The Lift (II)
by Dave Potter
Exclusively for the ‘Tales of the Veils’ website
The lift door opens to reveal that it isn’t empty. There’s a woman inside, a veiled Muslim woman. Should I step in? Of course I should, I have to. It’s a bit stupid to summon a lift and then not use it. But I never know how to treat them… the ones in veils I mean. The thing is, dressed like that it’s as if they’re saying, ‘Stay away from me! I want nothing to do with you and your world!’ It probably isn’t like that really but that’s the message that’s sent out. That’s why I can understand why they ban them in France and other places. We should be integrating, not putting up walls. But at the same time, do you know what? It’s kind of sexy, the veil. I mean the eyes peeping out, they often look alluring. What’s hidden under those black garments? Most women think that men wish to see them naked or as near to naked as they can but whilst I like to see a well-toned body in a bikini as much as the next man, such clothing also shows off all your flaws, can make a woman unattractive almost. It’s best when something is left to the imagination, and those veils leave a lot to the imagination. Oh well, here goes, I wonder if she has nice eyes…?
Oh no, a man! As if this day couldn’t get any worse and now I am to travel alone in such a small place with a non-mahram male! First I go out without father’s permission, then I catch my gloves on the thorns in the park so I have to walk around with bare hands and now I am to travel in such a confined space with a non-mahram male! What if the lift breaks down and he tries to rape me? I won’t be able to scream or anything! Should I get out here? No, that would make me look like some kind of hater of the West who has maybe put a bomb in the lift and is leaving before it blows up. Besides, he’s entering now, it’s too late. I must look away from him, don’t catch his gaze, downcast eyes like a true modest Musilmah…
So what does she look like? Does she have nice eyes? I want to look, to stare into them and see desperately, but she obviously wants to have no communication with me. What can I do? Aha! That’s it, this lift is mirrored; I’ll look at her in the mirror. My God, she is pretty after all! Well, at least her eyes are and the shape of her clothes shows a figure not too fat. But those eyes are blue! Normally Pakistanis or Arabs have black or brown eyes, not blue. Maybe she’s a convert or something. But why would someone ever convert to an oppressed life like that, covered up, a slave of your husband. Perhaps that’s it; perhaps she’d love to speak with me and become friends but she’s too scared; scared that they’d beat her if they found out. But is she married. Hmm, there is no ring on her finger but do they have rings in their culture? I can’t stop looking at her, she is hot! Oh no, she’s seen me looking, how embarrassing!
He’s looking at me, just as I’m looking at him! He’s quite cute actually, hmm… rather tasty. If only… But what does he think of me? Probably scared I’m some terrorist or something. If only he knew! Imagine a life where I could be with a man like that, hold hands in public, chat… well, not that. Hmm, it is still so hard getting used to that. I know it is right and proper, but it is hard. Still, it has saved me for I could easily have said something to him here and then what? But to dream…
What’s that? Something’s wrong! The lights are failing! There’s something wrong!
It’s stopped! The lift has stopped and we’re in total darkness! Allah help me! Please don’t let me be raped!
Thank God for that, the lights have returned. How is she? She looks scared; poor thing, she probably thinks I’m going to rape her now. That’s what they think about all Western men, that we just want to rape women all the time. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind removing those veils to see a little more of… Jake, stop those thoughts! It’s not right! Look busy! Try the button! Shit! Nothing. Try again. “Hello? Hello?” Nobody! Nothing! I’ll try the doors… no hope! Fuck! What a fucking mess! Stuck in a lift with a black ghost… She’s looking at me, she keeps staring at me when I’m turned away, I can sense it. Why doesn’t she speak to me though; we’re in this mess together after all, like it or not!
Yes, he does look a nice guy and he’s trying to do something at least, not rape me as I feared. Not that I think his banging and asking if anyone is there will help much. Even so, it seems I misjudged him and besides, I like it for when he looks away I can look him up and down which is a small guilty pleasure. His accent is American. What would it be like to be with this American boy whose age must be similar to my own…? Now he’s finished though, stood back, I must look away again and pretend that I’m not interested. Oh but I am, I am so very interested…
So what can we do but wait; wait until help arrives. Oh this is so annoying and so excruciating too. There is nothing else in here to look at bar her and I wish to look into those beautiful deep blue eyes so much and yet she is the one thing I can’t look at, only glance at surreptitiously when she is turned the other way. This is so embarrassing; I’m rock hard down below just thinking about her and yet I can’t relieve my frustration mentally or physically in any way, only wait it out in this hot, confined hell of frustration! Oh please Muslim girl, why don’t we get to know each other?
How long have we been here for now? Ten minutes, twenty? It feels like hours but it can’t be that long. How awful this is? Father must have wondered where I am by now and if he discovers that I’ve been out without his permission and stuck in this lift with a non-mahram male! Oh, how awful! How absolutely awful! I wish I could talk with him, just to pass the time but I wouldn’t even if… This is my life and one must accept it but he looks such a nice guy and it would break the tension around here. He probably thinks I am so rude but what can I do? And to make things worse, it’s getting hotter; I’ve got to sit down…
By God, it’s hot in here now, I can feel the sweat pouring off my brow. Obviously the air con’s gone as well as the lift. Still, if it’s hot for me dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, what must it be like for her in all that heavy black cloth? Even so, I can’t see any sweat around her eyes but then I suppose if she’s an Arab then she’s used to the heat. But an Arab with blue eyes, does such a thing exist? Bloody hell, this is too much, I need a drink… Wait, isn’t there a bottle in my bag? Yes, there is… here it is! Gulp! Gulp! Jesus, that’s better; I could finish this whole bottle in one go. But wait Jake, what about her? Come on man, it’s a bit rude to swallow the lot whilst she might be dying of thirst over there. Rude or not, I should offer her some, it’s the gentlemanly thing to do…
He’s offered me some of his water! Oh how I should love to gulp it down; I’m roasting in here! But to do that would mean unveiling and that would be unforgivable. I shake my head and that probably reinforces his already negative impression of me as some aloof, arrogant Arabian bitch who won’t consent to even talk with an infidel. Oh if only he knew, if only he knew the real truth, the real me, the caring, frightened, loving girl that Safiyah Saalih is inside. Ahh, but he never will and instead we are condemned to sit in this sweltering cupboard until we are rescued. Oh, it is so unfair and I am so thirsty. He has left the water by me and I shouldn’t, no, I mustn’t and yet… yet who will know? I really need a drink and he has offered it to me as a gift of kindness. And besides, the thought of my lips touching the same bottle which his also have touched but a moment before… ahh, it is all too much to resist…
She has taken the bottle and lifted her veil to drink! Oh God, this is too heavenly! Now I cannot see her beautiful eyes but I can see the rest of her face. Her skin is tanned and smooth and her lips like two rosebuds pursed around the bottle. Oh that my lips… or other parts of me, (no Jake, such thoughts are wrong!), were attached to those lips! She is a beauty with a little snub nose – it looked larger under the veil! – and young features and I love her little earring hanging down. Oh to marry that with those eyes and… She has finished now and lowered her veil and the eyes are visible again, yet now that perfect face seems so far away, like a distant memory and marrying the two together in my mind is hard! Oh God, please make this torment end; this is too much to bear!
What’s that? The lights are going again! What is happening?
What was that? Allah save me!
Is it over? Is everything alright? That sounded like glass and yet I felt nothing… I am safe, I’m ok, the lights are back and all is well… No! No! It can’t be! The mirror has fallen and that was the crash and it has injured him, that kind and beautiful boy who gave me his water! The cut is deep and looks painful and blood is pouring out…
What can I do to stem the flow? Christ this fucking hurts! Jesus, there’s nothing in my bag! What can I do? Oh help me, please God I need help!
What can I do to help him? Allah, show me what I can do? He needs a bandage and yet… yet… yet… no… yes… no…. yes. My hands fumble as I untie but I know in my heart that this is right, no matter what the consequences may be. He helped me; I must help him. I know this is right and yet…
What is this, she is unveiling, taking off that hated barrier between us. Her face, her complete face is lovelier than I imagined; she is like an Oriental angel of mercy. She bends towards me and I think I am in a dream. She is using her veil to tie around my leg, to help me, to save me. Oh thank you sweet angel! Thank you so much! She sits back; she looks at me, her mouth pursed as if to say something. Speak Muslim girl, tell me what you feel; tell me who you are…
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Mr. Silverman, please sit down. Would you like a drink?”
“Err… yes, please sir, an orange juice or coffee will be fine.”
Jake sat in the chair indicated by the gentleman and glanced around at his surroundings. He was in the most luxurious suite in the entire hotel; a hotel that he had only entered so that he could travel to the top floor and have a coffee in the restaurant with the most panoramic views in town. That was before the lift had broken down with him and the strange, beautiful veiled girl inside it. She had just been about to talk to him when the engineers had opened the door and they were discovered, in what may have initially looked like a compromising position on the floor by two lift engineers and the man now offering him a drink. Of course, when they saw his injured leg, they all realised that the position was all quite decent but even so the man, a tall Arab had given him a room number and asked him, no, more like ordered him, to come to his suite once his wound had been seen to. Then, seeing the man take away his veiled lift companion, Jake had realised that he must be either her father or husband – he hoped the former due to the age disparity but with those Arabs you never can tell – and guessed that he probably just wanted to check that nothing untoward had happened between them. At first he didn’t want to go but then realised that he owed her one after she’d ministered to his wound and besides, perhaps in there he might be able to catch another glimpse of her alluring, enchanting features…
That hope was not to be realised. When he came to the door and entered the suite she was there, but there was no hint of her extraordinary beauty to be seen. Indeed, he could not even be sure that it was her, for the two female figures in the room – was the other her mother, sister or perhaps a co-wife? – were draped completely in black veils so much so that even her eyes were now hidden from view and as soon as he entered they both bowed silently and left and Jake knew that he was destined never to hear her voice at all.
The man returned with an orange juice and then sat himself opposite Jake. “Mr. Silverman,“ he said in a deep Arabian accent, may I introduce myself? My name is Talil Saalih and I am the father of Safiyah, the girl whom you got stuck in the lift with but a short while ago.”
“I can assure you sir,” said Jake anticipating what was to come next, “nothing improper happened. We were in there for some time it is true and you found us on the floor together, but during the whole time she never spoke to me or unveiled except when I got injured by a falling mirror and then she merely unveiled so as to help stem the flow of blood but nothing intimate happened at all, I can assure of that.”
“Hmm… in your eyes I am sure that is true and indeed your story tallies with Safiyah’s perfectly and I do not doubt it to be true. She also added the detail that you gave her water to drink first and she was very touched by that kind gesture. Therefore, whilst I must thank you for not taking advantage of my daughter in what was a very difficult situation, and for the kindness that you showed to her, I am also sorry to say that inadvertendly, by unveiling an act of great intimacy by our cultural standards has passed between you; an act of the greatest intimacy indeed.”
“Intimacy? I do not understand…?”
“Mr. Silverman, where I come from, a remote corner of Saudi Arabia, even the showing of the face by a woman is seen as an act of the greatest intimacy, to be reserved for her husband alone.”
“For her husband! But then…”
“Yes, Mr. Silverman, yes indeed. But please, before we talk of such things, tell me about yourself.”
“Me? There is not much to say. I am an American college boy, studying Maths at Rhodes College on a scholarship, but I finished this year. I am here on vacation, backpacking around Europe and, like I said already, I was just coming into this hotel to get the views from the panoramic restaurant at the top.”
“Hmm, Rhodes is a good college, one of the very best. You must be good?”
“Well, not wishing to sound arrogant but I won best in State…”
“And now you are looking for work?”
“Yes sir, when I return to the States that will be my first task.”
“But what about a girlfriend or wife?”
“I am not married and indeed, am single at the moment although not for want of trying…”
“Hmm… well, that is that. So, I have learnt all about you; now I shall do you the courtesy of providing information in the opposite direction. As I said before, I am Talil Saalih and I am an executive in the National Bank of Saudi Arabia. I am a rich man and indeed we are here partially because I have business with a major bank in this city. However, that is not all. Many years ago, when I was your age, I was a student here and fell in love with a local girl. The love was mutual and so we married, she became my wife and when I had finished my studies she returned to Saudi to live with me as an Arabian woman. That is the mother of Safiyah whom you met in the lift. Every few years we return here so that she can reacquaint herself with her old country although we stay here for her parents disowned her as she had to convert to Islam to marry me and they are of, how shall I put it… an older frame of mind. They think I oppress her because of the veils and other cultural factors but she is happy and so the problem is theirs, not hers. So we are here to remind my wife of home but also to acquaint my daughter with a little of her European heritage, for she is her mother’s child as much as mine.”
“That explains the blue eyes!”
“It does indeed, and she is a beautiful girl is she not?”
“Like an angel, sir, if it is not improper to say such a thing.”
“If anyone else had said it, it would be, but not you. So yes, Safiyah is here to learn about her European side but she is still an Arab and so we cannot abandon our Saudi ways completely; we must find a middle ground. I tell you all this because it is important. In Saudi you see, women live life far more protected and modestly than they do here. There both my wife and my daughter and indeed any other females must cover their whole body, including the eyes, at all times. Here in Europe though, I have found that eye veils attract suspicion and so we go without; not ideal but a compromise. However, no more unveiling is permitted for only a husband, father, brother or son may see a girl’s face.”
“Sir, I think you are telling me this for a reason. I have seen Safiyah’s face and so, are you saying that you wish me to marry her?”
“Yes, I am and much more than that. You must marry her, or at least, if you do not, she must die a spinster for now that an unrelated man has seen her face, she is no longer pure and so can marry that man and no one else. That is why I invited you here; that is the situation that we have.”
“But I do not know her, she has never even spoken to me, I…”
“Our ways are different, this is not important to us.”
“And I am not a Muslim!”
“This is not ideal but I will accept her marriage to a non-Muslim, partially because there is no choice and partially also because I believe it was the insistence on conversion that ruined my own dear wife’s relationship with her family and I wish there to be no more such misery in my family. So, tell me Mr. Silverman, are you prepared to consider marriage or not?”
“Well, I don’t know, I mean… from the little I saw of Safiyah I found her incredibly beautiful and her actions betrayed a kindness in her heart but this is all so quick… but if as you say, she must remain a lonely spinster otherwise then, what choice do I have?”
“If you are a man of honour, I am afraid very little and besides, in my culture marriage is not a sacrament so if it does not work, then all well and good but if it does then…”
“Then you are right; I can try and if I fail her fate is no worse then if I hadn’t.”
“Fair enough then, I accept.”
“Excellent, and as you have honoured my daughter, I will honour you and guarantee you an excellent job in the bank where your mathematical prowess will be revered. However, before this is all finalised, there is one more thing that you need to know and I think it best that Safiyah tell you herself. If you decide to change your mind after learning it, I will understand. Safiyah! Enter!”
The door to the room opened and a figure entirely draped in black silk shuffled in. Jake watched it mesmerised, knowing that under those layers lay the girl of his dreams, a girl who was now his to keep and hold forever. Again he felt the tension in his nether regions.
She approached and a gloved hand sneaked out from under the layers. In it was a letter in an envelope. Jake took the letter and Talil said, “Take this and return to your hotel. When there read it and think about its contents. Then go to sleep. When you wake up in the morning make your decision and not before then for big choices are always best made after a rest. If you choose to still go ahead and marry my daughter, you will find the instructions on how to proceed next in the letter. Goodbye Mr. Silverman and once again, whatever your decision, thank you.”
Talil Saalih shook his hand and the veiled Safiyah bowed. He longed to grab her gloved hand and lift those layers but he knew he could not, not yet, and so instead he merely bowed back and left. All the way back to his hotel he was itching to open the letter in his hand but he remembered the Arab’s words and stopped himself, his mind full of images of the beautiful veiled creature who had been offered to him in marriage. Finally he got back, locked the door of his room behind him, lay on his bed and ripped open the white envelope. Inside was another, smaller envelope and a piece of paper on which a letter had been written. Jake took a deep breath and read it:
My heart cannot express how happy I am and grateful to hear that you have accepted to marry me. I know that we do not know each other but the attraction I felt for you in the lift was incredibly powerful and by the way that you kept looking at me I am guessing that it was for you also. Allah has brought us together and so I am sure that we shall be happy.
But before we accept completely, there is something that you must know, something that will sound strange to you but you need to understand. Where I live, the way in which we women live is very different. We obey purdah which means we stay veiled and covered at all times so as not to tempt and attract men. That is why my face has been hidden to every man except you and my father. Why I removed the veil I am still not sure, it was an instinctive reaction that I do know, but borne of the fact that I hated to see you suffer and so wanted to help. Whether it was a mistake that shall haunt me for the rest of my life or not, only Allah knows.
But whatever the case may be I showed you my face and that is that. I have to marry you or never marry at all, becoming a virtual servant and outcast for in a society a woman must be married or she is nothing. If you do choose to marry me on such an off-chance meeting I promise to be a good and faithful wife to you and to service all your needs. However, there are things you must know. As I said, we live in strict purdah which means covering up our allure to avoid temptation. But that covering means far more than just our looks; our movements, sounds, everything can cause fitna in men and so we believe firmly in restraining them all. That is why I usually wear gloves and that is why most women in our society gag themselves whenever out of the bedroom, communicating instead using notes like this. But I was not gagged when you saw me and you might ask why? Well, I am ashamed to say that your prospective wife is a headstrong, arrogant girl at times who often took her gag out when she shouldn’t or made obscene sounds in public. This was most trying to my parents and one day last year caused them immense shame when I spoke rudely in the presence of men. Once again, like with unveiling in front of you, I was impetuous and acted before I thought. Afterwards I was overcome with shame and grief and thought as to how best I could stop such actions in the future. So it was that I decided, of my own volition, to undergo an operation that is popular in our area amongst pious women. I went to the hospital and had my vocal chords cut. It is a non-reversible procedure and so, if you marry me, I am sad to say, your wife shall always be a silent one. More than that, I have asked my mother to alter my costumes so that my hands are now attached to my belt by chords so that I may never cause my family shame again by impetuously removing my veil. I was granted freedom by my father and failed; I never want it granted again.
And that my dear Mr. Silverman, is my story. Marry me and I shall love you, cherish you, look after you and adore you. But I shall always be hidden and silent, yours alone. If you can accept that, then please accept me by opening the attached envelope.
Yours with all my heart,
That night Jake Silverman tossed and turned unable to sleep, his head filled with thoughts of that beautiful blue-eyed girl, draped in veils, muted by a doctor, restrained and hidden. He dreamt of removing those veils, of nights and days of silent ecstasy in the bedroom; of her silken gloved hand sneaking out of her covers and passing him a note written with love and adoration. By the morning he was tired and bleary-eyed but he knew. He took the second envelope and tore it open. In it was a ticket to Riyadh and a letter from the National Bank of Saudi Arabia offering him a lucrative position and sponsorship for his visa. For Jake Silverman that trip in the lift had been to another world…
Copyright © 2012, Dave Potter
As might be seen the pictures and inspiration for this story comes from a video from YouTube. The video is titled ‘Behind The Walls’. Written, directed, edited, camera and sound by Jihun Ahn and the cast is Shiloh Silverman and Mackenzie Singh.
This video has also inspired Bo_Emp to write The Lift (I).