The Purdah Hospital
This is a sort of sequel to my very first TOTV tale “Picnic in Purdah” from March 2006. It is set at the same location and has the same main characters but having read it is no prerequisite.
1. The accident
It’s as usual a hot dusty afternoon in Karachi. Yasmin sits with her eye veil flipped back reading a fashion magazine she had got from her friend Leila. Suddenly her peaceful moment is interrupted by a horrible cry by a female voice:
“Aaargh, argh, ah, ah, ah”
Yasmin drops the magazine and jumps for her burqa while flipping her eye veil down. It is the voice of her neighbour Parveen. Although she doesn’t adhere to strict purdah like herself she is a good Muslim and she would never intentionally raise her voice to a level to be heard outside the house. Yasmin walks across the yard of the house while covering with the vintage Indian style peep-hole burqa which is her standard public veil. On arriving in the street she sees a woman holding a scarf across her face as a veil opening the door to Parveen’s yard. If she has reacted to the cry out as well it can only be Asma, Parveen’s neighbour on the other side.
While crossing Parveen’s yard it occurs to Yasmin that she can’t remember having ever before been in public without wearing a layer of black clothing with a boushiya veil between the burqa and the modest salwar kameez with pak-chador she wears outermost in private. And the ball gag to remind her of voice awrah, which has always been inside her mouth when in public, hangs untouched in its elastic band around her neck.
Supported by Asma, Parveen sits on the floor, her face contorted in pain and tears running down her cheeks. After Yasmin had dropped her burqa on a chair a sobbing Parveen says:
“That bloody foot stool! I put it out on the wooden floor to vacuum the carpet under the coffee table, but then a fashion feature appeared on the television, and when it was over I thought about how I would look in the wonderful pink outfit it showed to absent-mindedly leave the table. With a flash of pain in my right toes I bumped into the stool, lost balance and stumbled forward. As I fell down onto the floor, my right leg hit the stool hard resulting in some moments of unbearable pain much stronger than when giving birth. My chest and shoulders feel okay and my head didn’t hit the floor but surges of pain keep coming from my lower right leg.”
Yasmin says “Just relax Parveen. Now Asma and I are here to take care of you and get someone to treat you if necessary. First Asma and I will help you to stand to see if your leg can bear your weight.”
They take an arm each and lift with Parveen only using her left leg to stand. Yasmin, while still supporting Parveen, puts a hand on her right thigh to make Parveen shift her weight towards the right leg. “Argh” Parveen can’t hold back a cry and her face contorts in pain.
Yasmin says “It’s not good. We’d better get you sitting in one of the easy chairs. Apart from the right leg you feel no pain?”
“No, only the right leg hurts. I might have bruised my shoulders,” Parveen says, “but just the little weight before hurt like hell.”
Having got Parveen seated Asma says “I have to say this appears similar to how, at a wedding, I heard one of my cousins describe her leg fracture which resulted in her having to spend several days in hospital. I think we have to get you to the hospital and have your leg x-rayed.”
Parveen says “Yes please, I don’t think I can hold out three hours until Jamal returns from work, but if you can find a man to call an ambulance perhaps you can ask him to call Jamal as well and tell him he might have to go to a hospital instead of coming home.”
Asma says “I think the husband of Wafa, my neighbour on the other side, is home. If not I’ll find another man. Just try to relax, Yasmin will stay with you I’m sure.”
Yasmin nods. Asma leaves and Yasmin says “Is there anything you want me to do? I need something to drink. How about you? A drink of water?”
Parveen nods so Yasmin fetches two glasses of water. Parween takes a long sip and then says
“A man, perhaps more will be coming soon. You are so pious and always veiled. I only cover my face with a scarf in public but if I’m going away to stay in a public place I would like to wear my burqa. It’s a standard blue one to be found in the bedroom.”
Yasmin easily finds it and helps Parveen getting it on. She has to take a good hold of Parveen’s left arm to get her standing, all her weight on her left leg for some moments to get the burqa to fall down and cover below Parveen’s waist. Parveen dumps down in the chair again and then Yasmin fits her own burqa.
After a minute where neither of them speak or move Yasmin says “Don’t worry about some days in hospital. For a woman it might very well be like a holiday staying at a hotel: food and drink is brought to you. You get fresh clothes and someone cleans the room. Most likely you won’t get a private ward so there will be other patients to chat with.”
Parveen says “I’ll be in good hands but what about Jamal. He won’t die from eating at the bar, where he watches cricket or football with his friends, or from buying take-away for a few days, but he really appreciates getting a healthy freshly cooked meal.”
Yasmin says “Yes, Sayed loves home cooking as well. It’s very simple: I can just cook a little extra and Sayed can take a meal to Jamal just before we start eating ourselves.”
Parveen says “What a wonderful neighbour I have. We should have met much more frequently, but you are always with that other strict purdah woman – I’m sorry I can’t remember her name.”
“Salima” Yasmin tells her “Yes, we are very, very close. At the beginning it was because we wore . . .”
“Yallah, yallah!” a male voice interrupts Yasmin with the words to announce a non-mahram man is entering the house.
Asma is back with Wafa and a man Yasmin assumes to be her husband. She recalls she has seen the salwar kameez set before but she has never been acquainted with Wafa. The husband immediately signals he wants to feel Parveen’s leg and she nods so he folds her burqa around the leg and then he gently puts his hands around her lower leg and increases the pressure until, after just a few seconds, Parveen screams in pain.
“You need to get to the hospital,” the husband says and produces his phone.
After switching the phone off he says “An ambulance will be here in about fifteen minutes. You are ready to leave it seems Mrs. Jilani; if not the other women will assist you I’m sure. I’ll go out to signal the paramedics and lead them the right way.”
When the husband has left Parveen says “You must thank your husband a thousand times for helping me Wafa. He is right. I think I am as ready as I can be.”
Yasmin says “When you get in contact with Jamal please tell him that if he can’t be with you and comes home about dinner time he can just knock our door and get some food.”
Parveen replies by saying “How considerate of you dear Yasmin but I have no idea of what will happen and what he might do, so don’t cook as for a wedding.”
Asma adds “In the unlikely case that you get home tonight you should not cook or even make sandwiches. I think you have to be totally at rest for several days even if your leg is put in a cast. Jamal may knock our door at any time as well to get proper food or what else your household may be missing.”
Yasmin says “If they keep you at the hospital please have Jamal call Sayed. I’m sure he will permit me to come and visit you and find some way to get me there. And I’ll see that Salina comes with me so the two of us don’t have an hour long dialogue.”
“I’ll of course visit you as well,” Asma says.
“We can go together” are the first words from Wafa.
They keep silent until more than fifteen minutes have passed. A worried Parveen says
“The ambulance should be here now. Are you sure they have got the right address Wafa?” before adding “I’m just longing for a doctor to tell me what has happened.”
Wafa answers “Of course my husband knows where you live. We have lived in our house longer than you have here if you remember.”
Yasmin says “It is of course fifteen Pakistani minutes Parveen, and they can easily be twice as long as what a clock shows, especially when your life is not in immediate danger.”
A deep sigh comes from Parveen’s burqa clad head and they wait in silence for another ten minutes. The silence is finally broken by a knock on the door to the yard and a female voice says loudly:
“It is female paramedic Ghazala Rajpar. The men are not with me, may I come in?”
Wafa, who is standing closest to the door rushes to open it.
Ghazala Rajpar says “Good morning ladies. Mrs. Jilani has had an accident we have been told. It is you I assume?”
She faces Parveen and walks to her in the chair at the same time as Parveen nods.
“It is the right leg, isn’t it?” the paramedic says while kneeling and taking her hands to Parveen’s lower right leg. Parveen nods again. Ghazala Rajpar then takes hold of the leg just like Wafa’s husband did and with the same result: a stab of pain causes her to scream.
“This is not just a sprain Mrs. Jilani. My professional assessment is that your leg is fractured although an x-ray is needed to be certain and to determine how it has to be treated. You and the lady to my left being in full purdah I think we’ll take you to the Jina Memorial Hospital which has a wing for female patients only and where all staff is female. This provides a more relaxed stay for better recovery. In case you have to be examined by a male doctor, or have a visit by your husband or other males, there are examination and visiting rooms outside but very close to the women-only wing.”
Parveen says “I mainly want to know what has happened and start getting treated as necessary. I’m not as pious as Mrs. Lakhani but of course I veil to non-mahram men, so not having to think of this will ease the stay I’m sure.”
Ghazala Rajpar says “Then all is set. I’ll just offer you a couple of pills to minimise your pain and have you relax. Will someone fetch a glass of water please?”
Parveen pushes her hands outside the burqa and gets the pills in one hand and the glass in the other. When she shows her hand with the now empty glass again Ghazala Rajpar says
“I’ll now fetch my male colleague and we’ll bring a stretcher, so please veil as you see right or go to another room.”
Asma and Wafa each hold a corner of their scarf across their faces and, along with Yasmin, go and stand in front of the kitchen door. Within a minute Wafa’s husband opens the door and behind him comes Ghazala Rajpar and her male colleague holding each end of a stretcher. Placing it in front of Parveen it is adjusted to be at level with the seat of the easy chair and then Parveen is carefully lifted up to stand on her good left leg and turned to be seated on the stretcher. Then, even more carefully, her legs are lifted and she is turned to lie down on the stretcher. A pillow is placed for her right leg to rest on and then she is secured to the stretcher with a number of belts. Finally the stretcher is lifted to be easy to move and slowly rolled out of the house. Asma’s husband and the women follow right behind. As Parveen is lifted into the ambulance Asma’s husband says
“I have got the details of the hospital Mrs. Jilani. I’ll call your husband within a minute to tell him and then you can expect to talk to him or receive a message from him at your first idle moment at the hospital. I wish you a speedy recovery.”
The ambulance leaves and they all go into Parveen’s yard. Wafa’s husband calls Jamal and the women go just inside the open door to the house. Wafa looks further inside and says in a low voice
“Parveen was just about to clean the floor. When Omar has spoken to Jamal I assume he will lock up the house using Parveen’s keys. I’ll ask if I can borrow them tomorrow to come here and do some cleaning. Then there is some good news for her if it can be arranged to visit her. She won’t be able to do thorough cleaning when she is discharged from the hospital anyway I guess. Would any of you join me?”
“Of course,” says Yasmin “Just knock my door before entering here.”
“Knock on mine as well,” says Asma. “Poor Parveen. At least she is getting the best care possible and might come home just as pious and modest as you Yasmin. See you girls. I have to get back to my own housework as well as preparing dinner.”
“Parveen is a nice neighbour,” Yasmin says to Wafa after Asma has left. “A woman just showing eyes hands and feet in public is a good Muslim. I think, but of course I think that Allah is far happier the more a woman covers.”
Wafa says “I have to say I have long admired your dedication, along with that of your very close friend and the few others in this neighbourhood, who take purdah so seriously. I have often considered living like that myself but I come from a liberal family and my mother and some aunts already think I go too far by pulling my scarf across my face when in public places. I have told them this is the norm here, and one of my aunts does the same as me when she visits.”
Yasmin says “Pakistan is a diverse country with huge differences about how to interpret Islam. I come from a small rural town and my family would think I would be in danger in the big city if I covered less. I’d better get home and on with my own house chores like Asma. See you tomorrow Wafa.”
Yasmin turns towards the door and now, under her burqa, lifts the ball gag from around her neck and into her mouth. Although she has been close to Wafa’s husband and the male paramedic without being gagged the emergency situation is now over and she feels better passing him in the yard gagged as usual among non-mahram men.
When Sayed comes home they have dinner soon after. Yasmin can’t wait to tell him all about Parveen’s accident and Sayed listens to her account with great interest. While Yasmin clears away the dishes after dinner Sayed calls Jamal to find out he is at tea house near the hospital waiting for a call from the hospital so their conversation is short, but he learns that visiting hours for the female wing are from eleven till noon in the morning and from four till seven in the evening. Sayed will permit Yasmin to visit Parveen at the hospital if a solution can be found for respectable transportation without himself accompanying her. He will discuss this with Aziz, the husband of Salima and tell him about Parveen’s accident of course, at their usual meeting almost every evening at a bar showing cricket. Aziz will in a few words tell Salima when he comes home from the bar. Yasmin does not know of any women in the neighbourhood using phones or computers for communication. Women are considered technologically illiterate but more important it is unsafe with police, intelligence services and a wide variety of shady men who may listen to their inciting voices.
When Sayed comes home from the bar he tells Yasmin that Aziz is going to allow Salima to visit Parveen as well. Sayed is happy Salima and Yasmin are going together. Being two it is acceptable to ride a taxi with a non-mahram driver, especially because Aziz knows one they can trust. It is a little expensive but there is no other way as none of the men are able to leave work earlier than normal and a good neighbour has to be supported in a difficult situation.
2. Cleaning and preparing
The next morning Yasmin works hard from right after Sayed has left. Before leaving he has, over the phone, agreed with Aziz and the husband’s of Asma and Wafa that Yasmin and Salima visit Parveen this afternoon and Asma and Wafa tomorrow. After that they have to see how long Parveen is going to be kept in the hospital. Yasmin works hard because she expects Salima to visit very soon. With the men not saying very much she is sure Salima is going to leave home after having done just the most pressing household chores to learn about every detail of Parveen’s accident.
After forty-five minutes the doorbell rings. Salima pulls her eye cover down, crosses the yard and opens the door. A peep-hole burqa very similar to her own is seen and Salima enters. Inside the house she stops for some seconds to reach up under her bushiya, unpin the pak-chador and pull the ball gag out of her mouth and then repins the pak-chador to let it hide her face before she removes the burqa and the black layer with the bushiya. The women are permitted to see each other’s faces but they rarely do. They embrace and Salima, without even a ‘hello’, says:
“Yes please, I would like a cup of tea. Please start telling me everything while preparing the tea.”
Yasmin tells her every detail she can remember. Into their second cup of tea, while telling Salima telling about how she has promised to clean Parveen’s house together with Asma and Wafa, the doorbell rings. Opening the door to the street an unknown burqa is standing in the doorway and a glove covered hand appears holding a key chain. Wafa has got the keys to Parveen’s house. She steps into the yard and flips the burqa back the moment Yasmin has closed the door but that doesn’t identify her for sure. She wears a salwar kameez set but unlike yesterday, in addition to a pair of gloves, she wears socks and a short pak-chador head covering with eye veil. For a moment, until she speaks, Yasmin is unsure if it really is Wafa.
“Good morning Yasmin. Are you ready to help clean Parveen’s house?”
Yasmin says “Almost, and perhaps Salima is going to help as well.”
Yasmin gestures towards the front door of the house where Salima stands in the doorway. They go to her and Yasmin continues
“Salima meet Wafa. Wafa say hello to my closest friend Salima.”
Salima and Wafa embrace and Salima says to Wafa
“It’s assuring to know Yasmin has so good neighbours if she has an accident, Heaven forbid. She has just told me you, Asma and Yasmin have promised each other to clean Parveen’s house. I can see you are here to fetch her. Until she told me I would have suggested to her that we went shopping for presents for Parveen when visiting her; sweets and fruit for example but of course Yasmin has to keep her promise and as I would rather have her in on what presents we buy I suggest, Yasmin, that we go shopping after cleaning which means I’ll help you with the cleaning if I may.”
Yasmin and Salima both nod several times and Salima pats Wafa on her back before Salima continues
“I might not be of that much of a help though because I didn’t know of this in advance so Aziz, my husband, has not given me permission to remove my public clothing in the house of Parveen. I can vacuum though and a few other things where my hands can mostly stay inside my burqa, but someone else will have to tell me if I have done it properly because with three layers of eye veiling I can easily miss something.”
Yasmin says “Oh my! I haven’t got permission from Sayed either. Yesterday it was permissible to remove the public clothing because it was an emergency but I agree with Salima that today it has to be permitted. I think we can show our hands a little though, besides that it’s full covering as if we were in public.”
Wafa says “It’s alright, it’s the thought that counts. Two restricted women are about the same as one with full mobility. Besides in total we might be more effective as two women gossip much less than four. Are we ready to go? I think Asma is expecting me, she might be waiting outside already.”
Yasmin and Salima nod and they both start covering. While Yasmin as the last puts on her burqa Wafa, having just flipped her burqa, down makes her recall how she appeared yesterday just wearing salwar kameez and holding her scarf across her face while the male paramedic was present. This was how Yasmin has seen her until today, and yesterday she wasn’t coming in a hurry because of Parveen screaming. With her voice very muffled she asks:
“Wafa, you don’t usually wear a burqa, do you?”
In a much less muffled voice Wafa answers “No, I used just to cover my face with the corner of my headscarf but as I said to you yesterday, I have long admired you and Salima’s dedication to purdah and Parveen also found it right to wear a burqa for going to the hospital. It made me think, and when I shared my thoughts about covering further with my husband, he fully supported me. I’m not wearing nearly as much as you two are but as you have seen I now wear a short top of a pak-chador and gloves and socks in addition to the burqa. It’s quite a difference from just a salwar kameez so I’m glad I have today to get more accustomed to both being hot and restricted in mobility and sight before the trip to the hospital tomorrow. But spiritually I already feel better less than an hour after starting to cover like this. Each time I’m physically bothered I’ll just think of you two wearing much more and then I guess I’ll soon love wearing a burqa.”
During Wafa’s speech Yasmin has gagged herself for both her and Salima to congratulate Wafa on her decision by leaning against her and touching cheeks through their burqas.
A woman in a modest salwar kameez with a large black semi-transparent scarf over her head and down below the chest waits outside the door to Parveen’s yard. Wafa unlocks the door and continues across the yard to unlock the front door of the house. While the three other women cross the yard behind her, the new woman removes the semi-transparent scarf and, while looking from one peep-hole burqa to the other, says
“Asma, I’m pleased to meet you Salima, who I assume is one of you.”
Salima nods and then greets Asma in the same way as she had just congratulated Wafa. They all quickly notice that Jamal has been home; the bed is unmade and there are crumbs and an empty food box on the kitchen table. Surprised to see Wafa in a burqa, Asma watches her remove it only to get a bigger surprise. Seeing her expression Wafa says
“Good morning Asma. Yes, the way that Yasmin and Salima dress made me think about what I wear. Perhaps one day I’ll dress like them but I have just learned that purdah is not only covering but also when and where to cover and uncover. Yasmin and Salima will stay as they are because neither of them has got permission from their husbands to remove their public covering in Parveen’s house. They can only vacuum and wash the floors with a mop while we have to take care of the kitchen, the bathroom, do the dusting, make the bed and also check their work as their sight isn’t much. On the positive side they are mute so you can talk for two as usual.”
Asma says “You are not the silent type either Wafa. With them doing the vacuuming it’s on the positive side as well. I hate to step slowly around with that noisy thing at my feet. Let’s begin as I have my own house to clean afterwards. Perhaps Yasmin or Salima will come with me to vacuum over there as well. You can have tea with fresh baked bread for the work.”
Yasmin and Salima both shake their head. Wafa says
“They have to go shopping for presents to give Parveen when they go to visit her. I’m guess that before getting ready to go to the hospital this afternoon they have some housework of their own to do.”
Asma says “I understand. We have to bring some presents as well Wafa but I have to clean just after we are finished here as my husband will be home some of the afternoon. What about quite early tomorrow morning after just a quick cleaning of the house?”
Wafa answers “Suits me fin . . .”
For Yasmin the last words are drowned by the noise of the vacuum cleaner. She starts vacuuming around and under the coffee table, Salima starts washing the bedroom floor and Asma and Wafa start cleaning the kitchen. From time to time Yasmin looks up to each time see them chatting as well.
After forty-five minutes there is nothing more Yasmin and Salima can do in their burqas. Yasmin feels that they would have to have a break anyway. Just moving around in all this clothing has made her quite hot and sweaty even though they are in the shade in a room where the temperature is just about twenty-five degrees. When Wafa notices they have stopped working she says
“You two have a quite busy day ahead of you. Asma, don’t you think we should let them go?”
Asma answers “Yes, you have done fine Yasmin and Salima. We are not that far from finished anyway. Send my regards to Parveen and tell her she can look forward to another visit tomorrow.”
Wafa says “Give her my regards as well of course. How about all three of you come to lunch the day after tomorrow to learn what the others experienced when visiting Parveen?”
The other three all nod several times and then Yasmin and Salima touch cheeks with each of the other and leave.
At the door to Yasmin’s home Salima pushes her away from the door and with her right hand makes her burqa bulge while turning to face the local shopping area. Yasmin understands and nods for them to walk on.
They know where to get sweets. They each buy something to be able to quickly make dinner after they return from the hospital and finally they look at all the fruit stalls to select the most delicious ripe fruit available today. Everything is done by pointing from inside the burqa as precisely as possible and then shake the head if the shop assistant doesn’t understand. Also they are skilled in handing their purse to the shop assistant without showing their hands even if they are wearing gloves by lifting the burqa just to the knees.
Leaving the shopping area Yasmin stops at the point where they have to go in different directions for each to take the shortest way home. But instead of parting Salima lifts a hand up to make the burqa bulge over her mouth. This means she has something to say. Yasmin nods and starts walking in the direction of Salima’s home. When Salima came to her it is now to take the detour, which is short anyway.
In the yard they could be heard by someone outside although there is always street noise so Yasmin goes with Salima inside the house and waits until she is ungagged and down to her home veiling. Then Salima says
“I assume Sayed has told you Aziz has ordered his taxi friend to be here at three o’clock for us to be at the hospital from the beginning of visiting hours at four, but what I really wanted to speak about is clothing. We can’t walk into a hospital where there are lots women to judge in our everyday clothes looking exactly like what we are, a couple of lower middle class women from a dusty outskirt of the city. I intend to dress much like when we went on the picnic for your birthday. I’ll just ensure I’m able to unbuckle the ball gag as we have to be able to speak this time.”
Yasmin has neither removed any of her clothes nor ungagged so she nods approvingly. But recalling what they wore for the picnic makes her go to the bedroom and open a cupboard. She produces a Gulf style leather mask for Salima to say:
“That one as well I think. I know you are concerned about that today we are to speak and it attenuates the voice considerably. When you are back we can test if we can understand one another. Arrange your veils so that you can reach up under to pull the bottom of the mask out. That makes its attenuation much less.”
Yasmin nods and walks towards the front door so that Salima is close to her and they are able to touch their cheeks through the burqa and her pak-chador before saying:
“We could of course have had lunch together but then you would have little time to do some of your household chores and get ready to visit the hospital. See you close to three o’clock.”
On getting home Yasmin spends forty-five minutes on housework and preparing as much as possible of the dinner. Next she has a quick lunch while standing at the kitchen table and then takes a bath.
With just a towel around her she goes into the bedroom to get dressed. If she spends a half an hour dressing she estimates she will be at Salima’s between fifteen and twenty minutes before three o’clock.
First she puts on a fresh set of underwear even though she had only put on clean ones that morning. Yasmin likes wearing colourful salwar kameez even though it’s only Sayed and herself who sees it. She doesn’t expect anyone else to see the set she now puts on as well but going to a hospital wing especially for modest purdah women an almost single coloured subdued set in silk so it will match her elegant silk burqa is the right choice. Next is the pak-chador. Normally she would fit her ball gag before putting it on because this has a closed elastic strap which is bothersome to fit after the pak-chador but today she will wear her large ball gag with a leather strap to buckle to actually block most sound instead of just reminding her to be silent. She has a navy pak-chador with matching navy dress that are both stylish and modest, if she will get in a situation where she can dress down to her private appearance. After putting the dress and the pak-chador on Yasmin takes the gag up under the pak-chador, opens her mouth as wide as she can so it just enables her to put the ball into her mouth and then she takes the end of the strap behind her head and buckles it. It is no problem to fit and remove the gag with just the pak-chador covering it.
Next is the black leather mask. It has small circular holes, just a little larger than the iris, for the eyes, besides that it is only open downwards because it has no nose protrusion for the lower edge to have a gap at the chin which it reaches a little below to cover it seen directly from the front. If anyone can see through the layers covering the eyes the mask ensures not much more than the impersonal black pupils are seen. This also means her peripheral vision is almost gone. As Yasmin discussed with Salima, it attenuates any sound which may escape despite the large ball gag although this might be a disadvantage today. Yasmin doesn’t mind that the mask makes her face really hot because she feels her face is really well protected. With two narrow leather straps to be buckled at the back of the head she easily fits it on top of her pak-chador. In the unlikely case that she is going to dress down to private in the hospital she will keep the mask on; its polished black leather looks much better than the pak-chador fabric.
Her black sets with boushiya look about the same. They are all plain black cotton with a piece of sheer black material attached to the khimar-like waist long head covering. They are designed to hide class differences so modest pious women don’t stick out displaying their wealth and for that this covering has to be simple and cheap for all to afford. Yasmin and Salima don’t wear it outermost but not to in any way reveal in public how they appear in private when the burqa has to be lifted a little for taking shopping items inside it, walk up stairs, walking on wet muddy ground and such. Also the boushiya helps conceal what little can be seen through the peep-holes or mesh of their burqas.
To show fully in black Yasmin next puts on knee length black stockings over the top of the salwar and elbow long black gloves on top of the sleeves of the black cotton dress. Today for the occasion she selects a pair of gloves much thicker than normal.
Lastly Yasmin takes the burqa out of the cupboard. She holds it up and turns it in front of the mirror to admire it before putting it on even though she cannot see it clearly or feel the soft smooth quality of the silk. It is thicker and sweeping the ground more than her everyday burqas thus hiding her better, except for the eyes where its two circular meshes, although dense, are larger than the peep-holes of her other burqas. This makes her place a note in her mind to always wear the leather mask with this burqa. She holds the mass of fabric over her head, aligns the meshes with her eyes, fits the cap and finally lets all the fabric fall down to the floor to cover her completely. She is ready to visit Parveen.
But before she leaves the house she first tests that she can reach the buckle of her gag to undo it. There is now a lot of fabric to lift and with her thick gloves she has some difficulty of getting hold of the strap and unbuckle them but she manages and does them up again, now one notch tighter. Next she goes to the kitchen, takes a glass and a straw and half fills it from the tap. The large ball in her mouth has a tube through its centre for drinking and besides it’s good to get some liquid before going out in the sun in this hot outfit. She also tests if she can reach up to the lower edge of the mask and hold it out; this time not for speaking but to reach the tube of the gag and test that the mask can be pulled out sufficiently for removing the ball from her mouth. There is quite some resistance from the boushiya and the burqa but she succeeds.
It’s the usual walk to Salima’s house but Yasmin has to walk slower than normal because the burqa both sweeps the ground more and is heavier to lift. Salima opens the door to her fully dressed in burqa as well. They cross the yard to wait for the taxi inside the house. Salima’s burqa lifts at mouth level and when it falls naturally again Yasmin hears a voice, unrecognisable and unintelligible to her because of heavy muffling, say
“U ca’t n-s-a t ‘m ay-g, ca u?”
Yasmin shakes her head for Salima’s burqa to bulge at her chin and then speak again
“Now you should be able to understand me.”
Although the voice is still very muffled it is now intelligible so Yasmin nods for Salima to go on
“It’s like when I tried alone. The leather mask has to be held out to be understood. Please try.”
It takes a little while before Yasmin speaks because she first has to unbuckle her ball gag and pull it out before she can copy Salima
“This is certainly much more complicated than handling our usual gag with elastic strap. You got this, didn’t you?”
Salima answers “I wouldn’t recognise you from what I hear, but despite your voice is muffled and weak I understand you. I’m ready, if you are. Let’s both mute ourselves and wait for the taxi in silence. It should be here in less than fifteen minutes. As I’m going to lock up the house I suggest you take the bag over there with the presents.”
Yasmin nods and after fitting the gag again she goes over to take the bag up inside her burqa not to forget it.
A little surprisingly a horn sounds in the street outside before the fifteen minutes has passed. When Yasmin comes out in the street a taxi is at the kerb right outside. The driver is about to draw black curtains for the back seat windows and the rear window and the back of the front seats are already curtained. Seeing the two women he says
“The wife of Saiz and her friend?”
They both nod for him to go on
“I have put a business card on the middle back seat. Take it and show it at the hospital reception desk when your visit is over and they will call for me. I have written a note I’ll hand to the receptionist when we arrive to inform them about your names and who you are to visit. It’s not rush hour yet so we might be there in just forty minutes, God willing.”
He holds the door at each side and closes it when each is seated. Allah knows when a life is over so there is no need to buckle the seat belts.
3. The hospital
Likely because the driver is afraid the curtains will be lifted by the wind only those at the front are rolled down. It quickly gets hot and although it isn’t totally dark Yasmin and Salima with their layers of eye veiling can’t see a thing. This combination quickly makes both of them drowsy and they lean against each other and doze off.
The driver must have noticed or anticipated this because suddenly they are abruptly awaken by his voice saying very loudly
“LADIES! We turn into the hospital grounds at the next light.”
Yasmin has no idea how long the ride has taken but she feels very hot and sweaty. Fortunately the hospital is air-conditioned. When they get out of the car Yasmin sees they are parked among a lot of other taxis; it is, or is close to, visiting hours. The driver takes them towards a large air-lock door where there is a large sign. ‘Jina Memorial Hospital Female-only wing’ it says with a smaller sign beneath it with an arrow ‘Reception’ and on another sign in smaller text below ‘Men may enter the reception room’.
Inside more than twenty women are waiting. About two thirds are wearing burqa, the rest are veiled by a pak-chador or a scarf across the face. It is certainly the modest women coming here because less than twenty percent of the Karachi women in general wear a burqa. Behind the reception desk three female receptionists probably have the busiest time of their working day. There are lines of three to five people in front of each receptionist. Their driver of course lines up behind the three.
The receptionists are identically dressed in medical green fabric only. A medical style gown almost to the ankles, latex gloves, shoe covers and a short pak-chador with its face part covering the entire face so that the eyes are the only part of the receptionists showing. When reaching the front of a line all the women hand the receptionist a note while some men speak and some, like their driver, hand over a note as well. In the same movement their driver hands over his note he points at Yasmin and Salima and without a word turns around a walks toward the exit. As for the other female visitors the receptionist writes a number for each on a tag and leans over the counter to pin it on the chest to then gesture they have to wait. Yasmin and Salima both get the same number: ORT2-18. All the seats are occupied. Yasmin looks around and notices that the tags have different colours; theirs are dark green. Many women are grouped in front of one of the three doors leading into the hospital. Next to each door are signs with a few letters and one or two digits which she assumes is a code for the different departments. The code of the department they are going to visit was probably on the note their taxi driver had. She also notices that the colours of the tags of women waiting at one door doesn’t overlap the tag colours at the other doors, so the colours in some way indicate the department each is going to visit. Yasmin nods to Salima in the direction of the door where women wear their colour and steps in that direction but staying some steps from the group.
Suddenly all three doors open almost at once and several women, all dressed identically in white, appear in each doorway. First the three women wearing white at their door gesture the group right at the door to go a little into the corridor. One points to the left, the other to the right and the third at the middle of the corridor. Yasmin realises the women in each of the new smaller groups all wear a tag of the same colour and that the small towel each white woman wears in her belt has the same colour as the visitor tags the small groups have. So it is no surprise that it is the white woman with the dark green towel who moments later gestures Salima and her to join the dark green group to the left. The white women scan the reception room and each goes to collect a few other visiting women with a tag of their colour.
Meanwhile Yasmin takes a closer look at the rather odd looking white dressed women. Their bodies appear normal enough: a loose medical gown of white fabric to mid-calf with a cloth strap as a belt around the waist probably more to avoid the top of the dress catching on things or knocking loose items to the floor than to hold the coloured towel. White latex gloves and long white shoe covers that went up under the hem of the gown could also be seen. But it was the head covering that really caught the eye. From the eyes upward what appeared to be a normal hijab which is probably made of medical fabric could be seen. The women’s lower faces were covered by a very thick medical cotton pad and held tight to the face by a thick piece of cloth completely covering the pad, wound twice around the neck and head and tied at the top at the back of the head. The extraordinary head covering is made even stranger by the area around the eyes not covered by fabric being hidden behind a pair of very dark black goggles. Although Yasmin wears several layers of face covering it is only the burqas, and especially the burqa she wears now, which really are so dense they affect her breathing, but they are not pressed against the lower face so the air inside the burqa, although often hot, can reach her nose from below. It makes her shiver a little when trying to imagine how it feels to breathe through this thick tight fabric. But of course they can, and they have to be able to see through the dark goggles as well. But can they speak she wonders as she has not heard a female voice since entering but of course the door to the reception room where males are allowed is still open.
Apparently having gathered all the visiting women having arrived so far the women in white start slowly begin walking down the long wide corridor. They seem to be able to walk much faster but have to walk at a pace all visitors can follow. Entering a hall Yasmin sees more women dressed in white and some mainly in blue, some two or three together but none accompanying visitors. The three white dressed women with visitors take different directions. Yasmin, Salima and their dark green tag companions take a door on the left half way down the hall, which leads to narrower corridor. While she produces a print-out the visitors waiting close to the door in the reception room slowly starts walking on. The woman in white nods to them and they start heading for some of the doors along this corridor; apparently they have been visiting the same patient before and know where to go. There are five women left to follow the woman in white down the corridor. At the second door to the right she stops, points at one woman and holds the print-out up for them all to see that on its ‘back’ with as large font as possible is written ‘Please wait right inside the door.’ Two doors further down on the left the white woman stops again and points at Yasmin and Salima. Again she starts lifting the print-out but they both nod immediately for Yasmin to approach the door with a sign saying ORT2, which then opens.
It’s a short corridor which is probably just wide enough for two beds to pass each other. They seem to have reached the ward where Parveen is. Yasmin has just concluded this when a new women in white comes out from a door at the middle of the corridor and approaches them. She looks at their tags, gestures them to follow her back down the corridor. Three doors down on the right the white woman gently opens the door with the sign ’16 – 19′ ajar and peeps in. Then she opens it fully and shows Yasmin and Salima to the second bed on the right out of four.
A woman wearing a dark green burqa with sleeves sits half upright in the bed leaned against a white pillow and reading a gossip magazine. A white sheet covers the bed surface and another one is stretched tightly out over the woman from waist down with the ends tucked under the mattress. Its right corner is folded back so that the foot and right leg to mid calf is revealed to be covered in a cast. The foot is lifted five inches up by a sling hanging from a stand from the corner of the bed end. This makes it very likely it is Parveen in the bed. She doesn’t notice someone is present. The woman in white gestures towards three chairs standing under a window to the left of the bed. The windows have shutters which are turned to make the room just a little dim without the electric light turned on. When Parveen still doesn’t react to them the woman in white pats the covering sheet on Parveen’s thigh. Parveen looks up to see them, puts the magazine on the bedside table to the right then, with her white gloved left hand, she takes a hold of the cuff of the dark green right burqa sleeve and pulls her right arm and hand inside the burqa. A bulge appears over the mouth and a few seconds later a voice a little less muffled than that of Yasmin and Salina says, as the right hand appears from the sleeve again
“Welcome guests. You may speak anywhere in the ward but please keep your voices low.”
Yasmin and Salima reach up under all their head covering to the back of their heads to unbuckle their gags. It takes a little while for both to be able to remove the ball from their mouth and then they remember they have to hold their leather masks out from the mouth to be heard.
When this has been achieved Yasmin speaks. “Hello Parveen, it’s Yasmin and with me is Salima.”
Salima says “Pleased to meet you Parveen. What a terrible accident you had. Yasmin has told me all about it. You sound in a good mood now. Your foot clearly shows you have been taken care of for you to lie here and relax with a magazine.”
Parveen says “Please sit down. Yes, I got some pills so nothing hurts and I relax. Jamal brought the magazine when we met in a male visitor’s room last night.”
Yasmin lifts her burqa from the inside for the bag with their presents to show and then starts lifting it up revealing more and more of her black dress while saying “We brought something for you as well. Please stretch your hand down as much as possible. Although this is a female-only wing I don’t want to reveal more than absolutely necessary.”
Parveen gets hold of the bag, places it in her lap and then starts pulling fruit bags and sweet boxes out of the carrier bag to utter “Oh” and “Wow” several times. When the carrier bag is empty she holds up a box of sweets and says
“Uum, Fakhar’s special recipe coconut laddu is a favourite of mine. If I eat all these treats I’ll need to exercise when I get home and I think I have to take it easy with my leg for a while. I’ll share everything except the laddu with my bedfellow Fatima.”
Parveen gestures to the bed next to her own where another dark green burqa lies down as if sleeping and with a tight sheet covering her from waist down as well. Hearing her name makes Fatima lift her head and turn it towards them. As Fatima and Yasmin and Salima can barely see each other because the last two are sitting down with Parveen’s bed between them Yasmin and Salima stand up, bow and Yasmin says
“Pleased to meet you Fatima. My name is Yasmin, I’m Parveen’s neighbour, and with me is my best friend Salima who lives quite close to us.”
Fatima gets to sit more upright and says “It’s wonderful to have good neighbours coming right away when you have an accident Yasmin. Parveen has told me all about what happened. We keep each other company. I have a good neighbour as well which may have saved my life when my husband beat me severely because the chicken sajji didn’t taste of enough garlic. She took me to her house and got someone to call an ambulance. I have broken several ribs and got some bad burns on my thighs when I was thrown against the stove.”
Parveen says “Fatima and I do our best to entertain each other. Her neighbour can’t afford to come to visit and you are the first to come and visit me here. Even if there is someone here during all the visiting hours there are many more hours to kill and you can’t read or doze the entire day.”
Salima says “Asma and Wafa are coming to visit you at this time tomorrow. They send their warmest regards. Jamal has lent your keys to Wafa’s husband so we girls cleaned your house this morning. You had your accident just after starting cleaning and you won’t be able to do as much as usual when you get home.”
Parveen says “Please come and lean over the bed so I can hug you both. You would see tears of joy if I wasn’t veiled.”
After Salima, as the last to have been hugged Yasmin says “You have to give Asma and Wafa an even longer and tighter hug tomorrow because we could only do a little of the work having to stay in full purdah for public. This happened because Salima didn’t know about the cleaning and thus couldn’t have asked her husband, and I because I didn’t think of asking Sayed.”
Parveen says “Keeping purdah the way one has chosen of course takes precedence. Maybe my stay here will make me at least dress more modestly in the future. I have been wearing a burqa constantly since you, Yasmin, helped me into my own at home, so I’m getting accustomed to it. X-rays go through any clothing and when I first had my leg examined my burqa was just folded up to the waist. Then I was dressed in hospital clothes including this burqa. It was folded up to the waist for having the cast applied but since then it has only been pushed up for the right leg to be uncovered up to the knee. For the general tests they do several times a day taking blood samples, measuring blood pressure and some other parameters just my right sleeve is removed. The sleeves of these hospital burqas are attached to the body with a zipper and can be replaced with a pad for the arms to be confined inside the burqa like yours are, but my lying on my burqa and held firmly down by the top sheet I wouldn’t be able to pull the hem of the burqa so high I can use my hands and arms like you. For drinking the burqa has a slit over the mouth and so I can eat a sleeve is removed and I take both my arms inside the burqa. The food has to go in through the arm opening. A thing is that the zippers can only be handled from the outside so only the nurses removes them and put them on. Fatima has chosen to have her arms in sleeves even though she hasn’t got anything to read, the woman opposite her on the other hand chose to have her arms confined inside the burqa by asking the nurse who cleared up after lunch to close the arm openings with pads.”
“The woman opposite?” Yasmin asks inquiringly. Both the opposite beds appear to be empty.
Parveen answers “Yes, Fatima and I do not have this room to ourselves. It looks like the beds opposite are used to store cushions or the like but they contain living bodies completely covered by a tightly stretched sheet from head to toe; the sheets of Fatima and I are the same but just folded to only cover from the waist down. From eleven at night until six in the morning and for a one hour nap after lunch we are completely confined like them. The patient opposite Fatima has asked to be completely covered as much as possible because she is extremely pious. The other patient is covered because she needs a lot of sleep, poor thing. A nurse comes to ask how she feels and take measurements every two hours. Often she has to wake her.”
Fatima adds “You can see for yourself as it should happen within minutes and as it seems this patient is neither specially religious or what the nurses do isn’t distasteful to watch or humiliating to show they don’t hide the bed behind the curtains. Please just don’t stare.”
Salima asks “You don’t wear any of your own clothes now I assume. I’m curious as to what is beneath the burqa, if I may ask?”
Parveen answers “You are right, I wear only hospital clothing, so I won’t reveal any secrets of mine by telling you. You have seen how the receptionists are dressed? Good. I would appear very much like them if my burqa was removed. Everything is white except the short pak-chador and the gloves which are dark green. The medical gown is longer than theirs reaching the ankles. The salwar are baggier and of course we don’t wear clogs, only stockings that reach the knees. I only wear the left stocking and my right salwar leg is rolled up above my cast. The elbow long gloves as you can see are not latex but thin opaque cotton. Although the receptionists look a bit odd not showing an eye slit but only two circular eye holes I can say from wearing the same thing that it seems to be only an improvement. The peripheral vision is of course reduced but you are better hidden and unpinning the face part of the pak-chador and revealing your face for example for eating is just the same as with ordinary pak-chadors. Against my skin I am wearing a quite immodest one piece suit. I want to find a place that sells something similar because I’m sure Jamal will love it.”
Yasmin asks “And it seems to me you removed a gag when seeing us?”
Parveen answers “Yes I wore a not that large ball gag with an elastic strap. I can just reach up and take hold of it through the fabric of the pak-chador to pull it out of the mouth and then push it beneath the chin without needing to unpin the pak-chador and using just one hand. Getting it up over the chin again is a little more difficult. I have never used a gag before but, like the burqa, I’ve gotten used to it. Wearing a gag when not speaking or eating is mandatory and the hospital has several types and sizes of gags to choose from. The nurses are always mute. You mainly ask them to do something for you by pointing to whatever you need done on a long list of tasks they hold up. If your arms are confined they put a pointing stick through the mouth slit of the burqa into the gag tube. Women using the burqa sleeves as Fatima and I are may also write what we have to say, but I haven’t been in a situation where I felt I need that. The female doctors are dressed almost like the nurses with at least as thick a face covering but they have a small microphone between their lips instead of a ball gag and its sound comes out through a small speaker between the breasts. We are not supposed to speak to them but if they address us and we don’t understand we can write a question to a nurse afterwards.”
Salima asks “Am I right in thinking that all nurses are dressed entirely in white and doctors in blue with white gloves footwear and face covering? I saw those two outfits in the large hall we crossed.”
Parveen answers “You are almost right. There are also female porters and secretaries. They all are dressed like the receptionists but wear a thick medical mask on top of the pak-chador. The porters are dressed in all yellow and the secretaries in all green exactly like the receptionists. I think the latter put on a mask as well when leaving the reception area.”
Parveen hesitated a moment and said the rest almost whispering because the door has opened and a nurse with a trolley walks towards the bed opposite Parveen. She goes to the head end of the bed and pulls the top sheet down at an angle to reveal the dark green burqa to the thigh in the side where she stands but only to the chest on the other side. While the nurse zips the pad covering the arm opening off the patient for some seconds she lifts the head from the pillow just enough to see Yasmin and Salima. Perhaps she has not been sleeping but listening to their conversation. Next the nurse reaches into the arm opening with a cuff to measure blood pressure and soon after the blood pressure monitor buzzes. When it stops the cuff is removed and a zip in the kameez sleeve is opened. A needle is inserted into the patient’s arm and blood starts to flow into a small test tube. A wad of cotton is secured over the needle mark with a piece of plaster. The sleeve is zipped shut again and the nurse, waiting ready with a pen, shows the patient a sheet of paper. The patient points to the paper and the nurse nods several times, perhaps approvingly. The nurse is surprised when the hand comes so far out of the sleeve opening that the arm shows up to the elbow. The patient is first pointing towards Parveen and then towards Fatima. The nurse repeats these movements and the patient nods. The nurse walks over between the beds of Parveen and Fatima. She shows the sheet to both of them. It is a question with five answers to select from:
Are you feeling
(a) Much better
(c) About the same
(e) Much worse
They see that (b) has been ticked. This makes Parveen and Fatima clap their hands. The nurse goes back to the opposite bed and gestures if the patient now wants the burqa sleeves attached. She shakes her head for the nurse to zip the pad over the arm opening and start pulling the top sheet over her upper body and head again. The patient lets the sheet press her flat down again and as the nurse turns to the trolley it’s again hard to tell there is a living woman in the bed.
When the door has closed behind the nurse Salima says “You said it wasn’t distasteful what the nurse would do with the patient opposite, but when she inserted the needle and the blood flowed I felt a little sick.”
Parveen says “I have no problems except my leg and have already delivered blood samples three times. It hurts less than if you happen to prick yourself with a sewing needle. I was a little afraid before the first prick but as I could hardly feel it I have been relaxed since.”
Yasmin says “I noticed the nurses bringing us here didn’t wear a tag for identification and neither did this nurse, and seeing this nurse close up from both front and back there doesn’t seem to be any embroidery or print on her gown or head scarf either. If it’s the same one that bought us here or another one I can’t tell.”
Parveen answers “I can’t tell them apart either. It’s the same with the doctors and the secretaries. I think this wing is for women in purdah. Although the doctors and nurses have to show their arms and their lower legs to be able to do their work they practice purdah as much as they can, and being anonymous is a part of purdah. You may have noticed there are no names on or around our beds. We are mainly identified by our room or bed number, but I have discovered there is a name tag attached to the inside of the burqa hem.”
Fatima says “I think the nurses and secretaries are assigned a number on the duty list. I saw a nurse coming in here, point at a nurse already here serving lunch and raising seven fingers towards her to make the nurse here nod and the new nurse leave again. I think the nurse came to learn that nurse seven was serving lunch in here.”
Yasmin says “It seems plausible Fatima. Salima and I are effectively anonymous as well as our tag only connects us with this bed here and very few know who occupies it.”
Parveen opens a bag with apples and says “There are six so we can easily have one each. I feel thirsty from all this talking. These apples look very juicy and it’s good to get something in your stomach in between the proper meals as well. Would one of you pass Fatima an apple?”
Salima passes an apple to Fatima. Meanwhile Yasmin watches as Parveen takes an apple and then pulls the arm and hand with the apple out of the burqa sleeve and inside the burqa and she realises that neither Salima nor herself has an easy access to their own mouth. Parveen realises this and shows her hand again to take the bag and hold it as low down the side of the bed as possible. Yasmin and Salima in turn lift their burqas from the inside until their black gloved hands can get hold of an apple.
They enjoy the apples in silence for some minutes. Then Yasmin asks Parveen
“Have you got any information about how long you are going to have to stay here?”
Parveen apparently has to chew and swallow a large bite of apple before she answers “Yes, the doctor this morning said that the tests showed that my body had reacted as expected during the night. If it keeps going like this I can be discharged after dinner the day after tomorrow, but there is always a small risk of fever and a very small risk of infection. It also requires Jamal can find a doctor to check my leg in a few weeks time and replace my cast if necessary. I’ll ask him to find a female doctor when he comes to visit me tonight.”
Yasmin says “Then we’ll arrange for someone to visit you the day after tomorrow as well.”
Parveen says “No don’t bother please. It’s quite expensive to travel here. With the prospect of going home after dinner and with Fatima to talk to I can easily manage an afternoon without a visit.”
Yasmin says “Then let’s wait and see if you can say the same to Asma and Wafa tomorrow. Anyway I’ll invite you for a homecoming lunch party the day after you come home. Salima, Asma and Wafa will be invited as well of course.”
Parveen says “You are such a good neighbour. Before I was taken away by the ambulance we all agreed that we ought to see much more of each other. This lunch party is the perfect start to this.”
Yasmin says “Good, now that everything is . . .”
The door is opened by a nurse who holds the door for a doctor and a second nurse with a trolley before she enters herself closing the door behind her. The doctor steps up to the end of Fatima’s bed and bows her head in greeting. Immediately following he gestures to the nurses to draw the curtains around the bed. A muffled voice with an electronic sound says
“It’s time to have your burns treated again and the bandages changed madam. Please confirm you are ORT2-16. Good, we can’t be too safe although it’s completely unlikely we have another patient with similar burns at the same spots at the same time. Nurse please.”
Parveen, Yasmin and Salima listen in silence to the sounds indicating activity behind the curtains, and now and then the curtains move as well. After some minutes Parveen gestures Yasmin and Salima to get up from their chairs and lean their heads towards her. Whispering she says
“Like this I think we can continue our conversation.”
Yasmin then whispers “I was about to say that now everything seems settled I think it’s time for us to leave. But it would be rude to leave without saying goodbye to Fatima. How long do you think the doctor will stay?”
Parveen whispers “The only thing I can say is that this morning a doctor with two nurses came to Fatima as well and the curtains were closed for ten to fifteen minutes I think.”
Salima then whispers “We’ll stay Yasmin. It will only mean that dinner might be delayed and I’m sure Aziz and Sayed won’t complain. It is them who have arranged our transport after all.”
Parveen whispers “Please remember to thank your husband’s for me for doing that and paying for your trip.”
Yasmin whispers “I recall that I was reading a used fashion magazine I got from our friend Leila. It was actually Salima who introduced us to each other. You have some used magazines as well, don’t you?”
Salima whispers “Yes, Leila was a secretary in a fashion bureau for a year or so before she got married. I have three or four old magazines at the moment I think. The taxi driver can take us to my house so you can pick up the magazines, take them home with you and hand them over to Asma for her and Wafa to bring them when they come to visit tomorrow.”
Parveen whispers “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope you can sense how excited I am.”
Yasmin whispers “It’s nothing really. When Salima tells Leila what has happened to her magazines Leila will just get some more for us. What are your favourite dishes Parveen? I have to be sure I’ll serve something you like for your homecoming lunch party.”
Parveen names some dishes and a vivid discussion about how to make each results several times in speech louder than whispering for a few seconds until the two other hush the offender. The discussion temporarily stops when the curtains around Fatima’s bed are drawn back immediately followed by the doctor leaving with the two nurses following. Yasmin and Salima look at Fatima’s bed in dismay. All there is to see is a white sheet tightly stretched out over one or more objects as in the beds opposite. Yasmin and Salima both go over and lean down over where Fatima’s head is and Yasmin says loudly as before the doctor came
“Fatima it’s Yasmin. Salima and I are about to leave. We wish you well and hope you can get your life sorted out. Goodbye!”
“Goodbye from Salima as well,” says Salima.
There is no reaction at all. The sheet moves even less than that of the patient opposite Parveen. Parveen then says “I think she is in a deep sleep, perhaps even unconscious due to an injection. It seems to be the same as this morning but I wouldn’t tell you as it first appeared to me as being different. If it is like this morning she will wake in about an hour. I think it is up to her if she wants to tell me what is done to her, but I think she is sedated because it’s very unpleasant to have her burns cleaned.”
Yasmin and Salima have turned to face Parveen again. Yasmin says
“I think I have read or seen on television the same as you say as well Parveen. Then there is nothing we can do but to ask you to give her our most sincere regards. How do we get out of here?”
Parveen says “I’ll call a nurse.”
She taps the palm of her left hand with her right hand a number of times until a beep sounds from the wall above the head end of the bed where a red light turns on as well, as does another red light above the door.
Parveen continues “Tapping the right palm at least five times starts the call. This can be done even if you are fully confined by the sheet and it doesn’t need to be the other hand you use to tap the palm. Thank you so much for coming here and for the presents. Please tell Asma and Wafa that I’m looking forward to seeing them tomorrow. And of course I very much look forward to seeing all of you in a few days back home. I have almost forgotten about my leg while you are here.”
Salima says “I wish everything goes normal for you for us to meet again in three days.”
The door opens and Yasmin quickly says “I wish you a speedy recovery as well Parveen.”
Parveen points to Yasmin and Salima to make the nurse produce the list of tasks that Parveen had mentioned earlier. The nurse has of course understood what they want so she points at ‘Visitors leave’ and Parveen nods to confirm she is right. The nurse then indicates that they may embrace Parveen before they leave and of course they do. Finally she then holds a fist to her mouth for them to mute themselves facing first Yasmin and Salima and then, a little surprisingly to them, Parveen. But then Yasmin recalls that Parveen was gagged when they came and she had said it is mandatory for the patients to be gagged whenever they don’t have to use their mouth. Because Parveen uses a ball gag on an elastic strap and Yasmin and Salima have a leather strap to be buckled Parveen takes her hand down from her head before the two other. When Parveen’s hand comes out of the burqa sleeve again the nurse leans over her and guides her to fold her hands on the chest, and almost in the same movement she grabs the edge of the top sheet and starts pulling it up over Parveen’s upper body and head. A suppressed cry of surprise escapes from her mouth despite the ball gag and it is the sheet and not herself which makes her lie down flat on the bed. Yasmin hasn’t got used to seeing a normal burqa clad woman be erased like this. The sight stays in her mind for a while as they follow the nurse out of the room.
Rather expectedly she leads them out of the ward where they came in. As the door automatically opens she stops and gestures them to wait right outside. There are other visitors waiting at some of the other doors in the corridor. A few more come out from the wards while they wait. Yasmin becomes aware of that her hands are now hanging relaxed down the sides after one of them has been lifted to hold the leather mask out from the mouth during most of the visit. After close to ten minutes a nurse comes out from one of the last doors and walks along the corridor while continually gesturing the visitors to follow her. Yasmin isn’t sure she could have found the wide corridor to the reception room on her own. It is not until they are almost at the doorway that she sees a sign saying ‘Reception.’
There are now four receptionists on duty as visitors are both coming and going. When it is their turn at the counter the receptionist simply looks their tag number up on her monitor and gestures them to go to the far left of the room, wait for their number to appear on a display and then go to the exit. The display shows five numbers at once and when a new one appears the others move down and the oldest disappears. Yasmin has plenty of time to grasp this because it takes about twenty minutes before their number appears. Just outside the exit, taxi drivers and other men await the women observing the tags coming out. The taxi driver who brought them to the hospital recognises them moments before Yasmin and Salima recognise him. In the darkness of the taxi they both immediately fall asleep.
4. The hospital visit has consequences
The next day, late in the morning, Salima visits Yasmin. While Yasmin is tea they talk about their visit to the hospital. First when they have been seated at the coffee table for some minutes and enjoyed the tea and a biscuit Salima says
“I couldn’t get the sight of these beds holding inhuman forms covered by a sheet out of my mind. When Aziz and I were ready to go to bed I found a large sheet and after I had placed myself on my back in the middle of the bed I asked him to tuck it tightly under the mattress. It was a very special and quite erotic experience. Although the sheet was thinner than even our daily life burqas it quickly felt more restricting to breathe and I also got hot as if in the sun even if it was a relatively cool night, but most strangely, instead of dozing off, I started to daydream.
I was a nurse sweating and out of breath from the first minute on duty due to being covered in thick white layers of fabric from head to toe and especially across the lower face. The only task I had to do was to go from room to room and ensure all patients were tightly secured under a sheet, and if they weren’t do so. It was only the doctors who could order a sheet to be lifted. Visitors had to speak to a bed sheet and the patient was unable to see even the burqas of her visitors.
Every two to two and a half hours each nurse had a break. We went to a room with a dozen hammocks covered by sheets hanging down almost to the floor. There we first chose a plastic bottle with a drinking tube attached from a selection of beverages, then a fresh face covering pad and the thick piece of cloth to hold it and cover the lower face and lastly a plastic bag with cleansing tissues and a new pair of latex gloves. We then walked to an empty hammock, where the sheet was already loosely fitted around the hammock by one half by having eyelets along the lower edges with a lace fitted to tighten the sheet around the hammock. I flipped the unlaced half of the sheet back, climbed into the hammock and flipped the sheet back over my head. Now having the head covered I took my goggles off, untied the humid sweaty cloth over my nose and mouth for the now almost unbreathable pad to be removed. After that I cleaned my face before putting a hand outside of the sheet to drop the used tissues, pad and cloth on the floor. I then placed the bottle on my chest and led the tube into my mouth to start drinking. The items being dropped on the floor had the nurse taking care of the room come and put the laces through the remaining eyelets and then start making the lacing as tight as she could. About two minutes after I entered the room she left the hammock with me unable to do anything but flex my fingers and my toes; and speak. I said ‘fifteen tucked in’, which outside my hammock sounded low and muffled due to heavy duty fabric of the sheet. Three other numbers answered and we gossiped about celebrities for about ten minutes. Then one by one the voices stopped. Our minds started daydreaming being one of the women or with one of the men we had been gossiping about. This state was broken by the sheet being unlaced. Then I pulled the tube out of my mouth, put the fresh pad across the lower part of my face, tied the thick cloth around my head to have the head heavily covered and press the pad firmly against the face, fitted the goggles and finally replaced the latex gloves.
I left the hammock for a new period on duty.
I was about to dream on about what I would do as a nurse after work when my covering sheet was touched. Aziz cut a hole in the sheet right above my crotch. I’m sure I would have sounded much louder than Parveen when she stumbled, but by ecstasy, if I had gone to bed without the ball gag for once. Now it was only Aziz who heard and sensed my total bliss. We drifted to sleep after the best sex since our honeymoon.”
After almost a minute of silence Yasmin finally says “I have to say I found those sheet covered beds a bit frightening, but after this account of yours there is no doubt I’ll have to try this as well. Our visit made a totally different idea come to my mind but going to help Parveen the day before yesterday and visiting her yesterday have spoiled my usual weekly schedule of household chores. I may have got on with my idea by tomorrow.”
Salima says “Yes, I’m behind as well. I better get on my way . . .”
She is interrupted by the door bell. Yasmin fits her gag and puts her bushiya loosely over her head and shoulders and crosses the yard to open the door to the street. A woman in a conservative dark blue salwar kameez and wearing a boushiya on top as well points from herself and then twice to the left to confirm Yasmin’s assumption that it is Asma. While crossing the yard Asma removes her bushiya and unpins the scarf from across her face to finally confirm her identity, but she still surprises Yasmin when she sees that Asma is wearing a black ball gag in her mouth held by an elastic strap similar to what Yasmin herself is wearing. Having peeked out the house front door to see a woman coming Salima has decided to delay leaving and not even gagged herself. When Asma appears in the doorway her eyes widen on seeing the ball gag but being fully veiled the look on her face is hidden and she just says
“Nice to meet you again Asma. It’s Salima as you might have guessed.”
Yasmin and Asma remove their gags and Yasmin says “Welcome Asma, would you like a cup of tea?”
Asma answers “Pleased to meet you both again. No thank you. You know I have a busy afternoon ahead of me going to visit Parveen. Wafa has invited me for lunch at her house and right after we dress for our visit to the hospital and await our transport. Dressing for the visit is why I came. I was returning from shopping yesterday when I saw a woman in an elegant white burqa leave this house. Am I right it in thinking it was you Yasmin going to Salima’s to be transported to the hospital? Assuming you are not going to use that burqa for the next twenty-four hours perhaps I could borrow it as my own cheap blue one is not really appropriate for visiting this highly esteemed hospital where they take modesty really seriously?”
Yasmin answers “Of course you can. I completely agree. I didn’t find my own everyday burqa appropriate either.”
Salima immediately adds “I also went in a burqa very similar to that of Yasmin. Does Wafa have an appropriate burqa? If not she can borrow mine. I was just about to leave. I won’t mind going three houses in the wrong direction first, and if she would like to borrow my burqa one of you can accompany me home to get it right away. It only takes fifteen to twenty minutes up and down.”
Asma shows an appreciative look and says “I’m quite sure she only has a burqa like my own. You are both very gracious. Do we leave right away Salima?”
Asma immediately gags herself and seeing Salima nod she covers her face and puts the bushiya on to be ready to leave when Salima starts putting on her black dress. When Salima fits her burqa Asma turns to Yasmin and hugs her. A little surprisingly to both of them Salima doesn’t start moving towards the door when her burqa drops to the floor but instead her voice sounds low and muffled by the layers of fabric covering her mouth
“While I was dressing it occurred to me that it has been me coming here to get acquainted with you Asma and Wafa as well. None of you have been to my home and we can’t be good friends without knowing how each live. Why don’t all three of you come to me for afternoon tea tomorrow? Then we can exchange hospital experiences and I can get my burqa back. There is no obligation to veil like Yasmin and I to visit my home. Just leave together and the one who accompanies me now to borrow the burqa doesn’t even need to take notice of the route as I guess Yasmin can find my house walking while blind.”
Asma nods for Salima to head for the door, but then Yasmin speaks
“Voice modesty is used as much as feasible at the hospital. Just as our everyday burqas are not appropriate it showed that Salima and I made the right choice by wearing a large ball gag with leather straps and a buckle. Do Wafa and you have such gags or do you need to borrow these as well?”
The Asma has to remove her gag again to speak. “Thank you but I have several which I have never used. A branch of my family, who we only see at weddings and such, observe voice modesty almost all their waking hours although they don’t veil nearly as much as you two and every time we meet and when they see my small ball gag on an elastic cord they give me what they call a proper gag. They all hurt like hell to wear but for the trip to see Parveen I’ll suffer, and Wafa probably will as well.”
Salima meanwhile has gagged and starts walking towards the door with Asma trailing her while fitting her gag and face cover again. This time they leave Yasmin’s house.
The next day in the early afternoon Yasmin goes to Asma’s house for them to meet with Wafa and the three of them together go for tea at Salima’s. Last night Sayed wanted to go to bed with Yasmin early and here he immediately started to be intimate so Yasmin never got to even think about trying being trapped under a sheet. But earlier, before Sayed got home, she had time to work on her own idea so now when meeting Asma and Wafa her outfit is a little different from normal. It’s not her public appearance that is different though so Asma and Wafa just see her as usual in her off-white peep-hole burqa waiting for her both fully covered in blue burqas. They just touch cheek to cheek and then start walking to Salima’s.
Their hostess receives them wearing a simple sky blue salwar kameez with the usual bushiya placed on top and reaching down to the elbows for better coverage when opening the door to the street. Inside the house the three guests remove their burqas and Salima her boushiya but then the undressing stops. The three guests stare even though they could have removed their next layer for better vision. Salima’s head is covered in thick scarves matching her salwar kameez in colour and she wears dark sunglasses for her head to look like the nurses and doctors of the hospital. After she has let her guests take in the sight for a little while she goes to the coffee table and picks up a notepad she then holds up in front of them where she has written
‘Being under a tight sheet was an interesting experience. Now I’m trying the thick tight head covering of a nurse.’
From this written statement the three others understand that Salima is unable to speak.
They reach up under the remaining layers to remove their gags. Yasmin notices that Asma and Wafa have both been gagged with a ball on an elastic strap like Salima and herself. Despite they normally would have started speaking now they don’t because of their hostess.
They just continue their undressing. Asma and Wafa are also wearing a black layer like Yasmin. Theirs consist of a long black dress and a boushiya like Salima has just removed; and black gloves, but as they stay on they can’t be said to be part of this layer. Yasmin, in addition to a long black dress, wears a black waist length khimar with a smaller black boushiya piece of cloth attached and elbow length black gloves going on top of her kameez sleeves and an inner pair of gloves. Having removed this she is ready to be in private with women and non-mahram men, but as usual still not showing an inch of herself.
She can now, along with Salima, establish that Asma and Wafa haven’t followed Salima’s suggestion to come dressed as usual to show hands, feet and face, but are fully covered like them. A little less modest though by wearing a colourful salwar kameez as usual and not a plain single-coloured one like Yasmin and Salima. The heads of Asma and Wafa are as usual covered by a large matching scarf with a long end drawn across the lower face and pinned at the opposite side as they often do when going out in public, but today this face covering is not removed in private. As earlier observed their hands are covered in black gloves and further they wear black opaque cotton pantyhose or stockings. But for the first time as far as Yasmin knows they wear eye covering. It looks like they have done this together because their coverings are identical. It’s a rather dense black mesh so that all that can be through it is a little movement of the eyes.
Last it is Yasmin’s turn to be stared at. The others can now see the implementation of the idea she got from the hospital. The face part of her pak-chador does not stop just below the eyes as is normal but reaches up to overlap the part of her head scarf covering her forehead. To see it has circular cut-outs for the eyes like the receptionists and secretaries at the hospital, but Yasmin wears her usual eye cover beneath for her eyes to be a little more obscured than those of Asma and Wafa.
After they all now have learned that each of them has been influenced by the hospital visit to increase the modesty of their appearance it’s finally time to greet each other. The hostess, Salima, starts by tightly hugging first Asma or Wafa, not knowing the salwar kameez sets of any of them she, and Yasmin as well, doesn’t know who is who. Then she hugs the other and lastly Yasmin. Then Yasmin hugs Asma and Wafa, and then to end the ambiguity says
“As our hostess is excused may I, who spends half my waking hours here, in words welcome you Asma and Wafa to Salima’s home. The way Salima hugged you both tells me that she is just as thrilled as I am that you Asma have neglected Salima’s suggestion of the two of you coming here dressed as you ordinarily do but are fully covered to be just as modestly dressed as Salima and I are.”
Yasmin’s words had the person in the green salwar kameez turning to face the orange one to announce that it is Asma wearing the orange even before she answers
“Yes the hospital, and not least the extremely modest dress-code they insist on has been on my mind from the moment Wafa and I left it, so just after I left Yasmin’s house yesterday, I decided to show nothing of myself as the two of you do for this gathering. When passing the invitation on to Wafa I even told her that we would have to be fully covered. Sorry Wafa.”
Wafa says “Thank you for the invitation Salima. I’ll return the favour in the near future for sure. I forgive you Asma. Arriving as Asma and I used to dress to this pious home I would not have done anyway. Gloves and keeping my face covered except for the eyes is most likely how I would have appeared, but seeing how modestly everyone was dressed at the hospital I immediately agreed with Asma when she told we had to be fully covered. This experience has made me decide to wear a burqa in public from now on; and probably dress more modestly in private as well. In fact early this morning I went to Salman’s modest clothing store, where they have second-hand clothing as well I think you know, in the hope that I could find a burqa just half as good as the exquisite burqa you lent me at an affordable price. Thank you so much for lending it to me. It’s so much more pleasing to wear than the blue one I arrived in that you almost feel sad when having to take it off. No doubt if such burqas were handed out for free to all those against veiling they would all become modest covered women in less than a week. Alas the only burqa above average I saw was a totally worn-out black one which looked as if it was what I was looking for when it had been new. Its face part was far less worn-out than the rest. It was almost for free so I bought it to remind me of how a burqa should be, but then when Asma and I discussed how to cover our eyes I suggested the mesh of this burqa to better wear just a little part of it than just look at and feel it. The mesh was just sufficiently large to be cut in half for eye covering for both of us when placing the top edge of our scarves as high as over the eyelids and ensuring they stay there with three pins attaching the top edge of the scarf to the mesh.”
Meanwhile the three guests have been seated at the coffee table and Salima has started making tea and placed dishes with sandwiches and cakes on the table. Asma asks Yasmin if she has studied the hospital receptionists so closely as to be able to copy their pak-chadors or perhaps even acquired one somehow. She answers she has made her pak-chador just from seeing them. It fact it was only realised because she found a remnant large enough to cover the entire face of a pak-chador she had once made herself, and so it had to be this pak-chador that she modified and its matching salwar kameez she is wearing now. Salima has just poured the tea and now sits down with her guests while gesturing them to help themselves to the food. The guests have noticed that Salima has only placed a mug with a straw at her own seat and while she demonstrates there is a tube for drinking under her thick tight face covering coming out down at the neck just above the neck of the kameez. Wafa says
“This sandwich tastes wonderful. I feel a little ashamed going to eat of all of this which smells and looks so wonderful while you can only have tea.”
Salima takes the notepad and after a while the others can read ‘I have chosen it to be like this myself. I ate a sandwich just after having made them and then immediately covered my face. I haven’t decided if I’ll remove my face covering and have a piece of cake if there is any left after you have gone home. It’s an interesting experience to be covered like a nurse. At the same time I listen to your conversation I am a nurse in my mind with three patients who I serve lunch. As long as this head covering fuels my mind I’ll keep it on even if I have to drop dinner and perhaps go on to sleep in it. My dreams might very well take me to a new level much more exciting than the images created now.’
Yasmin says “In your daydream under the tight sheet you told me you dreamed it was hot and suffocating as I remember. Now that you have copied a nurse’s head covering for real I would expect your dream was not far from reality?”
While Salima writes an answer Yasmin tells Asma and Wafa that Salima had tried being tightly confined under a sheet two nights ago. Then they read ‘My head is sweaty and it keeps getting hotter, and although at the beginning it wasn’t that much more difficult to breathe than when wearing public clothing with a thick burqa on a hot and dusty day it slowly becomes harder, but I can probably manage for several hours more.’
Yasmin then says “I have to stop now even if I would have loved to have more of these wonderful sandwiches, even better than the fine sandwiches I always get here, but there has to be room for trying all the cakes as well. Asma and Wafa, perhaps you can complement each other in telling us about your visit to the hospital and then Salima and I can nod when having experienced the same and I can comment in between.”
Asma and Wafa start systematically from the time they together started dressing for the trip. Their journey is about the same as that of Yasmin and Salima, but it was an extraordinary experience to them both so they like it being repeated. It’s still the same woman in the bed next to Parveen, and Asma and Wafa have just reached the point where a doctor and two nurses, this day as well, come to see to the woman when Salima suddenly turns away from the table to first take her hands to her nose and try to pull her tight covering away from the face but when it can’t be moved she takes her now shaking hands to the back of her head to desperately try to loosen the knot of the thick tight face covering scarf while getting up from the chair on shaky legs and staggering to the bedroom and closing the door. They all look worriedly at the door and after a few seconds Wafa says
“We were just about to reach the point in our account where at the hospital we experienced something similar I think, but let’s first be sure Salima is okay and if she hopefully is she has to hear this as well.”
Yasmin gets up, knocks the bedroom door and calls loudly “Salima are you okay? Is there anything we can do?”
From the bedroom Salima, her voice sounding normal, replies “I’m okay. Just my prediction of being able to breathe in my nurse head covering for several hours more was wrong. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Please take some more cake and tea.”
After a little while Yasmin sits down again and pours herself a cup of tea. Asma and Wafa have just refilled their mugs as well. Nothing is said while the three of them look towards the bedroom door more than each other. After five minutes Salima comes out of the bedroom with her head covered as a nurse like before but it’s a new covering as this one is white. Yasmin, while shaking her head, says
“Crazy Salima, you had to continue. I think you have from the beginning decided to try dressing like a nurse until bedtime.”
As she sits down Salima nods her head. As Asma fills Salima’s mug Wafa says
“Salima, I was just about to tell that we, like Yasmin and you, experienced a doctor coming to see to the woman next to Parveen. The doctor’s visit started like what you experienced, I assume, with the curtains being drawn around the other patient and then we heard the doctors muffled electronic sounding voice but so low nothing could be perceived. Whispering Parveen took up our conversation and we chatted for some minutes until suddenly interrupted by the doctor’s voice suddenly sounding loud but still incomprehensible saying something like ‘Urh, arh, oi, oi, hhrh’. Half way through these sounds the doctor burst through the curtains with her hands holding at her face covering, just like you did Salima. She staggered towards the door while a nurse came up at each side and took hold of her just moments before she collapsed for the nurses to drag a limp body out of the room. Parveen was just as shocked as Asma and I not having seen this before either, but the woman, whose doctor’s visit was cut off, said that it had happened to her once before. The doctor who came to finish what the collapsed doctor was doing told her that the doctors here were so dedicated that almost all of them now and then forgot to both take a break and think about how hard it was to breathe.”
Hearing this Salima starts writing for the three others to just await her message. It says
‘I have been a doctor more than a nurse. I have been totally dedicated to making the best possible welcome to Asma and Wafa, and although I have been aware of that my breathing became harder and harder I have all the time believed that I was able to take much more. Of course, contrary to the doctors, I had no experience of where my limit was.’
Both Asma and Wafa get up and go to embrace Salima saying as with one voice “I feel really welcome. It radiates from you that you like me, and the fantastic meal emphasises it.”
Asma finishes their account where the rest is again close to what Yasmin and Salima experienced. Then they, or rather Yasmin, Asma and Wafa, discuss the welcome-back lunch for Parveen which might be tomorrow.
At half past four Yasmin says she has to get home to prepare dinner and Asma and Wafa say they have to leave too. Wafa is worried about Salima being alone while she insists on wearing the breath restricting head covering and offers to spend the rest of the afternoon with her leaving a note for Aziz. Salima assures that she will from now on regularly think about if her breathing is coming close to the point of suffocation and besides, although it came as a surprise to her, she didn’t collapse and being alone she can remove the head covering right where she is in just a few seconds.
It is clear that Salima won’t accept Wafa’s offer and they start saying goodbye greetings and hug each of the others. Then Yasmin, Asma and Wafa cover for public and gag themselves to finally brush cheek to cheek with Salima.
Outside Yasmin’s house she brushes cheeks with Asma and Wafa who directly move on.
While preparing for bed Yasmin decides that trying to be covered under a sheet is sufficiently breath restricting not to be tried for some time to come or instead of dreaming pleasant dreams about being very modest at the hospital will have nightmares of suffocation. It will be a normal night where Sayed and her enjoy being close. But after about ten minutes together in bed their cuddling is interrupted by a female voice crying out loud from the neighbouring house:
“Aarh, aarh, ah, ah, ah. Aaaah,” Parveen cries.
“Parveen has obviously been discharged from the hospital,” Yasmin says in a worried voice to Sayed, continuing “With her leg in a cast she might have stumbled again the poor girl.”
Sayed answers “As I hear it she has just had the sex experience of her life, and she obviously doesn’t wear a gag in bed as you do when we aim at repeating our honeymoon. They have not been intimate for three days remember, and besides some men are especially aroused by women in casts or bandages.”
Yasmin gets out of bed while saying “I guess you are right. If I hadn’t heard her cry of pain the other day I would immediately have thought as you.”
She takes a large red ball gag with leather straps from a drawer and with difficulty enters it in her mouth, buckles the straps tight and returns to bed.
The inspiration to writing this story comes from the Flickr page of KÜshmar.
Copyright © 2015, Bo_Emp ; bo_emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com
Proofread by Nye North