Four Black Ghosts
by Dave Potter
Exclusively for the ‘Tales of the Veils’ website
In the refectory of the Women’s University, around a small table in the corner, sit four black ghosts. Not a single centimetre of skin can be seen, instead merely four anonymous mounds of black cloth. Yet to each other, those figures are not anonymous, for Khadija, Fatima, Aysha and Zaynab are the best of friends who know each other well after studying for three years together on an English Literature degree. They are modern women in the Islamic Republic of Arabia, but modern women are still extremely traditional in that part of the world. Abayahs and khimars hide their forms whilst several layers of niqaab blank out their faces and, on the few, necessary occasions when hands are revealed from underneath the folds of cloth, they are gloved in black. Yet whilst we might describe them as conservative, by Arabian standards, they are far from it as at the present moment in time, they are engaging in a hushed discussion.
“Sisters,” says Fatima, perhaps the natural leader of the group. “I’m feeling quite sad today you know, since this is the first day of our final year together and after this year only Allah knows what the future will hold for us. I would love dearly to stay with you all for life, but I am guessing that, like me, your parents are already talking about marriage, and so it may not be possible due to geography or the piety of our future husbands.”
The other three nodded sadly and then Khadija said, “I too have been thinking about this and so I have an idea. To celebrate this final year and to give us some beautiful memories to remember when we are far away from one another, why don’t you all come round to my house for a special party? As you know, we have a large place and, aside from the servants, only my father and I live there after my mother so tragically passed away three years ago. In our first year we all cemented our strong friendship by revealing our faces and voices to one another and although Aysha here remains gagged whilst at university due to her family’s piety, when we are in my home we can unveil and speak freely and act as we like. It would be great fun!”
The other three nodded but then Fatima said, “But what about your father and the servants?”
“I will order them away for the evening and so we can be as free as we like. We can wear what we want and act as we like. Are you all in?”
“I am!” declared Fatima.
“Me too!” added Zaynab.
Aysha, who was gagged as always, her father keeping the key, nodded enthusiastically. She was in too!
A fortnight later…
The doorbell rang and the fully-veiled form of Khadijah opened it. In the doorway stood a cone of cloth accompanied by Aysha’s father. Khadijah cast her gaze to the floor piously and Aysha’s father bowed and then said, “I shall pick you up at eleven tomorrow morning darling daughter, and thank you Khadijah.” He then left and Khadijah guided her friend into the hallway before flipping back her blinding veil. “Go into the sitting room and I’ll join you there,” said Khadijah.
Two minutes later Fatima came accompanied by her brother. Unlike Aysha, she didn’t wear a blinding veil, but was shown into the sitting room just then same. Then came Zaynab and with the party complete, Khadijah joined her three friends in the sitting room. Then she flipped back her veils to reveal a pretty young face and the others did likewise. Zaynab and Aysha were gagged, but these were not thee secure type such as Aysha always wore to university and the hard black rubber balls were soon removed. The hostess handed them all a glass of ice water and then announced something most unexpected.
“Sisters, they say that when you are young, it is the time to run wild and free before the responsibilities of adulthood take over. Well, so far I think we’ve all been pretty staid and so I suggest that tonight, for one night only, we act as wild young adults. Therefore, I have prepared for each of you outfits in your bedrooms such as girls out age in the West might wear. No one but us will see it and won’t it be fun to pretend?”
Aysha gasped but then said, “Khadijah, you are so risqué, I cannot believe that you even have such clothes but for me it will be fun; I have never worn jeans or a short skirt or so and knowing that we are still hidden from the world, then why not?”
The others smiled and Zaynab said, “If pious little Aysha doesn’t object, then how can we? Let’s go!”
Each girl retired to their bedroom and stripped themselves of their many black layers. Then they approached the outfits lain out on the king-size beds. There were several to choose from. Aysha opted for a ppair of blue jeans that hugged her figure lewdly with a tight white top whilst Zaynab opted for a blue cocktail dress that also clung to her figure but ended immorally just below her bottom. Fatima went for a casual look with yellow shorts and a T-shirt and when they re-emerged they found that Khadijah had chosen a white outfit with a short pleated skirt similar to that which a tennis player might wear. All the girls laughed at one another, complimented each other on their figures and twirled around before Khadijah announced that there were snacks and drinks in the female lounge and that she had a film to put on.
Walking unsteadily and self-consciously in their new attire, they went to the room and sat down with pizza and crisps and glasses of juice or coke whilst Khadijah put on the video which was a Disney film of Cinderella. They snuggled up to one another and lost themselves in the age old tale of magic and love and at the end all pronounced that they had thoroughly enjoyed it.
“Smile!” announced Khadijah as she snapped her friends with her camera.
“I feel just like an American frat girl!” announced Fatima.
“Me too,” added Zaynab, “although how they wear clothes like this all the time, I just don’t know. I feel so naked and…”
“…and sexy!” exclaimed Aysha with a smile. They all looked at their friend and laughed. Maybe she wasn’t so innocent and pious as they’d all assumed.
“Well, you’ll feel even more naked and perhaps sexy too now,” said Khadijah. “Go back to the bedrooms and put these on!”
She handed each girl a small black bag. Inside the bedrooms they opened them and were shocked to discover that they contained swimming costumes! They undressed and then put them on before re-emerging. Fatima wore a classic black tank whilst Zaynab sported a white bikini. Aysha wore a small blue bikini but their hostess stole the show with a one-piece that incorporated a thong. She then led the way to the mansion’s indoor swimming pool and each girl jumped in with glee. They splashed around, pulled each other under the water and hugged in the warm pool before floating about lazily using inflatables.
“This is bliss,” sad Fatima, “although again I couldn’t imagine doing it in public.”
“That is true,” said Zaynab. “With you, my dearest friends it is joyful, but as the Westerners do amongst strangers is just too immodest to contemplate. How could you dress and act like this around men?”
“I would wiggle my bottom this way and they’d all come running!” declared Aysha, twerking with her butt which caused the others to gasp and laugh again.
After an hour or so of fun in the water, they got out and towelled themselves dry. Then Khadijah said, “Well, all that was fun, but the best is yet to come. I have one final outfit for you all to try and it is the queen of them all. But I warn you, you shall not be changing alone this time so be prepared for a sister to see you naked.”
“We’re virtually naked as it is!” joked Zaynab.
“That is true,” laughed Khadijah, “but seriously, you will need to have someone to help you now.”
“I am mystified,” said Fatima, “what is to come next?”
“It is a surprise, but you have already had a clue as to it earlier in the evening. Now, Fatima, you and I shall go to my bedroom whilst Aysha and Zaynab, head off to my mother’s old room…”
Meanwhile, on the other side of town…
Ahmed al-Nuri, the father of Khadijah al-Nuri looked down at his phone. His daughter had ordered him out of the house for the evening as she was hosting her friends on a sleepover. As a good Arabian man, he knew that it was improper to see any female in the flesh aside from his mother, wife, sister or daughter and as such, ever since Saeeda had died three years before, the only member of the opposite sex that he had seen or heard was Khadijah. Imagine his surprise then, when after the film which Khadijah had booked him in to see had finished, he found a message waiting on his phone, and when he opened up that message he found that it was a series of photographs of extremely beautiful young girls dressed in Western outfits and swimsuits, smiling and laughing in his house! Accompanying the images were only three words:
COME HOME NOW!
Back at the house…
Zaynab and Aysha could not believe what they found when they entered Saeeda al-Nuri’s old room. Laid out on the bed were two dresses that were so beautiful that it were as if they were from a dream. “The clue was Cinderella,” said Aysha.
“And we are going to the ball!” added Zaynab.
Aysha’s dress was a beautiful sky blue whilst Zaynab’s was pink. Both were made of silk and decorated with tiny lace butterflies and jewels but what they also shared was that wearing them was not easy and they soon understood why Khadijah had said that they would need to help one another.
They decided to dress Zaynab first and so followed the instructions with the dress. Silken stockings were drawn up her legs and then around her middle a corset such as they knew from the Victorian literature that they studied. Aysha laced it so that it was snug and Zaynab complained about the tightness. Then came a huge crinoline to help the skirt stand out and then a profusion of petticoats before the dress itself was lowered on. It was an off-the-shoulder affair that made Zaynab look the true princess except that it did not close around the waist.
“Your corset needs tightening!” declared Aysha.
“But it is too tight already!” protested Zaynab.
“Nonsense, you know from the novels, they all tightlaced in those days; one must suffer to be beautiful!”
Zaynab submitted and Aysha began to pull. She pulled and pulled, squeezing her friend’s waist mercilessly. Several times Zaynab pleaded with her to desist but Aysha merely tutted and pointed out that the dress wouldn’t close. Eventually she tied off the laces and fastened the dress over the top, the silk stretched tight over Zaynab’s now delightfully small middle. A pair of high-heeled shoes were fitted onto her feet and she was complete. “Give us a twirl!” said Aysha. Zaynab did but then put her hand to her chest. “I have to admit that it looks amazing but it is so tight; I feel out of breath already!” Aysha knew that she wasn’t lying for her friend’s breasts rose and fell dramatically… and sexily.
Next it was Aysha’s turn. She complained less about the lacing and soon was ready too. Then they sat at the table, curled each other’s long black hair into gorgeous ringlets and then applied make-up. Finally, two fairytale princesses were ready to go to the ball.
They made their way out into the mansion’s enormous ballroom where Khadijah and Fatima were already waiting. They both looked divine, Khadijah in yellow and Fatima in peach. Then, Khadijah lowered the lights, lit dozens of candles and put on the sound system. Classical music boomed out of the stereo speakers. “Time to dance my Cinderellas!” she declared.
Ahmed al-Nuri drew up outside his house and pressed the key which opened the garage door. He parked his 4×4 and got out. Tacked on the door was a notice:
Go straight to your bedroom and nowhere else. All shall be explained.
Puzzled, he read it several times and then followed the instructions.
Inside the bedroom there was a letter and the TV remote on his desk. He picked up the letter and read it:
I am afraid that I have been a rather duplicitous girl tonight and for that I am sorry, but I did it for a reason. I know just how lonely and unhappy you have been ever since mummy died of cancer. You need a woman to love you in your life yet I know that you are already thinking of finding a suitable husband for me and so next year you shall be alone and that worries me. However, I also know that no woman could ever replace mummy and nor should she and that you worry that even if you found the perfect woman, you fear that I could not accept her. Knowing this, I have devised a plan, naughty I know, but my intentions are pure. Tonight I have invited my three dearest friends around. They are all wonderful girls and I love them like sisters and fear that next year we shall all be parted forever. They fear for the future just as much as you and I do which is why I had my idea. I know that a single woman can never hold up to mummy for you, but I also know that our religion allows a man up to four wives and so I thought, where one wife might fail, three might succeed. And that is why I sent you the photos of my three friends earlier this evening. Our culture says that once a man has seen a woman, he has already committed a sin and so should marry them to preserve their honour. So, as you can see, you are already sort of engaged to my three dear sisters anyway. That is my fault I know, but what could I do? The choice dearest daddy is now yours and yours alone. No one but you and I and Allah of course know that you have seen their photos. If you reject the idea then that is the end of it. However, if you consider that it could work, switch on the TV.
Your darling daughter
Ahmed sat back and smiled. His daughter always had been a headstrong one, that was true but she got that from her mother. Of course, the idea of him marrying her three friends was preposterous and yet… no Ahmed, get the idea from your head yet… yet one small peek won’t hurt…
He opened the message up and looked at the girls in the photos. All three were pretty, make no mistake, they excited him in that way, yet they also looked to be good, pure and responsible girls. He’d seen them before at university events, pious muslimahs covered in black, so he knew that they were well brought up.
Should he, shouldn’t he…?
It was sort-of true about the sin already being committed, in a way they were already engaged and…
He pressed the remote.
His bedroom TV which covered an entire wall, sprang into life. It showed the feed from the CCTV in the ballroom and he gasped at the sight he saw: four gorgeous fairy-tale princesses waiting for their prince charming. Four visions of loveliness that he fell head over heels in love with at first sight… well, except for the one in peach whom he’d cared for more than any other for the full twenty years of her life so far. He gazed as they spun round the dancefloor to the strains of Mozart and knew his decision.
A year later…
In the main hall of the Women’s University, the same four black ghosts whom we met at the start of this tale are sat around a table. This time though, they are not alone, for a proud and happy man has joined them. He is Ahmed al-Nuri, the man who is the father of one of the ghosts and husband of the other three. He is smiling broadly but, underneath their layers of black cloth, his four companions are smiling even more for they know that they will stay together as friends as well as all being loved by a caring and wonderful man.
Copyright © 2015 Dave Potter