Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
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While finding her keys Aisha with a little smile nods to Mrs. Khan, who as usual is peeking out her apartment door hearing someone coming up the stairs. It is important to greet Mrs. Khan because then Mrs. Khan will surely remember she has seen her coming home, and later tell her mother that she haven’t been out in between. Just as usual as greeting Mrs. Khan Aisha goes directly to her small chamber, drops her schoolbag under the table, replaces her black shoes with dark brown slippers and then reaches at the back of the lowest cupboard shelf for the pile of clothes put there yesterday. She goes to the bathroom and locks the door, although alone in the apartment. She removes the navy blue jacket and skirt along with the white shirt, all consisting her school uniform and freshens herself at the tap. She starts dressing to match her Pakistani looks and roots by putting on salwar, long baggy trousers, in white with pale blue patterns. Along with the white stockings of her school uniform it covers all skin from her waist down. Then a matching kameez, shirt reaching the knees, along with the white scarf she wears with her uniform she is completely covered Pakistani style, only showing face and hands. But only liberal Pakistanis go out dressed like this. Apart from the skin showing also all four limbs show individually, and this is not permissible in Aisha’s world. A long black coat, thin but opaque, makes the legs as individual parts disappear, and further covers she has a waist. The coat is designed to reach the ankles, but Aisha has fitted it to barely sweep the floor. While buttoning it from floor to neck the salwar kameez set just put on is completely covered, but wearing a coat directly on top of underwear is not right, and covering in more layers feels good and safe in case some part should slip, fold or be torn. The sleeves has to be buttoned as well, but Aisha waits as handling her head covering is easier with bare hands. First a rolled black silk scarf with knots at the center is tied across her mouth as a cleave gag, to remind her that using her voice modestly is just as important as dressing modestly. Then a black cotton scarf is tied like a bandana to veil her lower face from just below the eyes to under the chin. Now showing only hands, forehead and eyes she is a modest Pakistani woman, who with the right demure posture would be accepted in most of the conservative parts of the country. But Aisha goes on, next unfolding a khimar. Now the rest of her head, neck, shoulders and arms gets covered in black, hiding most features of the upper body as it drops down to her knees. Beautiful young eyes are the only part of the woman now able to tempt men or make women envious. Aisha reaches for a niqab to avoid this. Tying the niqab of course reveals that when using her hands they have to go outside the khimar, which means they can’t stay uncovered like now. The niqab has three layers, which when all down like now, reduces Aisha’s sight to only dark contours. Looking in the mirror has no meaning until she flips back the outer layer, still to enjoy a black curved surface replacing her face. But as this is Aisha’s view through two layers, male unrestricted eyes may get a glimpse of something seeing her in good light conditions. But this sight is adequate for finally covering her hands. The thin black cotton gloves of elbow length are put on top of the sleeves of her kameez, and then the quite loose sleeves of the black coat are buttoned tight at the wrists with elastic straps. Aisha goes to unlock the bathroom door as the conservative and strict Pakistani Mrs. Hussain, who is heavily veiled, even in her own home, except in locked rooms where no one can look.
Flipping down the third niqab layer to be maximally covered she takes a small tour through all the rooms of the apartment, which she of course knows so well that just seeing contours and lighter surfaces is enough to orientate. After two minutes she enters the kitchen, where she has to flip back the outer layer to be able to make two sandwiches for her after-school meal. Aisha puts the sandwiches on a plate, and the plate on a tray along with a glass of milk. Then she flips down the outer layer again before carrying the tray to the living room and placing the tray on the small dining table. Then she walks to the windows because Pakistani women often has to wait for the men to eat before eating themselves. The English sky is as often various shades of gray, and all Aisha sees is a dark gray surface with some black contours at the edges of her field of view representing the buildings visible from the apartment. But she enjoys the dark scenery and her body now being warm all over as sensory inputs to confirm she is now dressed the way that makes herself feel comfortable and relaxed, and which her religion prescribes as right. After two minutes she sits down at the tray. But to eat she has to gain access to her mouth. First she takes her hands outside the khimar and up under the niqab to loosen the khimar under her chin, then she pulls at her inner veil under her chin to be able to fold it just above her mouth making it cover her nose twice, and finally she pulls the scarf going into her mouth down on her chin. Now she only has to lift her niqab with her left hand each time she with her right hand lifts something to her mouth. She lifts the niqab only just enough to make room for right hand and its contents. In reality she is alone, but being veiled removing the niqab, or even just flipping it back while eating is no option. In about five minutes Aisha has emptied her glass and the plate. Immediately following she spends a minute getting the scarves in place again and tightening them.
Refilled it is now the time for Mrs. Hussain to do some house chores, and Aisha has homework to do as well. Just coming from school she always starts with the house chores to get a change. Today it is time for washing the living room floor. One of the hardest cleaning tasks, as she apart from crawling on the floor has to roll away carpets and move furniture around from time to time. And she has to be sure she gets all the dirt, even spots which are like glued to the lacquer of the synthetic wood boards. To ensure this every time she gets down on her knees to wash, she first flips back the second layer of her niqab, only to have one layer slightly obscuring her sight. When she has cleaned an area and needs to get up and rest her legs or while moving things she wears two layers down, as the sight is less important. It quickly gets hot working hard in several layers of clothing. Aisha has to take many shorts breaks. Adding to this her gloves are quickly soaked, her coat gets large wet spots where her knees touches and the hem gets wet stains as well. But after nearly an hour of hard work she has been all over. Only rolling out carpets again and moving some furniture back remains, but it has to wait until the floor has had time to dry. Now just sitting on a chair to do her homework will feel good, but first it is time for afternoon tea. Because she is wet on her outside, her kameez sticking and some head scarves sweaty as well, something to drink and a longer break is much needed.
While the water boils Aisha goes to change her gloves. But all the remaining clothing stays to dry as it is. With several layers she won’t get cold where one layer is wet. Soon tea is ready, but no matter that it is much needed Aisha only takes the tray to place it on the floor at the coffee table without seating herself. She waits, expecting Mrs. Nawaz to join her as she usually does on Wednesdays. Aisha goes to her chamber and gets down on the floor to reach under her bed. Being Wednesday she reaches for the leftmost plastic bag. She gets up and unfolds a full length burqa. It is made of thick cotton in a good breathable quality. The cap and the face part with a rectangular mesh for the eyes is heavily embroidered in the traditional way, but instead of the traditional sky blue color it is midnight blue. Aisha loves it and gets shivers all over, as she after having fitted its cap on top of all her other head coverings, lets it mass of folding and pleated fabric fall down over her body to have yet another layer covering her completely. Now breathing is warm and restricted, but as it prevents moving fast anyway this just constantly reminds her how perfectly she is covered. Fitting the cap all the layers of her niqab had to be down and now she has added the burqa mesh to reduce her sight further. She can in fact only see windows and lamps. Holding both hands lifted inside the burqa she slowly and carefully senses her way from her chamber to the front door. As she touches it and starts turning, it goes through her mind that if she went outside to enter the apartment as Mrs. Nawaz, it could create a fatal chock to Mrs. Khan seeing a dark burqa on an ordinary English staircase. It could make her think the Muslims had taken over Britain with Al Quaida or Taliban governing. Mrs. Khan has Pakistani roots, but that only makes her more British. But Aisha leaves the door closed behind her and just nods to greet Mrs. Hussain receiving her. Slowly sensing her way to the living room, Aisha imagines touches from Mrs. Hussain are guiding her movements. She is guided to sit at the coffee table. The tray for tea is right next to her right foot, and Aisha bows down and with her hands inside the burqa lifts it over the tray to place the tray between her feet. Then she senses on the tray for the long bendable but quite rigid tube. With the burqa quite tight around her head first loosening scarves and then continuously lifting at both burqa and niqab to drink is not easy. Further when having finished tea tightening the scarves over her mouth again is even more difficult. Instead she lifts the tube to her chin and puts its end under her inner veil. Then the tube with a little guiding from the outside can be pushed up to her mouth, where she just has to fiddle a little to make it pass the gagging scarf as well. Then with a little bending here and there Aisha has a hollow path from inside her mouth to down on her chest below the niqab. Blindly she senses the glass and the teapot between her feet and pours the glass not completely full. Then with the glass in her hand she can straighten, even sit back in the chair relaxing with the glass supported in her lap. Drinking is just lifting it to her belly button and with her other hand guiding the tube inside the glass. After drinking half the glass Aisha starts making low muffled unintelligible sounds. She is actually talking being Mrs. Nawaz in conversation with Mrs. Hussain. But through the cleave gag, the niqab and the burqa nothing much comes out just as it should be. As a covering like this impedes the hearing somewhat as well, an actual conversation would both require the listener to have her ear directly where the mouth of the speaker is, and further some experience to understand the distorted speech reaching the ear. For conservative strict women the female voice is awrah, and this is how Aisha thinks women are allowed to communicate. Just like a woman can be without burqa in her own home with no males present, it is permitted to speak when the sound isn’t audible beyond two feet. Women can’t live without chatting. As visitor Mrs. Nawaz is away from her home and keeps her burqa on even in women only company, because there is no need to flip back this wonderful garment, when she can do what she is here for without. Mrs. Hussain has had a sandwich with ham and one with cheese, and then she has been cleaning the floor in here Mrs. Nawaz learns. ‘I’m unable to admire your cleaning, but I’m sure it’s done thoroughly,’ the low muffled voice of Mrs. Nawaz says. She continues ‘I’ll take half a glass more, then I have to leave. Dinner doesn’t prepare itself.’ Aisha bows down to refill her glass. Mrs. Nawaz learns what Mrs. Hussain will prepare for dinner and Mrs. Nawaz says ‘It sounds wonderful, perhaps I should make that tomorrow myself. But today it is lamb.’ A couple of minutes later Aisha bows down to place the glass on the tray, lifts the hem of her burqa to push the tray out to the side and gets up standing. She slowly senses her way back to the front door, where she turns to make a bow thanking Mrs. Hussain for the tea and the chat.
Aisha takes off the burqa, flips back the outer niqab layer and goes to her chamber. Here she sits down at the desk and flips back the second niqab layer. The third innermost layer is almost never lifted. Now she is able to do her homework. It is boring, but every time she has accomplished one part, she leans back on the chair and takes a deep breath. This makes her sense the fabric of her veiling being sucked against her face and she feels the tender touch of the fabric on her cheeks and lips. She lets her hand drop to her lap and looks down her own front only seeing black fabric. Confirming to herself that she is properly covered gives her strength to go on. Over all Aisha actually has found out she does her homework better working fully covered. The clothing makes her relax and concentrate much better than when working in ordinary clothes, which she has to do in weekends. After fifty minutes Aisha finds she has done her work with a satisfactory result. She flips down the two outer layers of her niqab, leans back on the chair and just lets her mind wander for some minutes. Covered to be almost blind her surroundings becomes unimportant, and she is again Mrs. Hussain. For a quarter of an hour she has been relaxing in the small closed garden behind the house, leaning against the wall with the roof giving shadow. In the garden women can go outdoors without a burqa, but of course have to stay silent as sound crosses the high walls. But as Mrs. Nawaz said: ‘Dinner doesn’t prepare itself’. Slowly Aisha gets up from the chair and without lifting any of the eye covering layers she slowly and carefully walks to the kitchen.
Aisha makes most dinners on workdays, because her mother works afternoon shifts, leaving home while Aisha is at school and coming home around 9 p.m. Her father in recent years has only been home a few months a year, mostly working in Pakistan being the representative there of the same company making electronic components that her mother works for. She has agreed with her mother that having dinner together after nine o’clock is too late. This means Aisha usually eats alone between six and half past six, and then her mother warms her share or eats cold dinner when coming home. Most often Aisha makes something which is just as good when being heated again some hours after being ready. Today it’s a casserole with veal. To see that only eatable pieces ends in the casserole Aisha works with only one eye layer down. And now that her gloves besides being wet would also be stained, she puts rubber gloves reaching the middle of her forearms on top of her cotton gloves and the sleeves of her coat. In twenty minutes she has cleaned and cut all the ingredients and put them in the casserole to cook for forty five minutes. After five minutes more tidying up the kitchen Aisha as often decides the cooking time is to be spend in the sofa daydreaming. She removes the rubber gloves, flips down all niqab layers and slowly walks to her chamber. Again she can enjoy the feeling of the burqa cocooning her body. Even slower than before she orientates by the few light sources to get into the living room where she leans back against a cushion in one corner of the sofa. It gets hot as she leaves the house. Out in the strong Pakistani sunlight she can see a little better than inside, but the burqa mesh is still blurring her sight. She has to be guided, first because in many places are shadow where she is practically blind, and second because she of course walks head down in public not to see something unsuitable for female eyes. In fact she only sees her own front yard, apart from dusty road surfaces, pavements and the shop floor, where she is heading to get a new pair of shoes. The neighboring son of ten is her guide and chaperone. Quickly she has to be guided really close, because the boy of course chooses to walk at the side of the street with shadow, and it is better for her as well. Women should stay in the shadow to be less noticeable and besides if staying too long in the sun fainting might be the result. After walking for five minutes they reach the market square identifiable to her by salesmen shouting their offerings. “Potatoes just 100 a pound!” “Durable plastic buckets, three for 1000!” “Aisha, I’m home.” “Aisha – – – Aisha is that you?”
Aisha jumps to a sitting position. The lighter surface of the living room door is filled with a black silhouette. Her mother has returned from work much earlier than normal. Aisha’s wonderful lifestyle during workday afternoons has been revealed. Aisha starts saying something, but quickly realizes she can’t be heard across the room. Frantically she puts her hands to her chin and pulls at the inner veil and the gagging scarf at the same time, and then trying to speak loud, but with her voice partly paralyzed by the shock and still somewhat muffled by the niqab and the burqa, she just says “It’s me mum.” Her mother approaches while Aisha lifts at the burqa to flip its front back over her head. Seeing her dressed in black and still completely veiled beneath the burqa of course makes her mother stop with eyes wide open and loosing her jaws. Two layers of full covering is even more shocking than seeing a burqa in her own living room. Aisha is ashamed and don’t know what to do. Her hands are just resting in her lap and she starts trying to explain herself in a tear filled voice “I like being covered mum. I’m not a religious fanatic. We are Pakistanis and veiling is part of our culture. I feel so …” Her mother bows down to kiss where her mouth is under the niqab, still with three eye layers down, and then sits down next to her in the sofa saying “I know that me coming home at this hour is just as big a shock to you, perhaps even bigger, than me seeing you. But I can hear it’s my Aisha and you don’t need to unveil your face right now. Just relax and tell me what you were doing.” Aisha slowly turns her head to face her mothers lap and while she starts speaking a gloved hand subconsciously slowly moves from her own lap to her mother’s, where it meets a hand to hold it. Aisha says “I like imagining that I am a strict conservative Pakistani woman veiled all day even at home alone. I feel comfortable and relaxed being completely covered and veiled, so for some time I have spend most of my workday afternoons like this while cleaning, doing homework and preparing and eating dinner. I don’t do much praying and rarely read religious literature. The way you are dressed, and myself when with you or going to school, everybody agrees is sufficient to be a good Muslim, but someway I just hope that those scholars saying that more covering is better are right. I hope my covering can compensate my missing prayers, although the benefits of covering might only work when being among other people.” Mother says “I’m relieved that although you to me look like someone praying for hours each day and only trying to follow what certain mullahs say or write, what you tell me clearly rules this out. Let me know how long this has been going on and what you actually do?” Aisha says “A little less than a year ago, just after dad once again had left us to work for long in Pakistan, I started reading about life over there and got especially interested in the veiling traditions. I wanted to feel on myself how it is to be veiled, and with ordinary scarves, skirts and coats I covered myself, and found out I liked it. Having little experience with men I can’t say if it’s like sex, but it’s also stimulating in some way. Then I started buying clothing made for veiling like the niqab I wear and the burqa. Soon I had a more or less set procedure for how I dressed as soon as coming home from school, and then I would imagine I was no longer the schoolgirl Aisha, but the married housewife Mrs. Hussain. When I further put on the burqa I change my role to be a guest, or the neighbor Mrs. Nawaz visiting, or to be Mrs. Hussain leaving her home. I actually do what I tell you in the evening I have been doing: Cleaning, homework, cooking. Like today you told me to wash the floor in here, and it has been washed I hope you can see. I just wear this clothing while doing all the normal things, and then I perhaps do a little more daydreaming instead of watching television in between.”
Mother says “When I was a teenager I was often dreaming I was the heroine or at least a part in the stories I read. Unless you record when pages are turned it’s hard to see if someone holding a book is actually reading or daydreaming. Today it isn’t enough just imagining things, you have to dress up and do role playing along with reading and following your interest in movies or documentaries. And veiling isn’t wrong. It is indeed a part of our culture. But lately here in Britain it has been so much connected with oppression and even terrorism, that doing it here where it is not a part of the culture may cause a lot of problems. You never went out dressed like this?” Aisha says “No mum. We both know that the sound of our front door or steps on the staircase will make Mrs. Khan open her door immediately. I can’t leave the apartment without Mrs. Khan observing it, and if I had been veiled outside the door, I’m sure she would have noticed and waited from seven o’clock for you to come home to tell you.” Mother says “You’re right, Mrs. Khan nearly every day tells me she has seen you come home from school and you haven’t to her knowledge left later on. Now and then I have been wondering, if it could be true that you only went out so little, but now I understand it is. Didn’t I hear the kitchen timer a minute ago?” Aisha says “I’ve been so focused on trying to explain to you, but it means dinner is ready. Would you lay the table, then I’ll go and change.” Mother says “No do much as you would have done if I hadn’t come home early. If you stay veiled and I’m unveiled, by your definitions it must mean I’m a man, your husband, who is to be served.” Aisha leans over to embrace her mother and lets her niqab caress her mother’s cheek, being very happy she has accepted her lifestyle or play, whatever it should be called. She takes off the burqa still hanging from its cap down her back and flips back the outer eye layer to have vision permitting to work. First she goes to her chamber with the burqa, then to the kitchen for the tableware. Five minutes later she carries the casserole to the dining table, serves her mother and then takes the casserole back to the kitchen.
Coming into the living room her mother asks a little worried “Have I scared you so much you have lost your appetite Aisha?” Aisha has out of habit put her gagging scarf in place again and answers with a low considerably muffled voice “No dear husband. But it is customary that the men eat first. Eating together requires a special permission. And by the way as you can hear I keep my voice modest as well by speaking through a knotted scarf.” Her mother smiles and says “Of course, with so much covering you have to take into account the female voice is awrah. But it is a special day. You have my permission to eat with me today.” Aisha fetches the casserole in the kitchen and sits down, leaving the casserole on the table after filling her own plate. Then mother says “This sex segregated dining reminds me about my mother telling about her life as child in Pakistan, where eating separately was the norm. I even think it was only on special occasions that men and women dined in the same room. It had to both be a special occasion, and with no men from outside the house present.” Aisha can see that her mother fascinated watches how Aisha lifts her niqab a little with one hand and lifts food up under the niqab to an unseen mouth with the other. Then her mother goes on telling about the life of Aisha’s grandmother, Aisha just nodding at the right places. After some minutes her telling comes to the clothing and she says “Of course your grandmother didn’t wear niqab, it’s an Arab thing only used for a few decades in Pakistan, and still not very common. And she didn’t veil alone or in women-only company. But as the burqa only was put on when leaving the home, I’m sure she quite often pulled her scarf over her face to cover everything except eyes and hands, especially when having to be in the same room as men, very likely to serve. Gloves is a modern or high-class thing and only worn when going out if veiled otherwise than with burqa I would say. At the time of your grandmother women rarely left their home, but then they were always covered by the burqa. My mother had a burqa as well, although it had went out of use in the cities, when she as newly married moved there at your age. I tried it once for a few minutes finding it both hot, bothersome and a little intimidating as far as I remember. You seem to like it?”
Her mother has been the only one speaking during dinner until now, and it takes a little time for Aisha to start answering as she first has to put the gagging scarf across her mouth, then she says “The burqa isn’t the item to wear when doing house work or most other things for that matter. Not even I work in burqa. In a way the burqa is meant to be hot and bothersome to remind women that they should stay as short as possible where it is worn out in public among men. I don’t find it that hot when you stay still and keep out of the sun. I think you just feel it as very hot becoming completely covered, when you are used to having many parts of your body always in direct contact with the air. And intimidating is completely wrong. It’s like my own private home, cosy, protecting, like a second skin. I love wearing burqa.” Her mother says “Perhaps I’m wrong, it was long ago, and now I have come to think like a Westerner, associating the burqa with oppression and submission. This dinner has been very different, but the food was wonderful as always. As I understood you switch roles during your afternoon plays. Now I switch from being the husband you serve to the woman of the house, who do the dishing. If you like to keep on playing you can be guest and just sit and digest the meal and all that has happened in the sofa.” Instead of speaking Aisha gets up and goes around the table to let her veiled mouth brush her mother’s chin, then walking to her chamber. Her mother, a minute later coming into the living room to clear the last items from the table, stops in the middle of her walk as she sees Aisha coming out from her chamber covered in the burqa and slowly cautiously moving towards her like a blind. She realizes she must be close to blind and moves up along the dining table not to interfere. Her gaze stays fixed on the moving cloth figure, which slides across the floor until it is stopped by the sofa, turns and sits down to end leaned back looking like a large cushion has been placed at one sofa end.
Half an hour later mother comes to the sofa to say “I’m preparing tea. Then you’ll take the burqa off I guess, and after thinking about your feelings about wearing it, I would like to ask if you’ll let me try it for some minutes then?” Aisha now covered as usual again with gagging scarf and lower face scarf beneath the niqab and burqa gets up from the sofa to put her mouth to her mother’s ear to say speaking slowly to be as clear as possible “When alone I most often drink tea wearing burqa playing I’m a visitor keeping her burqa on during the visit. But if you bring two of the white plastic tubes to be found under the cutlery tray, then we can both have tea my way.” Aisha again slowly moves towards her chamber, making her mother watch her until out of the living room, before she herself walks to the kitchen. When her mother a couple of minutes later enters the living room with the tray of tea Aisha is back in the sofa having a large piece of folded sky blue fabric at her feet. As her mother comes in front of her she lifts the burqa just above her knees to gesture with a hand first to put the tray on the floor next to her feet, and then after putting the burqa on her mother should seat herself next to her. Her mother unfolds the burqa and turns it in various ways to see what she will be wearing. Then she lifts it over her head and uses her arms around her head for nearly a minute to be sure she has the right fit, before she pulls the cap tight on her head. She looks in all directions to learn the difference to her normal sight, and then she carefully takes small steps around the living room before finally sitting down next to Aisha to say “The sight is strangely distorted and it’s really annoying the field of view is so limited, but although there may be little too much fabric to my taste, it feels nice to touch and I like how it caresses my cheeks. But I better wait with more comments until hawing worn it a little longer. With the burqa only open at the floor I understand the tray is best placed there. I think your experience wearing burqa make it you who pour the tea and teach me how to drink.” Aisha clearly nods and then bends down to lift the hem of her burqa with her left hand and pour the two glasses with her right. Then she makes a J-shaped bend at the end of one tube and pushes it along with a glass to the end of the tray close to her mother. Next she takes the other tube while letting her burqa drop to cover her own glass. She leans to her mother’s ear to say “Just put the bended end in your mouth, then you can drink only having to lift the glass to your belly button, and when not drinking you can hold it in your lap with little effort.” Aisha as usual has to let the tube find its way up under her scarves, but as her mother moves her hands much more cautiously, unused to drink blindly, they end up drinking at the same time.
After a minute her mother says “In Pakistan we would …” She suddenly has a hand moving inside her burqa for some moments before speaking again “The tube dropped out when I started speaking, if I have to hold it with my left hand each time I speak, I wont say much.” Aisha leans over to say “I wear both a knotted scarf to attenuate my voice and scarf over nose and mouth to be covered in case my niqab lifts. Both makes my tube stay when I open the mouth to speak.” Mother says “I might as well try something closer to how you dress. Do you have a scarf suitable as veil I may borrow?” Aisha nods telling her where to find it, and then becomes even more happy when her mother slowly walks away without flipping the burqa back. After a couple of minutes she comes back again, and although Aisha only sees a shadow approaching she enjoys the sight of a burqa move around the house. Her mother flips the front of the burqa back over her head to reveal she has taken both a normally folded scarf and a scarf already rolled and knotted. Then she turns the floor lamp towards her face and holds the knots of the rolled scarf between her lips saying with the resulting distortion “Like this?” With a little difficulty because of having to hold the burqa out she ties the cleave gag. Next she unfolds the other scarf and holds it across her nose while looking at Aisha for approval. But Aisha shakes her head, making her mother bow turning her ear to Aisha, who says “Higher! Until touching the eye lashes and then a fraction down.” Her mother does as she has been told and gets several nods from Aisha before tying the veil. Aisha is glad she is tightly veiled, because seeing someone, and it’s even her mother, veiling like she do herself has created an expression on her face and a tingling in her body that could raise questions. But as it is she can enjoy her sensations at full. And the beautiful sight of her mother’s eyes seen just above a black veiled face goes on a little longer, as her mother starts to fiddle with the tube to get it to her mouth before covering with the burqa again.
After all this her mother takes some sips of tea before taking up what caused her to put the scarves on – speaking. Aisha can see her head turn as to speak but hears nothing. Her mother realizes she now sounds like Aisha and has to lean close to Aisha’s ear to be heard. “When I can understand your mumbling you have to understand me.” Aisha nods and her mother continues “I was about to say that in Pakistan we would probably be sitting on cushions, but apart from that in situations where women have to be waiting in a room with men, perhaps at the doctor or some office or even at home, it is likely they would have a low voiced conversation covered in burqa. And of course this very often happens in the street. We are not that far from real life Pakistan.” They both turn their heads to make Aisha answer “What you are saying is that now we are behaving like the Pakistanis we actually are, and not like what living in English society has made us into.” They turn heads again, and her mother says “We may have become too English in our effort to at least behave like the majority here, when we will never come to look like them – fortunately. But how you are dressed and what we are playing now is to the other extreme. The real Pakistan is somewhere in between, but of course much closer to burqa than bikini.” Aisha says “I understand you like playing what you have outlined as a situation from real-life Pakistan. I am very happy you like our play, but in my imaginary Pakistan this conversation in burqas is only taking place in the women’s sections of homes. The strict conservative women Mrs. Hussain and Mrs. Nawaz will never make a sound in public or without permission if men of close family is present. But it doesn’t matter that we imagine we are at different locations. The important thing is that we are together here right now and both veiled. You wearing burqa, mum, is a dream of mine I thought was completely unrealistic.” Mother says “Perhaps hearing in your voice how happy you are is part of what makes this a good experience. Our conversation is somewhat awkward, but that is not because of the burqa, but because of this now wet scarf in my mouth. Actually I didn’t fear of bumping into something or stumbling while walking to your chamber. And it wasn’t ‘aah’ how lovely cool when I flipped the burqa back to tie the scarves. And I just pulled the burqa down like a natural thing when finished with the scarves. I’m no longer intimidated by the burqa, but as a sort of personal home I still prefer to cover under a warm duvet with your dad to keep me heated.” Aisha says “Although it’s nicknamed a ‘tent’ the burqa isn’t for couples. I know I have to remove the burqa and my other veiling now and then, when I get married. But until then I wish I could attend a madrasa instead of grammar school to be veiled all day long.” Mother says “Which reminds me that it is back to normal life tomorrow. Production was stopped today because of some components getting delayed. The boss is sure they are in tomorrow, which may mean overtime to do what we should have been doing today. Now I say thank you for borrowing your burqa, I would like ending the day as usual watching the news. Perhaps we play on another day. I’m sure I will dream living in purdah like my mother did before she moved with my father to their own home in the city. But stay covered if you like, now and everyday.” Her mother gets up, removes the burqa and the borrowed scarves and takes the tea tray to the kitchen. Aisha stays in the sofa leaning back to only partly listen to the news in the television. Another part of her brain is traveling through a rural part of Pakistan with her parents, her mother and herself heavily veiled.
The following days are like all previous workdays except Aisha stays veiled in the evenings. Because she has her mouth covered her mother, not being veiled, to the delight of both of them have to sit close to her each time they like to speak. They mainly discuss the differences between England and Pakistan and the pros and cons of living in either country. With her father in recent years spending more time in Pakistan than at home of course moving there has been an issue for some time as well. A major reason for Aisha and her mother staying in England is gone in a few months, when Aisha finishes school.
Saturday morning the sound of the door to her chamber being opened makes Aisha open her eyes. Immediately she sits up wide awake widely smiling. Slowly approaching is a black figure completely covered in a long black coat, black gloves and black head covering including a niqab with all eye layers down. The black figure has to come close to the bed and bend down as it’s voice is muffled to be nearly unintelligible as it says “Good morning my dear daughter. I can see you have slept well. Today we are both strict conservative Pakistanis. I like to try if I can get closer to understand how you feel, and also get into the Pakistani lifestyle to be prepared if we go there. Breakfast will be ready when you are properly covered. I hope you don’t mind I have borrowed some of your clothing.” Aisha gives her mother a big hug and then keeps her eyes fixed on her as the black figure straightens, turns and walks slowly out of the chamber.
Both only speaking when voice is restricted, speaking while eating is bothering and they sit opposite each taking breakfast in silence. The sun shining brightly outside makes the table lighted as well and Aisha is able to enjoy the look of her mother carefully lifting her niqab a little each time she eats or drinks. She knows it’s exactly the same sight her mother sees. When filled they both sit sipping tea for some minutes, Aisha completely filled with joy. Her mother then under her niqab pulls the gagging scarf across her mouth and the veiling scarf up to her eyes again and walks around the table to put her mouth to Aisha’s ear saying “Are you sure you have been filled? It looked to me as you were more staring at me than eating. I ask because I think it would be nice with some exercise in the lovely Spring weather. Would you join me for a walk?” Aisha as fast as possible gets her own scarves in place to say in a voice despite the muffling sounding surprised “You want to go out with me, both of us dressed like this?” Mother says “In the parks around the fashionable shopping streets it’s not that unusual to see black dressed women, even with veiled faces, take a stroll when the weather is like today. You can come as you are, but I’ll remove the niqab and the knotted scarf showing my eyes and speak normally. Do you have the courage? We might be shouted and stared at you know.” Aisha says “You keep surprising me wonderfully mum. I don’t care about being harassed, we are completely anonymous when away from the house. But what about Mrs. Khan? She will call the terrorist squad immediately.” Mother says “I’ve considered that, I have a plan. Help me clear the table please.”
A quarter of an hour later her mother rings the bell of Mrs. Khan holding the other hand to her veil. Within ten seconds the door starts opening, and at the moment they can see the expression of Mrs. Khan start changing to horror mother pulls her veil to the chin and smiles to Mrs. Khan saying “Good morning Mrs. Khan, what a lovely day. Unfortunately a distant relative of ours has passed away and Aisha and I have to attend the funeral. I know you rightfully would found it suspicious, if you happened to see someone dressed like us just outside or even on the staircase, that is why I clearly show you now that it’s just Aisha and me. It is a very conservative branch of our family and attending such an occasion unveiled would move the attention from our dear deceased to us, which we of course don’t want. We have decided to come and go veiled as well, because Aisha doesn’t like to be accidentally recognized by classmates dressed this strict.” Mrs. Khan now her usual slightly curious attitude says trying to get a good look at Aisha standing as a black object at the down going stairs five feet away “Such a shame to have your mind focused on our inevitable end on a day where the weather calls for life and joy. Funerals always make me think about how few days I might have left myself. I remember when my aunt …” Mother interrupts saying “I would love to hear about your aunt Mrs. Khan, but the funeral is in forty minutes and with all the people going shopping on such a sunny morning the traffic may very well bring a delay. I intended to wave a taxi, but on second thought they might not stop seeing our clothing. Perhaps I could ask you to call while we descend the stairs?” Mrs. Khan already moving the door says “Of course, I’m on my way. It is shameful to be late for such an occasion, and I won’t be the reason for that. Please come by soon Mrs. Hussain and tell me how it was. See you soon. Also to you Miss Hussain, literally I hope.”
Ten minutes later they get out of a taxi at the end of one of the shopping streets, also the corner of a park. The driver has been looking in his rearview mirror at every red light more than to be expected, but Aisha has just been looking out the window unable to see his expression in the darkness inside the car. They enter the park slowly strolling along its main path. After just a minute they pass a young Muslim couple, her in a long pale blue coat and multicolored scarf, but face and hands uncovered. Even if she dressed just somewhere between how Aisha and her mother are dressed now and their usual public appearance, which always includes a similar scarf, but a less conservative dress, Aisha after passing them pats her mother at the side from inside her khimar and makes a head movement backwards. Her mother nods, but instead gestures towards a tree where both birds are flying between the branches and a squirrel jumping around. Aisha can just hear the birds and only gets a glimpse of the squirrel as it for a few seconds is on a branch directly in the sun. They find a bench with flowers planted around and overlooking a lake. Most of the people passing are just strolling to enjoy the sun as themselves, but many coming from the shopping street are just walking this way carrying bags. Many pass, their head turned away to keep looking at the lake, but from those noticing them they often get a much longer stare than usual, and before or after passing at a little distance a couple of people take photos. There are no one pointing or shouting, Aisha doesn’t include the girl of three or four, who walking holding at a tram, just after passing lets her hand off the tram to stop and point directly at her saying quite loud “Mum that woman has no face.” Her mother gently pulls the girl on answering something too low to be heard. A few families with the women clearly dressed as Muslims pass as well, but not in black and with colorful scarves. But just the scarves make Aisha feel her mother has indeed chosen a site which Muslims can enjoy like everybody else. Both completely covered none of them get cold at sitting on the bench for long, even if a shear of wind now and then indicates Summer isn’t arrived yet. After close to half an hour her mother gets up gesturing to walk on, none of them has said a word yet. They have just passed the end of the lake turning towards an exit when it happens. Three women in black abayas and everything else black approaches rather slowly. Aisha slows their pace to make their passing last longer. In the middle walks a gloved but face unveiled old short woman, whose old legs clearly decides their pace. The women on each side of her appear from size and posture to be her daughters, but as they are both gloved and face veiled it could be her daughter and granddaughter, her daughter and the daughter’s co-wife or many other possibilities. The one away from them wears a waist long khimar just barely showing she is gloved, and a long half-niqab, which with the khimar headband makes a slit so small just two pupils are seen. The other closest wears niqab with eye covers flipped back and a slit wide enough to show her eyelids are tinted black and her lashes long perhaps artificial. Just before they pass the woman in niqab turns her head to face them and says nodding “Assalamu alaikum” They both return the nod and mother says “Salaam.” Aisha is exhilarated, now this trip has been a tremendous success. A little after the veiled women have passed she stops to lean to her her mother’s ear and say “I like you to tell me about all the details of these wonderfully dressed women when we get home.” Her mother nods and starts to walk again, it seems the strolling is over and their walk has a destination.
Soon they leave the park and after a short walk turn down a small side street, where mother points towards a shop further down. Half a minute later Aisha is able to read the sign on the front saying ‘Rana Islamic Clothing.’ Aisha knows of this shop, but it is too far from home for her to have been able to visit with public transport during her afternoons alone. Looking inside is just darkness to Aisha, and having to flip back an eye layer to be able to orientate inside anyway, she flips it back right away to first take a look at the display window. Her mother points to a featureless white mannequin head nearly completely covered in olive fabric saying “You like to be a veiled Pakistani woman, why doesn’t your collection of veils contain one single pak-chadar, the modern Pakistan contribution to veiling styles?” Aisha makes a head movement towards the door and they walk inside to find a not very large room, but filled with Islamic clothing all over. In the right back corner is a counter behind which a female shop assistant is standing in a coral red abaya with embroidered patterns and a navy blue headscarf going inside the abaya neck opening. Aisha puts her mouth to her mother’s ear, and mother seeing this the shop assistant, who has started approaching them, is gestured to wait. Aisha says “I don’t have any pak-chadars because very few shops sell them, and those I found on the internet were too complicated to deal with, untrustworthy or didn’t indicate fabrics used. Second pak-chadars are smart for easily veiling and unveiling frequently, but I don’t do that. And because the veil is a part of the chin and neck covering eating without unveiling is impossible, so they don’t directly fit in to the way I cover.” Mother says “I haven’t thought of that. I thought it was because they don’t cover the eyes, and then you have to put a niqab on top anyway. But they go with almost any type of dress, and then you can go veiled in situations, where eye veiling would be too provoking and eating have to be unveiled anyway. Would you wear a pak-chadar now and then, if I buy you one as a present?” Aisha says “Mum, just what you have done today so far makes me feel like it’s my birthday. But I get your point, a pak-chadar may allow me to veil in places and situations where other veiling would be intimidating. Now that I can go out now and then veiled it could indeed be useful. I say thank you, but black please.” Aisha lets her covered mouth brush her mother’s covered chin before looking around in the shop. Her mother waves for the shop assistant to say “We would like to look at your selection of pak-chadars please.” The shop assistant nods saying “Just a moment I’ll put some on the counter. Please feel free to browse in all corners meanwhile.” Aisha wasn’t getting too hot walking out in the sun, but in here she feels much warmer, because it’s like walking in her dream wardrobe. Abayas completely black, but with delicate embroidery in black, revealing they have intricate patterns at a close look. Khimars in various modest dark shades and all lengths from chest to ankle. And niqabs, thick and thin, long and short, with ties or welcro or even buckles and with eye coverings from nearly unseen to seemingly opaque. A pair of black satin gloves have a shine that penetrates Aisha’s eye covering. They are available in both elbow and opera length. Aisha holds a pair of each towards her mother gesturing if she would take off a glove to check their quality and perhaps read the label. Her mother pulls a glove off and puts her hand a little inside one of the shorter type. Aisha can see in her eyes they feel comfortable. Her mother reads the fabric blend and the prize and says “They are really soft and seems durable. And the prize is lower than I would have anticipated. You actually haven’t got any full length gloves have you? A little strange since you seem to favor a lot of layering.” Aisha puts her mouth to her mother’s ear saying “Full length gloves can’t be used when working. They can’t be changed without a lot of undressing, and while cooking and cleaning I often wet my gloves. But for a walk like this or for days where you do the cooking they would have been wonderful. Now I can use them, I’ll take a pair of opera length and pay you when we get home.” Her mother just nods and take both pairs with her to the counter which is now covered by pak-chadars. Mother says “Let’s look at the options in black first. My daughter wants black.” The shop assistant says “Then it is this and this. Nearly all pak-chadars, at least the one we sell, are uni-colored without any decorations, and they are all cut the same to about waist length giving little interference with arm movements, even if covering the upper arms. This means they only differ in color and quality of the fabric, and having selected the color we have two qualities. Considering it is something that most wear as their only head covering, I think it is important that it feels really good against the skin, and then that it is thick and opaque of course. This, our best quality, fulfills that and is at the same time breathable, which makes it heat transporting as well. I have myself worn a khaki brown of similar fabric for entire days in the Pakistani summer just feeling well covered. Your daughter or yourself may try it at the mirror over there. On top of another scarf doesn’t matter, but I would recommend removing the niqab.” Mother, still holding one glove in her hand instead of wearing it, have sensed the two qualities and with her movements clearly indicates she will only have the best. Aisha shakes her head to say she won’t remove her niqab. Then mother says “What are the other color choices with this fabric?” The shop assistant pulls some other items forward saying “Right now we have chocolate brown, medium grey and khaki brown, but white, a darker grey and one or two more colors can be ordered to be available within a week.” Mother says “This very dark look I wear actually isn’t really me, I think the khaki gives a much less strict look. I would like to try that please.” The shop assistant says handing her the khaki veil “You are not alone with that opinion. This is clearly our most popular color, and I can add that it is used by a lot of Pakistani lawyers and other female professionals. Please move the screen for cover, if you like to try the pak-chadar directly on your skin. And there are hijab pins in the box on the right frame of the mirror.” Mother completely uncovers her head without screening herself. She always wears a headscarf, but sometimes adjusts it or even shortly removes it in male company, and a man in this shop more than looking in the doorway for his female relatives isn’t likely. Just tying the headband the pak-chadar is quickly put on. Mother smiles and Aisha makes a nod, as mother looks at herself in the mirror while moving the face veil part across and away from her face several times. Then she pins the face veil and looks once more getting a repeated nodding from Aisha. She returns to the counter still veiled in the pak-chadar saying to the shop assistant “Your appraisal isn’t just sales talk. This is the most comfortable scarf I have ever worn, and it even feels nice to have this soft fabric covering your face. I don’t veil regularly, but for other than religious reasons I’m sure this garment would be nice on chilly windy days of which there will be more even this Spring. Do you have this fabric made into regular scarves as well?” The shop assistant says “Yes it is made as a regular scarf large enough to cover head and neck in the same plain colors. Just a moment.” The shop assistant pulls two scarves from a nearby shelf and returns saying “It is one of our most popular items. We only have it in white and the same khaki you are wearing.” Mother reaches for the white and goes to stand in front of the mirror loosely fitting the white scarf on top of the pak-chadar like she always covers her head. Coming back to the counter she says “We better stop here and pay before my daughter can’t leave without one of the really expensive items like a burqa.” The shop assistant says “Our burqas are very moderately priced compared to their qualities. We even have two or three in black.” Mother says “No, no. Two scarves, two pak-chadars and the two pairs of gloves. I like to keep this pak-chadar on which adds a hijab pin.” The shop assistant says “It is for free, I’ll even put a small box of similar plain pins in your bag as discount. We have fashionable hijab pins as well, but they don’t match a garment like this and are mostly worn by young women, who veil more out of tradition than modesty.” They pay and leave the shop.
Outside Aisha flips her outer niqab layer down again, and her mother says “Now we have been out in this warm clothing for a while. I would like something to drink. We could find a cafe, we could buy cans of soda and find a bench or we could head for home.” Aisha turns to her mother’s ear to say “Veiled ladies don’t sit in cafes among men. I could pull at my scarves and drink from a can if we bought some straws as well, but wearing the pak-chadar you can’t drink without removing its veil. You wouldn’t have a day covered like me, if unveiling for drinking and eating. Let’s go home where you can drink veiled.” Mother nods and they head for a bus stop to be home in half an hour. While walking down their own street her mother slows down to unbutton the top of her coat and pull it on top of the pak-chadar. Then she takes her black scarves from the bag and covers her head and face again while ensuring the pak-chadar is completely covered. While unlocking their front door Mrs. Khan opens her door to say “Ah, it’s my next door neighbors back again. I hope your strict dressing pleased the close family of the deceased. You could unveil right now. I don’t think any of Aisha’s schoolmates would come here now.” Mother turns to face Mrs. Khan saying “You never know Mrs. Khan. But staying veiled is just as much vanity. Having cried a little and with the face heated by the veil for long, I think we both need some washing before we can show our faces to even close friends. Have a nice afternoon Mrs. Khan.”
Inside their apartment Aisha puts her mouth to her mother’s ear saying “It was good you remembered Mrs. Khan and covered in black. The light colored pak-chadar would have been hard to explain at a funeral. But the tube for drinking is too short to go up under the pak-chadar, and now its side opening where it is pinned is blocked by the black veil. You can’t drink like you are dressed now. I suggest you go back to the black scarves and a niqab like you were dressed before our trip. To be like me your eyes should be covered I think, and then a khimar would make us identical.” Mother nods saying “I’m back in a few minutes. Take the orange juice, glasses and the tubes to the sofa.” Some minutes later Aisha can enjoy a black figure showing neither arms nor legs nor face approaching her, and sit down right next to her. After fiddling with the tube and taking some long strong sips mother turns to say to Aisha in a now low strongly muffled voice “How I longed for that. Next time going out veiled I will bring a tube and a bottle or can. It’s not because I’m soaked in sweat, I think I have just perspired continuously at a rate just slow enough to make it evaporate. I wonder how they manage being completely covered in Pakistan.” They both turn their heads for Aisha to say “Yes, it is close to hot just being covered. When adding some hard work, like when cleaning the floor, I usually get wet spots from sweating at several places. But mentioning Pakistan, as I assume you won’t start going to work here veiling your face, a pak-chadar for you and this whole veiling test of yours, is it just as much a preparation for going to Pakistan as an attempt to understand how I feel?” After both turning heads mother says “We both know that if moving to Pakistan we could be much more with your dad, even if he spends some of his time there traveling all over the country. Your dad and I have for some time agreed that the right time for you and I to travel to Pakistan, at the beginning just to find out if we would like to live there, is when you have finished school and I can take some vacation, ensuring I have a job if we decide to come back here. In Pakistan veiling is so common that even if I won’t veil on a daily basis, I might have to go with your dad meeting customers, who prefer veiled women, or travel with him to the large regions where women being unveiled is unacceptable, perhaps even dangerous. Now you have given me the reason to try how it is living veiled, something that I because of my reluctancy otherwise would have postponed or not tried at all in advance, making the chances of confirming my anxiety great. So far I can for sure say that my fear of veiling and being veiled has gone, but I’m not sure yet if I actually like it. Your playing may have saved my marriage as well, as I can understand from your dad that he much prefers being an important regional manager in Pakistan instead of an anonymous salesman in England. I think it is inevitable that you and I have to stay in Pakistan, if our small family shall stay united. This is why I’m so happy that you like playing living Pakistani lifestyle, even though your veiling may be exaggerated.” Turning heads Aisha says “Moving to Pakistan for good means I have to find a Pakistani husband, have dad and you discussed this?” Mother says “I’m sure your dad thinks of you every time he meets a presentable man at your age, but it is not something we have directly discussed. Now that I know you like veiling of course it has become much easier. There are thousands of men in Pakistan wanting a wife who veils, but not so many of them I think like a wife with the Western equality expectations you have. Just after coming home drinking was all that mattered. Now I think it’s time for lunch. As speaking and eating are incompatible, how about we just make ourselves some sandwiches in the kitchen in total silence, and then I’m afraid we have to do housework afterwards.” Aisha just nods and heads for the kitchen with her empty glass and the juice.
A quarter later Aisha ties the veiling and gagging scarves beneath her niqab again and says to her mother’s ear “I think you need to know how it feels to work really hard veiled, so you do the floor washing, and then I do some vacuum cleaning and dusting off. Agree?” Her mother nods. For an hour her mother works hard, and Aisha not very hard. At least every five minutes she stops working to see how her mother is doing. It is quickly visible even to her veiled eyes that her mother’s gloves and knees are wet. After half an hour her mother is taking frequent breaks as well, but not to watch Aisha. She lifts at her coat and niqab to wave air up along her body and face, and once or twice seems to be about to pull her face covering scarf down, but when both times seeing Aisha watching her she refrains. The coat hides wet spots on the salwar kameez, but towards the end of the hour a clear wet area on the headscarf is seen where it is covering the back of the neck. Aisha comes to her mother when she is putting the bucket into the cupboard to say “Do a little freshing up, then I’ll make tea in the meantime.” Her mother says “Don’t hurry, I think I’ll have a quick bath.” Aisha answers “No bath mum, then the hot sensations because of heavy covering stops instantly, and further you’ll be unveiled for perhaps ten minutes. You may change all of your clothing, but I usually only changes the gloves and the head scarves. The salwar kameez dries quickly and you wont get cold because of the coat and the additional burqa, which we will wear while drinking tea.” Mother hesitates for so long Aisha is afraid this will make her give up their play with veiling, but then she heads for Aisha’s chamber to get fresh black clothing and shortly after continues to the bathroom. Just after the tea is ready the black figure of her mother takes the burqa waiting for her in the sofa next to the burqa clad Aisha.
After drinking intensively for several minutes and then refilling her glass her mother says “I understand why I shouldn’t shower. Although a little wet from sweat here and there, I’m generally still very warm, and now wearing burqa and drinking hot tea this condition will stay perhaps until removing the burqa again. Do you think it’s like this being covered in the hot climate of Pakistan?” Aisha says “I don’t know, I’ve never been there, but I hope it is, because then the hotter climate won’t be an obstacle for living there. I find being hot adds to the enjoyable feeling of being in my own private world creating pleasurable sensations and images. In a few minutes I’ll leave you to do a little more cleaning and prepare our dinner. I want you just to stay in the sofa to relax, daydream or sleep. Whatever you feel like, and then just before dinner you can tell me how it was.” Mother says “Thank you for preparing the dinner, when it was my turn. I actually feel warm and comfortable sitting here completely veiled in several layers. I’ll just sip some more tea and relax.” Aisha leaves to first remove her burqa and then do some housework, which doesn’t make noise, away from the living room. After half an hour she walks to the living room doorway and looks. Now her mother is comfortably lying in the sofa either daydreaming or sleeping. Aisha stares for several minutes enjoying that the wonderful burqa filling the sofa is her dearly loved mother, before continuing her work. She comes back to the doorway several times during the late afternoon while preparing dinner to enjoy the same unchanged sight of the burqa relaxing in the sofa. A little before six, while dinner is cooking, she kneels at her mother’s head saying “Mum – it’s time to get up soon. Dinner is ready in a quarter of an hour. Are you awake?” The burqa head slowly turns without lifting and Aisha puts her ear where the low muffled voice comes out. Her mother says “My body feels relaxed like I had been in a tub for long, but I’m just a little more hot than when I put on the burqa and not wet of sweat anywhere. I may have slept a little while, at least I was dreaming. It was a weird dream in which I was close to your dad nearly every minute of the day, both when he was at the main office and when traveling around the country. And all the time, day and night, I was wearing burqa. It was only lifted going to the bathroom or by him when he wanted to enjoy the forms of my body. Caressing skin was only possible to him in bed where underlying layers could be pulled or lifted as well. He sensed my body at every opportunity during the day, while eating in screened boxes, while in the car or the two of us alone in an office. When in our house there were servants to do everything, I just had to sit next to him waiting for him to want to lift my burqa. There were just the two of us, you attended a strict madrasa. He said ‘I love you’ or ‘You feel wonderful’ and similar. I never said a word because I was severely gagged most of the time, even while eating ungagged not a sound left me. I had no purpose but to please him, and by doing this please myself. I was the perfect veiled wife, I was constantly aroused and I loved it. I even get a little excited right now just by retelling the dream.” Aisha says “I think you have come very close to how I feel being veiled mum. I’ve never dreamed of being with a man like that, but that is probably because I’m not married and never have really loved a man. Go and remove the burqa, then I’ll serve the dinner.” They eat dinner without exchanging a word, instead they are holding hands much of the time and gesturing a little. During the evening they find a musical to watch, making it less important watching the television through an eye veiling layer.
Sunday morning Aisha arrives for breakfast unusually showing her forearms, because she is not wearing a long khimar. She is wearing her mother’s present, the new black pak-chadar instead. But after observing the pak-chadar, it isn’t the gloved hands and coat sleeves that attracts her mother’s attention, but the fact that the eyes are covered, even if the pak-chadar is fitted as intended not covering the eyes. Aisha overlooks the table and then goes to the kitchen to fetch a tube before sitting down next to her mother, who today is dressed in her usual clothing, unveiled and just wearing hijab. Aisha immediately puts her mouth to her mother’s ear to say “The pak-chadar feels wonderful mum, but I like to have the eyes veiled as well, so I wear a bushiya beneath, and the knotted gagging scarf of course. The pak-chadar means I will only drink some juice and tea for breakfast, because eating isn’t possible without unveiling, but I can drink by getting the tube through the side where the veil part is pinned. Don’t worry I won’t go without eating today, I think I’ll change to the niqab again for lunch.” Mother says “You definitely look more Pakistani wearing pak-chador than wearing niqab, but I don’t think we’ll ever agree on that everything black gives the best look. What should we tell your dad when he calls?” Aisha says “Nothing mum. If you do, the whole conversation will be about me, and we will hear nothing about how he is and what he has been doing, and you and him won’t have time to exchange words of love, which I always like when you do. I’ll write a mail telling about it, and then we can exchange mails until he understands. Is that okay?” Mother says “We’ll do it your way. You are probably right, just saying over the phone you have been veiling all workday afternoons for long, calls for a lot of explanation for which the phone isn’t the right way. If you like I can read your mail before you send it.” Aisha says “Yes, perhaps that is a good idea, after all you know dad better than I.”
They read the Sunday paper and relax to pass the time until the call, which as usual comes a little before noon. Mother answers the phone and after each part has been assured the other is well they start saying how much they miss each other and love each other. Then dad says “I like to talk to Aisha in a minute, but first to both of you, I have now on several occasions met a very nice young man, brought up in Birmingham, and with a completely Western attitude to everything, including women I think. But his family comes from the town of Ziajawi in Balochistan, where he likes to settle when marrying. I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard rumors that this town is more strict than the province in general, and that can only mean wearing burga is mandatory. Aisha my dear?” Aisha has pulled the gagging scarf down on her chin to speak normally saying “Hi dad, wonderful to hear your voice as always. This nice young man you’ve met sounds like one I would like to meet, if you can keep him waiting. The burqa is just a large piece of clothing, which shouldn’t come between us, if he is a loving husband, but insists on settling in his strict hometown. But we better continue discussing candidates for my marriage on e-mail, where I perhaps could get a photo. I look forward to hearing your voice again in a week dad. So long.” After a goodbye from her mother as well they hang up.
Next day after school when checking her mail her father has send information about the young man. His name is Yusuf Mushtaq Ali and the description is his company file. He is twenty four and the service manager for the company in Belochistan, which explains his father meeting him regularly. Aisha immediately prints the photo showing a smiling handsome face above a company shirt. This and the following afternoons she spends a little longer daydreaming in burqa, and now her dreams are much like what her mother experienced about being always dressed in burqa always close to her husband. In her dreams she has been married to Yusuf, and the little she sees through the burqa mesh and other eye veiling is the smiling face on the photo. On Friday she writes a mail to her father saying she has been wearing Pakistani clothing and veiled all week when at home to find out how it would be to live like in the hometown of Yusuf. Pakistani clothing is better than her school uniform. Her mother accepts she introduces her father to her veiling practice like this.
Then they all just wait for the day when they can meet in Pakistan. Aisha keeps being always veiled at home. Her mother joins her one day of each weekend, and every second or third week they go out veiled shopping or just strolling. The first couple of times Mrs. Khan is told they have to visit the family left when their relative died. Then they tell something, which may come true, that they have to practice for a trip to a conservative part of Balochistan. Aisha’s father has a small house in Islamabad, and there has been no mentioning going anywhere else, but planning to spend at least four weeks in Pakistan much may happen.
Aisha is a little envious of the veiled women around her in the plane to Islamabad. Being nearly a week since she finished school she has been veiled practically all waking hours since until leaving for the airport. From what her father has experienced when flying between London and Islamabad those dressing conservatively and veiling are inspected much closer, always being searched and having their luggage opened, although no terrorist of course would look like the stereotype of an extreme Muslim. So Aisha and her mother are both dressed in salwar kameez colored in light, an ankle long thin coat in beige and a large light brown headscarf covering all hair and neck, but leaving the face to be seen. They wear stockings and shoes, but no gloves. Perhaps it has been fruitful because arriving in Islamabad they get their suitcases and pass the customs without complications. Immediately after the customs Aisha moves the luggage trolley, she is pushing, out to the wall. She unpins one end of the long headscarf, lifts it to cover her face up to the eyes and pins it there. Then gesturing her mother to do likewise, she produces from the pockets of her coat two pairs of short black gloves and hands one to her mother. Her mother after veiling herself, while putting on the gloves says “But we have agreed to cover completely as soon as we find a restroom.” Aisha whispers to her mother’s ear “Welcome to a country where veiling is widely accepted. I don’t think we should stay one minute too much showing ourselves in public.” Mother says “You know I like this scarf caressing my face, but isn’t it a restroom sign down there at the end of the corridor?” They walk down the corridor to enter the restroom.
Aisha lifts one of the suitcases on top of a table and opens it. Then they both take their coat off. Aisha hands her mother a black ankle long skirt and takes a similar one herself. They both step into the skirt, closes the long side zipper and buckles the integrated belt. They now show black from floor to waist, but the skirt isn’t put on to reduce the coloring of their flying outfit, but to hobble their legs. The straight skirt without slits only allows small steps, ensuring no tip of a shoe will lift the outer covering. Next Aisha hands her mother a pair of opera length thick black cotton gloves. Her mother is going to take off the short gloves just put on, but Aisha shakes her head, while pulling long gloves on herself on top of the short gloves and the sleeves of the kameez. Then Aisha produces two one liter plastic bottles from the suitcase and unscrews the lids fitted with long tubes, before handing both bottles to her mother standing closer to a sink. After taking ten hobbled steps her mother is able to fill the bottles with cold water and returns. After screwing the lids on, the bottles are fastened to the belt of the skirt. They both unpin their scarves and then leads the tube under the scarf up along the neck and chin and into the mouth. Then mother says “Are you sure the women of Ziajawi are wearing all this in public?” Aisha whispers “You know I found very few sources about the daily life in Ziajawi. And perhaps we got something wrong with our limited knowledge of Pashto. But one blog mentioned veiling beneath the burqa, other sources suggested being restricted in public and other again that the female voice is never heard. Perhaps not all women do all of these things, but I like to be on the safe side not to offend my possible parents-in-law, and then it’s not that far from how I’ve dressed myself until now. I was so happy when you said you would dress almost like me, but if you regret it’s alright. I still love you.” Aisha has pulled the tube out of her mouth to let it hang on her cheek, and now she pulls the tube out of her mother’s mouth to give her a loving kiss. Her mother says with a surprised smile “I love you too. You know it’s not the bottles and the tubes, which we have used at all our veiled outings following the first. I know we didn’t have time to get any answers from dad, him just telling only yesterday we’ll go directly to Ziajawi from here. But if Yousuf is as Western-minded as your dad says perhaps he will drop you when meeting us.” Aisha whispers “It’s only if alone just the two of us we are equals. Wanting to live in Ziajawi of course he has to follow the traditions and lifestyle there when among others. I’m sure he understand we do this to show we can adopt to the Ziajawi way of life. I’ll go on as decided, are you joining me?” Her mother nods smiling, and then opens her mouth wide because Aisha is holding up two large black ball gags. Now Aisha smiles as well because she doesn’t have to put one back in the suitcase, but puts it into her mother’s accepting mouth. Holding the ball with her teeth her mother then threads the tube through the tube in the ball and buckles the leather straps of the gag. Aisha threads her tube as well, but then take out her ball to whisper “It may be long before it’s acceptable to speak again mother. I just want to let you know that if both you and dad find Yousuf to be the right man for me, then I completely trust in you, and as is the customs here, I’ll accept dad making a marriage contract without asking me. Thank you for staying with my plan.” Aisha quickly enters the ball and buckles the gag, followed by pinning the scarf across the face again as her mother has done meanwhile. Then they both put their coats on again, leaving two buttons at the waist open when buttoning. Her mother, now a little ahead, hands Aisha a black below the knees khimar, and puts on one herself. Then as the last part showing of the person inside, the eyes are covered by tying a niqab with three eye layers over the face. Keeping all layers down they can hardly see inside the suitcase, but they have both seen that everything still is as arranged from home and each take their burqa and unfolds it. Mother lets the burqa fall over her body, fits its cap and then flips the front back. Then she takes a large black opaque silk scarf from the suitcase and centers it on the top of Aisha’s head. Aisha is made completely blind. Now Aisha puts on her burqa covering everything in midnight blue fabric. Just its eye mesh gives hints of black, but nothing else is to be seen from the outside. The black silk scarf means seen from the inside the mesh could have been omitted, but it eases air in flowing in and out of the heavy covering. Meanwhile mother has closed the suitcase and placed it on the baggage trolley again. On top of the suitcase is placed a small cardboard sign with the name of her husband. Now only the last detail remains. Mother pulls the front of her burqa down while holding both her hands up to still have them outside the burqa. Then she lifts Aisha’s burqa until their hands meet at waist level. Then Aisha blindly senses the opening in her mother’s coat to find a strap hanging from the skirt belt. The strap is threaded through a strap at the wrist on each of her mother’s gloves and then clipped to the belt where it started. Then mother senses for the strap on Aisha’s belt to lock her hands to the waist as well. Both having sensed that both their hands are locked, they shake hands, and then mother steps back from Aisha making both their burqas drop to the floor. Now lifting the burqa or changing any other part of the covering by themselves is impossible. They are completely dependent on the help of someone else.
Mother, with the tiny steps her skirt allows, moves to the baggage trolley, where she is just able to grab its handle through the burqa. Then she moves until Aisha is next to her also sensing the handle of the baggage trolley. Both holding heads bowed they slowly move towards the door of the restroom. Here they have to wait until someone opens the door, and then slowly they mince towards the arrival hall. Unable to see faces clearly mother keeps her head down, just heading for the center of the hall waiting for her husband to see his name. Suddenly they stop hearing a well known voice say “Noor, Aisha, is that you?” They both nod several times having recognized the voice. Aisha’s father continues “You have dressed in burqas because we are driving directly to Ziajawi?” They both nod again, making father say “Are both of you unable to speak? Are you gagged?” Nodding is again the answer. Father continues “Okay let’s go for the car, perhaps you will speak then.” The two burqa heads are being shaken, making father put up an astonished look, and the man next to him look pleased. The man starts pushing the trolley, but after some seconds he stops by hearing father saying to the women “You can’t walk faster? And is that Aisha having to be guided? Have you blinded yourself?” Shaking and nodding confirm he is right. Then the other voice says “I’m sure your family will be very well received in Ziajawi Mr. Hussain.”
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