of the suit forward trying to assist her, but Lena takes it herself and steps into a leg of the suit. It’s surprisingly easy, perhaps even easier than putting on normal pantyhose, because there seems to be no reason to be careful that the fabric might tear. This material is perhaps a little thicker, but it feels very much stronger. Lena looks at her feet where her own pinkish nails have been replaced by artificial brightly red painted ones. Then she is ready for the top or blouse or whatever it is called. Again the maid holds it, this time above her head for her to put her arms up into the sleeves first. Lena wants to dress herself so she reaches for the maid’s hands and lets the top drop over her head. Admittedly it would have been easier to do it like the maid had started, but by pulling it up at one side she is able to put that arm in the sleeve, and then she can hold the other side with the hand in the sleeve partly on. Like this she works her hands down the sleeves until the brightly red painted nail surfaces of the suit cover her own nails. Halfway through the process her head had popped through the neck opening, leaving some strands of her long blond hair stuck in the opening. The maid gently pulls them out, and then brings a bathing cap to hold her hair to prevent it restricting her head movements.
While going to the door the maid points to the full length mirror. Lena looks at the smooth, hairless and spotless version of her body. It is clearly visible that she exercises daily. The suit accentuates curves that she wouldn’t have noticed without it on. Because she can feel the material covering her body, she doesn’t feel naked even if she very much looks so. Ahmed and the maid enter.
Ahmed tells her “You look wonderful Lena. What I see surpasses wildly my guess from seeing you clothed. I have the head. Let me hold it open to you. But first you’ll have to have a ball in your mouth to ensure that what you drink through the tube doesn’t run out of the mouth.”
Lena is surprised that the mask isn’t the whole story, but it’s logical that when the mask becomes rigid she can easily pull her lips away and create a space and it will most certainly be very unpleasant having liquid running down her chin without being able to dry it off. She opens her mouth wide to the maid who inserts a large ball with a tube passing through and a thin plate covering her lips. As her teeth clench the ball, she suddenly realizes she won’t be able to talk again until the mask is removed. She knew this from Ahmed explaining the tubes, but the ball makes it very clear.
Ahmed says “And now very gently the mask. Don’t be afraid, I’ll keep a finger in the neck opening until the tubes for your nostrils are positioned right and you breathe calmly through them.”
Lena closes her eyes while the mask is put over her head. The maid expertly pulls the mask at the nose to make sure the tubes are in. She continues at the mouth, inserting its tube in the hole in the ball gag. When Lena opens her eyes at first she thinks that the mask isn’t positioned correctly. She is almost blind but then her eyes adjust and she notices that what she sees is actually a part of the maid’s black abaya. She turns towards Ahmed and sees about half of his face as two separate small circular images.
Ahmed says “Are you breathing alright?” His voice is only a little attenuated and with less treble. Lena nods. Ahmed continues “Fine. Then we can go on with the first doll process. It’s extremely simple and completely safe. You won’t feel it at all. Now we’ll help you put on black coverings over all the joints that have to move, and then we’ll turn on the spots with the special ultraviolet light that makes the rest of the suit rigid. That is all.”
Lena by reflex nods to let him know she has heard his words. Understanding has to come later. Now the maid holds forward a pair of black panties, which she steps into. Then follow covers for the knees, shoulders, elbows and a small neck collar. It’s like the protection used for skating.
Ahmed says “Just stand naturally relaxed with your legs spread a little and your arms slightly out from the body until the light goes out.”
Nothing much happens except the light intensity increases somewhat. Lena isn’t sure she would have noticed if she wasn’t expecting it. Nothing happens for some time and Lena starts feeling fatigued because she can’t stand relaxed but she doesn’t dare move, afraid that she might ruin the process.
Just as she is thinking this the light goes down a little and Ahmed says “It’s over. But move carefully. You normally bend many in more places than what is now possible. Try to put your hand to your chin.”
Lena lifts her arm and immediately notices that both her fingers and her wrist are completely rigid. She has to adjust at the shoulder to get her fingers to touch her chin. Clack, clack. Her chin has become a hard surface as well.
Ahmed says “Now let the maid remove the black protectors before we go on.” Lena turns to look at herself in the mirror to see if the difference is visible. In fact she hasn’t seen her head mask yet but her waist is rigid, she can’t twist or bow her body and has to move her legs to turn. This makes her notice her ankles are rigid as well. Her balance becomes insecure because her hip and knee movements aren’t compensated at the ankles and moving a leg forward makes her ground contact surface smaller. However her body looks magnificent. It now looks a lot more like a doll with its smooth one-coloured surfaces than before, because it’s topped by one of the really artificial-looking porcelain-like heads. Its colour is much whiter with a slightly yellowish tinge than the flesh colour of the body and with only a few pen strokes to draw lips and eyes.
Ahmed says “Be careful now. We will walk into the next room where I have selected a dress for you. But don’t worry as the maid will be at your side to support you.”
Like a primitive robot Lena staggers into the clothing room. First she is dressed in an expensive white silk lingerie set. Now Lena just lets the maid do her work, only lifting an arm or leg when needed.
Meanwhile Ahmed says “We both know this lingerie serves no purpose and won’t be seen with the dress on, but even if you are a doll you’ll like being dressed like a real woman and I like knowing you are dressed to match your sexy body.” The maid puts old-looking wool stockings on her feet. They reach to under the knees, where an elastic band holds them up. Because this part of the leg is rigid there won’t be any movement to make them slide down, and the force of the elastic band can’t be sensed by Lena. Being completely covered even with stockings should feel warm in this climate, but somehow the material is able to transport and level heat differences. In fact Lena feels comfortable, neither cold nor hot inside the suit. The maid places bright red four inch platform shoes on her feet.
Ahmed says “I would have liked high heels only but with rigid ankles you wouldn’t be able to stand if something too different from flats are worn when you had flat feet during the transformation. The stilettos will have to wait until later.”
Then it’s time for the gown. It’s a short sleeved blue silk Renaissance style gown with built-in bodice and white lace edgings. Lena is about to walk to a mirror she has managed to get a glimpse of through her tiny eye holes but Ahmed, seeing her attempt to move says “Yes there is a mirror to your left but wait a minute as one item is still missing.”
The maid holds a wig in front of Lena for a little while before putting it on her head. When Ahmed agrees the wig is positioned correctly by nodding, the maid starts a hair dryer that makes the wig glue to the smooth surface below. Lena staggers to the mirror. The wig is a rough copy of her hair. It has nearly the same colour and is styled just like her hair, but the individual strands are fine cotton threads, which are much thicker than real hair. The overall impression is that of an old-fashioned expensive doll. A fine dress, a porcelain-like head and hair as fine as could be made a century ago. Her appearance reminds her of her own collection.
Ahmed comes from behind holding a picture for her to see saying “Don’t you think you’re a fine copy?”
Lena recognizes her own porcelain doll inherited from her grandmother. Her full size dress is much more detailed and her body and limbs are much slimmer than the dolls, but they resemble each other none the less.
Ahmed asks “Do you like your new appearance?”
Lena nods. She lifts her hand and puts it on the picture like she would to point. To make herself clear she then puts her other hand over knocking gently on the first.
Ahmed says “I know what you mean. Your limbs are flesh coloured not porcelain like the doll.” Lena nods. Ahmed continues “I am aware of that. Unfortunately I had only porcelain heads in stock, and when I made an order at the laboratory they couldn’t deliver until tomorrow but one day more or less before the copy is perfect doesn’t matter. But it’s late. I think we should get ready for sleep now and you can meet those dolls not on display any more. There is a dormitory next to my own bedroom.”
Lena starts wildly shaking her head and waving her arms.
Ahmed says “I know you had expected to get out of the doll suit today but there are no problems staying in the suit for longer periods. You can get liquids through your mouth tube and with a bottom with tubes you can stay dry and be relieved. You’ll have a much more doll-like experience by staying inside and your body and brain get time to adapt to the new skin. You are not feeling sick, are you?”
After a period of hesitation Lena has to answer the direct question by shaking her head.
Ahmed immediately says “I’m glad to hear that. A small percentage of the population gets claustrophobic being completely covered, but most find themselves protected. Come and meet some new friends.”
The dormitory doesn’t contain beds in the traditional manner. It’s a completely empty long rectangular room with human sized glass covered boxes standing equally spaced along each of the two long side walls. There are more than ten boxes along each wall. In the middle of the room, dressed in oriental wide trousers and a wide sleeved shirt, a doll is sitting directly on the floor facing them.
Ahmed says “This should be Sultana. The wife I will spend the night with. If possible the wife going to my bedroom always checks the dormitory before coming to me. She has been waiting for you. I’ll let her show you to bed. Goodnight!”
Ahmed gives her a fast kiss on her hard cheek and leaves. Meanwhile, with some difficulty, Sultana has stood and staggered towards Lena. Lena is very much relieved actually seeing that one of the other dolls can move, and she tries to respond with a heartfelt hug with her stiff forearms and hands reciprocating Sultana’s arms around her after they have bumped into each other. Sultana doesn’t try to communicate any further. She just puts an arm around Lena’s arm and they both stagger towards the nearest box. On cotton-like bedding a doll, fully dressed in an haute-couture gown, is lying on its back with one leg lifted a little and the arms sticking up in a posing position. Lena recognizes one of the dolls from the exhibition hall. She must have been carried in here. The solid box is a little higher than a normal bed. Even though the bedding is a little below the edge and very soft, the stiff arms reach far above the body. It is evident why the glass covering is about three feet high. Sultana puts her hand on the front of the box just below the glass. It’s a name plate. Lena can’t read it from her upright position and can’t bend at the waist. Sultana shows her how to bend a little at one knee and then lean her body to the other side sinking down on that knee before bending the first knee to fall down on that as well. As previously the name is written in both Arabic and Latin. Lena reads ‘Pearl’, not an unusual nickname, and she thinks she knows someone using it. Getting up isn’t so hard and they continue to the next boxes which are empty. Sultana stretches her hand forward as if pointing towards the entrance and then poses for some seconds. Lena nods her understanding. These dolls are still in the exhibition hall. In the fourth box a doll with long dark hair, wearing a royal blue prom gown, is lying flat on her back. ‘Winnie’ the plate reads and Lena recalls the name from the stock. They pass one more occupied box before Sultana crosses the room to the opposite wall. Here lies a brunette with angled oversized almond shaped blue eyes and dominating nearly circular pink lips. She is dressed in a tennis outfit and lies flat on her back. Lena again sinks to knees and reads ‘Bratzlover’. She still can’t connect the name.
They pass some more empty boxes. It seems like a good part of the women here will be on display all through the night. And who are they? Staff that as part of their duty dress up once in a while. Hired models paid to be on display instead of in front of a camera or perhaps students or not so promising actors who’ll do whatever is paid and smells like acting. Or fetish lovers who enjoy being wrapped up or bound? And then there is Sultana, who is married to Ahmed and probably a local woman and probably was here before this doll show started.
Now only two boxes remain before they are back at the entrance. In the first a doll with shoulder length black hair and an oriental face is lying on her back dressed in an ankle long red and yellow silk gown. She looks like an Arab princess and perhaps she is. Sultana puts her hand to the name plate and the name plate of the last empty box and lifts her hand in the direction of the wall. Lena crawls on her knees from one box to the next to read both names. Fawzia and Sultana. So the last empty box is where Sultana sleeps on the nights not spent with Ahmed. Sultana’s pointing and connecting the names can only mean that Fawzia is a wife as well.
Moving from Fawzia to Sultana’s empty box and back brings forward something that had caught Lena’s attention at the previous boxes which at first she thought were due to changing light conditions and her limited sight. The empty boxes are much clearer to look at than the occupied ones. They seem to have a yellowish colouring of the glass or perhaps an internal light source. She assumes it must be a trick of the light as the glass can’t be changed when someone enters a box, but then, this house is full of mysteries.
Sultana takes Lena to the last box on her own side. She presses a large white button on the right side of the box and the glass frame starts to rise as its four corner posts extend from the base. When there is a five foot gap the lifting stops. Sultana hugs Lena and waves her arm in over the box. Lena falls on her back onto the soft bedding material, as she loses her balance when trying to sit down in the bed. She rolls and pushes with her arms until she is lying outstretched on her back. Sultana can’t bow down and kiss her. They just nod clearly to each other. Sultana presses the button once more. Soon Lena is lying in a closed box. It’s a good idea. It really gives a feeling of a newly manufactured doll ready for sale. While enjoying this feeling Lena hears the weak sound of pressurized air being released. And then the light becomes yellowish.
“Did you have a good night’s sleep?” Lena hears Ahmed’s voice close to her. She opens her eyes and immediately knows where she is but she is too rigid at the waist to reach a sitting position. She rolls over and Ahmed pulls her legs over the edge and supports her as her legs tilt down onto the floor. Standing Lena tries to straighten her dress with her rigid hands.
Ahmed says “I’ve received a call that the porcelain parts are ready. I’ll collect them myself and do some other errands. In two hours I’ll be back and then the transformation of you to your own doll can be completed. Meanwhile go and have breakfast with the other girls. You can just follow Pearl.”
Ahmed points as the most natural thing to the doll in the haute-couture gown now standing at the end of her box still posed like she was in the exhibition hall yesterday. A maid with a sack truck is waiting for a sign from Ahmed to take Pearl away. As Ahmed leaves he nods to the maid. With skilled movements the maid tilts and turns Pearl until she rests on the solid footplate. The maid starts walking slowly through the house staying close to Lena to be ready if she would lose her balance but they reach a room where other dolls are without accidents.
Perhaps it’s the dining room, but it doesn’t look like one. The room is empty except for a counter at the far end filled with plastic bottles. Standing spread at random around the counter are the dolls she saw at the dormitory yesterday. Now that Pearl and Lena have arrived, all the women who were sleeping plus Sultana are gathered in the room. The dolls in the exhibition hall apparently are still on display in there. The dolls dining all have a plastic bottle hanging from a string around their neck on their chest. A tube attached to the top of the bottle runs to the mouth tube hole under the chin. The maid takes Lena to the counter and points to the different coloured contents of the partly clear bottles. Lena of course has no idea what it is and just puts her hand on one at random. The maid places the string of the bottle Lena has selected around her neck and connects its tube to her mouth hole. Lena sucks and tastes a nutritious lemon flavoured drink. Meanwhile the maid has taken another bottle and put it on Pearl.
This is breakfast, Lena thinks, while slowly turning to see what the others are doing. Except for Pearl, who has to stay as the maid has left her, they have turned to face her. After giving her a minute to satisfy some of her hunger Fawzia walks towards her giving her a light hug avoiding their bottles to touch. Strangely she then walks behind Lena and gently lifts the ‘hair’ of her wig. She then faces Lena again and nods followed by putting her hand to the back of her own head and down as if pointing to her chest. Lena forgets to suck while she tries to understand. What is at the back of the head? Names! Fawzia has read her name. As she knows who Fawzia is from the name plate on the sleeping box, she finally nods several times.
Now Bratzlover and Winnie hug her and look at the back of her neck likewise, and Lena nods to them. Next comes the woman, whom Lena for some reason just past in the dormitory. After she has looked at Lena, Lena puts a hand to her wig while walking behind her. ‘Sweetie’ Lena reads, again a name that seems vaguely familiar. Now Fawzia leads Lena over to Pearl and tries to align the back of Lena’s head with Pearl’s view. They can’t tell now if they succeeded, but Pearl hasn’t been left out. After that nothing happens for half an hour. Lena empties her bottle and feels full. They all stand looking at each other and nothing, then a maid appears and Fawzia and Bratzlover leave with her. Ten minutes later Winnie puts her hand under the string that carries Lena’s bottle and gets the string over her head and letting the bottle fall to the floor. Winnie gestures Lena to do the same for her. Then she takes Lena’s arm and makes her follow her.
They stagger into the exhibition hall, where a maid is removing bottles from the rigid dolls. Winnie takes an empty space close to a wall and does a number of different poses, each time shaking her head. Then she crosses her hands at the waist, puts her feet a little apart and bows her head a little. After some seconds she nods several times for this position and faces Lena. Lena finds it a good expression for a first time prom girl and nods at Winnie and they wait for some minutes until a maid arrives. The maid looks at Winnie, moves her right foot a little and turns her head a little to the side. Then she pushes Lena in front of her out through the doorway and turns her round to look into the hall at Winnie. The maid pushes a button and the light in the hall increases a little. Because of the distance Lena can see about half of Winnie’s body, but of course nothing happens. As soon as the light goes down again the maid walks into the hall gesturing Lena to follow. The maid looks at Winnie from all sides and then nods towards Lena. Clearly a new successful display item has been created.
The maid gestures Lena to stay in the hall and look at the dolls, and then leaves herself. After admiring the fabulous dresses and interesting poses for some time Lena counts all the dolls. There are fourteen including Winnie. This means there are at least twenty doll ‘women’ in the house right now including Lena herself. Lena doesn’t really know what she can do with that figure, the high number and what Lena has seen seems to rule out that Ahmed kills his dolls by confining them in the suits. Her fears seem to have been exaggerated. Soon she will get the crackling light and take a sightseeing trip with Ahmed or whatever else can be done in this exotic country. She smiles when fifteen minutes later Ahmed enters the hall, but of course he can’t see it and if he could not much happened at her lips due to the large gag.
Ahmed, noticing the new display item, says “This is Winnie, isn’t it? She is best when she is dressed like she is now, as a teenage girl, but actually she’s nearly thirty. You saw when she became rigid?” Lena nods. Ahmed continues “Fine. Then you only have to see someone getting changed I think, before we’ll make you look as close to your grandma’s doll as we can get. Come, let’s go.”
They walk to the bathroom from yesterday, or at least a similar room, because now the tub is empty. A maid enters with one of the dolls from the hall. She is posed with her arms lifted wide out like she is going to hug some dear friend she has not seen for a long time. The maid opens her dress at the neck, but can’t pull it off because of her outstretched arms. The doll is then placed on her back in the tub. Next the maid takes a spray can and puts it’s nozzle into the mouth hole of the doll. She holds it in her outstretched arm before pressing. Seconds later a yellow gas comes out of the two nose holes. The maid moves over to stand beside Lena and Ahmed and the light increases.
As the light goes down to normal the maid uses a hammer to break the suit at the shoulders. Now she can move the arms, which are limp, over the head and undress the doll. Lena notices there seems to be a light source built into the tub so that the body is illuminated everywhere except where it shadows itself. The lighting process is repeated and soon the maid can return to the hammer and smash the entire suit. Of course she is very careful with her blows to the head. But after the lighting process the material seems to be as fragile as porcelain, and it looks really easy to smash at places that make the rest fall off by gravity.
As the woman inside appears Lena soon finds out she is unconscious. Not a muscle moves to shake off the pieces of material left on her body. Has she passed out after too long inside the suit? While the maid first uses a vacuum cleaner to remove the larger pieces of the suit and then a shower to wash away the dust and clean the bottom of the tub, Lena has turned to Ahmed, but he doesn’t seem to notice her. He seems to be occupied in his own thoughts or perhaps he is admiring the beautiful mid-twenties woman lying lifeless stretched out in the tub, resembling a little a mermaid stranded and unable to breathe.
Now the maid has started filling the tub with water, carefully pulling at the woman to get her head resting on the edge of the tub so it is above the water. Then the maid starts soaping her. Soon the water is let out of the tub again and hot air starts blowing drying the woman. As with Lena the maid oils the body of the woman and she immediately starts dressing her in a new suit. Perhaps twenty minutes after the special light was turned on the woman is completely covered in a similar suit and has been covered with black at the joints which are allowed to move. Lena notices that the renewed doll has no black neck collar and is carefully placed outstretched on her back with her head completely straight. While the hardening light is turned on Lena realizes that a rigid neck means that the poor woman will not be able to nod or shake her head. They have to have some form of language tapping with their rigid hands which is about the only form of signalling possible. But regarding communication it’s of course better than when being posed and completely rigid.
When the light dims and while the maid removes the black coverings Ahmed suddenly starts talking “It was fascinating. Wasn’t it?”
Lena nods absentmindedly. Ahmed continues “The human need of my dolls to get washed from time to time handled in less than half an hour. Now we have a renewed doll which can last for a week, if I don’t want to change anything. But it’s mostly when I’m travelling that the suits are replaced at long intervals. One of the benefits of this process is that I can discard a badly posed doll or a facial look that has lost my interest without changing the basis of the doll, the woman inside, which make the doll something that walks around in my house and I can play with or look at until I think she needs a little break in the exhibition room. But of course you can see that the woman is unconscious. I speak now because nothing happens with the renewed doll for half an hour, until she regains consciousness. Knocking her out has nothing to do with the suit. If this doll wasn’t rigid when we started, she would have walked in here on her own like you did. I make my dolls unconscious while changing them because living like a doll is a mental process as well. I do not wish their feeling of encasement, rigid limbs and restricted senses interrupted each time their suit is replaced. Like that they would never get a real doll mind. My wives, Sultana and Fawzia, have only experienced life within a doll suit since I got the first samples five years ago. And I think they are very happy with their life and of course they normally have an extra hole at the crotch that allows them to enjoy the privileges of married people. The rest are like old time concubines, always ready to be intimate with a man, but never getting the chance because in their cases they are prevented from it.”
Lena hears some things that might tell her that even though she won’t get killed, her future might be different from what she expected when coming here, but for the moment she is not concerned, and is just looking forward to getting out of her current suit and trying the complete porcelain look. She shifts between tapping her cheek and her hand a few times.
Ahmed reacts “You can’t wait to get porcelain all over?” he asks.
Lena nods vivaciously.
Ahmed says “That’s how it should be. Enjoying trying new doll features. But you’ll have to wait. I don’t want to carry Lizzy away. Her unconsciousness should be as unnoticed as possible for her. She was made unconscious out in the tub and should wake up in the tub. Why don’t we have a cola to pass the time?”
Lena nods. The maid is sent off by Ahmed waving his hand. The maid returns with two open bottles. One of course has a string tied around its neck and a special straw that fits Lena’s mouth hole. They both drink slowly just looking at the lifeless doll. The maid has just removed Lena’s empty bottle when the doll starts to move. She quickly gets up and out of the tub without the aid of the maid. Then she looks in the mirror. She has to bend her legs to lean her body forward and get a downward view. Lizzy can’t move her head and is at most able to see her own front. But quickly she finds out she hasn’t been changed and, staggering slightly, she steps in front of Lena. Lizzy realizes she hasn’t said hello to Lena before and walks behind her and lifts her hair. Then she gives Lena a short hug and walks out of the bathroom as she is, completely ‘naked’. Meanwhile the maid has checked that the tub is ready again, and after getting an affirmative nod from Ahmed starts undressing Lena.
Ahmed says “If you don’t mind Lena, I’ll go and participate in Lizzy’s dressing. I’ll see you as a complete porcelain doll after lunch, okay?”
Lena nods, glad that she doesn’t have to be naked while Ahmed is present. When Lena only wears the suit, the maid gestures her to sit down in the empty tub. When the maid steps up in the tub behind her and puts a hand under her chin Lena hears the sound of compressed air released and feels coldness in her mouth, throat and nose, and just manages to remember the spray can used on Lizzy.
The last thing Lena remembers she was sitting in the tub. Now she is lying down and feeling much more refreshed. She turns around to get up and manages to get out of the tub on her own. In front of her in the mirror is a quite different doll. Now it’s only the form which is human. It is actually very close to the curves of her body, but because the colour has changed she looks very alien. No human has a white, slightly yellowish skin. But now Lena has. Her head looks the same, but of course it is not. The old head has been smashed like the rest of the old suit. And now she is bald. The wig was glued to the old head and has to be replaced as well. The maid is waiting with her lingerie. The dolls never dirty their clothes from sweat and other bodily secretions. The clothes only get dirty from the surroundings. While Lena gets dressed she suddenly feels something between her legs. After shifting her weight from leg to leg to identify what is wrong, she chooses to address the maid. She taps her hand on her crotch, and the maid nods and points to the toilet. Lena realizes she has got some form of tubing that allows her to use the toilet. She can get nutrition and she can get relieved, which means she can stay in this suit for a week Lena suddenly recalls Ahmed has said. But she is going home tomorrow and had expected to get out of this doll suit after having some photographs taken later today. She has to get an answer from Ahmed.
Soon after, the maid places a new wig similar to the previous one on her head, and she can admire her look in the mirror. The porcelain looking arms and legs really improves her resemblance with her own doll a lot. Despite the various alarming signals, Lena at this moment really enjoys the fact that she accepted being made into a living doll. It’s like participating in an online virtual-world play like Second Life, where you can walk around as your favourite kind of being, not necessarily existing in the real world, and interact with other beings with similar interests. But this is not something she just gets in through her eyes and that mostly goes on in her imagination. She is actually in the real world living as one of the dolls she has enjoyed her entire life.
The maid takes Lena to the dining room. It is past the normal lunch time and only Lizzy is there. The maid, without asking, hands her a bottle containing a brown fluid. It is chocolate flavoured. Lena turns towards Lizzy and nods. Lizzy can’t repeat the gesture, but holds her hand forward to show she has seen the greeting. Lena takes the outstretched hand between her hands. It’s a handshake with rigid fingers. Nothing more happens, but Lena admires Lizzy’s new dress. It’s another haute-couture gown. It’s very pink and would be appropriate at any high society wedding, the finest dress a doll could have.
Ahmed enters saying “Lena you look absolutely ravishing. Let’s go into the exhibition hall right away and take some preliminary photos to be able to find out how the light has to be set and what poses show the dress and you the best. We’ll only spend a half an hour doing this because I want to take you on a visit to a friend of mine.”
Lena can’t understand how she can go out when she apparently has to stay as doll a little longer to take the final photographs after the trip, but nods to signal she has heard Ahmed’s words. She then remembers her crotch tubing and taps down there.
Ahmed says “Yes with this new suit you are able to relieve yourself almost as normal. We can do other things in between posing and photographing, because we don’t have to hurry being finished within a certain time. If the first photo series is not satisfactory we are able to make a better one. I figured you would love playing your favourite doll until a few hours before your departure tomorrow, as you can only be a doll while here. I know you would like to discuss our hobby as well, but the phone and the internet will still be there next week. Should we get going?”
Lena heads for the door with a nod.
In a corner of the exhibition hall professional flash equipment is set up along with a camera on a tripod.
Ahmed says “Just turn and move anyway you feel like.”
While Lena poses and even tries some awkward dance steps the flash fires a couple of times per minute. For once Lena’s restricted sight is an advantage. The flashing doesn’t irritate her eyes as she is used to.
They have spent much less than half an hour photographing when Fawzia comes staggering in. She is quite close before Lena finds out it’s Fawzia and not a maid. The walk, plus the fact that the face is uncovered rules out it being a maid, as everything except the face is covered by black clothing. Lena can recognize the mask that depicts an oriental beauty, perhaps close to how she really looks, or looked. This is Fawzia, where Sultana is dressed in oriental clothing and has long black hair as well, but her face is too cartoon-like to resemble any human race. Ahmed understands everything is ready for the trip and immediately shuts off the flash equipment.
In the hall a maid is waiting with some black clothes. First Fawzia’s dressing is completed by a niqab, which seems completely opaque. Now Fawzia is only three pieces of black cloth. From her knees to the floor the bottom of a long dress completely covering her feet is seen. The rest of the body, except the niqab covered face, is just one long cloak-like garment completely closed all way round and hiding any signs of arms, neck or breasts that could indicate age or beauty of the woman or doll beneath.
The maid starts Lena’s dressing by covering her wig in a small black scarf. Then the rest of her head and neck is covered in a larger black scarf, leaving only the face between her painted mouth and eye brows free. Lena immediately feels her breathing become a little more restricted as all her air tubes below her chin have been covered. Next her hands and forearms are covered. The gloves are just closed tubes, first to hide the features of her doll hands, but second because individual fingers wouldn’t make her hands more useful as they are rigid, and third because some fingers are so close together it would be impossible to squeeze two layers of fabric between them. The gloves only need a little elasticity to stay on, because even though they reach the elbows, they cover no movable joints. At the wrists the gloves have attached small clips that can lock the arms to the body or to each other. The maid holds the clips together and looks at Ahmed. It is clear she thinks they should not be tied.
Ahmed says “Yes, don’t tie her. She is too inexperienced for that. Please continue while I explain to Lena. You see, while in public, women this country should only do what their husband or chaperone allows. Tying the hands assures they don’t ruin the family honour by showing their arms unnecessarily. But you are a foreigner, and aren’t expected to live up to the same high standards as the local women. Also, by looking at Fawzia you can see that our dress-code means that it’s no problem at all that you are dolls. Nobody can see what is behind the veils and ordinary women walk slowly and carefully as well, because of their long dresses and limited sight.”
Meanwhile the maid has dressed Lena in a long coat-like dress which touches the floor, completely covering her green dress. Now only her face is not covered in black, but before covering that her arms must be hidden by the cloak-like khimar. It is put over her head and tied by a strap around the top of the head. This is quickly followed by the niqab which is tied on top of the khimar. Now Lena is blind. Perhaps women with unrestricted sight can see a little through the layers in bright sunlight, but Lena can’t see while indoors. But again she gets special treatment. The niqab has two eye layers and the maid lifts them one by one. First two small very dark images appear and then her now normal small images are restored. Putting a hand on Fawzia’s shoulder to guide her Ahmed says
“Let’s go. Lena can have only one layer down until we arrive. The car has tinted windows.”
The maid flips the inner eye layer down and walks beside Lena with a hand on her back as they follow Ahmed and Fawzia. The maid beside her makes up for the increased insecurity of tripping with the ground sweeping dress added to partly rigid legs. Lena can vaguely see the contours of the limo ten feet in front of her. The maid helps her to get down on the seat without being able to bend at the waist. Ahmed has taken the centre position on the large back seat with a doll on each side. The maid closes the door from the outside and leaves. They drive for some minutes where nothing happens. Lena has very little use of her dark restricted sight, only being able to see the outside as blurry surfaces changing between gray and black, and to see in which direction Ahmed has his head turned. Then Ahmed says
“We are going to visit one of my best friends, who is a stock holder in the company that makes the doll suits. According to our traditions you and Fawzia will meet his wives, while we men enjoy each other’s company in another part of the house. Fawzia has known one of his wives since they were children. He isn’t into dressing dolls though, but likes a traditional strict and pious lifestyle. It’s only a twenty minutes ride.”
Nothing happens until the car slows down much more than the traffic rhythm until now has demanded. Lena just gets a glimpse of Ahmed’s hand coming towards her before the second eye layer comes down and makes her blind.
Ahmed says “We have arrived. Have an enjoyable afternoon!”
Someone helps Lena out of the car and guides her into a house. She can hear a male voice greet Ahmed and him answering, before they are separated. Shortly after she is not guided forward anymore and her niqab is removed. She is in a large room or hall with a much more Oriental look than Ahmed’s house. There are arches and columns. Most of the columns surround an internal yard open to the sky and with plants and a circular pool with a fountain in the centre. Many surfaces are decorated with abstract ornaments, but no paint is used. Everything is the natural colour of the materials, stone and marble, all pale. This makes the plants with green leaves and red and yellow flowers seem much brighter.
Contrasting both the pale interior and the plants are four identical black shapes standing in a line some yards from Lena, Fawzia and the maids, who have guided them in. Lena guesses it’s the wives living here, both because they are standing at the centre of the hall like a welcome committee, and then because a closer look their faces reveals they are not veiled like Ahmed’s maids or those beside her. But their faces are black perhaps even more than their clothes. Not skin black like people of African origin, but black as space between the stars or as black as the special plastic can be made. They are of course wearing a suit like Fawzia and herself. However their husband is not trying to copy different kinds of dolls, he wants unobtrusive, unnoticeable, anonymous faces matching his beliefs in modesty, submission and demureness. The faces make Lena think of crash test dummies. From what can be seen the wives are dressed exactly like Fawzia and herself, a long khimar and a floor sweeping dress. Considering they seem to be inside the women only section of their own home, it is much stricter than Ahmed’s house.
The two women in the middle move towards Lena and Fawzia. Seeing Fawzia holding her arms forward to hug, Lena does likewise, but no arms are lifted to reciprocate. They greet chin to chin resulting in small clacks as two hard surfaces touch. Lena notices how the wife has to move her feet to turn and tilt the body so that her chin meets Lena’s chin. Both the back and the neck seem to be completely rigid. The two greeting wives change places and the clacking is repeated, followed by greeting with the other two wives. Now being face to face Lena notices that the wives are in fact not anonymous. Just above the nose, where their eyebrows would be if visible, a small half inch high Arab symbol is printed in gold. After greeting all the wives Lena believes it’s the numbers 1 to 4 that show.
Very slowly the wives start walking around the pool followed by Fawzia and Lena, who copies what Fawzia does. At the other end the two maids receive them and one by one the wives are helped down, sitting on cushions, their backs leaning against a wall. The cushions are not directly on the floor, but on small individual platforms about a foot high. When the wife rests on the cushion a maid immediately grabs a wide strap at one side of the platform and buckles it on the other side like a seat belt. As the maid continues to the next wife Lena can see why. The legs are completely straight and rigid from the hips to the heels. The wives can only bend at the hips and can’t have their legs at a full right angle to the body, always resulting in a force that moves them out from the wall. Further this means their feet have to be covered in a black blanket. A dress long enough to cover the feet at the end of straight legs would have been impossible to walk in. Out on the floor facing the four wives Fawzia and Lena are helped down onto cushions. They can’t sit with legs crossed flat, buy are able to find a balance.
Coffee is served. Of course it has to be in bottles with strings and tubes and there can be no cookies or sweets to accompany them. A maid starts cautiously pulling at Fawzia’s scarf at her chin to get the tube of the bottle down under the chin, moving the scarf as little as possible. The chin is now nearly uncovered, but that seems to be okay. While enjoying the coffee Lena thinks it might be a long boring afternoon. The wives have a little to look at because they can study Lena’s face. And perhaps Fawzia’s face is new to them as well. But she doubts they are able to see much as their eye holes look even smaller than her own, and they can’t change their field of vision because their necks are rigid. But even though Lena can see all of all the wives the story is soon over. Their clothing is nearly identical without decoration and much like hers. There are no facial expressions to watch and they are totally unmoving. The only thing happening is that the brown contents of the clear bottles slowly sinks. Lena is betting number three reaches the bottom first.
But just as she has accepted that nothing more exciting will happen, the coffee bottles are removed and they are all helped on their feet. Then Lena is surprised. A wife lifts her right arm showing a black mitten covered hand, and the wife moves until her hand can tap Lena at the front of the neck. It’s an awkward gesture that shows that her elbow joint is rigid as well. Her whole arm moves like a straight stick attached at the shoulder. After the tapping she turns to see Fawzia’s reaction. Fawzia nods approvingly. A maid comes to Lena and first points to her head covering. Fawzia nods again. Then Lena is undressed. All her black clothing is removed. Now the doll Lena is displayed in her full glory with silk gown, porcelain hands and head and long blond ‘hair’. The wives are moving around her to look at her from all sides. Fawzia approaches a maid and turns a complete circle in front of her. Lena finds out that this is an agreed sign that her still chained hands should be freed. Fawzia walks up behind Lena and guides her to turn around and pose her arms. Lena is actually dancing very slowly. Fazia pulls back and encourages her to go on by letting her hands meet like she was clapping. The wives, who can apparently only move their right arm, let their right hand meet the hand of another wife to allude to a dance rhythm. But they only do it a few times, as they are not able to see Lena while doing so.
After a quarter of an hour of slow dance Fawzia stretches her hand towards a door and the wives walk in her direction, as soon as they have noticed her. Lena, happy that the dancing is over because she was starting to get hot, is about to follow, but is stopped by a maid. She is dressed in black again. When the face again is the only thing to be seen of the doll, Lena can follow the others.
They are gathered around an oversized computer. A very large screen showing large Arab writing is in front of them. And below the screen, placed vertically some feet in front of the screen, is a large keyboard with Arabic symbols, which one of the wives hits with the rounded end of her mitten covered and rigid hand and arm. Of course each hit puts a new symbol on the screen. The wife writing is moving all the time. First she has to get slightly off balance to let her body tilt to see the keyboard and, after hitting a sequence of keys, she has to move and turn to be able to read the screen. The other wives are just slowly turning from right to left following the text evolving, until suddenly taking a few small steps that make them face the right edge again. The display keep putting new symbols on the top line, scrolling the remaining text down at each linefeed. Then they can read without tilting the head progressively.
Lena doesn’t understand a word of it, but writing changes between one wife only and Fawzia. This wife has to be Fawzia’s long time friend. At one point Fawzia involves Lena by going to the screen and tapping a particular word and then reaching out towards Lena. Lena nods to say that she has understood it is her name which she is pointing out. But she can’t explain why it’s much longer than four symbols. There can’t be that much difference expressing the sounds of her name. But it’s good seeing a dialog taking place, and as she supposes Ahmed has a similar set up, she now knows that the dolls are able to communicate fully, even though it’s slow. But she guesses it means the husbands are able to read every word written and chain or disable the hands of someone expressing something inappropriate.
Suddenly two maids arrive each holding up a niqab. It’s time for Lena and Fawzia to go home. They are allowed to repeat the clacking of chins with all four wives before the niqab is tied and they are blind. Lena then feels her right arm being grabbed. It is clipped to her side and is followed by the left. Now she is no longer inexperienced walking in doll suit and veils or perhaps the maid just doesn’t know her hands are supposed to be left free.
On arrival back at Ahmed’s house again it’s time for dinner. It’s the empty room with bottles again. As Lena now knows she has to stay in the suit until a few hours before her plane departs tomorrow, she will try to learn a little more about her fellow dolls before leaving. Who are all the dolls who are not Ahmed’s wives? And then the photo session must be continued. She will love an album with herself as a life size version of her own doll. And pictures of the other dolls with their fabulous dresses would be nice as well.
There are many dolls drinking dinner. Lena counts sixteen, which means the exhibition hall is down to four or fewer. But all the dolls Lena has greeted earlier are here, and she greets and lifts wigs to look at names of some more. Most of the dolls do not stand unmoving looking in an arbitrary direction as when she entered here the first time, but they follow what she is doing. Lena is the centre of attention. Perhaps it’s rare that Ahmed is receiving a guest who is put into a doll suit. But apart from looking at Lena there are no attempts to communicate, either with Lena or between any of the other dolls. Perhaps it’s not allowed in here, or the little they can gesture is considered too primitive and not worth the effort compared with writing. As Ahmed doesn’t appear in the room, Lena decides to try Fawzia, who she has seen communicating in writing. In front of Fawzia Lena holds her forearms horizontally forward and moves them a little up and down like she was typing. Fawzia nods but taps her bottle and puts her right hand on her left wrist. It has to wait until the meal is over.
Lena can’t do anything but suck and wait. Still standing on the spot where they exchanged gestures both Fawzia and herself let their arms drop down. They look at each other, but don’t really look anyway, because there’s nothing to see. Like at the coffee during the visit, the only thing happening is that the bottles slowly empty. And if not looking at bottles nothing happens, as no one moves and the expression on the masked faces stay unchanged no matter what is going on inside the doll heads. Lena now does as the others, and understands why everybody is just facing nothing in particular.
Perhaps half an hour later a maid arrives and removes the empty bottles. Lena notices three dolls going to the counter to have another, but most are slowly on their way out of the room. Fawzia comes and puts her arm around Lena’s arm and they walk to a part of the house, where she hasn’t been in before. They enter a room with a computer similar to the one she saw in the afternoon.
Four dolls are gathered around it, but Lena soon finds out that only two of them are communicating. The Arabic symbols are changing much faster than with the black wives. Being able to use both arms and tilt and turn the head they can both write and read faster. As one of the onlookers sees Lena and Fawzia, she walks in front of the screen and stretches her arm towards Lena to make them aware that she is with them. They turn their heads to see Lena and nods towards the woman who made them aware. It seems like Lena is the subject of the communication. Lena turns to Fawzia and makes a capital A and Z in the air. Fawzia shows she has understood by repeating the A and Z and pointing to Lena. Then she moves her hand from right to left while letting it jump up and down a little. She points to the screen and all the women except Lena. They communicate in Arabic. She points to Lena, the keyboard and the screen. Lena has to communicate in Arabic. It is out of the question she will be able to do anything but simple gesturing with the other dolls, before she has to go home.
But Fawzia finds she has to try. She interrupts the doll typing and points to Lena. The two women communicating both nod and step back a little. Fawzia moves Lena in front of herself with both facing the keyboard. Then with her right arm she lifts Lena’s right arm and moves it to one of the keys, where Fawzia lowers her arm to make Lena’s hand hit the key. The screen clears. Fawzia moves Lena’s arm again to another key printing a symbol. Slowly a word is formed on the screen. It requires something like ten symbols. Then Fawzia steps next to Lena and moves her outstretched hand between Lena and the screen. To emphasize what she has written Fawzia lifts Lena’s wig and taps the back of her head. Before the wig was lifted Lena has understood that it is her name in Arabic, but Fawzia wants to tell her more. She takes her to the doorway and turns around once more making her aware of the screen. Then she walks to a closed door and with a little difficulty presses the handle.
It’s a stockroom full of books. Lena looks at the first shelf. She wouldn’t like reading with her separate tunnel view, but she can read the backs to see most books are Arabic and a few are in English. But Fawzia doesn’t want her to read. She just moves her arm to encircle the room and then points to Lena. Lena doesn’t respond. Fawzia repeats the circle and taps Lena on the back of her head. Lena and books. Yes, but it’s her work. How does Fawzia know about that? She hasn’t got the impression that Ahmed had announced her stay to the other dolls. If so, no one needed to look at her head to see her name, but they all did. From what Lena has found out so far, it looks like Ahmed keeps the face of each doll unchanged for some time, implying seeing a new face and knowing a guest would stay, everybody would deduce the porcelain face was the guest Lena. But everybody looking under the wig means he hasn’t told, and then what is written under the wig doesn’t say Lena, but books, no book stock, no library … Librarian! Lena puts a hand to the back of her head, encircles the room and nods to Fawzia. She has understood. It’s her internet alias which Ahmed has used to designate her. They have been in the same doll group for a long time, but only known each other in real life for less than a week. Ahmed thinks of her as a long term internet buddy with a common interest in dolls and prefers to use the name he has got used to. But why hasn’t he said so, and asked if it was okay to call her Librarian during her stay? She wouldn’t mind, but perhaps it’s very rude to use nicknames to Arabs?
Fawzia takes her to the dining room. It’s tea time. A maid is waiting at the counter to attach bottles. Now there are two kinds. They look nearly identical. Fawzia bows at her knees to get down so she is able to read the print. Then she taps the slightly darker kind. The maid holds up one of each in front of Lena. Lena shakes her head, she can’t read the Arabic. The maid puts the bottles back on the counter, but Lena stretches her hand forward, she wants something. Fawzia has stayed where she got her bottle and been able to follow the incident. Now she reaches for the maid’s wrist, and makes the maid grab a bottle, which Fawzia pushes towards Lena. The maid understands and hangs the bottle around Lena’s neck. Then Fawzia taps a bottle of the other kind and moves her hand towards Lena and the maid gives her that bottle as well. But she can only drink from one. After letting Lena taste the first one the maid changes the tube going to her mouth hole. Lena tastes the second bottle. It is coffee and tea respectively. Lena likes to stay with the tea in the second bottle and pushes the first one out from her body with her hand. The maid takes it off her and places it back on the counter. Lena bends at her knees to get down and read the bottle and the other kind. If she can remember them she knows the Arabic words for coffee and tea. But perhaps she can remember that the word tea is shorter than coffee like in English.
Lena turns around to see who is present. There are only three apart from Fawzia and herself. She recognises Bratzlover and Sweetie. They are internet nicknames as well. Lena suddenly recalls that they were both quite active in the doll group some time ago. But she hasn’t until now connected the names with the doll group, because it’s such a long time since any of them had made a contribution. She has always thought that somebody dropping out of the group was due to either being forced to work all the time or getting a boyfriend or children that gave her new preferences. Was Ahmed the ‘boyfriend’ of the inactive members? And were the dolls like Bratzlover and Sweetie the same women who participated in the dolls group? If they were why are they still here? And had Ahmed not met her by chance at the Barbie exhibition? Lena did have her photo in her membership profile. And the exhibition had been announced in the group. Had Lena responded positively to that announcement knowing she lived so close? She could have ended a posting about a completely different subject with something like ‘Do we meet at the Barbie exhibition?’ It is all very disturbing, but how can she explain this to Ahmed? She has to get out of the suit right now.
While she is thinking this Ahmed enters. Lena starts tapping all over her body with her rigid hands to make Ahmed understand she wants the suit smashed. But Ahmed doesn’t show he understands. Then Lena puts one hand at her mouth and the other to the back of her head. Now Ahmed understands something, he says
“Lena, I’m sorry I haven’t been with you since the visit and then we were separated as our customs require. But some very important business matters came up. I understand you have learned that dolls are able to communicate with that special computer. It only works in Arabic. When you live in a certain country you have to use the language of that country. I have only taken back on the name plates in the dormitory and on the back of your heads, because I find it even more important that you learn to know each other and become friends right from the beginning. And Arabic is a very difficult language to learn for Westerners with a completely different writing style, perhaps even more so if you can’t pronounce it while learning. And then I have some non-Arab visitors coming from time to time, who shouldn’t get the wrong impression by thinking I call you by numbers like you were robots or androids. You have learned your name ‘Librarian’ in Arabic I can see from the computer log. Perhaps I should start calling you that from now on. After all it’s close that you can be treated like all my other dolls, and it’s only my wives who are called by the name on their birth certificate. Dolls should not have a real girls name unless they are very special, and the nicknames you invented for yourselves are easy for you to remember and usually mean something special to you. I can’t cope with a photo session tonight. I’m too tired after this extraordinary business work. But there’s plenty of time. If we start a little early tomorrow we can make a fine series before the limo goes to the airport.”
Ahmed then raises his voice considerably saying “All of you in here go to bed right away. Fawzia takes care of you today. Goodnight!”
All of the dolls have turned towards him, when he raised his voice, and now they all, including Librarian, nod. Librarian doesn’t really feel sleepy although it has been a strange and confusing day, but perhaps she got a little nap during the drives to and from the black wives. They are still only five including Fawzia and herself. In the dormitory Fawzia begins with the doll who wasn’t here yesterday and whose name Librarian has forgotten. But instead of looking at her name plate Librarian tries to see if she can read the clock above the door. It’s only ten minutes past nine. That explains why she isn’t sleepy, but not why they are put to bed.
But Fawzia is in a hurry. As soon as Bratzlover is on the bedding she pushes the button without waiting for her to lie down. Bratzlover is too high in the box and ten seconds after the glass top has closed the yellowish gas knocks her out. A loud bang is heard as her hard head hits the glass. Of course the glass does not break, but it’s clear Bratzlover can’t be left leaning against the glass. Fawzia is probably upset but has to press the button once more. As the glass won’t open before the gas has gone, she has to wait until the air in the box is replaced.
While waiting she just goes on with the next. It is Librarian. She isn’t completely sure, but while waiting for the glass to lift, it seems to her a name has been put on the plate of her box. This time the frame doesn’t move down until Librarian is lying in the middle of the box and her head, as the last part of her body, touches the bedding.
A maid has woken Librarian. While being guided by the maid out of the dormitory Librarian notices that many dolls are still in their boxes. She remembers she has to be up early to both undergo the photographic session and catch her plane. She can’t read the clock with the maid pushing her out of the room so fast and it is difficult walking with partly rigid legs. With many dolls still sleeping it suggests it’s early.
In the nearly empty exhibition hall Ahmed is waiting. “Good morning!” he just says “We start right away.”
He immediately places her in front of the flash system and starts taking pictures. He has a number of photos in his hand. From time to time he shows one to Librarian, who finds them all to be very good. But apparently Ahmed thinks they can be better, and his reason for showing them to her is that she should try to pose like in the picture once more. After some time Librarian starts getting nervous about how late it is getting. When shown the next photo she taps her right hand on her left wrist.
Ahmed answers “Yes, it’s the last photo. But don’t worry. I checked everything before coming here. The maid is waiting.”
Ahmed has saved the pose that displays both her porcelain parts and her green silk gown at their best for the last picture. Turning around to make the pose Librarian actually notices a maid in the doorway waiting for a signal from Ahmed. After looking at her arms to see that they are just the way she wants them and the sleeves haven’t slipped, she turns her head a little to the right of the camera and a little down to get the best possible shot of the head and showing the blond hair disappearing behind the shoulders. The flash is fired several times. Librarian tries to be completely still to hold the pose for different exposure settings. Just as she has waited for at least thirty seconds without any flashes, she notices the light in the room is dimmed a little. She waits for a word from Ahmed, her arms are aching and she has to drop them soon. Finally she relaxes anyway, but her arms stay where they are.
It was the special hardening light that she noticed being turned off a little while ago. The light has made her completely rigid. But if she is ninety percent or completely rigid doesn’t matter when her suit has to be smashed. It only means she has to be transported to the bathroom.
Now Ahmed enters her field of view saying “I hope you can see me now. You look really good posing like this Librarian, but if we don’t like the pictures we can always take some more another day. But the limo is waiting, and I just think you should say goodbye to Lena before she leaves.”
Librarian is confused. She can’t leave now. She has seen the process and it will take at least half an hour for her to be ready. And what is that nonsense about saying goodbye to Lena. She might be Librarian in this doll suit, but it’s Lena inside. She can’t leave without smashing the doll suit.
But then Librarian gets the shock of her life. In her field of view next to Ahmed, now more in front of him to be seen clearly, stands another ‘Lena’. Librarian finds it’s like looking in a mirror. But of course now she doesn’t look like when she arrived and there is no mirror. But the woman in front of her looks exactly like Lena when she arrived. She wears her clothes and she carries her sports bag and her handbag.
Ahmed says from behind the woman “Now it’s goodbye to Lena as you can see. At her arrival in America, I’ve instructed her to take a camera protected taxi to the city centre and visit a few shops in the camera covered main streets before walking down a non-monitored side street leading to anywhere. There will be lots of pictures showing she has left my country and entered her own. But of course Lena won’t be back at work at the library tomorrow. This Lena is a very trusted and well paid maid and she doesn’t like America, but likes this country and working for me. In a few days she will be back, eager to serve Librarian as well. I know you are ready to explode with anger right now so I will give you a couple of day’s right where you are and as you are to get your usual happy mood back again. And of course the maids will see to your needs from this moment and for many years to come.”
Librarian’s field of view becomes an empty corner of the exhibition hall and it is to remain that way for many hours to come.
Copyright © 2011, Bo_Emp; Bo_Emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com
Thanks to Nye North for proof reading.