Without A Guardian
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
Shirin has never been veiled this much. Several layers of scarves are wound around her head gagging her mouth, restricting her breath and hearing and reducing her sight to dark contours. On top is a ground sweeping chador much thicker than anything she has ever seen and fully closed with tightly spaced hooks up the front. She is in an unknown room well filled by about a dozen other women apparently here for the same reason and dressed like herself. For some minutes nothing happens except she starts longing for fresh air and something to drink.
Suddenly a loud male voice sounds “You’re now at the Paznuvad Asylum for Unguarded Women. I am the manager running the asylum with my wife, whom some of you have seen. The asylum has a capacity of several hundred residents, and my wife and I are the only employees, due to active contribution of the residents and a few technical installations. Among the technical features are the direct sound transmission of all prayers from the main mosque in our capital Qum. The asylum is of course designed to guarantee the utmost modesty and virtue of the residents and you are all required to remain covered always, except in the bathroom. Remember you are all here because you have no guardian to protect you. The asylum is now responsible for your honour and both its design and our procedures are made to ensure this is as good as if your guardian was an ayatollah. As a male I am not allowed into the residential area, but my wife will introduce you soon.”
It is silent for a minute then the voice of the manager sounds again with a different tone indicating he has moved during the break “To be able to maintain your face strictly veiled your daily needs are guided by sounds. In one wall of the main room you can get bottles of nutrition by going for this sound:” A weak low pitched beep-bip-bip-beep repeats continously for a little while. “You just search with your arm for a hole in the wall at the hight of the hips and push the arm a little inside, then a bottle slides into your hand. Toilet, bath and fresh clothes are availabele in a large bathroom, where only one woman at a time is allowed, because you naturally are allowed to uncover in there. There are five identical rooms to avoid quequeing, but as they can be used 24/7, it is no real problem. Inside are posters telling what to do, how to wash clothes, wash the room and handle worn-out clothes. The rooms have separate one-way entrance and exit doors to ensure only one person inside. The entrance is found by going for this sound:” A weak fast bip-bip repeats. “The doors are recessed in the wall to be easy to locate. If no one is waiting, just lean against the door, it will open when the room is free. You enter a small corridor where electronics detects if more than one has entered by mistake. Just proceed to the next door and lean again, normally it will open directly. Then unveil and do whatever you came in to do. Each room has two exits clearly marked. The normal exit is through a similar corridor, where electronics detects if the person is dressed correctly. If not a beeper warns the person, the door entered remains open and the door to the main room stays locked. The other exit is to an emergency waiting room. If you feel sick just go to the waiting room. Electronics detects the presence of people in the room and signals me. Of course if it is night or we are out collecting new residents, it may take many hours before we arrive. Now let my wife guide you through the one way entrance to the main hall. In there she will guide you to a bathroom door and then enter with each of you in turn to show you what to do. So once inside just stand or sit where the guiding stops, waiting for your individual introduction. Have a nice stay.”
They are all guided into a corridor. Inside Shirin is stopped as the woman in front of her stops. Then the door behind them close. Shirin feels a slight push as the manager’s wife passes them all to be in front at the next door. After a minute it opens and she guides them 30-40 meters inside. The wife presses a button above the door allowing more than one to enter. In front of her Shirin hears the bathroom door sound bip-bip for a short while. Then it stops the wife has entered with the first new resident. It is very quiet in the apperently large room, now Shirin hears more but weaker door sounds to her right. And far away to the right and behind she thinks she hears the high pitched beep-bip-bip-beep to get nutrition. No voices or other sounds indicating people are heard. She waits.
Suddenly a hand touches her shoulder. She rises and is guided through the door and the corridor. A hand lifts at her chador and she takes it off. She continues with her veils and suddenly she sees the quite large room and the wife, veiled as herself but apparently with thinner scarves allowing her better sight. The wife gestures with her hand for Shirin to remove all her clothes. When completely naked she is gestured to take her clothes and put in a chute in the wall marked “Worn-out clothes”. She then points to a similar chute next to it marked “Litter”,and holds her hand like she is holding something, while moving her hand up to the mouth and putting her head back. Then she moves the hand down to the shute opening. Shirin understands: Empty bottles. Next the wife points to the toilet and the shower, and then goes to the far corner waiting for her bath to end. Shirin is toweling as the wife comes close again. She points to a poster about cleaning the toilet and drying the shower area after use, and points to the items to do that. Then they move to some shelves with clothes. Everything is black. The wife points to opaque pantyhose, long gloves to the elbows, turkish trousers and a long sleeved shirt. It is plain cloth with no patterns or decorative embroidery. Then a small under scarf covering the forehead and hair and a larger scarf to wound around the head and neck. The face is covered with a niqab, which in this case is a simple rectangular piece of slightly transparent cloth hanging from a headband. It reaches her chest and in addition to the normal eye slit has an almost closed slit where the mouth is. Then she points to a pair of slippers with a strap to buckle.
Now she interrupts the dressing by pointing to a poster about washing. She takes a scarf, drops it on the floor and steps on it. Then she goes to a sink opens the tap and adds soap. She puts the scarf in the sink, washes a little and hangs it on one of several washing lines. Then she goes to the poster again pointing to the last item: ‘Check the lines for dry clothes. If found fold it and place it on it’s shelf’.
Back at the clothes shelves she points to a quite tight skirt zipping at the side and secured with a button. And a second pair of gloves to go over the sleeves of the shirt to the elbows. The last items the wife picks herself: A knee long khimar, a large square opague scarf, a very thick chador closed at the front and finally a mask. She takes the items with her to the door marked Exit and puts them on the floor. Then she crosses the room and points to the third door marked Emergency and goes back to the clothes. She picks up the mask and buckles it loosely at her own head on top of her veiling. Then she bows down for the khimar and puts it loosely on as well. Next she takes the scarf, unfolds and centers it on top of her head indicating it is to be fixed with an attached clothes pin. It is large covering her entire head and shoulders. Last she holds the chador up in front of her, drops it again and removes the other items. Shirin spread the three clothes items in front of her and picks up the mask. It is made of a solid plastic like material. On the inside is a protrusion going into the mouth gagging her. There is a hole through the protrusion for drinking. Then there are two holes at the nostrils. Pulling it to her head the protrusion finds its way through the slit in her niqab, her mouth is forced open and filled. There are no eye openings, she is blind. She reaches to the back of her head and buckles the mask. Then she bows down sensing for the khimar, and puts in over her head. It slides easily in place as its face opening matches the mask, which has an outward going edge holding the khimar. With the khimar covering her arms and two pairs of gloves it is difficult to place the scarf on her head, but she succeeds. Finally she lifts the heavy chador over her head and moves its face opening in place. She is now properly covered for a life in the asylum and turns towards the exit. It opens at her push. She feels her way through the corridor and bumps lightly into the next door. The door opens and she senses the wife is following behind her when she enters the main room.
Very carefully she takes small steps forward. Then she bumps into someone. The other moves away from her, and Shirin steps to the left. She is able to take a few steps more before she is stopped again. She continues through the room like that for some minutes just knowing it’s a large room and staying at the exits from the bathrooms she will continuously be bumped into. Then a male voice starts reciting the Quran. It is prayer time. She turns towards the voice and falls to her knees. Her head hits someone. She moves a little backwards and finds room to pray.
During the prayers the wife criss-crosses the hall, looking for someone staying on the floor instead of doing the set movements. Today she only finds two. Both rise and starts praying when she kicks them. She was lucky, they had just lost sense of day and night and were sleeping. It is hard dragging a limb body across the floor and through a bathroom to the emergency room.
After the prayers Shirin moves in the direction where the nutrition signal sounds. Perhaps thirty minutes later she has managed the thirty meters to the far wall. She lifts her chador slightly and moves her hand over the wall. Immediately she senses the hole and puts her arm inside. A bottle bumps into her palm, she grabs it and moves a few steps away from the wall. She senses the tube at the end of the bottle, gets it into the mouth hole of her mask and starts drinking / eating. Both having quenched her thirst and being filled she is able to fully realise her situation. She doesn’t know her surroundings or where the other women are exactly because she is blind. She can’t communicate with whoever she bumps into because both parts are mute and both being blind rules out gesturing and sign language. Lifting the chador, not to think of removing the mask outside of the bathroom where she is alone would be highly immoral ruining her honour and would send her to Hell for eternity. She is never going to do that. She must just pray and wash for the rest of her life. And she has just turned 24.
Slowly it gets bright, Shirin is able to see. Her mind is back with her body in the virtual future capsule. The female marriage counsellor helps her out and shows her towards the client chair at the desk where a tray with a steaming pot of tea and two glasses are waiting. But Shirin immediately shakes her head saying “In my situation without any family to become my guardian I better go home right away to start working on improving my marriage with Ahmed. Applying for divorce is now completely out of my mind. Instead I’m going to work hard pleasing him not to risk the thought of divorcing me comes to his mind.”
The marriage counsellor nods understandingly while watching Shirin put on her black gloves, covering her face in a sheer bushiya and finally covering the entire body in a chador which is closed with several hooks down the front. She opens the door to Shirin while considering if she should start trashing files like hers as she is quite sure she is never going to see her in her office again. Since the government made these capsules available for professions dealing with social problems her job has been a breeze. As the time for the concluding talk with Shirin is now free for her personal disposal she considers whether she should go to her small adjoining private apartment to enjoy another afternoon as a happy widow alone or she should call her friend Fariba, a single female psychiatrist, to hear if she has had a successful capsule session as well permitting them to enjoy each other intimately. While making the call she recalls that neither of them have heard of any real asylums for unguarded women or the bloody mental surgery clinics to be experienced in her capsule.
Copyright © 2010, Bo_Emp ; bo_emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com
Did you know?
The scenario for this story (without the twist at the end) was originally intended to be the ending for one of Bo_Emp’s earliest works, Not Without My Daughter, although he eventually ditched it in favour of the ending that the story currently has. Which do you think is better? Put a comment on this page letting us know!