The Birthday Party
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 the usual chaos of a Pakistani railway station just before a train departure. But the sisters Noor and Shazia are not watching the colourful scenery. Their heads are turned down as proper women should. Through the dimmed and blurred view of her veiling Noor sees her brother-in-law from the lower edge of his kurta down to his shoes, and the bottom of her sister Shazia’s white burqa, which is similar to her own. Her husband is right beside her. After a couple of minutes the train arrives. They have to walk three cars down to enter the one with separate compartments. Their husbands have reserved an entire compartment with six seats to allow the sisters to travel unveiled. The men won’t use their seats, as this won’t allow the women to unveil. In the tradition of their town the only males to see their faces are husband, father and sons. There are strict rules for the voice as well. They do not speak in public or where men might hear them. Because of this even if the sisters are alone together in some minutes, they won’t be able to speak, as speaking is not allowed at any time while travelling. Talking must wait until they reach their goal, even if they haven’t met for sometime. Until today where they now have been together for hours without an oppertunity to speak. They sit down by the shutters where cool air is flowing in along with indirect sunlight without anything inside can be seen from the outside. The train starts.
The men don’t mind spending the ride outside the compartment. They probably go and sit in the dining car. Maybe they meet someone to talk with or they discuss the latest cricket match, while watching the other passengers. Like all men they like to see beautiful women showing themselves, even if they dislike living with these women in marriage. In the dining car there are good chances of seeing upper class or business women from the large cities dressed in the latest fashion and showing their well manicured legs and unveiled styled faces directly in front of them. Occationally western tourist are also on the train, but they are usually backpackers, who doesn’t dress up to display themselves at their best. But pretty young blondes are always worth a look no matter what they are wearing.
As soon as the train guard reach their door, the men show the tickets and get a key to lock the compartment. After a few minutes there’s a knocking on the door. They both put their face in their lab. The door is opened and the voice of Shazia’s husband says “I’ll lock the compartment now. One of us will be back in two to three hours with some lunch. Have a nice trip.” As soon as the door shuts they rise and take off their burqas. These are one piece touching the ground length garments in the most common design with an almost rectangular mesh grille at the eyes. They are made of the finest fabrics and decorated with embroidered patterns. Without burqas they are still completely covered. They unfasten their black niqabs with eye veil and take off the long black khimar reaching the knees, revealing a head covered in thin white scarves except for the eyes. Now the special birthday gown is seen from the waist to the neck. But first the sleeves of the dress are uncovered by removing the stretchy black opague gloves reaching the elbows. They are stretched to the limit by the wide sleeve beneath. Uncovering the sleeves does not show any skin as they wear long black satin gloves under the sleeves of the gown to avoid showing their hands. The gown is fully uncovered as they remove their long black skirt which is buckled by a belt. The belts are extended by two notches from normal and the buttons of the skirts are unused to make it fit over the voluminous lower half of the gown. Now the long golden dress bulging out from the waist down is fully uncovered but it only reaches just below the knees, below which long high heeled white boots are seen. The bottom of the dress is folded up all way round and held by a number of safety pins to avoid it to be seen beneath the burqa and just as important avoid it to be dirty. As the dress could be wrinkled or get permanent folds if kept that way during the long train ride, they help each other by removing the safety pins from each other’s dress. Then they remove the thin scarf covering hair and neck, and as the last item the scarf over nose and mouth. What appears are two beatiful young pakistani women, their beaty extensified by exquisite application of makeup and gold jewelery at the ears and around the neck, just as the hair has been styled recently, but the styling is somewhat flattened by wearing scarf, khimar and burqa. The mannequin look is just slightly spoiled by a black cord, looking like a shoelace, going from the corners of the mouth around the head below the ears and disappearing under the hair. The cord holds a small rubber tongue gag. Noor and Shazia are unable to speak and clearly reminded of their obligation to be silent. But as they are now covered like always in the company of women only, they embrace each other as a hello before sitting down facing each other at the shutters. Decent women do not chat silently by writing small notes. They may only gesture a little.
Noor leans back in her seat to catch up on the sleep she missed, because she had to get up early. Leaning back she is once again reminded of the unusually restrictive clothes, she had put on earlier this morning. The sisters had met at the dressmaker two hours before the train departure. When unveiling in the back of the dressmaker’s quite small shop Noor saw she had already started dressing Shazia. She looked wonderful, but she could not tell her. The two young women could not allow themselves to speak during the dressing, as the back of the shop was only seperated from the front by a curtain. Because of this their husbands had decided to wait in the front to guard their honour during the dressing. Of course a boy brought them tea from a nearby cafe, but Noor was happy and surprised to see how much their husbands would do to fulfill their sister’s birthday dream. They had found a picture of the gown in an old fashion magazine. It looked like something worn at balls in nineteenth century Europe. They decided to have two identical gowns made. Then their sister would look unique among them, instead of one out of three. And when finding the fabric, it was just more of the same, which might be a little cheaper. The dressmaker, a middle aged widow, had a good reputation for creating real dresses from ideas or pictures. Noor and Shazia were very impressed with her result with their golden gowns. It must be among her best works. To display the gown at its best they had to put on a corset and underskirts before the gown itself. For women used to wearing loose garments the corset was something quite different. When loosely fitted the dressmaker had started to lace it tight all along its back, and the process was both painful at the ribs and restricted the breath, to an extent that Noor now was shure she knows how it felt to suffer pneumonia. But when she saw her improved figure in the mirror it was all worth it. Her waist is much smaller than usual and her breasts are displayed in a very attractive manner. A stop of the train gets Noor back to the present. She takes a fashion magazine from her bag, which they browse together and tell each other what they like and dislike by pointing, nodding and shaking heads. After half an hour they have reached the end of the magazine. Shazia takes a book and starts reading, while Noor just leans back again fantasizing about participating in a grand ball at a European court. After an hour Shazia put her book away and lies back in her seat as well. She is thinking about the previous evening with her husband. Hopefully she will carry a child soon.
There is a knocking on the door. Noor and Shazia takes a large square opaque white scarf, they have specially brought for this trip, and puts it loosely over their heads. A minute later the door is unlocked and opened. Noor hears her husband saying “Nice dresses. Here are a couple of sandwiches for each of you and two bottles of lemonade. I’ll be back and knock thirty minutes before we arrive in about two hours.” The door is shut and locked again. They untie their chords and pull out the gags. They eat and drink of course without saying a word. Then they put the gags on again.
Noor starts thinking about the purpose of their trip. Their older sister, Asma, has her 25 years birthday. A few month ago Asma and her husband have moved to a new town, because he got a job there for the central government. A job he can probably keep until he retires. Asma finds her birthday a good opportunity to be known among women in the town. She is an ambitious woman, who wants all the influence a woman can have in this traditional male dominated society. She knows women from behind their veils can influence their husbands at least as much as all the men their husbands spend hours together with at meetings or at cafes. She has invited a number of neigbours, important women and even the mayor’s wife to a women only birthday party, to make herself known by showing she and her husband can make an extraordinary event, even if his income is not top ten of the town. She has written her sisters about her plans and for support. And she has persuaded her husband to call Noor’s and Shazia’s husbands to ask them to pay for a band of female musicians during the party. And she has asked Noor and Shazia to come dressed way above normal standards of the town. Asma’s husband has figured out that it is possible to go out and back with train in one day, so they don’t need to stay for the night in the small house with all the complications several men and women not allowed to see each other could create. Because the sisters have selected the unusual gown with corset they have to travel in the gowns, as Asma’s small house does not have a room, which can be occupied for hours just before the party. Noor don’t mind. She likes dressing up as much as possible for as long as possible under any circumstances.
Noor is wakened from her doze by a knocking on the door. Both sisters put the scarf over their heads again. The door is unlocked and opened. The voice of Shazia’s husband says “You are awake, fine, and what gowns. It’s time for dressing. We arrive in less than thirty minutes.” The door is closed and locked again. The sisters start dressing by folding up the gold gown of each other and secure it again with the safety pins. Now they can dress individually. First the black skirt is put on. Next the head scarves. Then the long gloves on top of the dress sleeves. And the khimar. The khimar is ‘locked’ by the niqab with head band and eye cover. In less than ten minutes they are ready to put on their burqas and thus finish the dressing. But this is not their hometown. They arrive in a town of more strict traditions. One of these is that women accompagnied by others are blinded in public. This is why the sisters have brought their large white opaque scarves. They embrace each other to say thank you for a pleasent trip before putting the scarf loosely on top of their heads as before. But now they keep the scarf in place by placing the cap of their burqa as it should on top of their head. As the burqa folds down to the ground the dressing is complete. The birthday presents are properly covered and ready to be delivered. They sit down waiting for the train to stop and for their husbands to guide them out.
Their sister’s house is only a five minutes taxi ride from the station. They’re immediately guided into the women living room. Soft traditional music is the first thing that reach their senses as the door closes behind them. They’re guided across the room before a hand lifts at the burqa to signal it’s ok to take it off. Removing it and the white scarf Noor flip back the eye veil of the niqab to clearly see who is receiving her. She presumes it is her sister Asma, but it is impossible to tell, even if she in general probably only is covered by one layer of clothes. What is seen is a beatiful shalwar kameez in a brightly shining red silk like fabric embroidered with small golden flowers and golden embroidery at the wrists and ankles. Hands and feet are covered in white gloves and stockings respectively. No shoes are worn. The head is covered in three white scarves. One covering the forehead. A second covering nose, mouth and chin seems to be tied at both its upper and lower edge, while the third on top of the two others is wound around head and neck and barely covering the shoulders as well. The only part of the woman showing is an extremely small slit between the forehead scarf and the nose scarf so small that both scarves cover a part of the iris of the eyes. It is the traditional indoor veiling of women for this very strict town. And the rules of speech are just as strict. Women are only allowed to speak to other women, if related by family. As the mucisians and the first guests have arrived, speaking here is out of the question. But as she embrace Noor and put her chin against hers, Noor recognizes a gold bracelet, she’s wearing on her right wrist on top of the glove. It is Asma.
Noor and Shazia quickly remove their black body covering and help each other remove the safety pins to fold the gown out as it should be. They remove their boots as well. They are standing in a small rest room with a wardrobe and a toilet. In the open door to the living room several guests are standing admiring the gowns. Noor gestures to Asma that their own thin headscarves are inappropriate for the dress code of the town. Asma goes to the wardrobe and then disappears under a blue burqa. Then she goes to the men’s section of the house, returning after a minute or so. Out of the burqa again her hands hold two bundles. The contents of her right hand she gives to Shazia, the other to Noor. Noor takes her hand and pulls her towards the toilet. Asma resists, she gestures she must change the scarves herself. But Noor opens the toilet door and drags or rather squeezes Asma inside. The room is not designed for two people, at least not when one is in a wide gown. Noor lifts at her dress and points at her crotch. They can’t speak as the toilet room is made with thin wooden walls neither reaching floor nor ceiling. Asma now understands. She has to pull down the trousers and panties of Noor, as she can’t reach up under her own gown. As Noor is releived and Asma has put back her clothes, she takes her scarves off. Asma has deliberately stayed in the room to see her sister. She is amazed by the beatiful face and hairdo that she and her sister are the only ones at the party to see. Seeing the gag chord, she points to the bundle of scarves she has brought. Noor unfolds the bundle to find a long thick rubber pear gag with an oval metal plate attached to one end. Noor takes her tongue gag out and puts the new one inside her mouth, where it holds her tongue down and fills her mouth, but without bulging the cheeks. The curved metal plate completely covers her lips and the inward force of the gag make it stick to the lips, completely muting her. She takes the mouth and nose scarf. It is made of thick elastic fabric, which sucks itself to her skin as it is put on. Although it is completely opaque the contour of the tip of her nose and the oval plate of the gag is seen and it is following the curve of her chin until it reach the neck. Its elastic force adds to ensure the gag stays in, and her breathing is further restricted as the mouth is completely shut and the thick cloth limits the air flow through the nose. The forehead scarf is made of thick soft cotton. She place it so low it interfers with her direct line of sight and leave a slit to the nose scarf a little wider than the diameter of the pupils, as the local dress code says. Finally the back of the head and the neck is covered by a similar larger scarf on top of the others. Noor is ready for the party.
Before leaving the toilet Asma shows on herself how she by putting a finger in the eye slit down along one side of the nose is able to pull the upper edge of the elastic scarf down on her chin. Thus it is possible to uncover the mouth for short periods for eating, drinking or speaking without taking the scarves off. Leaving the toilet Asma is met by newly arrived guests which embrace her. Asma goes to Shazia and then they enter the toilet together, as Asma now knows, she needs helping hands as well.
Back in the living room Asma overlook the situation. In the far end of the room next to the kitchen door, two women hired to help with the food and drink are placing the last dishes on a buffet table standing against the wall. She can only see the lower half of the women, as the upper part is hidden behind a curtain hanging down from the ceiling in front of the table. This allows one woman at a time to eat and drink unveiled, while everybody is able to see, when the table is occupied. At the other end of the room in the corner opposite the entrance the four musicians are sitting on cushions, two of them with their backs to the wall. Everywhere in between women are sitting on cushions looking around at each other. A few share a large cushion and lean towards each other. Other makes a few gestures to the one sitting next to them. They are all dressed as Asma in white head coverings whith uncovered eyes in a minimal slit, and brightly coloured shalwar kameez of much finer quality than used for casual wear. But Asma has without doubt the finest dress of the local women so far, but is clearly outshined by the extraordinary gowns of her sisters. Asma has invited twenty women from town and she counts nineteen. The wife of the mayor is of course deliberately late to attract everybodys attention when arriving. Asma takes an unused cushion and seats herself with her back close to the buffet curtain halfway between the two walls. She gestures her sisters to sit down on each side of her, which they do. A minute later the door to the men’s section opens and a blue burqa of very high quality takes a few catious steps into the room. The mayor’s wife has arrived. The women sitting closest to the door rise and guide her to the rest room. Asma rise and goes to the door to the rest room waiting for her most distinguished guest to remove her burqa and blinding veil. Asma is standing a few steps inside the living room, so everybody can see when she welcomes her. What appears is a golden silk salwar kameez with golden embroidery, white silk gloves and a head covered in white silk scarves with subtle gold embroidery as well. The elastic nose and mouth covering is the same as everybody else wears. But to emphasize her position as the top ranking woman of the town, who can allow herself to go further than the normal dress code, the mayor’s wife wears a semi-transparent black scarf over her eyes. Not showing even a tiny bit of herself the eye slit is transformed to a decorating black line on a white head. As she steps towards Asma, she turns her head from left to right with small nods in all directions, before embracing Asma and putting both her cheeks against Asma’s cheeks.
Asma takes a large unused cushion and place it front of her own at the last unoccupied spot in the room. They both sit down. Then the wife of the mayor sees Noor and Shazia, now clearly in her view, which is somewhat blurred by the eye veil. She has not been seated for ten seconds before she decides that these women must be so important, she has to greet them individually as well. She leans forward and go down on her knees practically crawling to be able to greet cheek to cheek with first Noor and then Shazia, before moving backwards to her cushion again. Everybody sit just looking at the four natural attractions of the party – the three sisters and the mayor’s wife. The latter looks as intensively as her veil allows on the golden gowns with their abundance of cloth and their small waists. Then Asma rises and bows stretching her right arm towards the mayor’s wife, who takes the hand and rises. Asma guides her behind the buffet curtain, waves her hand over the table in an inviting gesture and goes back to her cushion. The musicians play suitable dinner music in the middle of the afternoon. The party has begun.
After less than ten minutes the mayor’s wife comes out from behind the curtain and sits down again. Staying seated Asma gestures towards a woman behind the mayor’s wife to go to the buffet, and gestures to the ones next to her to follow when possible. After a few minutes where nobody acts Asma rises and starts moving among her guests holding hands, putting cheek against cheek and nodding, as the guests points to the musicians, the buffet and her sisters, to express their appreciation of the arrangement. Meanwhile the mayor’s wife turns around to follow what Asma is doing and looks at the other guests. Noor looks at the scene as well, noting a line is slowly forming for the buffet, maybe because someone needs to stretch their legs, or maybe they are hungry. But it will take hours before the last woman has had her first visit at the buffet. Noor is glad they got sandwiches and lemonade early in the afternoon on the train. The etiquette says they are the last ones to eat.
Looking at the guests still seated Noor observes one here and there just sitting and moving to the rhythm of the music, which is slow and quiet, but could be used for dancing. Then two women in the line starts moving their torso and hips a little following the music. The musicians have observed the impact of their music as well, and gradually change their playing in an even more danceable direction, as well as increasing the volume so slow, it is only their trained ears that notice the change. Asma is back on her cushion happy about the good mood the musicians are creating. The woman first in the line moving to the music has slowly turned around with her movements. As she sees the woman behind her is slowly dancing as well, she stretch out her arms and they continue moving arm in arm. The musicians increase the rhythm just a little. A women still sitting gestures towards the dancers to the women facing her. They rise and start turning close together directly where they stand. The rhythm and volume increase a fraction again. The women dancing in the line break out and move towards the center of the room, where they use their feet to push empty cushions out against the wall. Then the musicians decide dancing has been approved and stops playing, only to start again seconds later in an even faster rhythm, and increasing the volume for all to hear. Within one minute the only ones sitting are the three sisters and the mayor’s wife. All other cushions are up against the walls and some of the women are now moving as much as the limited space allows.
A woman is appearing from behind the buffet curtain. The front of the line, which is now formed by dancing pairs, leaves a woman alone as her partner go to the buffet. The woman keeps moving and then make a decisive movement, as she leave the line and with dancing steps moves in front of Asma and stretch her arms down towards her. Asma accepts, and they dance around the mayor’s wife towards the center of the room. Then the mayor’s wife decides to regain her leading position by rising and stretching her arms towards Noor. Noor loves dancing and imediately gets up and takes the arms of the mayor’s wife. Seeing this the woman, who left the buffet a minute ago, bows in front of Shazia. Everybody is dancing. And as they are an odd number the woman leaving the buffet can get a dance partner from a pair with a hungry or thirsty woman. After a quarter the two women in the kitchen has joined the dance, making the available space a little smaller and adding to the rapidly increasing heat.
Noor is soon aware that a corset combined with a closed mouth and a nose covered by thick cloth is not suited for up tempo oriental dance rhythms. But her dress doesn’t allow her to move like a belly dancer anyway. She keeps moving slowly with her partner, even if the music calls for otherwise. Some of the first women to dance have lost the pace as well and from time to time takes a hand of their partner to put a finger under their elastic nose scarf to get more air. The band signals the end of a tune by increasing rhythm and volume in an accelerating finish lasting a minute. Noor sees a pair next to her seperating to spin around themselves, while moving hips, arms and legs to follow the acceleration. The music stops. The women continues for a few seconds. Then they realize the music has stopped and stops dancing, trying to take a deep breath to refill their lungs. They both drop to the floor. The music which had just started a new tune at a slower pace stops. Two women bows down and puts a finger under the elastic scarf of each fainted woman. Asma goes to the kitchen rapidly returning with some plastic straws. She breaks one in two and kneels beside one woman putting the two straw halves from the eye slit down along both sides of the nose to make a cloth free paths for the air. After twenty seconds the woman moves, she lifts her head looking at the other woman, who now is conscious as well. They slowly rise and go down in the corner behind the entrance door and sit down.
The music starts again at a lower pace with everybody else slowly turning. Noor which has recovered a little because of the break, feels her clothes is soaked in sweat. Her hair is wet and sweat is running down the back of her neck and along her spine. The heat keeps increasing and there are no windows and no doors to open. The small kitchen and the small rest room are the only volumes to receive the heat. There is a much faster exchange of women at the buffet. They enter to pull their veil down for a minute and get something to drink rather than to eat. The toilet is frequented for the same reason – free air intake and cool water in the face instead of sweat. After ten minutes rest the two fainted are back dancing. The band increase the rhythm again. Most have changed their partners. Of course everybody wants to dance with one of the sisters, or at least the mayor’s wife.
Shazia is dancing with Asma, while Noor is nearly standing still with one of the fainted woman. Noor sees that Shazia and Asma enjoy dancing with each other. Asma is having a succesful birthday party and her younger sister Shazia has made a large contribution to the succes. They are totally caught by the music, which is getting faster again. For everytime the fast dancing couple is turned so Shazia faces Noor, Noor sees how the abdomen of Shazia is fighting harder behind the corset to get enough air to continue. Shazia and Asma look into each others eyes, while trying to follow the music. Then they dance cheek to cheek. Shazia slides down until she is caught in the arms of Asma. She has fainted. Somebody hands Asma a straw, which she puts under Shazia’s elastic scarf. Asma drags Shazia towards the buffet. In a short while a woman comes out and Asma drags Shazia under the curtain and pulls her veil down. Then she pulls her own veil down. She takes a glass of water and pours it over the face of Shazia. Shazia moves her head, rises slowly and drinks a glass of water. Outside the curtain the dancing continues. Another woman faints, she gets a straw and is moved to a cushion, but apart from that fainting is now more or less considered an inevitable drawback of having fun. The heat is still rising. Noor is dancing with a woman, seemingly refreshed by a break at the toilet. The woman moves, spins and steps with fast paces dancing with hips and arms moving in front of Noor, as if Noor was a man she is trying to excite, and she is Salome, who only wears the seventh veil. As the tune seems to near its climax, she takes the hand of Noor and pull in an attempt to get her up at her own pace. Noor is mesmerized. She turns around herself, lift her arms and tries moving her hips like a belly dancer. Then she turns the other way around and moves directly towards her partner. The partner is surprised, as she suddenly has to carry the full weight of Noor. They fall to the floor, the partner on her back, where she is burried under a pile of golden cloth and Noor. Minutes later Noor is a little perplexed finding herself seated up against the wall, but then she remebers, she was punished for forgetting her reduced breating abilities. The music keep playing, but the tempo is a little more relaxed. Suddenly an out of tune noise comes from one of the instruments. A musician has tilted down on the floor from her cushion. While someone goes and puts a straw under her veil, the other three continues. But then Asma goes to them and signals for a break. She points to the buffet and the toilet, where they head immediately, including the fainted, who has got her senses back. Although everybody loves the dancing, it is nice with a little break. They are all wet all over wearing clothes soaked in sweat, and the cooling because the dancing has paused is minimal, because there is still no way for the hot air to get out. And now the kitchen and the rest room has been heated as well. But of course nobody rolls a sleave up, takes a glove off or increases their eye slit. A proper woman is capable of torturing herself to be able to combine amusement and honour.
After fifteen minutes the music is playing again. Asma standing in front of the musicians signals for everyone to see by moving a finger on her left wrist, that she wants them to play for another half an hour. Several women bow or reach out for Asma as she goes towards her cushion. They have been sitting much like before the dancing during the break. Asma declines all offers. But just as she is about to sit down, the mayor’s wife rises directly facing her. She reach out for her arm and now Asma accepts. But instead of dancing the mayor’s wife raises her hands above her head and clap. It hardly makes a sound because of her gloves, but the musicians catch the signal and stop. The mayor’s wife bows deep for Asma. Then she points to the kitchen and the buffet and claps her hands. Next she bows in the direction of first Noor and then Shazia. Then she turns her back to the three sisters bowing in the direction of the musicians, while clapping. She lifts her hands over her head clapping, mixed with gestures to the other women to join her. Soon everybody is clapping looking at the musicians. After half a minute of applause they rise rise and bow several times in all directions. The mayor’s wife takes her hands down and signal the musicians to start playing again. Then she turns and embraces Asma tightly putting her head on Asma’s shoulder, while she slowly guides her towards the middle of the room with movements following the music.
Within a minute everybody is dancing again to a slow relaxing rhythm. Twenty minutes later Asma and the mayor’s wife are still dancing. The volume and the rhythm has gradually increased. Asma and the mayor’s wife are both good dancers, which subconciously sense where the other is heading. Still dancing for everybody is like bathing fully closed. And holding the partner is like taking clothes up from a washing tub. But they have found a way to relax and express themselves without words. Some are holding their best friend, other dream they are a Bollywood star, other again think of their children or a happy night with their husbands. The musicians are doing their best, because they are proud of the mood they have created this afternoon, and they know that this party means they are booked for years to come.
The pace gets a little higher. It is the last minutes. Asma and the mayor’s wife only have eyes for each other, as they have adapted to the increasing rhythm and are now dancing freely only occationally swinging around by holding hands. They have conquered one third of the floor at the end with the buffet as their own private stage. Four couples form a line between them and the others, just standing still watching and clapping. The tune is close to its peak. Asma and the mayor’s wife meet in the middle of the floor, they catch each other, and use the opposing force to spin around themselves before dancing away from each other towards the opposite wall. Here they dance for ten seconds before they without looking at the other simultanously turn 180 degrees. They catch each others eyes making small steps counting down for the next meeting in the middle. They go for a deep breath, but not much comes in. But their brains have already signalled their muscles and they step towards each other. But instead of an elegant catch they hit each other directly breast to breast, fortunately banging their heads against the others shoulder and not head to head. They fall close together towards the buffet curtain, which is torn partly down as they are entagled with it. Fortunately they are down before they reach the table and are now both lying heads towards the wall under the edge of the table.
The music has stopped and everybody rush to look. Straws are inserted under their scarves and cushions are placed under their heads. After a minute Asma is conscious again. She gets on her knees, and pushes at the cushion under the head of the mayor’s wife to get her head under the torn down curtain. When her head is covered she puts an arm under, and lift with with her fingers so the veil of the mayor’s wife is pulled away from her nose. She sits like that for a minute. Then the mayor’s wife starts moving. She realizes her situation and puts her own hands under the curtain to fit the veil again. Two women lift her under her arms and help her to the toilet. Someone has found a piece of string and the curtain is tied to the ceiling again. Noor gestures everybody else to move outside the curtain, and she and Asma can pull their veils down and take their gags out. Asma pours a glass of water on her own forehead. Then they both drink. Asma smiles happily. A wonderful party has come to a dramatic end. She gives Noor a fast kiss on her cheek before she puts her gag in again and pulls the veil up. Noor copies. The first few breaths through the damp cloth feels extra hard after the free air intake moments ago, but Asma must out and meet her guests for goodbye.
The first guests are waiting with their burqa and blinding veil over an arm. When entering the men’s section they might have to wait some time for a male family member to collect them, or they will be asked if a young boy should guide them home. Asma embraces everybody as they pass her. The mayor’s wife appears with her veil and burqa. She embraces Asma tightly and they stand head on shoulder for a minute. Then she puts the veil on top off her head and puts on her burqa. She is guided to the men’s section to be transported through the town her husband is in charge off and which she has never seen.
The last guest from the town is leaving. The musicians have packed and dressed and are on their way out. The kitchen women have already left. Asma closes the door behind them, turns towards Shazia and Noor and probably out of habit just pulls the elastic scarf to her chin. In the same movement her hand removes her gag and she says “I’m so happy you could come. It’s been a fantastic succes. And your dresses they knocked everyone down. And remember to thank your husbands for the music.” Shazia and Noor uncover their heads likewise. Noor says “Happy birthday, dear Asma. Now you hear it from my mouth as well.” Shazia says “I must say happy birthday in words as well. Now that we know it is possible to see each other within one day, we must persuade our husbands to do the trip more often. Even if it is nice, we don’t need a compartment of our own. I think we could manage a less than six hour transportation fully covered without eating and drinking. It is probably nothing compared to half an hour of dancing. And in third class it is so cheap your husband can afford it. But first tell us about how your dress was made, then we will tell you about ours.” Asma says “OK, but first I must say your faces look wonderful both of you. I think the other women would all have wished they looked like you, if they had seen you. But about my own dre.. “ There is a knocking on the door. Asma runs for her burqa, which she just drops over her head and body, before she opens the door, and is told a short message. The door is closed, and she says, while pulling the burqa off again “We have forgot the time. You must be ready to leave in fifteen minutes to catch the train.” They immediately starts dressing without changing the head covering.
They make it, and Shazia and Noor are once again sitting alone in a train compartment. It was nice getting the soaked headscarves off. The hair of both women look like they have been through a nightmare. They haven’t bothered to remove the safety pins and fold down the dress. And they are still gagged with Asma’s pear gag. They just lie back in the seats enjoying the cool evening air through the shutters. Noor is looking forward to five hours traveling in silence.
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