Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
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5. A Heavily Veiled Life
Munira is shaken and guided to the bathroom without a word. Removing her nightgown she sees all the used clothing of last night has been cleared away and fresh clothing is waiting her. She finds the key in the closet that enables to take her hood off. There is no clock in the bathroom and the light coming through the frosted glass window doesn’t really tell much, but being shaken in bed might indicate it’s late and she decides to be as quick as possible. Having no appointments and no house chores to do, she might spend much more time in the bathroom later on during the day. She doesn’t take the ball gag out and after a quick bath she looks at the clothing. On top is even a fresh leather hood and below are a set of Munira’s own lingerie, but the rest seems to be from Fatima’s wardrobe. Putting on the lingerie makes her wonder if Fatima has unpacked her belongings from the city or just looked in the bags? Everything is arranged in the order it is to be put on, which makes Munira realise that a ‘real’ Khita woman would of course first have masked and covered her head with the leather hood before putting on even underwear. Knowing the mask has to stay on for hours unless she escapes to the bathroom, waiting a couple of minutes until she can’t dress further without putting it on seems futile, but Munira waits anyhow. She puts on trousers, long stockings on top of the trousers, slippers, blouse without buttoning it at the top and finally full length gloves. Now only the leather hood, the transparent cloth and the abaya remain. It would be easier to put the leather hood on now, but Munira wants to know she has done her utmost to minimise her fear of being enclosed. She puts the abaya on loosely as well. Now the hood can’t be avoided. She pulls it on, pulls the zipper closed and locks it. The hood of the blouse is pulled up from inside the abaya and tied tightly around the face. Next the blouse is buttoned at the neck and then the transparent cloth is fixed on top of the head with a cloth pin. Finally the abaya is lifted up around the neck to have the cloth go inside it, and the abaya neck opening is closed. A mute anonymous Khita woman is ready for her own home.
Fatima waits outside the door. She quickly touches Munira on both cheeks to say good morning and then goes to wake Naser. In the living room the breakfast table has been laid, but on her way to the kitchen Fatima gestures to Munira there is only a quarter of an hour to morning prayer. After a few minutes looking around in the room, where there is nothing to look at, except it’s different looking with her narrow vision, Munira goes to the kitchen to watch Fatima working. The kitchen is large enough to stop Munira interfering with Fatima, but on the other hand, during small breaks, Fatima doesn’t try to communicate with Munira, she just acts as if she was alone. Entering the living room some minutes before the prayer call she finds Naser is waiting and has even placed the prayer mats on the floor. Standing as if he has already started praying there’s no good morning greeting.
After praying Naser, with a gesture towards the table, says “Good morning. When we’re only the three of us we all eat together, but for you to speak still requires permission.”
Munira sits down to eat and experiences something new. The flap of the leather mask turns 180 degrees around its lower fixture to hang on her chin and doesn’t require holding while eating or drinking like the mask she was wearing since visiting the Ibrahims. Also she notices that Fatima has placed a small bowl of water beside her plate for her to place the gag in during the meal. Was there no bowl or did Fatima perhaps leave her ball in the kitchen during the dinner last night?
Something like five minutes into the meal Naser says “I’ll leave for work soon after breakfast and return around five most days except Thursday and Friday. As Fatima does the cooking, she makes a shopping list. If you, Munira, want me to buy something put it on her list. You’re not allowed to leave the house without the company of a close male relative. That is me.”
Neither Munira nor Fatima gesture for permission to speak and nothing more is said until a quarter of an hour later at the door to the male reception room where both women wait for Naser to leave. He says “Have a nice day. I’m looking forward to be with you both again.”
The door closed behind Naser, Fatima gestures they will speak having coffee in an hour. Munira goes with Fatima to watch her clear the table and then the kitchen. Later Fatima starts vacuum cleaning, Munira watching her some time. Cleaning the high window sill of the living room makes Munira look out to see there is actually a small garden with flowers within the walls surrounding the house. After a little searching she finds the door out in the corridor and walks out. It’s quite hot outside even this early in the day, but standing up against a wall she is in shadow and can enjoy the flowers able to grow in this climate. The flowers are few and small, but coming from the bare rooms in stone and wood with women in black and men in white, it’s nice seeing a little colour. A few minutes later Fatima is at her side. She is dressed in butterfly hooded abaya, thick gloves and niqab with the eye cover down and carrying the same items for Munira to put on. The garden has high walls on all sides and can only be accessed through the door in the women’s section of their house, but it’s not inside their home. Munira finds she is not even allowed to walk the little more than five meters to get inside the door where her dress is sufficient. Fatima is blocking her way by holding the abaya for her to step into, and after she has placed her feet into it Fatima immediately lifts it up, puts the hood up and ties the niqab. The outer eye layer is flipped back and the thick gloves dropped through the neck opening for Munira to put on.
Following this turmoil Fatima changes completely, looking at the flowers and pointing out those which she finds are the most beautiful. With another black layer and another eye covering layer the garden doesn’t have the same appeal to Munira anymore. The little shadow isn’t enough to stop her from feeling hot and sweaty and the colours of the flowers have faded when looked at through this extra layer. But apparently Fatima finds it nice out here and they remain in the garden for another ten minutes.
Inside and out of the extra abaya and niqab again Fatima makes coffee. Munira watches and as the coffee is ready Fatima takes her ball gag out and places it in the sink, gesturing for Munira to do likewise, even though she could now speak. First, having poured the cups at the coffee table Fatima says “I’m glad you like my garden. We can develop it together. Perhaps you know some other flowers that will grow in this climate? But you learned about the boundaries for dressing as we do now as well. It’s not permissible to enter the male reception room even if nobody else is in the house without covering as for work outside the home. But when seeing a new flower has started to bloom I must admit I hold up my niqab eye cover for some seconds to better appreciate its colour and form.”
Munira says “We’ve been alone for more than an hour and taking the gag in and out is quite simple. Why didn’t you speak until seated here?”
Fatima replies by saying “Firstly Munira, please whisper. Most Khita families with more than one wife only allow one of them to speak at a time to minimise heated discussions and quarrelling. Last night Naser said only I am allowed to speak until you’re accustomed to the rules of living in Khita. Because Naser hasn’t been in Khita very long either, I’m not sure if he meant you are not allowed to speak in the presence of female guests or in general, the latter being the norm here. But on the other hand, if only one wife is allowed to speak all day then usually the permission is handed over to another wife in a day or a week. Not being permitted to speak for months is quite severe. But considering you have much to ask and we have to wait until tonight for a clear answer from Naser, I think it’s an acceptable compromise that you whisper when I permit you to speak. Speaking is a way of showing your soul and thoughts to others and should only be done when sitting relaxed with time to think about what you’re saying and to only say what is really necessary, only to let your voice be heard as little as possible.”
Munira moves around the table to sit next to Fatima to be able to whisper close to her ear “But do I have to speak at all? Can’t I just write my questions to you?”
Fatima tells her “No. Writing to replace speech is not allowed. Most importantly because the writing could easily be left where men may read it and handwriting is just as personal as your looks or voice. Even throwing it in the garbage could be dangerous. It could fall out while handling the garbage or be read by those collecting it. Secondly, in many situations we’re too heavily veiled for reading clearly, which can lead to misunderstandings and false suspicions. Women not allowed to speak are left with gesturing and answering a series of yes/no questions from those allowed speech.”
Munira whispers “What do we do when not doing any household chores?”
“Read,” Fatima answers, adding “If the print is not too small it is easy, but perhaps a little tiring due to the blurring of our veiling. There are religious books and ‘Khita News’, the local paper. It doesn’t contain many pictures and most are portraits of important men or showing business or political deals. But on some days it has sports pictures showing male soccer players with partly uncovered limbs. That’s the most daring and colourful, although the pictures are printed in black and white. Then of course it’s allowed to pray more than the mandatory five times a day. But one of the most important is talking. Those having boys or other relatives old enough to accompany them spend much of their time visiting, and when it gets more widely known a woman from the city has moved to live here we will have all of the neighbourhood visiting, perhaps the first this afternoon. With you not being allowed to speak may cool their enthusiasm and make it less fun for you, but everybody is used to that. It may take many visits after a question is posed until the one asked is allowed to answer. If it’s only me speaking for months, I think I have to get the answers from you by asking lots of yes/no questions when we’re alone and then I can give the answers with you nodding to confirm I tell the truth. But keeping the house doesn’t leave that much time. Of course that would change if we are to share the work at a later time. That reminds me, I’d better get back to work. Until the noon prayers I will be cleaning in the male reception room. Now Naser is able to concentrate fully on living here he might bring guests home. Remember, if you want to watch me working you have to dress like in the garden. Should I let the coffee stay?”
Munira nods. She fills her cup. A few minutes later Fatima, looking like Dr. Niqab, walks to the kitchen and a minute later out again. Munira doesn’t want to spend time dressing like a Dr. Niqab just to see the male reception room and watch Fatima working. She spends some time at the bookshelf, which she finds contains only religious subjects. Munira realises that these books may contain many of the answers to her questions about the Khita lifestyle and decides she will read them – some other time. The mask and hood annoys her. Although not gagged it will be nice to go to the bathroom and get some fresh air to her head and wash her face. It will take some time before she can handle being masked an entire day it seems.
She goes to the kitchen and gags herself before going to the bathroom. Removing the transparent cloth and looking in the mirror she changes from a normally looking, face veiled Muslim woman to a robot, which is the impression her human featured but yet alien mask gives her. A robot dressed in an abaya could be a sales hit in Muslim countries. But perhaps not, because why buy a robot when you have wives? Will she ever be the perfect robot like Fatima or just a ready to scrap sample just able to manage what is required in bed? Taking the hood off makes her gloomy thoughts go away. She sees a pretty woman in the mirror. And after washing the sweat off and drying herself and the hood with the hair dryer she looks even better. But isn’t Fatima more beautiful? And does the difference matter as they apparently never will be uncovered for Naser at the same time? Munira realises seeing Fatima has made her a little jealous after all. Perhaps that’s why they are only allowed to see each other at such long intervals. But no matter how much Fatima works and pleases Naser, she can always win by giving birth to a boy. It would be nice having a child, but is she ready for that? She decides to think about it every day, but as long as she has precedence in bed every night, she’s in no hurry. There’s no reason to fear Fatima. In fact she has handled her very generously and done everything possible to make her feel welcome. Munira has to show her she appreciates it. And she knows what Fatima will like – to borrow her lingerie, but only the black of course. Munira will have to go and see how much black lace lingerie she has, which reminds her she never found out if her clothes had been unpacked.
Now Munira has a task to do and quickly masks and veils herself again. She is not sure where her belongings from the city have been put, so checks the bedroom first. It’s in perfect order. Munira opens the closets. They are in perfect order as well. Fatima has only black clothing and the underwear isn’t very exciting. If she hasn’t got anything for Fatima to use she knows where to buy it in the city and maybe she can ask Naser to order something. She opens the last closet and finds it filled with her own clothing. Fatima must have been up early and unpacked. Everything is ordered neatly like in the other closets and Munira immediately spots all her newly acquired black garments. All the colourful items she used to wear are stowed away as near the back as possible. Munira finds she has three black lingerie sets in addition to the one she is wearing. She wears the same size as Fatima and picks what she thinks is the sexiest set and places it on top of the underwear in Fatima’s closet. Now she has started being friendly towards her, what can she do next? She goes back to the living room and sees it’s ten to noon. She finds two prayer rugs and places them as in the morning. When the clock strikes noon she expects the prayer call to start any minute, but Fatima hasn’t showed up. If someone had arrived Fatima would have been back in the woman’s section.
Munira decides to go to the door to the male section and knock. When Fatima opens it Munira points to her left wrist and then bows like for prayer. Fatima nods and they hurry to the living room. Munira gets a thank you nod when Fatima sees the prayer rugs, and two minutes later the prayer call sounds. After praying Fatima gestures she would like to clean for a quarter of an hour more to avoid removing and putting on the extra clothing. Munira nods but takes her to the kitchen. What is available for lunch? Fatima shows her everything but especially points to a couple of dishes and leaves.
A quarter of an hour later Munira is waiting for her in the living room doorway having laid a lunch table a little better than for an ordinary lunch without guests. She sees Fatima coming from the male section and going to the bedroom. A minute later she comes dressed like Munira and she is guided directly to the table. They sit next to each other in case Munira has to whisper something, but seeing a nice lunch is ready Fatima starts giving Munira a big hug.
They both eat in silence for some minutes before Munira points to Fatima and moves a hand across her own forehead. Fatima says “No unnecessary speaking is good Khita manners, but you’re right I’m hot and was hungry and tired. Now I’m only hot because you having made this delicious meal have satisfied my hunger and given me new strength. But there’s no time for changing clothes or even a welcome bath. It is very likely we will have visitors within half an hour.”
Munira points to the seats around the coffee table causing Fatima to say “Yes, they will be seated there for coffee and we have biscuits as well for those allowed to speak. I expect from three to seven women, so there are enough seats if that was what you asked.”
Munira nods, but then leans to Fatima’s ear whispering “Who?”
Fatima says “Some or all of the women living in the small apartment building along with my distant relative, my guardian while I was widow. You know I stayed there while Naser was in the city fetching you, and they know you live here now.”
Because of the possible guests the meal is quickly ended. Fatima tells Munira “It was wonderful Munira, but now I’m completely filled. It’s a shame making such a nice lunch table with so little time to enjoy it, but you couldn’t know we haven’t got all afternoon, and if we had more time I would certainly have been eating more slowly to be able to enjoy a wider selection. If you have finished as well I would like to clear the table and the kitchen right now.”
Munira nods, gags herself and gets up, taking all she can carry from the table and heads Fatima to the kitchen. They both go back to the table one more time to clear it and then Fatima puts on an apron and some rubber gloves to start washing the dishes. Munira takes an apron and a pair of gloves as well. Fatima takes a glove off to ungag and asks “You want to help with the washing up?”
Munira nods and Fatima continues “But you are aware that while we have guests I won’t enter the kitchen and you will be serving both the guests and me?”
Munira nods again, so Fatima says “I remember from my parent’s home that working was always better when not doing it alone. I’ll wash, you dry.”
In five minutes the kitchen is cleared and water for coffee is heating. Fatima helps Munira find everything for the guests comfort and after the guests arrive Munira only has to carry the coffee pot and plates with the biscuits from the kitchen table to the coffee table. Fatima takes Munira to the door to the men’s section and removes her gag, telling her “When the doorbell sounds go and press this button, which through buzzing signals the male outside that he is allowed to walk through the yard to this door. Then when he knocks you open hiding behind the door to close it after the women have entered. Then you flip back the outer layer of each woman’s niqab to let her see she is in a women’s only area and may take off her khimar.”
They both go to the coffee table, just relaxing while waiting. About a quarter of an hour later the doorbell sounds. Munira goes to the door and presses the button. In less than a minute there is a knocking on the door, she opens and four women walk blindly in. The door closed she flips their outer niqab layers back and shows them to the bedroom to put their khimars on the bed. Shortly after four imitations of Dr. Niqab greet her by touching cheek to cheek and then walk to the coffee table where Fatima is waiting to greet them likewise. Then while gesturing them to sit down Fatima says “I’m Fatima, second wife of Mr. Hamid and this is his first wife Munira. Who do we have the honour of hosting?”
The woman who is sitting next to Fatima in the sofa says “I’m Fawzia Naoum, neighbour of your relative Mr. Tawfik, and two of his co-wives.”
Then from the end of the table a voice says “I’m Suad Aziz living next door to the Naoums. I think we’d all like to congratulate Munira on her move to Khita. Now her soul isn’t corrupted by city life and many other dangers are far less as well.”
Fatima says “Yes we’re lucky living here. But we were just about to have coffee. Can we offer you something as well?”
Four heads nod and Munira goes to the kitchen and returns with a tray and then leaves again to fetch the hot pot. After praising the biscuits Fawzia tells Fatima that not only will Munira benefit from staying here, but they will be able to learn about recent developments in the city as well. Most of their clothing is worn by women in the city as well, although all too few and not as much at the same time, and some of it is made there or in foreign countries. Perhaps Munira knows about the latest trends within strict modest clothing. Fortunately for some time, the correct black attire of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries has been gaining in popularity all over the world.
But when they learn that it may take some time before Munira is allowed to speak the conversation, after a few more comments, turn to local subjects only. Are there women behind the deputy mayor having to resign? In any case his wives were rumoured to be so boasting of their position that they at least deserved it, everybody agrees. Mr. Gamal on the opposite side of the street has taken his daughter out of school, probably to be married within six months, but to whom? The three women able to speak discuss extensively who is available and suitable for Miss Gamal. Although never having heard of any of the people they are discussing, Munira listens closely, knowing many meals or breaks can be passed with Fatima explaining to her about those people.
They stay at the table for almost ninety minutes, perhaps only getting up because it’s time for the afternoon prayers. After the prayers no more words are said. They all embrace each other in goodbyes, and then the guests go to the bedroom and cover, ready to return to the public world. However, for the next twenty minutes, the four blind black cones just sit almost unmoving on the edge of the bed waiting for their male escort. Not knowing it would take that long Munira has stayed with them. After waiting for a few minutes the black cones are just something she has to bring out of the door when the escort arrives. While waiting her mind goes through the coffee conversation trying to memorise all the names mentioned to be sure she learns about all of them from Fatima. The doorbell rings and a minute later she guides the four cones through the door to the male section without looking out the door herself.
Back in the living room the coffee table looks as if no one has been there, Fatima has cleared the table. She finds Fatima in the kitchen where she has started preparing dinner. As Fatima doesn’t talk unless seated Munira can only watch while Fatima slowly and meticulously cleans a variety of vegetables. Having spent some minutes watching Munira gestures to Fatima that she wants to help and is given a bundle of carrots to clean and slice. Apart from that there is no communication while dinner is prepared.
Naser is back a little after five as he said. Fatima seats herself next to him, but Naser reads until dinner. After eating for some minutes Naser says he thinks a business deal only went through today because he could, for the first time, honestly state that he was permanently settled in Khita. He asks how Munira has spent her day. She says that she has helped Fatima a little, to which Fatima nods repeatedly, and then they had visitors. Fatima tells him all about the visitors. Naser listens so he knows what his wives take an interest in until hearing they have discussed the deputy Mayor. At this news he wants to know exactly what has been said. Munira interrupts Fatima to repeat that part of the conversation as if a recording had been played, having spent all the time since the guests left to memorise their visit. Naser says thank you, but reminds her that she had started speaking without permission. There are still no punishments but Munira, having finished eating, puts her gag in, closes the mouth flap and doesn’t ask for permission to speak again through the evening. Munira has said her last words for the evening, and apart from Naser saying his prayers out loud and saying goodnight, the only voices heard come from the radio tuned into a local news and sport channel.
Just after the night prayer Fatima leaves to arrange fresh clothes for tomorrow. When she returns she gestures for Munira to follow her to the kitchen. To her surprise she immediately gets a tight hug. When they part Fatima explains by letting her fingers encircle her breasts and upper thighs. She has found the lingerie set Munira has lent her.
The next morning, while Munira watches Fatima preparing breakfast in the kitchen, she gets another hug. With a few gestures Fatima tells she had worn the lingerie set beneath her nightgown. It doesn’t seem like she is sorry that Naser hasn’t seen it, but Munira gets a little worried that if Naser had have gone further than petting with Fatima, if he had felt like pulling her nightgown up and seen the seducing fabric, would he have gone further.
Munira offers to clear the table after breakfast so that Fatima has more time to do the heavier chores like cleaning and washing.
When finished she wants company and goes to the radio, but finds the controls are behind a lid closed with a lock, meaning even the radio can only be listened to while Naser is present to turn it off if what is being broadcast isn’t appropriate for women. She turns to the bookshelf. She’ll leave reading the paper until Fatima has told her more about who is who here. So she picks one of the religious books at random and seats herself in the sofa. For quite some time she just browses the book without thinking about the contents, just taking in the totally different experience it is to read with the very limited field of view due to the small eye holes of her mask.
She is only a few pages from the beginning before Fatima is with her and it’s time for the noon prayers and then lunch. She asks Fatima if she should read the books in a particular sequence, but Fatima says that she has hardly read any of them. Her late husband had read everything, and when he had found something particularly good he read it aloud to her.
Their female neighbours from both sides are their guests in the afternoon, four from one side and three from the other. A son of their neighbour to the right had seen they had visitors yesterday, and so it had spread that Naser is back from the city bringing his first wife. Both families have children, but none have been brought. The family to the right has only boys, and with the other a fourth wife has stayed at home as she is the mother of a baby still being breast fed. Again learning that Munira won’t be allowed to speak for some time the subject becomes the other families of the neighbourhood, of whom Munira expects to meet quite a few in the days to come.
The evening is different in that some men from the neighbourhood had asked Naser to spend the evening with them in a coffee house. A good deal of that time Munira and Fatima have tea together so that Fatima can explain about the ‘inside talk’ during the afternoon’s conversation about the neighbourhood. Now she gets Fatima’s personal opinion about the various families, including their visitors, which due to politeness in some cases differ from what was said in the afternoon. They stop long before the subject is worked through because Naser has told them he wants to go directly to bed when he gets home, and Fatima says this means they have to be there at half past ten.
They are at least five minutes early. Munira isn’t sleepy at all, although lying down on a comfortable surface and in darkness due to the hood of the nightgown. With her knowledge of Naser she expects it takes about an hour before he is home. Now that she is rested she longs for sex. Only being covered by the one layer of the nightgown her body feels as if it is naked, having gotten used to the many layers of a Khita woman’s day attire. Perhaps her want of sex is also boosted by putting on one of her favourite lingerie sets. It’s red and thus perhaps forbidden and even more exciting. But sex is with Naser, to play with herself is too far from the real thing for her. Does Fatima do it now that she won’t get much sex from Naser? Munira can’t sense any movement beside her. With Fatima being so conscientious Munira is sure she won’t let herself fall asleep in case Naser needs her service when he gets home.
She moves over until touching her. Then her hand searches and finds the hand of Fatima. Although their hands are enclosed in the sleeves they squeeze each other. Munira rolls over to use her other hand to squeeze Fatima as she is then able to reach over Fatima’s body with her free hand. Through the nightgown she makes Fatima feel the quality of the fabric of the lingerie that she is wearing. Soon Fatima starts moving on the bed. She moves slowly, without hardly changing the pace as the minutes pass, but Munira doesn’t increase her strokes on the other hand. Of course no sound is produced either, but Fatima surely would be moaning in pleasure if she were not gagged. Munira makes her keep moving until they hear Naser. Then they move back to their sleeping positions and lie still while he is in the bathroom.
Munira has to admit to herself that it is not only Naser that can make her aroused. When he finally enters the bed it’s very enjoyable to Munira, and without doubt Naser as well, but if he notices her readiness it doesn’t show as her panties are pulled down without hesitation.
The next morning starts in the same way as the mornings before. At the mid-morning tea break Fatima, as Munira has offered to do half an hour of vacuuming each day, explains about how she has split the vacuum cleaning so that everywhere is done once a week. Then she elaborates on which of the neighbours she expects to come in the afternoon. For the first time it’s Munira who has to whisper that they had better get some work done when Fatima says “Your lingerie feels – and looks – so much better than my own. Thank you. I can’t imagine wearing anything else anymore. Would you please write down the details on my shopping list and where to order it for Naser to order some sets, or I will have to wash every day. I’m sure he is buying an even number of sets to make it look like both get the same, although I think we’re simply sharing all the clothes we both have. I know the margin to be in bed before Naser got home last night was at least half an hour too long, but the way you made it pass I have to say I wouldn’t mind going to bed even earlier.”
Munira whispers “You know that if there is a Khita tradition, or just a tradition in your family, that women go to bed early when their husband is out in the evening I can’t object and we can go when you say. Naser fulfils my needs, but perhaps you can touch me a little now and then as well not to make it too one sided.”
Fatima says “The time we went to bed yesterday was just a rough guess. Now that you remind me there is a custom, which is quite complicated so that few follow it, because it involves the position of the moon and the stars but practically means I can justify any time we have to be in bed, even just after Naser has left.”
Munira whispers “This is clearly a custom we must follow. Now I’ll start working.”
For months all weekdays pass like these first days. They never leave the house on weekdays and have visitors on most afternoons, where Fatima speaks and Munira serves, and Naser goes out two or three evenings a week.
Soon, among many other new things, Munira learns by experience about the lifestyle of girls in Khita. A group of visitors bring a member that bows with a jerk to make her outer niqab layer cover her face again just after Munira has flipped it back. One of the others guides her to stand outside the bedroom while the other visitors remove their khimars. Fatima tells Munira to get a simple chair from the kitchen where the fully covered and thus blind person is guided to sit. During the entire visit she sits almost unmoving, without commenting on the conversation by gesturing like the other women not allowed to speak normally do, and without being given anything to drink. At the first break after the visitors have left Munira asks Fatima to explain. She is told that she was an unmarried Khita teenage girl. Girls leave school less than a year after puberty and then start wearing exactly the same clothes as adult women, except the mask / hood is not made of leather but thick durable denim, and the gag is not a hard ball, but an inflatable rubber type with the girl not having control of the tool to deflate it and thus is unable to remove her own gag. Further the girls are dressed in a butterfly abaya and mittens when not doing household chores and, with very few exceptions, in full public clothing and thus blind whenever outside of their own home.
It doesn’t take long for Munira to accept dressing up like Dr. Niqab when required, one of the first occasions being when Fatima informs her that the half an hour of vacuum cleaning she has promised to do is to take place in the male reception room. She does the job and, as expected, gets hotter and sweatier than when normally doing this sort of work. Otherwise it only makes her think of Layla and her co-wives and wondering how they are doing.
As the days pass by she feels better and better living the Khita lifestyle. She has read a good part of the religious books which all clearly support this lifestyle, claiming it improves society in every way, increases the chance of entering Paradise and is the essence of the salafi – the ideal – society on Earth. But the arguments why are so complicated that it all ends up for Munira to be a matter of belief. Her relationship with Fatima has also developed very well, with them to be equal in most ways by Munira doing close to half the household chores of any kind, and with Munira being superior to Fatima in bed and Fatima being superior while they have visitors. But there is little variation in their life, just like that of other Khita women, compared to Munira’s previous city life. One day Munira decides to spice it up.
She normally wears either what Fatima had when Munira moved down here or what Naser has bought for them since, but while Fatima is clearing after lunch she finds a butterfly abaya, a long khimar and a niqab she brought from the city and dresses for going out in public except she leaves the outer niqab layer flipped back to be able to see. Then she walks through the male reception room and across the front yard and opens the door in the wall to take a step out into the street to press the doorbell.
As expected it takes some minutes before the buzzer sounds with Fatima expecting the door to be answered by Munira. But when no one enters and unable to directly find Munira, Fatima has to answer the door and receive the visitors herself. Munira walks inside again and when so close to the door to the female section she can walk through the doorway blindly she lifts her hand free of the khimar and flips down her outer veil, only to have it flipped back again after passing the doorway when Fatima receives her ‘visitor’. Munira is shown into the bedroom and helped out of her khimar and like any visitor is shown to the coffee table and gestured to sit down. Almost as always Fatima says “I’m Fatima, the second wife of Mr. Hamid. I think his first wife Munira is going to join us shortly. Who do we have the honour of hosting?”
Munira, instead of her usual whispering, says loudly, but of course with the normal muffled sound of the mask and niqab “I’m Munira Hamid, your co-wife. I have joined you already.”
Fatima almost jumps so that Munira can easily imagine the surprised look on her face that would show if she weren’t masked and veiled.
Fatima looks at her from head to toe and stammering slightly says “The slightly slanting nose string of the niqab … and the flat ribbons to tie the wrists. – It’s some of the clothing you brought from the city, isn’t it? It’s you Munira. – Naser hasn’t come home unexpectedly, has he?”
Munira says, her voice a little lower “No, I just thought we needed a little diversion from the daily jog-trot. Wasn’t it refreshing with me having disappeared into thin air and at the same time a mysterious visitor? You got really surprised when hearing my name didn’t you?”
Fatima says “Yes, I never experienced something like this before. A game from the city, I guess. But if Naser isn’t here there were no males to accompany you and you have been out in the street to press the doorbell.”
Munira says “Yes, but only for a few moments, and in full public covering as you saw, and I was turned towards the wall when I lifted my hand out of the khimar to press the bell.”
Fatima says in a way so that Munira even through the muffling of the mask can hear that she is deeply serious “But you were without a mahram male, Naser. And you must have had your outer niqab layer flipped back or you would have been unable to find the doorbell which means you were able to see strange men. It is very wrong. If anyone has seen you, our honour may be lost. Naser will be unable to do business here anymore. No one is going to visit us and all this means we will have to move away to where no one knows us. It’s very, very wrong Munira. I thought you had adapted to the Khita lifestyle and learned our values.”
Munira now leans to Fatima’s ear to whisper “You are right Fatima. I did wrong. It didn’t occur to me that just opening the door to press the bell was going out in public, but of course it is. What do I do now?”
Fatma says “We just hope that no one took notice of you. And then you tell Naser at dinner and accept the punishment he sees fit.”
Munira nods. At the same moment the doorbell sounds and they both immediately understand it’s the time for real visitors. Munira walks quickly out to press the buzzer, and while the visitors are guided through the yard and the male reception room she quickly enters the bedroom to strip her niqab and butterfly abaya off and throw them into a closet along with the khimar. The visit goes as usual.
At dinner, as usual Naser, starts by satisfying his immediate hunger before there is any talking. Munira doesn’t eat and Naser discovers she asks for permission to speak. She ends her account by saying that she didn’t see anyone in the street. Naser says he hopes she is right, because any loss of honour may be regained by getting rid of the cause instead of leaving Khita. That means divorcing her. Munira shivers and feels tears in her eyes. Naser says to really think deeply about this wrong-doing Munira is to immediately gag herself and stay gagged day and night for a week. It means no conversation during that period with either him or Fatima, and only liquidized food which is not to be eaten in his presence. She is only allowed to converse by gesturing while having visitors for them not to notice. Munira immediately gets up from the table and gags herself while nodding repeatedly.
Eight days later there has been no incidents reported. At the mid morning tea, after Munira has said her first words “Good morning” at breakfast and a little later “Have a nice day” to Naser, Fatima says “Your intentions were good Munira. I’ve been thinking about why you did it, and you’re right that the life of a Khita woman is very monotonous. We could do more to enjoy ourselves between the two of us besides tending to the garden and going to bed early on nights Naser is out. For a morning break like this or if no visitors show up in the afternoon, one of us could put on the butterfly abaya and niqab to play visitor. You could play a number of types from the city and I could play a character from the tales my grandmother told me as child. By the way, how does our street look?”
Munira puts her tea down in surprise and gasps under her mask to only after several seconds turn to directly face Fatima, making Fatima continue “I am born and raised in Khita. I’ve only seen the neighbourhood where I lived as a girl. After puberty the only outdoor places I’ve seen are the deserted sites we go to on weekends.”
Munira realises she hasn’t seen anymore of Khita herself, but says “It’s just a strip of asphalt. On both sides are stripes of gravel with a palm tree about every fifty meters where often a car is parked. The sides are just high walls with a door now and then. There is nothing much to see above the walls right here, which means the neighbourhood is mainly one storey houses, but in one direction you can see higher buildings. I assume this is the town centre. What did your childhood neighbourhood look like?”
Munira notices Fatima’s body movements show she is laughing when saying “You turned very slowly after opening the door to the street to reach the doorbell.” Then she tells about where she grew up.
Weekends are much different. But from weekend to weekend there isn’t much variation either.
On Thursdays they usually take a trip by car somewhere in the region. With Munira and Naser having no family in the region and Fatima only having a few distant relatives it’s only every eighth to tenth Thursday the trip goes to visit a branch of the family, the kind of visiting most families do almost every other Thursday having themselves family visitors in between. But no matter if the goal is to visit family or a place for sightseeing they always start at a time in the morning adjusted to let them reach a mosque at their destination in time for the noon prayer. During the ride to and from the destination Munira and Fatima are of course fully dressed in public clothing, blind and gagged. If they visit relatives their khimar is removed and their outer eye covering layer flipped back while with the women of the house, and Fatima removes her gag. If the destination is a park or other public venue they will only be able to hear and smell the site and drinking a cola while Naser eats lunch. Unless the site has a women’s only section where they can enjoy what is within its walls with an eye layer lifted and Fatima commenting their surroundings and the women, perhaps speaking to some. Of course Munira prefers the third option which is going to a scenic place to have picnic. These are always places spacious enough to let them find a site away from others where they can eat with their eye covering lifted, ungagged and both may be given permission to speak by Naser. The drawback of picnic in nature is that the time that they are able to see and eat has to be kept short compared to visiting, firstly to reduce the chance that others may show up and secondly because it often takes quite a long time to reach such a remote site. They have to be careful when having to walk blindly any distance from the car on small rough paths, totally dependent on Naser guiding them and with the risk of hurting a foot or stumbling.
Fridays are for praying and silent contemplation only. All day they dress in butterfly abaya, thick gloves and niqab, and while praying or just sitting all eye layers are down. One layer is lifted to move around, eat and drink and both lifted if reading a sacred text. No speaking is allowed at any time, not even while Naser attends prayers at the local mosque followed by a visit to a cafe. Munira and Fatima are like two Dr. Niqabs without the professional reason to speak.
6. Dr. Niqab Again
After close to six months in Khita the routine is unchanged with Munira still not allowed to speak when other women are present. This Tuesday afternoon’s visit starts ordinarily enough with four women entering, having their khimars removed and being seated at the coffee table. But then Fatima’s usual welcoming words are answered by the speaking visitor saying
“I’m Layla Ibrahim and with me are my co-wives Subira, Faiza and Hasina. It’s been a long time since the day of our first meeting Munira. You’ve got accustomed to the Khita lifestyle and, as I haven’t heard you’ve been ill, the vaccinations that let us get to know each other seem to have worked. In addition your husband has started building a real Khita family by marrying a well respected local woman. You Fatima. As we see our relationship with Munira as a friendship, with you now being her family, we would like you to be a friend of ours as well.”
Fatima answers “It’s an honour for me to be regarded as friend of the well esteemed Ibrahim family. I only come from a poor but pious family, but with a long line of Khita ancestors. Allah has decided I will not contribute to the line continuing. Have you been able to continue the Ibrahim family? But first I have to ask if you’ll have coffee and if you Layla would like to taste Munira’s homemade cake?”
They all nod and Munira heads for the kitchen while Layla adds “I guess you Fatima have tasted it and found it suitable for guests. I say this because I think of Munira as a typical city woman that is not too skilled in kitchen work. But with you as her teacher I’m sure she is nearly as good as a woman brought up in Khita now.”
Layla says some more praising phrases about Fatima but not to say anything significant before Munira has finished serving and is sitting with them again. Then she says
“Fatima. You seem to be well informed about our family. Just three weeks ago Hasina gave birth to a healthy boy so now our family line is continued.”
One of the three mute black niqabs rises a little so Munira and Fatima get up and give her a hug of congratulation. Turning towards Hasina, Fatima says
“You must have been better in making your prayers being heard than all of us sitting here. But if one in a family is fortunate, everybody, including friends, benefit, and boys are the best that can happen to any family.”
Layla says “The cake is delicious Munira. Any Khita woman would have be proud of it. But just to indicate how important it is to continue our friendship with you, it’s the first time Hasina has left her little sugar lump for more than a few minutes to be able to meet you.”
Meanwhile Munira has noticed that the Ibrahim women, like themselves, now drink and eat without holding their other hand at the chin. She asks by imitating with her hands the action of pulling a hood on, to which Layla says
“We have recently moved back here and found out the city had made us weak. We now wear leather hoods nearly twenty four hours a day, pray twice as much and follow stricter rules of living in other ways. Perhaps our lovely little boy is our first reward for finding the right path again. I think our two families now follow the same strict lifestyle and that is a reason why I think you Munira and your husband won’t decline my next proposal out of moral or social reasons. When Subira and I took an advanced education it was with the aim of coming back to Khita to make our qualifications available to the women here. Subira has just opened a small office to help women with legal matters and I am about to open a women’s only health clinic much like where I worked in the city, just smaller. As in the city I would like to have two nurses or assistants, but only Rafa and her husband have accepted moving here. Most Khita women won’t work outside the home and besides haven’t got enough school qualifications to do the work. Coming from the city I think you Munira don’t mind working outside the home and have enough education to work with and learn from Rafa, who is a qualified nurse. Your husband as well is brought up with women working and not opposed to this I assume. If you are interested would you ask your husband?”
Munira is excited. Never being able to leave the home on workdays because they have no young relatives to accompany them and despite having a good time with Fatima playing now and then it is monotonous. It would be wonderful to be able to go out if only for a few days a week. Munira nods enthusiastically, but then she points to her mouth and shakes her head.
Layla says “When asking among our large number of family and friends for information about you I was told only Fatima speaks in your family. It won’t stop you from working for me. This is going to be a Khita clinic, not a city clinic. The dress-code and what is allowed will be much stricter. You remember you stopped my nurses from chatting, at least with me or patients present, but in the new clinic only I will be speaking. Your husband will not have to worry that your housework will decrease drastically or Fatima has to do it all. In the beginning, unless an epidemic requiring lots of vaccinations breaks out, the clinic is only going to be open two days a week. It’s situated within the premises of a mosque making it acceptable for all women to stay there unattended, and your husband is going to receive a key to a small room where you can stay if he wishes to escort you outside clinic opening hours. Furthermore I’m going to check us all regularly to ensure we don’t acquire diseases from our patients that may spread to our families. If your husband has any questions he can contact our husband or the Imam at the East Mosque. But of course Munira won’t work for me unless you accept it as well Fatima?”
Fatima says “I don’t believe it is right for a woman to work outside the home, but on the other hand female doctors and other professionals are needed for women to be treated without having to be close to non-related males. I’m confident that you will do your utmost to make the clinic a place where women can work and be treated without violating the rules of our society. Also when I first met Munira I promised her she would always be free to do whatever she liked and our husband approved of. Now we share everything equally, but I wouldn’t mind doing a little more cleaning and on her work days do the cooking alone for the benefit of all the sick women and small children in Khita.”
Layla turns in the sofa to give Fatima a hug saying “Thank you Fatima. My co-wives share the same attitude, but there are more of us to share the extra work load.”
Layla changes the subject to talking about how much they enjoy being back in Khita, a subject that she and Fatima could discuss for hours. But just after the afternoon prayers Layla says their escort is on his way. They say their goodbyes but when the others walk to the bedroom Layla takes Munira back to the coffee table and says
“I really hope you will be allowed to work for me Munira. Please ask your husband tonight and make him contact my husband or make other inquiries as soon as possible, because I would like to open the clinic in about a week. Hope to see you soon.”
Layla gets up and gags herself on her way to the bedroom where she flips her outer eye layer down to be dressed by Munira. The four black cones are seated on the bed having to wait for nearly a quarter of an hour before the doorbell sounds, as it is customary women have to be on time and the men always late so they never have to wait.
At dinner Munira signals for permission to speak and asks Naser. For this extraordinary question to be enlightened fully, for the first time since the first evening in Khita, Naser allows both women to speak for the entire meal without further permission. The result of the discussion as Munira sees it is she will be allowed to work for Layla, but Naser doesn’t directly give his permission. She has to wait an hour until Naser has called the Imam. It is clear the crucial point is if Naser’s honour will suffer if he has a working wife. Naser sends the women to the kitchen while calling.
Ten minutes later he shouts “Wives!” Munira has been a little anxious but Naser is smiling as he says “For once it would be nice to see your faces, especially Munira’s, because now it will change to happiness and love. Yes, you have my permission to work. The …”
He is interrupted by Munira embracing him tightly and caressing his cheeks and entire face with her soft cloth face. What she is doing would be lovemaking if she wasn’t so heavily covered. Naser suddenly gets an urge to go early to bed to feel her passion with less between them. It takes several minutes before they separate. Fatima puts her arms around Munira to congratulate her and they end in a tight embrace as well. As they start to separate Naser says
“The Imam said it was very important that some women took the risks of going out to help women and children. Then he said I should visit his mosque for the Friday prayers as he considered himself a much better speaker than his colleague here. But what helped me make my decision was when he said two of his own wives would be working alternately for Dr. Ibrahim as her receptionist. Let’s have a quick cup of coffee before we go to bed.”
They spend only minutes drinking and then Fatima is sent to the bathroom while Munira clears the kitchen. On getting to bed Naser very unusually ask them to take their nightgowns off. Now able to see, despite her high level of excitement, Munira notices that Fatima’s body shows she is happy with the decision as well. The facial expressions of both women are still hidden beneath their leather masks, but Fatima’s mood is confirmed as Munira gets a glimpse of smiling lips anticipating a kiss when Naser opens the flap of Fatima’s mask. Naser turns to Munira and all her attention is turned towards lovemaking.
When, happy and exhausted, she wakes up in the morning she has no idea how she ended up in the nightgown blind as if it has been an ordinary night.
A week later Munira, dressed in public clothing, is guided out of the car at the clinic. Always being blinded while out in town she has no idea where it is situated, but now she knows it’s about a ten minutes drive from their home. Feeling the hot sun for a minute she is guided across the parking lot before walking for few steps in the shadow and very unexpectedly Naser says
“I’ll pick you up between four and half past four. Just walk straight forward until someone receives you. Have a nice day working.” Then his touch on her disappears and she starts walking.
After less than five meters someone touches her and her outer layer is flipped back. She sees someone clearly dressed for medical work. But it isn’t ordinary medical clothing. Everything except the face is covered in something cut like her butterfly shaped abaya, but sweeping the floor all around and made of thick linen in the light blue colour often used for medical scrubs. On top of that covering the face is a niqab of the same material but white. It has a relatively large rectangular eye opening showing the black surface of normal niqab eye covers and no extra layers itself. Munira receives a welcoming bow and returns it, and then the woman starts to walk with a gesture from a medical latex gloved hand indicating for her to follow. Munira sees she has entered through a side entrance to a waiting room with a counter at the right back corner and cushions along the walls. She is walking away from what looks like the main entrance towards a couple of doors on either side of the left back corner. It is quiet and they are the only ones in the room where something like fifteen people can sit. Coming closer the door straight in front of her she sees the word EXAMINATION written in large white letters easily readable with even her dark vision. But her guide takes the other door saying STAFF ONLY. They enter a short corridor and immediately turn to enter a meeting room with a small table with five simple chairs and a door leading to the examination room.
Two individuals in similar medical clothing, but differently coloured and with some clear covering in the niqab eye opening, get up and bow to Munira when she enters. The woman at the right side of the table, dressed entirely in surgical dark blue, starts speaking in a low, almost unintelligible, difficult to understand voice, muffled even more than when speaking through leather mask and niqab
“Welcome Munira. It’s Layla. Please remember this is a medical clinic. We do not shake hands, hug or embrace among ourselves, especially with you who are not gowned yet, to stay as sterile and uncontaminated as possible. On your right is Rafa and the one receiving you is our receptionist, or rather one of them as two of the wives of the Imam at the mosque, which we are a part of, are going to share the position. Today it is Zainab and next time Huda, right?”
The white niqab nods. Layla continues “But first you must go with Rafa to get dressed properly. Just remember I’m the only one speaking here.”
They cross the corridor to enter a sort of stockroom with closets, shelves and a large fridge. Rafa goes to a locker at the far wall labelled Munira and reaches to open Munira’s long khimar. Munira then lifts it off, folds it and places it in the locker. Rafa, seeing Munira is not carrying a handbag, closes the locker. The undressing is over, or should have been. Rafa takes hold of her mitten covered hand and holds her own gloved hand up next to it. The mittens prevent putting surgical gloves on top and are not suitable for the work anyway. Rafa opens the locker labelled Layla and holds up a pair of woollen gloves with fingers. Munira unties the wrists of her butterfly abaya and pulls her hands inside taking the gloves with her. She changes under the abaya dropping the mittens on the floor. Her hands out of the abaya arm openings again Rafa ties her wrists and she is now ready for the clinic clothing. First Rafa takes a pair of clear goggles with an elastic tie from a shelf. Immediately after handing Munira the goggles she flips back Munira’s inner niqab eye layer. Putting on the goggles Munira realises her vision is to be just like at home. With the peripheral vision removed by the leather mask and the direct vision a little dark and slightly blurred from the semi-transparent cloth the goggles are almost invisible. This sight is much better than when adding the inner niqab layer as when in normal female only company outside the home. Next Rafa points to a box of disposable shoe covers. Munira unpacks a set and unfolds them. They are made to reach the knees. Rafa then opens a closet and points to a shelf with large folded cloth items in the same colour of surgical green she is wearing herself. The medical overhead butterfly abaya is so large it fits loosely on top of her normal butterfly abaya. It just has an opening at the neck and a zipper down the front to make the opening wide enough to enter. The bottom is closed having only two openings for the feet with elastic at the ankles. Munira steps into the opening and starts pulling the large amounts of fabric up around her. It is quite easy and soon she can lift the hood on top of her head and put the hands through the elastic openings tightening around the wrists. Rafa gestures to just pull the front zipper up leaving her black niqab inside. The zipper closes up to the tip of her chin leaving a small oval face opening showing the black niqab with the goggles showing in the niqab eye slit and just black showing through the goggles. Rafa points to another shelf with matching green niqabs. They are much shorter than normal niqabs only just touching the chest, but on the other hand reaching behind the ears to cover the face opening of the medical abaya with a wide margin. Except for the rectangular eye opening showing black covered by a clear window and the black gloves Munira is completely covered in medical green. Finally Rafa hands her a pair of latex gloves from a box, and while Munira puts them on they walk back to the others.
When they return, the comment directed to Munira, Layla says “It’s normal to have a tea break soon and again in the afternoon, but here there is only going to be a lunch break immediately following noon prayers. You have probably realised that to drink we have to open the front of the medical abaya so much that the semi-transparent cloth can be folded up for a straw to get under it, and this compromises our protection. Besides, with fewer breaks we can handle more patients, and that is important when only holding the clinic two days a week. I have discussed what I expect to see with Rafa, and we have had some hours of practice here with Zainab and Huda to instruct them in what to do, but with it being much more complicated to get you here and you being used to the bustling city life I think you are capable of starting without any practice. It is evident that much more of the work as nurse or medical assistant here will be helping the patient to uncover the part of the body to be examined and then getting fully covered again. I also expect to see quite a number of children and here you can help, or if babies handle them, so that the mother hardly needs to uncover. Another part of the work is getting the items I need. Much of it is just reading the packages and you’ll soon learn the most used terms and where to find things. While I talk let’s go across the aisle to let you have an insight into our stock. By the way we plan to open at ten so we have more than half an hour.”
Inside the stockroom, while opening and closing closets, Layla continues “You have seen the clothing closet. With the latex gloves we can, as a minimum, wash our hands after each examination, but if there is an increased risk we can instead change the gloves or perhaps more of the clothing. The bin over there is not to go out as normal garbage, but is considered hazardous and is collected by the hospital to be disposed of with their own hazardous waste. In this closet is most of the medicine. The most used are also in a closet in the examination room and some, those which require it, are kept in the fridge. You have an impression of how it was in the city clinic but, at least for the first days, Rafa and I expect this to be much more chaotic and unfortunately with much worse cases. With the other clinics and the hospital only having male doctors many women wait until they reach the point where they are incapable of functioning normally or even reach an acute condition before getting a medical examination. Our all female clinic is going to get the patients that for some time have known there is something wrong but still don’t feel like seeing a male doctor. And some of them might have reached a point where they should have been in hospital. But you I assume, having watched television almost daily for many years will, I hope, not be too shocked at seeing blood, swollen limbs and other unpleasant sights. Zainab, would you please check out the reception area one last time while Rafa and I show Munira the examination room. Munira, I must tell you that you and Rafa are allowed to write if there is a professional necessity just like Zainab and Huda have to register the patients in our computer. But all notes must be saved so in case our conduct is questioned the Imam or others can decide if any of our writing has been off limits. I’ll start showing you the box.”
While they go back across the aisle to enter the examination room through the meeting room, scenes from scary movies, large accidents and even civil wars pass through Munira’s head, but she can’t imagine something like that in these neat, freshly refurbished surroundings.
Inside the examination room Layla immediately walks to a shelf behind her desk to tap a clear orange plastic box labelled ‘Notes’ as large as the front permits. Then she turns towards the shelves, but she doesn’t say anything as at this moment they all hear the sound of crying children, even though the door to the waiting room is closed. Instead she goes to open the door and sees that Zainab has left the door at the other end of the room ajar and the room outside, intended for women to wait for a male guide, seems to be filled. Layla walks towards Zainab and gestures Rafa and Munira to follow. She shows herself in the door, holds up a finger to signal one minute and then closes it. Then she says
“The opening of the clinic has been advanced to within a minute. I’ll have to text my husband to have him call the Imam to get Huda over here as soon as possible. There are already many more here than we can handle today I’m afraid, and more are going to show up in the hours to come. Remember Zainab, small children get priority unless you can spot women acutely suffering. I’ll select the first ten to be registered myself and take a look out here as often as possible. Don’t hesitate to break into an examination if someone out here looks bad. Now Zainab take the counter. Munira, please open the door and Rafa and I will stand at the examination room. Rafa, please let me know if you don’t agree with my selection of the first ten. I hereby declare Doctor Ibrahim’s women-only medical clinic open for business.”
The others clap and bow towards Layla. Munira presses the door handle down and starts pulling the door open to immediately be forced to the side along with the door as it is quickly pressed fully open by children from six to twelve pulling blind black shrouded female family members behind them into the waiting room. In what feels like seconds it seems like there are black cloth bundles all over the place, the guiding children now crouching at the adults feet aware of that visiting a doctor can be scary. Munira would have liked to be at Layla’s disposal in the examination room right away but she has to wait a couple of minutes until everyone has found a place to be, sitting or standing, and she can find herself a path across the room.
When able to enter the examination room about the first thing she is gestured to do is to open the door again to let the older sister carry the first patient of the clinic, a baby girl of around two, out, while she at the same time guides the fully covered mother. The first patient Munira watches being treated is a boy of about three years old. Layla examines him and finds out that he has an infection in his mouth for which she writes a prescription for antibiotics, telling the sister to bring him back if he is no better in a few days. All the children below six are treated in the same manner. There is an older child that handles the child and guides the mother. A few of the mothers, having no need to act, do not even lift their outer niqab layer and thus go through the entire stay at the clinic blind as if they were in public.
The adult patients are much worse, both regarding their health and to handle, as they are reluctant to speak or remove any clothing. Munira gently does the necessary uncovering, but sometimes both Layla and Rafa have to divert the patient with medical procedures to allow for an examination. One woman in particular worries Layla as she is having a problem with her breathing that makes her behave like an elderly although her file says thirty four. She is diagnosed as having pneumonia so Layla gives her a penicillin injection along with a prescription for antibiotics with orders telling her to have her husband take her to the hospital if she is no better in forty-eight hours time.
When they reach noon instead of taking a new patient into the examination room Layla, Rafa and Munira go into the waiting room for everybody to pray together, all standing, as there is no room or rugs for doing the set movements. Then the staff go to the meeting room for lunch which, due to the number of patients waiting to be seen, consists just a quick drink. Huda, having assisted Zainab since half an hour after the opening, gestures she is hot and sweaty. The others gesture they are too.
Layla says “It’s wrong to relax on the amount of clothing the working outside of the home rules decree and an additional layer of medical clothing is a must as well, but aren’t we all willing to put up with the heat and other nuisances in order to help women overcome any health problems?” The others all nod.
During the course of the afternoon, with new patients arriving all the time, Layla asks her staff if they would be willing to assist if she opened the clinic again on the following day. They all nod agreement, which they all know means on condition their husbands permit, so Layla has Munira post a note on the door telling those that do not get treated that day to return the next and to have the word spread of the extra opening day.
It’s about half an hour after the time they should have closed when Munira opens the examination room door for the last patient to leave. She immediately taps her left wrist for Layla to see. She is worried that Naser, having arrived some time ago has to wait for her, which is against Khita customs.
Layla says “The schedule includes fifteen minutes for delays and fifteen minutes for me to review some of today’s patients. Today we will go and change to public clothing straight away, then, considering that men always arrive late, I think we’ll just succeed in that it’s us waiting. If none of you has an urgent professional question for me to answer then my last words for today are going to be: See you again tomorrow!”
Both Rafa and Munira shake their heads for no questions and then nod for see you again. Layla opens the door to the meeting room which they walk directly through to enter the stockroom. Although Munira is now even hotter than at noon she lets Layla and Rafa get a little ahead with the changing to be sure she can just watch where to place the items they remove. The gloves and the shoe covers are disposable and go in the special waste bin and the medical abaya and the mask are placed in a laundry basket ready for washing. So as not to have to move the basket too far Munira guesses Zainab and Huda take care of the washing. Both of them enter just when Munira is out of the medical clothing to immediately address her. Zainab opens her own locker and takes out a plastic bag from which she takes a sheet of paper that she hands to Munira. She reads the letter which says:
Honourable Mr. Hamid.
My own wives live a more pious life than Khita women in general by behaving and dressing all week like most other women do only on Fridays, which is one reason I permitted them to work at the clinic. Looking into the subject and consulting some of my colleagues I have found that the ‘down side’ of women working outside of the home can, so to speak, be balanced simply by behaving and dressing as on a Friday for the same amount of time as spent working out of the home. But, to be on the safe side and thus ensure your wife is not considered a less respectable and less pious woman, both in the eyes of Allah and among his believers, I would recommend that she considers the full day when she is working, plus an additional full day, as a Friday. It is the experience that the most difficult thing about maintaining this lifestyle for more than one day a week is to refrain from talking. My dear wives have modified their masks to provide for this and are offering to lend your wife two of their masks until such time as she can modify her own masks. I write you about this because the essential modification is a lock to which you should always hold the keys.
Omar Hadi, Imam at the East Mosque
On seeing that Munira has finished reading, Zainab holds the bag open, and before putting the paper into it she looks to see that it contains two leather hoods and two ball gags. The lock mentioned in the letter is placed under the nose at the top of the flap covering the mouth to hold together two small metal rings, one attached to the flap and the other to the mask. With this alone the key would be required to enable both eating and drinking. The ball gags that are included have a longer than normal tube sticking about a centimetre out from the ball, and a matching hole has been added close to the bottom of the flaps, thus this combination allows for drinking with the flap covering the mouth locked. While she has been reading Zainab and Huda have removed their extra work clothes to show, like herself, as a ‘Dr. Niqab’ in black only. Seeing them makes her shudder a little as she recalls that the letter says they are dressed like this from morning to night, seven days a week, while Munira herself has until now only been dressed this strict for a full day on Friday. Their lower faces show only the opaque black fabric of their niqabs, implying their masks are completely hidden. Munira would have liked to see the modified mask in use right away, but for that she has to wait until home and able to see her reflection in the mirror. Not being able to see that they wear a different mask triggers another thought in her mind. She turns towards Layla and Rafa, who are now both fully dressed for going out in public, only still having their outer niqab layer flipped back so they can see, and first holds the sheet of paper towards them and then pointing from the bag to their mouths. They both nod twice, and Munira now knows that the straws used for drinking at the noon break were not only to avoid too much folding of the niqab. Then Layla or Rafa helps her with her khimar, and with her as the last to be ready to go home they all start walking out of the room.
They cross the waiting room to the side door where they all touch cheeks. Then one, probably Zainab or Huda, lifts her hands free of the khimar and pulls the outer niqab layer of the others down. A push makes Munira move forward to immediately bump into the person in front of her. Like this they take the necessary steps forward to enter the staff waiting room to which all their husbands have keys. They stand blind waiting, Munira sensing another body on both sides, for something like five minutes before she hears the door being opened and then an unknown male voice saying “It’s Badal,” and the one to her left moves away. When the door opens next time a couple of minutes later she recognises the voice of Naser almost before he has said his name and she takes a few steps to be met by his guiding hand.
In the car on the way home Munira reflects that although working at the clinic has been hard mentally and hot physically making her tired, it has indeed, as hoped for, been wonderful, both by being totally different from her home life with Fatima but also by her being a part in helping sick people. But, as it appeared until she got the bag now in her lap, it has not come for free with Fatima just taking over the housework that she would have been sharing if not at the clinic. She will have to wear the modified mask an additional day at home, which means on those days her conversation with Fatima is basically reduced to a monologue, she can’t have normal lunch and she has to bake for their visitors having to cope with the wonderful smell of fresh baking while missing the best part which is tasting the baking as soon as it won’t burn her mouth. It will also mean reduced vision due to an extra eye layer of the niqab, restricted movement due to the butterfly abaya and the thick gloves, and being even more hot and sweaty will be unpleasant as well, but there is plenty of time for the housework so she can just slow down so she doesn’t get too hot, allow for compensating the restrictions and take time to every so often lift the niqab to check her work visually.
On arriving home she immediately goes to the bathroom. She takes a very quick shower and then puts on one of the new hoods, now being accustomed that a Khita woman removes her hood last and puts it on first, including the ball gag if that is required. Changing is almost as normal, she doesn’t need to touch the new lock, but now the ball gag has to be fitted exactly right inside her mouth and the tube end has to be guided through the hole in the flap as she puts the mask to her face. For this it was helpful that she had chosen to mask herself in front of the mirror to immediately see how the modified mask looked when being worn. The sinister mask actually looks a little less intimidating with the small padlock in shiny metal as an ornament. The end of the ball gag tube is visible under the chin, but being black on black it doesn’t draw attention. Of course she can’t feel the lock, but she is used to being able to make the ball turn with her tongue somewhat inside her mouth to allow for a little movement across all the inner surfaces that makes the ball much more tolerable despite its volume and pressure. With the new ball being fixed by the tube through the hole, the gag is surely going to be more irritating over time, and in addition she can already feel it forcing her mouth open a little wider by being a bit larger. Fatima gets yet another plus in her mind as she has anticipated Munira’s need of a bath and has laid fresh clothes out ready for her to put on. As Fatima doesn’t know what the Imam has suggested, required in Munira’s mind, and as Munira has unknowingly spent the morning wrongly dressed by not wearing the butterfly abaya, thick gloves and niqab she doesn’t want to spent just one more minute wrongly dressed by going to the bedroom for fresh copies of these items, so instead puts on what she has been wearing since leaving for work.
Naser and Fatima are both at the coffee table and the expression on Naser’s face and the way Fatima moves show their surprise on seeing Munira enter in niqab, woolly mittens and butterfly abaya as if she was a guest in her own home. She hands Naser the letter and the keys, and after reading a few lines he stops to start reading aloud from the beginning. A few moments after putting the sheet of paper down he says
“I will of course personally thank the Imam on Friday for caring about your spiritual well-being and social reputation. You agree with me that it is right following his advice I can see. I would of course have asked you how it was at the clinic and working out of the house in general and I’m sure Fatima is curious to know as well, but now we have to wait another forty eight hours. But you can answer yes or no. Has the doctor and the nurse taken up the same rules?”
Munira nods and then Fatima takes hold of the rim of her niqab waiting for Naser who after some consideration says
“No. I’d like to see the modifications as well, but considering that your masks are almost never shown outside the bathroom during the day, I think it’s best to wait to take a quick peek when the mask has to be reached anyway to unlock and open the flap for dinner.”
Munira holds her hands in front of Naser and flashes her fingers and thumbs four times then shows eight fingers and while doing this shaking her head. He looks puzzled at her saying
“Forty eight – – is – – wrong?”
Munira nods. Naser says
“The Imam says you should refrain from speaking on workdays. You have been working today, and an additional day, I assumed that is tomorrow, which means we can get your account at dinner the day after tomorrow, that is in forty eight hours. Have I got that wrong?”
Munira meanwhile has moved to the door where she now takes a step through the doorway and a step back, repeating this several times to make Fatima gesture for permission to speak, which she gets immediately. She explains
“The rules of the Imam are not misunderstood, but what Munira is trying to express is that the additional day has to wait, and that is because the doorway of the clinic is constantly passed which means many more patients have turned up than they have been able to handle today, so she and Dr. Ibrahim ask for permission for Munira to work again tomorrow.”
Munira walks towards Naser constantly nodding while marvelling at how well Fatima knows her and is able to interpret her body language. Naser says
“Of course it has to be like that when opening a place that has been in demand for so long. Women and children have been suffering unnecessarily and now you have to work extra days until the past has been remedied. Of course you have my permission. For the next month you just have to put your index finger to your forearm to mimic an injection with a syringe to have my permission and let me know your work is needed the next day, or the same day if in the morning. I’m going to phone Abdullah in a minute to let him tell the doctor that she can count on you. Now go and get the dinner ready both of you so Fatima and I at least can see your new face.”
In the kitchen Fatima, due to Munira’s mittens and restricted arm movements, takes on all the more delicate tasks herself. When they are ready to eat Naser uncovers the lower part of her mask for about ten seconds just to say
“Nice, but it surprises me that the Imam has allowed a non-black item no matter its small and rarely shown.”
Then he opens the padlock and covers the mask again for the mouth as normal not to be seen when the flap is turned down. As usual during the meal Naser asks Fatima what has happened at home during the day. Having to do everything herself reminds her of the days when Munira still lived in the city. With Munira away the visiting neighbours instead of the usual gossip praised the clinic but nonetheless discussed the limits of women’s work out of the home. The women all found working for the clinic acceptable but some had pity for Munira, worrying that Paradise may be lost to her. But Fatima adds that now, following the Imam’s rules, there is nothing to worry about, to which Munira nods.
Clearing the table after dinner and making tea is as usual, which makes Munira assume that Fatima has already figured out that her extra covering is going to be used so frequently that special attention can’t be taken and Munira just has to adapt to the fact that her weeks will contain many Fridays.
Munira is tired and half dozes all through the evening. She stays with the modified hood when getting ready for bed, but she is asleep moments after lying down, never to discover if Naser unlocks her flap to taste her lips or doing more that night.
They have to work four days the first week to meet the need accumulated of not having a female only medical clinic. Counting the first day as well and one Friday it means Munira has been dressed like a ‘Dr. Niqab’ and not uttered a word for nine consecutive full days. On the tenth day she is happy to put on a normal hood and not to put on the butterfly abaya, the thick gloves and the niqab, and being able to remove the ball gag when permitted to do so. She has many questions for Fatima for their breaks during the day, but as in most cases the answers require more words than the questions it’s still Fatima doing most of the talking, even without counting the time with visitors where Munira is, as usual, gagged. Munira also discovers some small benefits of continuously wearing a butterfly abaya and niqab. She again has to change to go out into the garden and to clean in the male reception room.
During the following weeks she gets used to the new rhythm of her life. Each week having one Friday and two work days at the clinic means she is covered as a ‘Dr. Niqab’ and mute five out of the seven days. This makes her days dressed normally at home like Fatima the exception, the change, and because of that a little more enjoyable. She also likes being less sweaty and being able to talk, but the latter is no longer that important as she has developed a language of gesturing and signs that Fatima understands and only rarely is insufficient. But these days being an exception have created a new problem. Those that visit regularly have become used to seeing her dressed piously as a visitor, and on days that she dresses like a normal wife there is more and more often hints to her changing attire. Everybody knows she wears the butterfly abaya and niqab because of her work at the clinic, but if she has chosen to work shouldn’t she stay with the lifestyle and clothing it requires every day, just like the wives of the Imam, who in that way show they are married to a scholar? Munira has to find out if her workmates have experienced the same and if they can work out what to do in common, so on a ‘normal’ day, dressed like Fatima, she asks for Naser to invite the Ibrahims and the Fadels, Rafa’s family, on a Thursday, which is almost always a ‘normal’ day and where the men are off work, and to ask for Layla, Rafa and herself to be the ones allowed to talk. She is sure that the latter is only an unusual request for herself. It has to wait two Thursdays before the other two families both can make it.
Before the visitors arrive Fatima and Munira agree that this is the first day ever of their time living together that it’s Munira’s turn to sit in the sofa awaiting to welcome the visitors while Fatima answers the door, guide the guests inside the female section, help them to see and get out of their khimars and then serve. On Thursdays visits are for the most part pre-arranged, but nonetheless when their guests have all been seated around her Munira has to say the same words that she has heard time after time from Fatima, now only with their names swapped.
“I’m Munira, first wife of Mr. Hamid, and this is his second wife Fatima. Who do we have the honour of hosting?”
From the end of the coffee table comes the expected first line “I’m Layla Ibrahim, and with me are my co-wives Subira, Faiza and Hasina. Thank you for inviting us. The two of us have met often now, but we haven’t ever spoken to each other at the same time freely as women and friends before. Last time I came here like today was to ask you to work with me and then it was Fatima speaking for your family, and the first time I invited you home to our apartment in the city it was Faiza who was the one speaking in our family as I recall. It’s going to be a memorable day I’m sure.”
Then from the other end of the sofa another voice is surprisingly heard “I’m Yaman, second wife of Mr. Fadel, and to my right is his first wife Huda. Thank you for inviting us Munira and Fatima. Huda has asked me to say the following, I hope I remember it right: When Mr. Ibrahim asked my husband, on behalf of Layla, to move to Khita for me to keep working for her and with him being offered a better job, it was a clear ‘Yes’ before we knew exactly what the Ibrahims had to offer, because for a long time we had both wanted to take up a more pious lifestyle without really doing anything about it, and by moving to Khita what we wanted would simply be wrapped as the finest silk cloak around us as the norms of the society. Through a marriage counsellor we found the right young woman, Yaman, to become part of a pious family that would ensure we followed the correct and strict lifestyle evolved through generations of Allah’s most faithful worshippers. So when reading the recommendations of the knowledgeable Imam of the East Mosque I knew immediately that I would only feel right by following his advice seven days a week, no matter the number of work days, to live essentially like his own wives. Since then I have been wearing a butterfly abaya, thick gloves and niqab from morning to night every day. I also only wear hoods with a lockable mouth flap which I lock shortly after breakfast, to be unlocked again by our husband if he is around while having dinner, but without using the possibility to speak at either of the meals. If we are at home on Thursdays I’m also ungagged during lunch, and if permitted I may speak at the three meals. I feel very happy, in peace and balance with myself since I took up this dress-code and rules, and thus it’s me and not my husband that has disregarded your request for me speaking here as I’m not at home.”
Showing good manners while Yaman speaks they all turn to face her, although no expressions can be seen on either side, but gradually they all turn to face Huda whose deepest feelings and its conclusions are laid out. For several seconds after Yaman has stopped talking there is total silence, with each woman thinking deeply about what has been said.
Munira breaks the silence “I now know your answer Huda to the questions I haven’t even posed yet, but this is why I wanted you all to come today and especially my colleagues, to be able to state their opinions. It’s extremely appealing to me that you have found, tested and love a solution that may be just what I have been seeking without knowing it. If not at home I might not have said a word after your account not to break your rules that seems so obviously right. I still break one of them by speaking outside the three main meals, but I haven’t yet taken the final decision to do as you do. I would like to hear everybody’s view and discuss it before locking my mouth. Waiting also means that for the first time I am able to have cake and biscuits with our visitors. Fatima please serve our guests.”
Fatima leaves for the kitchen but there is no movement around the coffee table in anticipation of the coffee or the delicacies being promised. Instead a minute later there is a loud knocking from the corridor. They all realise that their husbands in the male reception room should have been served right after the introductions. It is not long before Fatima comes out of the kitchen carrying a tray. She turns towards the corridor while nodding in the same direction to say the obvious that she has heard the knocking. As Fatima disappears from sight Layla gets up, points at Huda’s face and gestures for Munira to come with her. She goes into the bedroom, points to the closets and then takes her thumb and index finger to her mouth and turns the hand as if turning a key. Has Layla decided to follow Huda or didn’t she want to reveal her intentions at the table and, like themselves, stay silent when not seated? Munira doesn’t break the silence as there is no need to and opens the closet containing the masks and takes out one of her own with a mouth lock. Layla nods, points to herself and then points across the corridor at the bathroom. Munira goes with her to show her a drawer with ball gags matching the mask and then goes back to the living room where all the faces follow her from the door to her seat, but her answer is just to hold her hands out with upturned palms. Munira really should start a conversation with Yaman now but she is in two minds about what to do and as Yaman’s speech on behalf of Huda has given everybody so much to think about nobody pays attention. Munira leans across the table to rearrange the layout a little. This makes the guests turn to face the kitchen to which Fatima has returned.
Just as Fatima brings coffee and cakes Layla returns and takes her seat as if she had just been away because she needed to use the bathroom. Layla is the first being offered a piece of cake and they all relax when she nods and concentrate on the coffee while Yaman and Munira try the cake as well. After the three women have had their first piece of cake and while Yaman and Munira are eating a chocolate biscuit the almost normal afternoon-with-visitors mood is broken by the sound of metal against a plate. They all put down what they hold and face Layla who holds a padlock between her right hand fingers and a ball gag in her left hand, and after some moments of silence she says
“This is Doctor Ibrahim and I am speaking in my professional capacity. Yesterday I received the results of the tests we took last week to check our health. As a disease could easily spread to everybody present here I think it’s the right place to say that all tests came back negative. These tests reveal that all the staff of the clinic are perfectly healthy in all ways.”
They all nod repeatedly looking at each other at hearing this as Layla leaves her chair to bow in front of Huda and hold the padlock forward. As Huda takes it in her thick mitten Layla speaks again
“To me at least there was one unexpected result and it concerns Munira,” pausing before adding “Congratulations. You are pregnant.”
Taken totally by surprise Munira freezes for a moment. Of course Naser has been in her almost every night since they moved to Khita, and many times before that, but without any results until now she knew they both just waited for the right moment to get checked. But Munira never found the moment to have Layla test her. Then she gets up and hugs Fatima for some moments to move on to embrace Layla. Layla touches her cheek to cheek on both cheeks and then again faces Huda while taking the ball gag up under her niqab. Then with her right hand she grabs Munira’s right wrist before guiding her hand over to Huda’s then guides both the hands towards her own chin. They both understand that Layla has decided to follow Huda, but had to break the news first, and now she wants both her colleagues to close the lock that marks the beginning of her new life. Huda, with her mitten covered hand would not be able to fit the lock on her own. Layla’s three co-wives, along with Yaman and Fatima, form a close circle around them, arms around shoulders. Munira senses the rings of the mask under the niqab and the semi-transparent cloth. She guides Huda’s hand up to the rings and senses that the shackle of the lock goes through both rings before turning it and pressing the lock shut. As they take their hands down Layla takes Huda in a tight embrace for ten seconds. Then she moves on to first give Munira a hug and then continue to hug Subira, Faiza, Hasina, Yaman and Fatima.
There will be no discussions. Her two colleagues and friends have both taken the same personal decision to set the highest standard for Khita women working outside the home. It’s a lifestyle as far from Munira’s old city life as can be, but friends are the best to show the way when in doubt and Fatima and Naser are enthusiastically going to praise her decision of following Huda as well. Munira walks away from the coffee table.
Before reaching the doorway she is surrounded by the others. No words are spoken but it’s clear they fear she is shocked, perhaps not really wanting a child or afraid of having to go through pregnancy and birth. She would like to point at Huda and Layla to show it’s because she has decided to follow them, but she can’t make them out among the six almost identical ‘Dr. Niqab’s’. So she simply walks into the bedroom with them all following to open the closets and take out a mask with mouth lock, a butterfly abaya, a niqab and a pair of thick gloves. Just seeing the mask has made her retrievals from the closets to be accompanied by the low dull muffled sound of woolly mittens clapping. They all nod and pat her as she heads for the bathroom.
She has had her last half day in ‘normal’ Khita home dress only. From now on she won’t share masks with Fatima – unless …
When entering the living room again some minutes later to any man she would look like their six visitors, but any Khita woman would immediately notice that she wears thick woollen gloves with individual fingers and not mittens with only separate thumbs, and as such she is not a guest. She stops a couple of metres from the coffee table and holds the right hand up and forward to make the difference very clear but the main reason, like Layla, to show a padlock before she points to Huda, assuming she has taken her previous seat, and to Fatima. Apart from being her dear co-wife, Fatima is now also the only one able to sense that the lock is fitted correctly. They all get up for the others to form a circle around the three while Huda and Fatima lift their hands to Munira’s masked mouth. The locking doesn’t make any practical difference to Munira, who already wears the gag and has the flap closed with its snap fastener, but emotionally it’s a very decisive moment and behind her eye covers tears of joy flow. When the hands come down as best she can she tries to reach around both Huda and Fatima to hug them both at the same time and by them both squeezing against each other and her she succeeds. It is very emotional.
Then of course Munira hugs the others in row, and they sit down nodding when Fatima holds up the coffee pot to show she is going to bring a fresh one. She takes the cake and biscuits with her as well when Yaman signals she won’t eat alone. A minute later, just as the last cup has been poured, surprisingly a voice sounds.
“It’s Hasina speaking. In our family only one of us speaks at a time, but if the one speaking leaves, the next in line can take over. Layla is still very much present, but as she has left our line of speakers, perhaps permanently, so even if perhaps Munira’s agenda has been cancelled we can still have a normal enjoyable afternoon with one from each family speaking, assuming Fatima is now permitted to speak as well. Before we go into the evidently most enjoyable subject of the afternoon I would like to ask our fourth woman working outside the home if you Subira are going to take up the lifestyle of Huda as well?”
Subira gets up and bows deeply three times for Huda before sitting down again. They all feel this is too little and she should have had a ceremony like Layla and Munira for announcing her decision, but Hasina explains why not
“As the recommendations of the Imam are valid for any work outside the home Subira has taken up his rules as well and is already wearing a mask with locked mouth because she had office hours yesterday. Although Abdullah is close by in the male reception room I think it’s breaking the rules to open the lock even if you refrain from speaking Subira.”
They all nod, but then Fatima jumps up gesturing towards Munira if she agrees she is allowed to speak now. Munira nods and Fatima removes her gag to say
“Get ready for Subira’s initiation to Huda’s lifestyle everybody. It’s wrong to remove Subira’s padlock, also by having her change to a mask of ours with the mouth lock open, but what we want is to put one on her. There is nothing wrong, it may even be better, with two locks. Subira. Think about who you want to put it on while I fetch a lock.”
Of course Subira chooses Huda, and then there is only Fatima to assist her and ensure the lock is fitted. But before handing over the lock to Huda, Subira makes the others who are surrounding her hold a hand up under her veils to touch her mask. It’s another moving moment for them all, and Subira shows that she is very happy that Fatima made this ceremony possible for her as well by hugging her almost more than she hugs Huda.
They all sit down at the coffee table again except Fatima who has left for the kitchen. A minute later she is back but keeps standing to hand a note to Yaman while saying
“It’s soon time for prayers and I think we have to break the good news to the men. This note I think will do it without me asking for permission to speak or writing inappropriately. But I won’t read it loud myself. Please Yaman.”
Yaman reads aloud “Shopping list for Munira: 10 packages of paper nappies, 5 small bibs, 2 comforters, 1 cot.”
The low dull sound of clapping sounds and as it fades Hasina stands to say
“I’m sure we all have to get dressed ladies. The happy news means the men want us to pray with them and make some sort of speeches for all to hear before or after the prayers.”
They all get up nodding and go to fill the bedroom where by helping each other soon all wear khimar. They line up in the corridor with Fatima at the front and Munira second. From the back they get their outer niqab layer pulled down ending with Fatima making Munira blind. Then she opens the door to the male reception room a few inches, holds her hand with the note forward through the opening and knocks the door hard despite they can hear the men are into a discussion.
It becomes completely quiet. They hear steps towards the door, and then the surprised, almost disbelieving voice of Naser says out loud
“I’m going to have a child. Munira is going to have a child. Allah is great. Read this.”
Apparently he then turns towards the now fully open door to the corridor with the eight blind women because he continues
“This is what it means ladies, isn’t it? Munira is pregnant. We are going to have a child.”
Munira nods several times and can sense the ones around her nod as well. Then he continues
“Munira, Fatima, why haven’t you told me?”
Of course an explanation has to wait until they are alone, but then Abdullah speaks
“I think I might know the answer. My wife, the doctor, has learned that your wife, I think is the correct term is, with child. She got the results of some health tests of the clinic staff yesterday. I think these tests can reveal her happy condition as well before she can feel it herself.”
During the last half of Abdullah’s words the black cones in the corridor nod again. Then Naser almost shouts
“Allah be praised for Doctor Niqab. Also with her around the child and Munira are as safe as can be.”
Two quizzical male voices say as one “Doctor Niqab?”
In the quiet moments until Naser has realised what he has just said the two front cones start shaking from laughter and they continue shaking as he says
“Munira has told me that her very first impression of Dr. Ibrahim in the city clinic was not that of a doctor but of a black mass of clothes topped by a black niqab, so to her she was Dr. Niqab, and that nickname has stayed with her between the three of us, but she also uses it to describe any Khita woman in more than home dress, including herself. You are looking at a corridor full of ‘Dr. Niqabs’ gentlemen.”
The male reception room gets filled with laughter and all of the black clothes in the corridor shake.
Copyright © 2011, Bo_Emp ; bo_emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com
Thanks to Nye North for proof reading
This story is based on a real-life account from the blog
Bannos – My personal thoughts on Islamic Topics, not a form of ijtihad rather than applying my mind.
Name: Yasmin Amin, Location: Cairo, EGYPT
Monday, November 13, 2006
Dr. Niqab – Comedy or Tragedy?
My doctors suggested a pneumonia vaccine for me. I suffer from Asthma and with winter approaching this was a sensible precaution.
After running around all over the place trying to get the vaccine for several days, I had to admit my defeat. My doctor advised me to try getting it from Vacsera. Vacsera is a government owned company that works under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health and has a department which specialises in producing and supplying vaccines and serums. Happy to get some pointers, I went to get my vaccine.
Being a government owned company, I was confronted with bureaucracy and red tape and sent from one counter to another, one room to the next, receiving slips of paper to be signed and stamped and what not, but that is not why I am writing this. Finally after about half an hour I was sent to the last room to get the vaccine with the added bonus of getting the injection right then and there to avoid transportation issues.
I walked happily into the room where three nurses were chatting animatedly. I was informed that the doctor will be there momentarily. Before the sentence was complete, something entered the room. It was a bit of a shock to me to see this mass of black!
A black niqab, where even the two tiny holes where the eyes would be were covered in black gauze, entered the room. Thick black gloves sticking out of two wristbands attached to the shapeless black garb, tightly fastened, allowing only the black gloved hands up to the wrists to escape the dark cloud were placed the right hand on top of the left one on the chest, as if in a silent prayer. Only a faintly menacing air escaped. I sighed and thought, even God would have difficulty in peering through that entire black sinister garb all the way through to her heart.
I started wondering how this woman was going to get her injection and where she would start to unravel the various black layers to bare an arm. But before I could complete my imaginative answer to that question in my head, the three nurses said in unison: “good morning doctor.” I should have taken the first opportunity to escape, because I didn’t think for even a split second that this was the doctor everyone was waiting for. Doctor? This perfect image of the angel of death is a life giving healing angel of mercy? A doctor!
For a few more panicky minutes I was trying to figure a way to flee without insulting the doctor and making a complete fool of myself. The shapeless formless black niqab rattled down a few question with a very low and muffled voice, almost a like a strangled whisper of a machine gun staccato: “name, age, type of vaccine.”
I was too speechless to answer and my mind was racing frantically in dread, trying to come up with a dignified way to flee from this scene, which more and more resembled a farce from a surreal play. I mumbled and stuttered my name and age to the black back, as she had turned towards a closet. In utter shock and complete terror I witnessed her extracting a pair of latex gloves from the closet and putting them on, right over the thick black woolen gloves she was wearing when she came in. I just couldn’t believe this and more and more the surreal farce was turning towards becoming a horror movie. To me it seemed like trying to do open heart surgery while wearing welding gloves and a deep sea diving suit.
Before I could pull myself together and run away, the latex gloves snatched the box with my precious vaccine from me and proceeded to ‘load’ the injection. I managed to stammer something that sounded like: “I will take that back thank you, I have to go home now.” The barely audible muted whisper answered me with a long lecture of which I could only make out a few words, sounding like: “…out of the refrigerator…not more than 20 minutes…transportation…on ice… not allowed to freeze…better here and right now…only a minute…over before you know it…no need to be afraid.”
This torrent of words washed over me while I was trying to seize my valuable vaccine from the double gloved clutches of the black creature and murmuring defiantly: “How can you even feel what you’re doing with those thick gloves on under the others, I simply refuse…”
Alas, it was too late and I watched wide-eyed as the prized yellowish vaccine was being sucked into the syringe held by that black creature. My resistance faded into nothingness as that black being, now dangerously armed, suddenly and very forcefully grabbed my arm and ‘shot’ – the vaccine right into it.
The black niqab then turned to the next victim and I was free to go. I almost ran out, happy to have escaped with only a pitiless poke. I will spare you all the now boring and tedious debate about the niqabs, but I have come to understand how it feels like to stand opposite a faceless black creature with a muffled voice and hardly a personal indication of any kind hinting at the humanity and compassion of a doctor, let alone the gender or the living person. The only thought which was in my head now was that this was more a graveside manner than a bedside manner, specially when clad in that monstrous outfit. An Arab proverb eloquently puts it as: “so sad, that it becomes funny.”