A Day in the Life of Hamida

A Day in the Life of Hamida

by Bo_Emp

a_day_in_the_life_of_hamida

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 2014, two years after General Salami supported by the islamist took power to end years with governments unable to rule. General Salami and the mullahs agree that controlling women will make most men happy and make a stable peaceful society. They have passed laws to enforce this kind of society. Women can’t own property, have personal finances or be in charge of men. In all matters they have to obey their guardian, normally husband or father, as long as he follows Muslim law and customs. In public women must be completely veiled, and women working must at least wear the clothing specified by the government. Further the voices of women are not to tempt, ensured by women required to be gagged in public. To maintain the same peaceful and non tempting conditions at home the mullahs recommend similar rules are used at home, but this is completely for the head of the house to decide.

1.

Hamida is happy today having been permitted to visit her sister after work in the afternoon. These about monthly visits are some of the few happy hours in her life since General Salami came to power with the support of the islamists nearly two years ago, and her husband Ali changed to follow many of the recommendations of the mullahs being part of the new regime. For some reason there was no visit last month, making the visit today much more longed for. Her happy thinking and the work with clearing the kitchen, as much as she can before Ali has had breakfast, have almost made her forgot her aching jaws. Remaining is just the usual numbness in the corners of her mouth and in her jaw muscles that will more or less for the rest of the day, unconsciously remind her that she is severely gagged. After a night with the mouth naturally relaxed, every morning it’s a pain having to enter the large ball gag in her mouth and buckle its leather straps tight. But not complying totally with what Ali wants, she fears he will withdraw her from her current work, either to stay at home all the time, or more likely to have her cleaning for some rich people as close by as possible. Nearly ready for work she now sits waiting for him. Hearing Ali coming she gets up to serve him as is the duty of a wife. She has her head bowed submissively when Ali passes the doorway saying mechanically “Good morning Hamida.” Of course he doesn’t expect her to answer, because she should always be gagged in his presence, in fact to comply with his wishes she should be gagged for most of her waking hours. Visiting her sister is one of the few times she can sit relaxed and speak unveiled. Ali may have guessed she doesn’t stay gagged and covered while alone with Noor, but today’s permission shows she is still allowed to visit. Hamida pours a glass of tea hot from the pot for Ali and then sits down again as everything else is ready. Now he eats and looks at the news on the television as if she is not there. The glimpse he got of her when entering the room tells as much as looking at her all the time during the meal because what can be seen of her doesn’t change in the slightest. It can’t be seen she is still a pretty woman, with a sexy body although in her late twenties, because she is completely veiled, wearing the standard outfit of a female government employee even if still at home. All that is visible now that her hands are covered by a long khimar and her feet below the table is emerald green, including the eye region. Ali won’t look and can’t see that her expression has changed from being happy thinking about visiting her sister, to slightly despicable at seeing him. Or is it General Salami and his gang of mullahs she has to turn her anger towards. The television being turned off makes Hamida get up and start clearing the table, seeing Ali has already turned away to leave the room. Ali is slow getting ready to leave, and a few minutes before she expects him at the front door Hamida is there, the kitchen completely cleared. She takes her emerald green handbag and pulls out the emerald green blinding sleep mask, thus blinding herself by putting the mask on and closing its velcro strap she is ready to go in public when accompanied.

With Ali working at a government office as well, she is nearly always accompanied to the bus stop in the morning, not having seen the street of their home in the morning light for many months. Fortunately their offices are in different directions, they can’t ride the same bus. They walk for six to seven minutes then they wait for at most three minutes. After about a minute standing at the bus stop Ali says in a low voice close to her ear while removing her mask “It’s yours now. Have a nice day.” Hamida’s only reaction is lifting her hand a little to receive the mask Ali holds at her hip where her hand will shortly appear from the khimar. Then she steps directly forward to the bus just stopping, without a nod or other movement to say goodbye. While entering the women’s section at the back of the bus, her hand finds the back of a black covered, masked woman to guide her with her inside. Those already in the bus will look if more masked blind women are waiting and reach for them if necessary. As usual in the morning rush hour they have to stand, and it just gets more crowded as they come closer to the center of the city where most offices are. At this time of day more than half the women in the bus are out in connection with a job, easily seen as all women publicly employed wear emerald green like Hamida, and those privately employed wear light blue. Those out not to work wear mainly black like Hamida must do on the weekend. All women are completely covered including their eyes. A thin gauze eye cover is mandatory as part of the full covering in public and a blindfold is highly recommended, but of course it requires being accompanied. Most of those being blind here in the bus probably have a mahram male accompanying them riding at the front of the bus. But some women, those in favor of the islamist but having to work, are blinded, being accompanied by female colleagues having about the same route to work and then they take turns in guiding each other. About half the women, blind or not, don’t show the dress, khimar and face covering Hamida does but cover up everything with a burqa. Women in burqa are either traditional, very pious most likely islamist, or want to express they support the current rule of General Salami, perhaps to get a promotion of some kind. Of course for many it is not their personal choice, but the way their husband or other guardian and family think they should dress. The burqa alone fulfills the requirements for covering in public, but many now wear it as a second layer of complete covering. They have to be dressed like Hamida at work or at home and won’t remove any of that covering just because it can’t be seen when wearing the burqa. Hamida has to be completely veiled all day, but wears the same at home, in the street or at the office. She has a blue burqa, but only has to wear it when going outside the capital for visiting relatives, as the burqa is de facto mandatory covering in many regions. She hates being inside the heavy hot sack that restricts her movements and reduces all her senses, but traveling without it the risk of getting harassed perhaps even abused is great.

The announcement of which stop the bus has reached is very easily heard in the quiet female compartment of the bus. Most of the noise comes from the bus itself and the rest from the traffic outside. Hamida remembers the time before the Salami Government when this part of the bus was a cacophony of female voices, each having to shout to overpower the others and the engine. Now a female voice is only heard if someone gets squeezed too hard or gets a hand or an elbow where it hurts, and at the same time is wearing a too small or a not sufficiently tightened gag. If someone produces a sound, she can hope it can’t be identified from where the sound came or that there are no islamist women riding with her, insisting that she has to be reported and fined for not being gagged sufficiently. The Government has approved the gags from a number of companies for a percentage of their profit, but because all women are veiled as well, nobody can see if an approved gag is worn or any gag for that matter. And there is no female moral police to go around and lift the veils to check the gagging. If a woman stays completely quiet she can break the law by not being gagged without any consequences. But of course almost all husbands require that their wives are gagged at least in public, because as women are not allowed to control any finances, it is them who have to pay in case of a fine, and the family honor may be compromised as well. Ali has selected the ball size that Hamida wears, somewhat larger than she would have chosen herself. And the leather strap buckling the gag has a fixed number of holes to fit the buckle. Ali has decided which hole she has to use, and the strap will be marked if she uses a hole less tight repeatedly. Further, something like once a month he pinches or slaps her to produce a burst of pain and hear if it produces any significant sound as well. Gagging as with veiling follows the degree of strictness and agreement with the Government. Hamida guesses stricter women wear more elaborate gags. Perhaps a ball secured by a complete head harness or a leather strap across the mouth on top of the ball gag to further secure it and attenuate sound. The strictest islamists are rumored to be covered so they can hardly breathe. Thinking about how her fellow passengers may suffer Hamida is perhaps lucky only to have a numb jaw.

The blind woman she guided inside the bus, after hearing the next stop announced, starts turning around to signal she has to be guided off. Hamida takes hold of her to tell her she will help her. She is not getting off herself, but expects her colleague Yasmin to enter. At the bus stop, while helping the blind woman out, she looks for green khimars entering. Apart from some height differences, all women publicly employed of course look nearly identical, only showing Government specified clothing, with coloring and other manufacturing differences too small to see without a close inspection. But all working women wear a badge on their khimar with their family name in full and a logo or abbreviation of the employer. Hamida doesn’t recognize Yasmin from the glimpses she gets of the three women in green khimars entering, and none of them look around as if searching for someone. While the bus starts moving again she has to push herself around to get a closer look at those entering. She is pretty sure she has found the right ones with negative result, when someone presses a hand in her side. Hamida turns to directly face an emerald green burqa. Its loose form with the mesh opening not formed like eyes makes the burqa look much more inhuman than the scarves and gauze she wears. But the meshed head bows to let the burqa cap touch the badge on her chest a couple of times. The burqa knowing her, it has to be Yasmin wearing the burqa. Both gagged and Yasmin’s badge covered by the burqa, Hamida thinks to find a way of confirming the burqa is Yasmin. It is not good manners to show hands unnecessarily in public, but on the other hand they are in a women-only compartment and nobody but Yasmin knows her, so Hamida shows her hand to Yasmin and points to letters on various signs, able to make the sequence Y A S M I N. The burqa nods and they stand close, touching cheek to cheek like they used to do. Normally they further let both their gloved hands meet just slightly lifting their khimars at hip level, and then let their fingers play on the palms of the other in patterns with no meaning other than confirming their friendship. Hamida is happy to have confirmed that she has met Yasmin when sensing Yamin’s hands stretching the burqa fabric to let their hands touch as usual, although individual finger contact is not possible with the thick burqa fabric in between. But instead they knock at each others hands.

2.

On entering their office building nearly all the women around them are in green. Men are not required to log their arrival and rarely face any consequences for being late, resulting in that according to their importance they arrive from a few minutes late to something like an hour late for leading staff. No women have any higher positions, at least officially, but the head of Hamida and Yasmin’s women-only department is a wife of one of the men in the lowest level of management. This means they work without any male contact, making the department very attractive to women in favor of the current regime. The building houses many other government offices as well, and women without burqa like Hamida are about half the women in the lobby of the building, but six months ago they were dominating. Walking the corridor to their department Hamida is the only one without burqa. It is not surprising as Yasmin and herself have been the only ones coming and leaving without burqa for some time. They pass three burqas walking much slower than themselves and forming a line. The woman in front leads the way and those behind her are blinded, guiding themselves by having the caps of their bowed heads stay in touch with the back in front of them. Like this a woman in burqa can guide blinded women, leaving her own arms confined inside the burqa. But for crowded streets she has to stop and turn frequently to be sure the line is intact and taking care of more than one blinded woman for a bus ride is risky. Hamida opens and holds the door containing a women-only sign, until her four burqa clad colleagues have passed. Just inside she gets another small sign of the Government favoring strict veiling. One of the blind women wears the relatively new burqa, design without any mesh opening. The face part of the burqa is just a uniform surface, made less intimidating by embroidery. If women are never to see and always accompanied in public this burqa covers better and makes a blinding mask unnecessary, but Hamida would never wear such a burqa even if having to be blinded in public always. The blinding can’t be removed if contact with the guide is lost, and with no mesh to work as air intake breathing is probably further restricted and heating increased.

Out of their burqas all her colleagues should look exactly like herself in long emerald green dresses, khimars, face scarves and eye gauzes supplemented by black gloves, stockings and footwear. But only Yasmin and herself comply totally with current government dress-code. It is likely that her other colleagues differ in wearing full length gloves and stockings, but that is not visible. The small visible difference is the eye region. Hamida and Yasmin wear a strip of thin gauze attached to the forehead scarf to cover the slit between this scarf and the scarf covering below the eyes, clearly showing the slit as a darker hue of green where eyes can be seen at close range in strong light. All their other colleagues are islamist avant-garde, wearing a similar sized and shaped gauze, but less transparent. But what really makes their eye region look different at close range is that the face scarf isn’t tied below the eyes but around the forehead, thus covering the entire face. Then two openings are cut at the eyes, resulting in only two dark spots in the emerald green face surface instead of a slit. Hamida suspect they are more elaborately gagged as well, but most likely she will never find out.

The office is just a room divided into twenty cubicles, each person working on her own at a computer. They convert surveys into statistics by entering numbers in manually filled charts into computer databases. The only professional interaction is that they exchange the charts in a manner selected by the head of department and written on each chart, to make sure the same data is entered by at least two people, making it possible to catch reading and typing errors. As they never produce any information of their own, or have to deliver messages to colleagues, speaking is not allowed and they remain gagged while working. Coming into the office they go directly to their cubicle, only stopping to remove the burqa if wearing one. No one says good morning or hello even by nodding. The large majority walk to a cubicle holding the folded burqa over the hips just inside the khimar and head down. Although covered completely they don’t like their faces showing for the cameras at the top back monitoring all activity in the office. Hamida and Yasmin, not wanting to reveal they have a special friendship, go to their cubicles like the rest without greeting anybody, not even each other.

After closing the door of her cubicle and turning her computer on, Hamida pulls the ends of the eye gauze strip out from the khimar and folds it on top of the forehead scarf to which it is fixed by small snap fasteners at each end of the strip. She has a couple of charts to enter from previously and is soon typing. Of course it is her work, but to Hamida it’s just waiting for a message from Yasmin. The reason they can stay friends is that they exchange secret notes when handing over charts to each other. The charts are one or more pieces of paper in a plastic pocket, and when a chart is to go from Hamida to Yasmin or in the opposite direction they put a sheet from a notepad after the top chart. Next to the door in each cubicle is a box accessible from both inside and outside. If something is in the box you have work to do, if not you might have to go to the inbox at the entrance looking for charts with your number, or you can take a break, waiting, hoping a colleague will put a chart in your box within a few minutes. Having processed a number of charts you can take a break from typing, covering the eyes and leaving the cubicle to distribute the charts to colleagues, or to place them in the outbox at the entrance. Hamida and Yasmin, having the most work experience, and working to get out and be more than housewives, get more charts than the others, and often deliver a chart to the others every hour. But when really needing to tell each other something they can cheat by adding the other to a chart with only two destinations and themselves second. Hamida expects to have a message from Yasmin within fifteen to twenty minutes after starting work. She works to be ready for a new chart after a quarter of an hour.

On hearing the box being opened she quickly takes it contents. She puts it in her lap where the cameras don’t cover, in fact they only cover the heads down to below the shoulders, and only from behind, not to record faces showing eyes. The first chart is not from Yasmin and doesn’t contain any messages, but a new one arrives while she looks at the first. She immediately takes it, putting it in her lap on top of the first. This is from Yasmin and contains a note saying ‘My husband fears we will be taken as liberal Government enemies by our strict neighborhood, where I am about the only woman not wearing burqa. We could not risk being forced to sell our house by being reported by someone wanting a house for relatives close to their own. I have for good joined the increasing number of walking cloth heaps, sweating, if not fainting from lack of oxygen and surplus heat, unless a miracle gets us a house in a liberal quarter of town and such quarters are not extinct.‘ Hamida clearly understands Yasmin isn’t happy having to wear burqa, which makes Hamida feel relieved. At least she hasn’t changed and turned fundamentalistic, and her husband neither, having ordered her. She can still envy Yasmin or her own sister living a liberal life much like before General Salami took power inside their homes, but she has to come up with an answer for Yasmin to give her comfort. She puts the note in her handbag like they always do, so as not to leave their messages where others might see them, and then starts thinking about the answer while entering the chart from Yasmin. Half an hour later she takes a notepad from her handbag and writes ‘Cheer up Yasmin, you still have a loving husband and can do as you like at home. The burqa restricts your sight somewhat, but you can still walk on your own where you like without asking anyone. Further you are now seen as a respectable woman in the eyes of the strict and will be treated better in your neighborhood and perhaps here. If it gets too much. you can find a secluded spot just out of your neighborhood and take the burqa off, traveling most of the way and coming here as before. You have my support and friendship.‘ Hamida reads her own writing and considers if something has to be changed while processing another chart. She can’t deliver the answer to Yasmin right away as she has no charts for her.

At half past ten the usual message pops up on Hamida’s screen saying ‘Tea break.’ She immediately stops working, covers her eyes and leaves the cubicle. Most workers have been waiting for the message, and she is only in the middle of the line of more than fifteen women queuing for the tea machine. Most of them, almost identical in height, they all look the same, at least from behind, and Hamida has no idea which is Yasmin. Turning to look would be attracting too much attention. A few minutes later she can take the plastic cup up under her khimar, lifting it until the long tube going through the ball gag and ending on her lower chest is inside the cup. Then while drinking she can look for Yasmin. She is the first woman she looks at, Yasmin has found her. They just touch cheek to cheek and let their left hands meet. First gesturing with one hand isn’t easy, second they can’t gesture something that reveals they are communicating while working. A few of the others are in contact with another, but most just stand looking down or at nothing in particular. Being mute is not just to avoid attracting male attention, but seen by many as a reminder of women to reduce the urge to chat in any way. Then no one speaks badly about others or blows up small incidents to sensations. The office filled with islamist women communication is only done when really necessary, like making agreements about accompanying each other home, but this will wait until the afternoon break. The nearly total silence feels worse than in the bus, because the noise level here is much lower making the silence much more noticeable. Close to twenty women in a small area, and the most dominant sound is that of the air-conditioner. Officially the break is fifteen minutes, but most go back to their cubicle when their cup is empty minutes earlier. When both Hamida and Yasmin hold their empty cups below the khimar, they turn to the waste basket, drop the cups and walk side by side to their cubicles.

A few minutes after the break, Hamida receives a chart to be handed on to Yasmin. She processes it as fast as possible, veils her eyes and walk to Yasmin’s cubicle to put it in her box. Then she just works until the message ‘Noon prayers in five minutes’ pops up. She wets a paper towel from a bottle of water and moves the towel ceremonially around her feet, hands and over her face. Being nearly completely covered nothing is made wet except placing a drop on the bridge of the nose. Then she stands up facing Mecca and folds her hands, there is no room for making the set movements. Within a minute several prayer calls at various volumes reach her from mosques around the building. In an otherwise very silent office, despite containing more than fifteen women, the sound is loud. Before the last prayer call has ended a loudspeaker is turned on transmitting a male voice reciting the Quran. It lasts for ten minutes. Hamida stays praying for a couple of minutes more making some personal prayers. Since getting married she has wished for a child, and since Ali started following General Salami she has wished his rule would come to an end. Today she further wishes Yasmin won’t need to wear burqa, or at least feel okay wearing it. Now men have lunch break, but most women only work half a day to have time for housekeeping so they don’t eat during office hours, very practically not requiring facilities where it’s possible to remove their gag decently. About one o’clock Hamida receives another chart to go on to Yasmin. She immediately processes it and writes a note saying ‘No accompanying each other on the bus back home. I’m going to visit my sister, so I will be able to unveil and talk for some hours like you can do every day. We meet at the new women-only gym perhaps to compete a little. If you like you could come with me visiting her as well next time I’m allowed to visit. Are you interested, and would your husband permit that?‘ She veils her eyes and delivers the chart along with two more to other colleagues. At half past one is the afternoon tea break passing just like in the morning. A quarter of an hour later Hamida gets a chart from Yasmin. She reads ‘I would like to meet your sister on a day without gym. If I ask my husband some days in advance he will surely permit it. Have a nice afternoon.

Some minutes before half past two everybody sits with veiled eyes just waiting for the message saying ‘End of work day’. Half the computers are turned off before anybody not knowing the message would have been able to read it. On the open floor close to the exit everybody, except for Hamida put on burqas. A burqa flipped back steps in front of her and Hamida reads it is Yasmin just before Yasmin touches her cheek to cheek. Then she pulls the front of her burqa down and together they walk out into the corridor. Hamida is surrounded by identical burqas, only able to identify Yasmin because she stays close to her. In the lobby Hamida, to her relief again sees that many women still walk the streets only dressed like herself. At the bus stop her bus arrives. Turning to see if Yasmin is still beside her she only sees something like five identical green burqas. But then the one closest makes a clear nod and Hamida nods back as she enters the bus.

3.

The gym is just at the bus stop as Hamida has been told. A large sign on the door says ‘Women only’. Hamida walks into a small corridor with a counter where a woman in light blue guards the entrance. Reading Hamida’s badge makes her look at a list and write on a notepad. Hamida is handed the sheet to read in large numbers ’27’, below much smaller is written ‘Noor Ahmad 26’. Then she gestures Hamida to go on through the other door after having read a large sign next to the door. Hamida reads:

  1. THE WEARING OF A GAG IS MANDATORY EVERYWHERE EXCEPT IN THE CHANGING ROOM.
  2. A CLOAK IS TO BE WORN WHENEVER NOT DIRECTLY EXERCISING OR WHEN INSTRUCTED TO.
  3. AN INSTRUCTOR PUTTING HER HANDS OVER HER EYES MEANS YOU HAVE TO BLINDFOLD BY PULLING UP THE EXTRA HOOD.

The rules are simple, although Hamida is here for the first time and doesn’t know a cloak or the gym suit. She comes into a long corridor with numbered doors along the opposite side. Two burqas are on their way out, and on a chair a little away from the entrance sits another woman in light blue, who gets up to meet Hamida as she walks towards the door labeled ’27’. Coming up to her the woman holds up a key and gestures to see the note in her hand. She is shown into a small changing room with a small shower cabin and a door at the opposite side. Next to this door is the same sign with the rules and on the shelf to put the clothes are two folded items in bright red. After hanging her handbag on a hook and uncovering her eyes Hamida takes up and unfolds the red items. The first is the gym suit, a catsuit in elastic spandex covering everything, including a full face hood. The other is the cloak, a human shaped loose bag in cotton with an elastic strap around the neck to hold it. Both have the number ’27’ in large numbers on both front and back.

Hamida undresses completely and takes the catsuit. It simply has an opening to be closed with a long zipper down the back. Being elastic it is easily put on, and a little more difficult getting closed having to reach on her own back first from above and then from the waist. She is now completely covered again, but with the suit clinging to her body all her limbs and every body curve shows, making it natural that a cover is required when not exercising. The face is an integral part of the suit, but the fabric being opaque, there are two circular eye openings covered by a strip of gauze attached on the inside. Like the suit is elastic enough to fit most Hamida immediately notices the eye gauze is average as well. That means much less transparent than what she is used to wearing, but not close to blinding like some strict women use. The light just seems to have been turned down as Hamida takes a look in the mirror. Although dark the reflection she sees is extremely pleasing. If she could show herself to Ali in this suit, he would most likely be more kind to her. The fabric is thick enough to blur the features of her face somewhat, but the ball that gags her is large enough to clearly show. Then hanging at the front of the neck is the extra hood. Simply stretching the opening it can be pulled up to cover her head in an extra layer in seconds. With the small hood opening at the back the hood is blinding and doesn’t interfere in any other way. Hamida pulls the hood off again, takes the cloak and lifts it over her head. Due to the smoothness of the catsuit the cloak slides down without Hamida scarcely touching it until the elastic neck opening rests on top of her head. Then a firm pull makes the elastic stretch and slip over the head to close around her neck. Blind on one eye Hamida looks in the mirror to see that the cloak is not just one kind of cloth made into a sack. The part covering the head is actually an open face hood with a sheer piece of chiffon covering the face. Turning the cloak to align the chiffon with her face her sight is nearly as without the cloak, but the features of her face are close to be hidden, like the rest of the cloak sweeping the floor hides all body curves and limbs. Hamida is ready to enter the gym.

Locking the door behind her, what first catches her eyes is the colorful sight of cloaks in at least ten strong colors. Women walk, stand or sit in the wide corridor that connects the changing rooms on one side with four gym rooms on the other. Just opposite on one of a number of chairs placed along the wall between the doors is a bright yellow cloak numbered ’26.’ Noor spots her at the same time and gets up as Hamida approaches. They meet cheek to cheek and then are unable to express much more, especially with their hands inside the cloaks. Hamida has previously always visited Noor at her home and it seems strange seeing her as a completely covered being when used to identifying her by her face. Noor walks to the door to the left and nods towards a sign next to the door saying ‘9 – 5: Our instructors continuously go through a cycle of floor exercises. Join at any time and leave when you like.’ Hamida nods approvingly and reaches for the door handle with her hand inside the cloak, but Noor stops her. With her hand inside the cloak making a pointed bulge she points to Hamida and the door and then the next door and takes some steps towards it. Hamida doesn’t care if she does floor exercises or some other kind of gymnastics and moves towards the next door as well, but Noor stops her and pushes her towards the first door. Then Hamida pushes Noor towards the same door, but she won’t move. Instead she walks to the end of the corridor with Hamida following. On the wall is a small blackboard to enable communication beyond gesturing. Noor writes ‘Nice meeting you again Hamida. Knowing each other we should go to separate rooms to be anonymous without cloaks. Let’s meet for a break in half an hour.’ Hamida nods while Noor erases the blackboard and they go back to the first gym door to part with a touch of cheeks.

Entering the gym even Hamida with her liberal mind immediately finds separating was right. Ten colored bodies, where not much is hidden, are moving in ways making even women seeing other women excited. Knowing one of these wonderfully looking bodies could easily lead to a friendship turning into an inappropriate relationship or gossiping about something very private. The nine women are facing her, standing in a grid quite far apart. Facing them is the instructor, who wears a light blue suit, both to make her look different from the other brightly colored suits, and to signal she is at work. Along the left wall a horizontal bar is attached like a long towel holder to put the cloaks on. Hamida takes a position on the floor extending the center row of women backwards, and tries to copy their movements. With the instructor mute, they have to turn their heads towards her frequently and further it is of course very quiet. Hamida can easily hear that most of the women must have been here some time exercising hard as heavy breathing is a major sound source, even if everybody is gagged. They bend and stretch arms and legs in a repeating pattern at high speed, and just after a few minutes Hamida feels herself getting warm. After something like five minutes the instructor stops and just stands with a hand on her chest for a minute. As she starts moving again one woman slowly walks towards the cloaks. The instructor starts running slowly in a circle as large as the room permits. Soon they all run following her path spaced widely apart. After a few rounds for all of them the instructor pulls out gesturing everybody else to continue. For a few minutes she just stands nodding to make the running continue unchanged. Then she gestures the pace to increase, and after a little while to increase again. Now everybody, Hamida included, are breathing heavily through their noses and the sound of feet against the floor gets louder as the steps become heavier. When the pace is gestured up again some two minutes later a purple suit, looking young and fit drops out and lies down along the wall. As staring at her is wrong Hamida can’t decide if she has become exhausted by hard exercising for a long time, or she perhaps is gagged by something limiting her airflow extraordinarily, which would probably show under the thin suit. A minute later the instructor claps her hands to end the running and signal all have done well. Everybody sits or lies down on the floor to catch their breath and rest their legs. Hamida is sweating. The instructor gestures to slowly form a grid again. A new woman has arrived and they are again ten. The instructor gets down on the floor and they all happily follow. She rolls on her back and bends forward until the head touches the knees five times, then she rolls on her stomach and makes five arm lifts. This is to be repeated, and then she puts her hands over the eyes. Hamida watches most of the others immediately pulling the extra hood over their head to be blinded before lying on their backs and start exercising. Then she does the same, finding that apart from removing the sight of tightly dressed bodies from her view and mind, it makes her concentrate more on her movements. This exercise feels very good to go through, Hamida has no idea how many minutes have passed when suddenly the prayer call sounds from a loudspeaker. She stops, removes the hood and sees the instructor guide everyone to take their cloaks. Everybody cloaked, including the instructor, they stand in the grid again, but turned at an angle to the wall to face Mecca. They pray for a little more than five minutes. While putting her cloak back on the holder Hamida looks at the clock to see she can continue for some five minutes more before having her break with Noor. The instructor starts running on the spot lifting the knees high. It quickly gets very hard, but she makes it even harder by slowly increasing the pace. After a couple of minutes Hamida feels very hot and has heavy legs, but the instructor continues. Several women stop, either out of breath or their legs completely fatigued. Hamida continues, but at a slower pace than the instructor. There are only three women still able to do the exercise when Hamida stops, and while stretching her legs approaches the cloaks. The instructor stops immediately following. A woman in pink next to her is so exhausted she is bending forward with her hands on her hips trying to regain breath instead of covering in her cloak. While reaching for her own cloak, although staring at the tightly dressed body is wrong, Hamida is attracted by the look of her face. First the pink woman does not have a spherical protrusion at the mouth like herself, it looks like a completely ordinary face, where even a hint of closed lips is visible. Perhaps that’s what attracts her as odd. Breathing heavily the mouth should be wide open and small changes in the features of the face following the rhythm of the breath should be visible through the spandex, but the face is as if it is frozen. Could she be wearing some kind of mask, that besides muting her restricts the breathing considerably? Hamida has heard some extremists wear masks always to be and feel completely impersonal. If strict islamic women are permitted to come here, Hamida would expect them early in the morning or near closing time to see and be seen by as few as possible. But perhaps the woman in pink is just someone pretending to be strict to gain favor with the regime, or to be on good terms with the family. Hamida, cloaked walks out of the gym without seeing the woman put her cloak on.

Noor is waiting for her outside the door. They touch cheek to cheek. Because of the cloak it’s impossible to see if Noor has been exercising hard. But Hamida feels herself she has. From inside her cloak she points to her mouth, she is thirsty. Noor nods and takes her to the far end of the corridor, where she nods towards a beverage machine, and then guides her towards a woman in light blue. Hamida repeats her pointing making the light blue woman sense on her chest through both their cloaks. Sensing Hamida’s drinking tube she nods and takes her behind a curtain where she lifts her own cloak to take a tweezers from a shelf. Then she lifts Hamida’s cloak to put the tweezers through a small, by Hamida unnoticed, slit on the chest of the catsuit. Soon the drinking tube has been pulled out and the woman very clearly gestures her to push the tube inside the suit again just after drinking and at least before removing the cloak in a gym. The beverage machine delivers bottles close to the floor where they can be taken without lifting the cloak much. Hamida quenches her thirst with an energy drink while nodding a little to Noor to let her know that this is just what she wanted. It doesn’t look like Noor is drinking as her cloak doesn’t bulge over her chest. They can’t do anything but look at each other’s expressionless forms and the colorful view of moving cloaks while Hamida drinks. Bottle empty Hamida drops it on the floor and pushes it with a foot into a container recessed into the floor. Seeing this Noor starts moving towards the gym doors, Hamida slowly following her as she is pushes the tube inside the suit again. Between the doors Noor makes a half circle with her pointed finger inside the cloak and Hamida nods. Then Noor walks to the gym with the floor exercises and Hamida opens the other door.

It’s a room full of exercising machines. Brightly colored figures work to make the white metal structures move. A light blue cloaked instructor bows in front of Hamida. She repeats Noor’s gesture showing half an hour. The instructor nods and gestures that Hamida should do weight lifting and cycling. Hamida nods her understanding and that after having fatigued her legs just before the break shows she would like to start with the arms. They go to a machine where the instructor takes off her cloak and puts it on a holder on the wall. She makes some adjustments to the machine while Hamida removes her cloak as well. Then Hamida seats herself under the handles and tries moving them. It works fine and she continues at a slow pace. The instructor nods approvingly but gestures her to increase the pace a little. After watching her nodding now and then for about a minute she leans over Hamida and lifts at her extra hood. Hamida nods and is blinded. She can now fully concentrate on exercising her arm muscles. Feeling fine after some minutes she increases her pace a little more. Quickly she begins to fatigue and finds it difficult to maintain her rhythm. Over the next minutes the pace involuntarily slowly drops while she gets increasingly hot. Suddenly she is patted on her thigh and lets her hands leave the handles dropping to her lap. After ten seconds she lifts a hand to the back of her head to pull the extra hood off. The instructor, cloaked again, or perhaps an identically looking colleague, nods repeatedly to cheer her up applauding her performance. Hamida gets up and is taken to a stationary bike. Here everything repeats except after cycling the way the instructor wants her to for a minute, she is gestured to blind herself with the hood. The way the exercise passes is a repeat as well, except it’s her legs that fatigue and that her breathing is much more affected. It’s an extremely exhausted human motor that stops immediately when being patted on the head. She pulls the blinding hood down but stays resting on the bike for a minute before getting up, putting on her cloak and then bowing several times to the instructor for her professional guidance.

Noor isn’t waiting. Hamida has to wait for a couple of minutes for her. Then the door opens and the yellow number 26 cloak slowly comes towards her moving her head like she is breathing heavily. They just walk towards the changing rooms side by side. Standing at the doors a light blue cloak approaches and unlocks the doors. Although not really knowing if they are in a hurry or not Hamida spends some time in the shower. But she has not removed her ball gag. Although she could get some minutes of relaxation in her jaws, it would be followed by many minutes of pain and annoyance after putting in the gag again before her current numbness would return. She dresses to become an emerald green public working woman again and leaves the changing room. Only the light blue staff member with the keys is in this corridor. Over the next minutes a black burqa and a light blue khimar come out from other doors and two black khimars are shown into a room each by the key woman, but the door numbered 26 remains closed. Hamida begins wondering whether Noor is waiting outside the building, although this seems unlikely. When the door finally opens Hamida gets a shock as a blue burqa comes out of the room. Noor is wearing burqa here in the city. Hamida grabs at her burqa and then grabs at her own khimar shaking it for Noor to see. Noor nods and bends forward to place something on the floor inside her burqa. Noor pushes it outside with a foot and Hamida is shocked again on seeing that it is another folded blue burqa. Noor wants her to be covered like an islamist woman for the short distance to her home. Hamida takes up the burqa without unfolding it and to show disbelief taps on the blue fabric with her pointed finger and then taps on her own chest. Noor just nods. Hamida unfolds the burqa and holds it to her body. Noor, unable to show any expression or explain much just nods again. Fatima realizes the only way to learn why they have to wear burqa is to comply and puts the burqa on. Immediately she senses it’s thicker, heavier and less breathable than her own burqa. This is not just a traditional garment, but something made for islamist hard liners. Of course this implies the mesh is small and little transparent as well. Hamida’s view is considerably darker than with the gauze of the gym suit, but there is nothing to do but move, trying to remember she now is covered in a ground sweeping cloth which she might trip in. Walking towards the exit Noor doesn’t take the lead, although they head for her home, but stays behind Hamida, bowing to touch her back like the blinded women at the office. Reacting to Hamida’s gestures Noor is not blinded, but it seems her vision is so restricted she prefers to let Hamida guide her in the same manner.

4.

Leaving the gym building getting out in the stronger light of the sun Noor is better able to see and comes up next to Hamida, who expects her to lead the way with them walking side by side. But she doesn’t head down the street, just turns along the wall of the building for some yards and stops at a quite dark spot. Facing down, her head nearly touching the wall she stays unmoving, and after staring for a while, her mind confused Hamida copies her. For something like ten minutes nothing happens at the dark wall. Hamida’s mind travels in all directions, thinking clearly not made easier by the noises of the street as her only sensory input. Why is Noor behaving like a fundamentalist? Has her husband, Yusef, died and she is now guarded by a strict relative? Has she started taking drugs? Has she had a revelation? Or is it her sister at all, could some mix up of identity have happened? She hasn’t seen or heard Noor, but she was greeted with her name on the blackboard. But is it another woman next to her? Is it another Noor Ahmad expecting to be with another Hamida? Their names are not uncommon. These questions keep returning in her mind when the well known voice of Yusef suddenly sounds close by as he says in a low voice “Yusef Ahmad is here.” They both turn, but unlike Noor, Hamida lifts her head to visually remove any doubt that she is with her sister and brother-in-law. But it’s only the head that is the Yusef she has known. He used to wear Western style trousers and short sleeved shirts, sometimes even rather colorful, now he is dressed in traditional white clothing, salwar and khurta, just like Ali. A direct stare and a small nod by Yusef makes Hamida hold her head down, before Yusef says still using a low but commanding voice “Wife, Sister-in-law, mask yourselves” Mechanically Hamida reaches down into her handbag under the burqa and senses her mask. As soon as her hands no longer lift at the burqa she is guided to bow until her forehead touches someone. Of course Yusef will guide his wife, Noor, and then Hamida has to follow by keeping in contact with Noor’s back. Hamida is used to being guided while blinded by being touched on the back and shoulders. Now she has to use her full concentration on walking blind like this, and then avoid tripping at the same time. The short distance should be made in a little more than five minutes, perhaps closer to ten walking blind, but it feels like half an hour to Hamida although they walk at a reasonable pace, before the sounds of the streets fade and they make short stops.

Yusuf, now speaking normally says “Sister-in-law stay in the burqa for a minute as I have a few words to say and don’t want to degrade your respectability by gazing at you without burqa. Since your last visit we have changed our lifestyle to be much like your own, as I understand it from Noor and your husband. Perhaps we even follow the teachings of the great scholars closer than you do. The reason for this is first the obvious: Living as the Prophet wanted us to do leads to a good, peaceful and prosperous society, and most likely let us enter Paradise when the time comes. But nearly as important to us, it will bring us children, which is what we miss most. We would like you to try our lifestyle today by acting and dressing like we do now. You can do that for longer than you have expected because I’ve invited Ali for dinner, which means you won’t have to leave until late. Lastly both Noor and I are very fond of Asma. Please welcome her as another sister.” Hamida hears a door close and then hands lift at her burqa gladly making her remove it along with the mask. She is in the bedroom and two black khimars are just in front of her and now lean forward to touch her cheek to cheek at the same time. Noor and this Asma are indeed unfortunately completely veiled like she has to do herself, and even more so. Their dresses nearly touches the floor, where her own barely touches the feet. Their khimar is knee length whereas hers only reaches the middle of the thighs. Finally they show no eye slit, probably both are wearing a thick gauze eye cover and a full face scarf with eye holes like her colleagues at the office. Not showing her face like at previous visits, Hamida guesses there will be no talking either, as Noor and Asma no doubt are gagged as she is, and will remain so except at dinner. One of them, she doesn’t know who is who, lets a hand appear from her khimar and points to a table containing a plate with two sandwiches and a glass of water. Then she turns to point at the bed where a pile of black clothing is placed. A note next to the pile reads ‘Take off all your own clothing and put this on in the sequence laid out.’ Hamida nods and then the two black figures walk to the door gesturing her to lock it when they are out. After locking the door Hamida quickly rips off all her head covering, including the dreaded ball gag, and removes her gloves. With the clock having passed four, and not having had eaten since early morning, she eagerly takes a sandwich. While eating she looks in the mirror, thinking that unlike what she expected before coming here, it will probably be the only face she sees in this house today and perhaps forever. Getting something in her stomach makes her in a better mood, and although the new lifestyle of Noor and Yusef is not what she likes, she is eager to learn who Asma is and what made them change their lifestyle so completely and suddenly.

Everything is completely black. The first item is thermal underwear. It feels very soft and comfortable to the touch as Hamida unfolds it. It’s a complete suit much like the gym suit, covering everything including hands, feet and head, but due to the fabric being a little loose not revealing every curve like the gym suit. It opens down the front and Hamida, when covering her limbs and body, immediately likes the feeling of its fabric, part wool to keep her warm, and part some heat transporting blend to keep her dry. The hood is an integrated balaclava with three circular openings. When closing the long zipper, which for obvious reasons zips from under the chin to between the legs, Hamida is already covered after the first item has been put on except for her eyes and mouth. Next starts the normal covering with cotton stockings. But they are thicker than what Hamida usually wears and reach above mid thigh. These are followed by opera length gloves made of cotton as well, but lifting them from the bed makes Hamida almost forget about them immediately because what now is at the top of the pile is a mask. It’s completely blank facial expression is staring at her while she mechanically puts the gloves on. Noor has chosen to show no personality or any form of expression if she lowers her veil and now Hamida has to do the same. At least it’s only for today. She lifts the mask to clearly see it has only two small pupil sized eye holes and two small nostril holes. The mouth area shows as closed lips without openings, but her mouth will have to be open because on the inside of the mask a thick circular pecker gag is attached. As with her ball gag, a tube for drinking goes through it’s center, but here the tube runs along the inside of the chin of the mask before becoming an external tube at the masks edge. Hamida opens her mouth wide and holds the mask to her face. Then she has to open at least as much as with her ball gag, but the pecker is somewhat smaller where it passes her teeth, not forcing her jaws open more than the ball gag. Her first thought is she is gagged, but no straps cut into the corners of her mouth like she is used to with the ball gag. She can buckle the two sets of leather straps that hold the mask tight without any cutting at her mouth. But instead the mask is tight everywhere. It’s like her facial expression is forced to imitate the mask, especially the area around her mouth is squeezed instead of cut. Hamida realizes it’s because the mask is made to show a closed mouth, but the pecker forces her mouth open and her skin is squeezed to something in between. Her face already feels hot as the hard plastic-like material of the mask allows no air to reach the skin of the face and no sweat to evaporate. If it wasn’t for the insulating qualities of the full face hood it might harm the skin if worn for some hours. Taking a look in the mirror makes Hamida aware of her sight. She is used to some darkening and blurring but now her field of view is severely restricted, having to turn her head much more than usual. What she sees looks like something from a science fiction horror movie. The black body and blank face makes her think of some kind of low grade robot or drone made just to serve, and if it gets damaged nobody cares and just gets a new identical one. Many men want a woman like that, and some women like this kind of life as well. Hamida returns to the pile of clothing to find that the next items are completely normal and could have been from her own wardrobe. A salwar kameez set consisting of long loose trousers with elastic waist and ankle bands, and a knee long shirt with long sleeves, but without any decorations and made from a rather thick, completely opaque cotton. She wouldn’t like it in her wardrobe after all she decides. The salwar kameez is followed by a small scarf to cover the forehead with a strip of gauze attached to cover the eyes, and a larger scarf to cover the rest of the head and the neck. After putting them on she looks much like she used to dress before General Salami came to power, at least the general outline, showing loosely covered arms and legs. Of course then the salwar kameez set and scarves would be colorful, perhaps even slightly transparent, and the rest, the feet, the hands and the face, would be her skin showing. She had hoped to dress like this, although in her plain emerald green clothes, but at least have her face and hands uncovered when visiting Noor. Now she is even more covered and she has to cover further, to end up looking like she has to do all waking hours now before being deemed fit to be with her sister from now on. The dress that follows is very close to the emerald green one she has just taken off, perhaps an inch or two longer, touching her feet, but that could be because it’s fitted for Noor. Then follows the face scarf, which is different from her scarves. This is of course to be tied around the forehead and has circular cut-outs for the eyes. Hamida doesn’t like her face to be just a cloth surface, but at least it hides the mindless look of the mask. Then finally she can tie the knee length khimar on her head and flip the eye cover down to finish her dressing. The islamist grade eye gauze makes her half blind, but she takes a look in the mirror anyway. The figure she sees could be called Hamida, Noor, Asma or a black version of one of her work colleagues. They are identical, insignificant and anonymous, like a woman should be in current society according to the General and his mullahs. A black being unlocks and opens the door.

She is in the small corridor connecting most of the rooms of the house. It’s even darker than the bedroom but being without furniture or any other items Hamida knows she won’t bump into something. It only contains two black beings like herself, Noor and Asma and they are strangely placed on the floor. Both are kneeling on the floor with their hands behind the back and the forehead touching the floor. Hamida sees that they can’t change that position much due to straps and cuffs. A strap just above the knees keeps the knees together and cuffs on the ankles are connected with a minimal chain. Then the wrists seem cuffed as well, but hidden under the khimar it can’t be verified. Finally for each a strap goes from a common eyelet in the floor around their neck. Sensing Hamida coming, it shows the one away from her had not her wrists connected on her back as she moves her hand to the floor and unclips the strap around her neck. Head up and back vertical she nods to welcome Hamida and then points to a strap and a pair of cuffs next to her patting her own knees and ankles to indicate where to place them. After kneeling, buckling the strap and cuffing her ankles Hamida realizes she can’t get up as unlocking the cuffs requires a key, and she can only make tiny movements across the floor. She expects to have to put on the hand cuffs and the neck strap lying just in front of her next, but to her surprise she is handed a flashlight and a piece of paper. She is gestured to turn away from the others before turning on the light to read:

Advice for Women wanting Children

by Mullah Nasruddin.

  • In modern society many couples have problems producing children. Science has proven this is often due to the stress, both physiological and mental, the modern Western influenced way of living puts on both husband and wife. One clear proof of this is that it is well known that the birth rate in Western societies is much lower than in societies not influenced by their depraved lifestyle. Returning to a traditional lifestyle will not only get you children, but improve your spiritual well being, ensure your honor, and give you a long healthy life. Just as importantly it ensures a good position in Paradise, where you can enjoy meeting the large number of descendants you have initiated by living as prescribed. Women, being the weaker sex, are stressed most by deviating from the right path, and thus adversely the family will gain most by letting them follow these simple rules:
  • Complete veiling, at home as well, gives protection, privacy, a harmonic family life and reduces the noises disturbing all senses, thus reducing stress. More layers increase the effect.

  • The voice is tempting and speaking creates conflicts. Remaining mute at all times thus reduces stress and increase the woman’s inner calm and more importantly doesn’t disturb the work and mind of other women.

  • When not serving or keeping house, all the spare time should be used in tranquility in a room with no disturbing input and positioned demurely to think of nothing but staying like that. The position should be locked to enforce such position even if tempted to do otherwise. The Prophet allowed more wives not only to fulfill the needs of the husband. Polygamy benefits the women even more. By sharing house chores and not having to satisfy their husband each night they are stressed much less. Two wives almost halves the burden of each, and more reduces it further. Being a polygamous family, where women do as advised above, will not only more likely bring children, but also ensure the newborn precious family members a childhood in the best possible environment. Follow the way of the Prophet and have children.

Hamida has got her explanation. It sounds so right and convincing but yet the resultant way of living is just what she has always resented and despised. On the other hand, like Noor and Yusef, she wants children, but what Ali has forced her to do because he likes General Salami apparently isn’t enough as they have no children. Is Noor pregnant? Are co-wives necessary? Seeing Hamida has stopped reading the woman next gestures for her to move the paper over where they both can read it. Then she points to the letters A S M A in the headline and the paragraph about polygamy. Hamida has got one question answered and poses the other by moving her hand in an arch over her stomach and pointing to the two others. The woman next to her points to herself and shakes her head and then to the third woman and shakes it again. The words of the mullah haven’t been proven so far, but less than two months living like he prescribes is probably not long enough. The woman next to her gestures if Hamida wants to read the paper again. She shakes her head and the flashlight is turned off and pushed across the floor out of reach of any of them. Hamida is gestured to take the handcuffs and cuff herself with her hands behind the back. Then the woman next to her moves to create a space between herself and the third woman and gestures Hamida to move in between them. The neck strap for her is clipped with one end to the eyelet in the floor, and then Hamida’s head is guided to the floor to touch cheek to cheek with the third woman. Her head in that position, the strap is taken over her neck and her head locked in that position by clipping the free end of the strap to the eyelet. Soon afterwards the head of the active woman comes down to touch her other cheek, then all activity stops.

Nothing happens for a long time, a very long time. The three women are just on their knees, hands behind the back and head down. More minutes pass. The neck strap is loose enough to allow the head to get off the floor and the back to move a fraction, but more than an inch off of the floor is not possible. In her middle position Hamida doesn’t have to worry about falling on her side, but she can’t slumber nonetheless. Relaxing makes her forehead rest on the floor, and even though it is covered in scarves it hurts after a while. More time passes. It is true this position removes any other thoughts. Her worries are gone, but she doesn’t think of anything nice either, she only thinks of keeping awake and maintaining the awkward position by moving the little allowed to avoid her back or any muscles start to cramp. Even more time passes by. Did she hear a faint beep or click? The woman who was locked on her left has got her wrists unlocked somehow and moves. She removes her own neck strap and moves away from Hamida. Shortly after a door is opened, increasing the light for some seconds. Then the door closes, the third woman has left and they are two kneeling on the floor. Again many minutes pass before a change can be sensed. Not with Hamida and the woman next to her in the dark corridor, but Hamida can smell food, the other woman has left to prepare dinner. More time passes.

Suddenly a door is opened and light and a much stronger smell of food passes through the open doorway. Soon after hands are at Hamida’s wrists and her cuffs are unlocked. The other kneeling woman has her cuffs removed as well and following that she removes both their neck straps, enabling them to sit upright. Meanwhile their ankle cuffs have been unlocked and soon they can stand up for a long needed stretching of the legs. With her hands and sleeves covered in thin rubber gloves the woman from the kitchen ceremonially takes a wet cloth around their feet, hands and moves it close to the face. It’s prayer time. The woman comes back from the kitchen without the rubber gloves, closes the kitchen door and opens a small peep-hole in the living room door. But nobody peeps either way. They face Mecca and after a minute Yusef’s voice can be heard through the hole chanting the prayer. Hamida is not sure she is able to estimate time any longer, but she guesses it lasts ten minutes. Then the hole is closed and the woman making dinner goes to the kitchen. The other woman opens another door leading to the bathroom and gestures Hamida to enter. Guessing this offer is made because it has been some time and she won’t get the opportunity again for another period of time, Hamida enters. Besides getting relief it’s nice to be able to move the limbs again nearly free manner and be in a room with light strong enough to see clearly. She even flips her eye cover up just to sense light. Of course her field of view is restricted by the mask, but she neither thinks of that or the mask as such. Light and movement are her prime concern. Back in the dark corridor she has to just wait while the other woman is in the bathroom, but she is standing unbound and can take some exercise.

Out from the bathroom the other woman opens the door next to the kitchen. It’s a small empty chamber with a wall of closets consisting of four doors. The first closet door is opened and a lamp inside switched on. It contains a chair, a tabletop, some clothes hooks and small shelves. The woman leans over the tabletop and pulls a slide door, opening a cubic box about 8 inches wide in the wall to the kitchen. Then she gestures Hamida to enter the closet, showing her how to push a slide lock on the inside of the door. Hamida gets her legs around the chair and pulls the door closed, which isn’t easy as the closet is narrow, and even with her arms close to her body her elbows touch the sides. Sitting down Hamida sees the box contains a damp towel. It is clear that Hamida in here is allowed to unveil for eating and the towel reminds her that being covered in all these layers, she is probably sweaty all over, even wearing this fine heat transporting underwear. While removing her head covering to be able to remove the mask the sliding door closes without Hamida touching it. After the mask is removed and she has toweled her mouth, eye areas and other areas reachable by pushing the towel under the elastic balaclava hood, she pulls the box door open again to find a glass of cold water. Then for many minutes, ten perhaps fifteen, nothing happens. Hamida guesses the men are being served the first part of their dinner before the women get something. As the box door is coupled with the door on the other side, she can just wait to see it being closed, then half a minute later she can open finding something inside. She gets the first dish, and after eating it puts the plate back and closes the door to signal the woman in the kitchen she is ready for more. After exchanging some plates like this Hamida gets a piece of cake and knows this is the last plate. After eating she empties the glass and puts it on top of the empty plate before closing the box.

She waits for two minutes, but as expected the door stays closed. Then with a sigh she opens her mouth wide and puts the mask to her face, the mouth being filled with something that can’t be eaten. Soon she is again completely covered, opens the door and winds herself out of the closet. Seeing no one in the chamber, she looks out in the corridor to see a woman kneeling, and knows she has to join her. The woman doesn’t react while Hamida straps and cuffs her legs, and then Hamida realizes she is expected to know the procedure. She then closes a pair of handcuffs around one wrist, connects a neck strap to the eyelet in the floor, puts her head down to meet the woman cheek to cheek, the strap around her neck she clips the free end of the neck strap and cuffs her hands together behind her back. Sometime during dinner Hamida had wished Ali would just have dinner with Yusef, and then take her home immediately following, but soon an hour has passed with nothing happening. The two women remain kneeling. The third must still be in the kitchen cleaning the dishes and perhaps serve the men further. Now and then Hamida thinks she senses a little rubbing of cheeks. If this is coincidental or the woman is trying to say she likes them being together Hamida can’t really find out.

Eventually the kitchen door opens and their neck straps and handcuffs are opened. Able to lift the head Hamida sees the third woman has brought a tray with three glasses of tea. She kneels next to them without binding her legs and then they are handed a glass each. Noor and Asma just lift the glass up under their khimar to get the drinking tube into the glass, to drink unmoving, as if fully restrained, but now with their backs straight. This is the tea break, which passes without any attempt to communicate. Ten minutes later it’s heads down again and the woman leaves them bound while she attends the men.

This time just a little more than half an hour passes before the third woman comes and unfastens the strap around the neck of Hamida. Her ankle cuffs and knees strap are removed as well, allowing her to stand up, but her hands are still cuffed behind her back. There is a knocking on the living room door and the third woman barely opens it to receive a piece of cloth. She unfolds it while pointing at Hamida. Hamida screams inside her mask and veils, but no sounds come out. It’s a black burqa with no eye mesh and she is to put it on. The woman leans forward, but surprises Hamida by just touching her cheek to cheek on both cheeks. Then she points to the woman kneeling on the floor and touches both her own cheeks. Hamida gets on her knees again and bows her head down to the bound woman to touch cheek to cheek on the side turned towards her. Then the bound woman turns her head to the side, and for some seconds Hamida imagines seeing the uncovered face of Noor smiling at her, before she realizes the ‘kiss’ they make by letting the lips of the masks meet with the sensation of a clacking sound is just between black cloth surfaces covering blank masks in a dimly lid room. Her hands bound, the burqa has to be put on her by the unbound woman. With no eyeholes to align the fitting is not critical and soon Hamida is covered by another layer of cloth, much thicker and hiding everything else. Although already breathing through the small nostril holes of the mask, through hood and veil and the long drinking tube from inside the khimar, she immediately feels she doesn’t breathe the air of the surroundings directly any longer. She knows the sensation from her normal burqa but this is just much worse, like breathing inside a closet filled with clothes not used for a long time even though this burqa is probably new. And sensing the heavy cloths on many areas of her body she feels like she has been put into a sack even though her arms are in reality restricted by the cuffs, her legs by the dress and her head can hardly sense the burqa due to the mask and the other head covering. Perhaps it’s the large attenuation of sound that makes Hamida feel she could just as well be sedated and carried in a real sack to wake up at home. But then she senses a hand guiding her to move.

5.

After some minutes just walking as guided, Hamida really wishes she had been carried conscious or not, because she just walks without having much idea of where she is or how long it takes. She hears traffic sounds as if coming from far away and she is quite sure she is heading for home with Ali, that’s about all. At some point she is also riding bus, but her hearing is too attenuated to hear the announcement of stops. Knowing this Ali must have asked someone to guide her out at the right stop, or made the driver ask for it when there, anyway the guiding continues after the bus ride. She has just realized she is no longer in the streets, when, just after stopping her burqa is lifted and the handcuffs removed. She takes it as she is allowed to remove her burqa and having done so sees she is home, with Ali waiting to talk to her. He says “Yusef will soon have a boy I’m sure. Mullah Nasruddin is a great scholar teaching us how to get children without doctors or medicine. We want children as well, so I think we should start living as the family of Yusef, in fact you have since meeting your sister, but we have to do without a second wife for a while. You still have to work just for the two of us to have enough money to live on, and a second wife isn’t free unless she works like you as well. But to talk about the near future. I’ve invited Yusef and his family for dinner in a week in return for today and it means we have until then to get you what we have borrowed and you wear now. But at least some more sets of underwear can’t wait that long. Right now you have to prepare for going to work tomorrow by making a full face scarf and a forehead scarf with a thick eye gauze in emerald green. I’ve bought the materials and put them in the chamber. And then check your usual blue burqa to put on top. I’ve bought this wonderful black blinding burqa, but as I work longer than you there is no one to guide you back home and you have to make do with a burqa with mesh and only walk blinded to the bus stop as usual on workdays. Come to me when you have the clothes ready.”

It doesn’t take Hamida long to make a full face veil with eye holes and replace the gauze on one of her forehead scarves with a piece of the heavier quality material Ali has bought. It is so simple she doesn’t need to take her current veiling off to test what she has made. Just out of curiosity she holds the thick green gauze over her eyes to compare it with the black she is wearing flipped up at the moment. Of course these fabrics being closely specified by the Government, the difference between the same thickness in black and green is very small, both only allow her to see everything as dark and a little blurred where there is clear light. The difference is the blur has a green hue with the green gauze. After checking the blue burqa is ready to wear she flips down the eye cover and goes to stand head down next to Ali, who is watching the news on television. He waits two minutes before turning the sound down to say “It’s about an hour until bedtime. As with Yusef’s family, there’s no more watching television or other entertainment when you have done the housework needed, you have to be restricted with little sensory input. Although it’s probably nice for you being bound close together by being held to the same eyelet, when more women are present, we haven’t a room suitable for this like his corridor. But we’ll have to have closets in the kitchen wall if more women are to eat at the same time. I saw the closets in Yusef’s home, and with their narrow width just allowing the shoulders to squeeze in, I thought with a few modifications they could be used for spending the idle time as well. Come, I’ve partly modified the first closet in the chamber for testing.”

They go to the chamber and Ali opens the closet door saying “It’s only for testing this function so far, there is no box in the kitchen wall as you can see, but my idea is simply an extra board extending the tabletop to the front of the closet. It is mounted on hinges at one side to be flipped up against the wall when the closet is used for meals, otherwise the chair is placed on top of the board and you place yourself under the table surface. This space is so small no straps or cuffs are needed and in the final version just a time lock on the door makes my presence unnecessary for you to get out when your service is needed. Try it. You’ll be out in time for bed of course.” Hamida nods and sits down on the floor with her back to the closet, then pushes herself inside, soon to find that the front board is placed much lower than a tabletop forcing her head so low it’s in her lap when she has to lift her knees to get her feet inside. Sitting like this she can’t see if Ali is watching her, but he probably is, as it takes something like half a minute before the door is closed and it becomes completely dark. Her back, head and legs are nearly locked in a fixed position, but her hands placed under her legs, she can move a little to no use. It works as it’s supposed to do, soon aching muscles everywhere make her desperately search try to find new positions within the small space, ensuring she won’t fall asleep although she’s in darkness and is unable to do anything. Even thinking about something else or dreaming isn’t possible as her mind is occupied with trying to get her muscles to relax. In reality she thinks of nothing, which means her mind is unable to focus on bad things and failures, and in that way stress can’t build up. Her position inside Ali’s invention is just as good as kneeling strapped and cuffed, head down, in Noor’s corridor regarding what Mullah Nasruddin has wanted to obtain. But thinking how this will be when having visitors Hamida misses touching cheek to cheek with her fellow bound forms.

Without warning light blinds her eyes. Hamida has no idea how long she has been in the closet but the door has been opened, indicating it should now be close to their usual bedtime and something like an hour has passed. Slowly she wriggles out, gets on her feet and starts stretching her sore muscles without showing outstretched legs or arms in front of Ali. He says “Did it make your mind free of stressing thoughts, which is why Mullah Nasruddin wants you to do it?” Hamida nods, so Ali continues “Very good, I may have discovered a simple way to implement the Mullah’s ideas, which others will copy as the Ali Begom closet. But it’s bedtime. Our sleeping habits have to be changed a little as well. I have prepared the bed. You just go to the bathroom and make yourself ready for bed. When entering the bedroom you should wear the bodysuit and mask, nothing else.” Having to put on again the same slightly damp and sweaty bodysuit, Hamida decides only to remove her mask in the bathroom and unzip the suit just enough to relieve herself. Having washed her face and the mask she has to open her mouth wide to put the mask on again, making her realize from now on she will have to sleep gagged. She is to be gagged almost 24/7, only very rarely allowed to use her voice. She could just as well have her vocal chords cut to avoid always having her mouth filled and her jaws forced open, but maybe that isn’t possible because sounds such as smacking lips and burping still have to be blocked. Ready to leave the bathroom Hamida takes a look in the mirror to see that Ali’s new pleasure robot is ready.

She enters the bedroom seeing Ali dressed for bed in a long shirt instead of his usual pajamas. Seeing Hamida, Ali takes a prayer position on the floor pointing to have Hamida behind him. They usually skip the morning and night prayers, Hamida knows that the reason Ali follows General Salami is because of his honor and his view on women much more than piety. The prayer is only Ali reciting a few of the most known verses of the Quran for some three minutes. While praying Hamida has noticed some sort of pillow has been placed in the half of the bed where she usually sleeps. Ali turns to her saying “You are completely covered, but just seeing your limbs in full length and getting a hint of body curves is enough to make me want to be close to you. You have to wear a prayer gown for the prayers to be performed decently. On the other hand seeing your skin is only for special occasions therefore position yourself just as you are comfortably on your back in your half of the bed. The special pillow is to lift your neck and make your head rest above it on the mattress, making you rest more on the crown of your head and not the back of your head, where it would be uncomfortable with those straps and buckles of the mask.” Hamida lies down resting on the rather hard replacement for a pillow. It is true she is not resting on the straps and buckles of the mask, but to avoid that, her head is forced backwards into a rather uncomfortable position, where all that is in her field of vision is where the wall behind the bed meets the ceiling. While noticing this Ali leans over her and takes her arm. Although he moves it gently it’s not to caress her, but her arm is taken above her head until touching the bed end where it’s cuffed to stay in that position. The other arm follows. Then Ali lifts at her ankle. She moves her leg in the direction he guides it, which is fully stretched and out to the side. Then she senses a cuff, which stops the leg from moving much. The other leg is cuffed as well. Although it requires some force Hamida is about to lift her head to try to get a look of her own position in the bed. Instead Ali lifts her head, but not more than she sees the opposite wall for the few seconds he lifts. When she tries to lift the head again she can’t. Something solid, connected to the bed has been pushed into the triangle between the back of her head, the mattress and the hard pillow and is connected to the buckle on her lower mask strap. She can’t lift her head only turn it a little to either side.

Then Ali says “I’ll read for some minutes the writings of Mullah Nasruddin, to have them working in my mind while sleeping. In the nights to come you will strap yourself down as you now are, except for the arm closest to me. I’ll make love to you after turning the lights out. Let’s enjoy each other a little more than usual tonight. Goodnight.” Hamida is certain she makes a wonderful love object lying spread-eagled in a quite tight suit. She is restricted, unable to perform much more than the passive actions of a love doll, but she senses what Ali can do to her, and although he has changed much since they married he is still a good lover. Except from anticipating what Ali will feel like, she is able to watch seven of the boards constituting a small part of the ceiling, eight if she turns her head as well. Perhaps the worst day in Hamida’s life will soon be over. What makes this day worse than all those to come is just that she started out hoping that visiting Noor would make it a good day and better than the many before. Ali turns the lights out, ending the day. The life of Hamida, the blank-faced love doll and strictly covered office worker and housewife, always mute and often restricted, begins. As Hamida senses Ali on top of her she wishes the teachings of Mullah Nasruddin will work right from the beginning. Then she only has to wait nine months for things to get better.

Copyright © 2008, Bo_Emp ; bo_emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com

This story, and the description of Pakistan 2012, is based on ideas presented by Hamida Begom.

Thanks to Nye North for proof reading.

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