by Dave Potter
This extract from one of Michelle’s stories has inspired a short tale by Dave Potter… ‘Laura disappears and returns with an Arabian jewelled facemask Roger had been given by a satisfied customer in the Middle East. She pulls Stef’s gag from her mouth and just as quickly inserts the mouthpiece of the mask before securing the fastenings on the back of the head. Small holes near the nose provide her only source of air.
Apparently the mask and a matching chastity belt and stays were made several hundred years ago to be worn continuously by an Arabian princess from the time of her eleventh birthday until her arranged marriage many years later, the liquid-only diet so enforced ensuring her body was perfect for her groom. Nobody knew whether the poor girl actually survived this treat long enough to make it to her nuptials in the heat of the desert, but even in the air-conditioned cool of the house, Stef is soon reeling from the heat building up on her face and around her head.’
Extract from ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ by ‘Michelle’.
She looks at it and thinks. It certainly is beautiful, very beautiful. It was doubtless very expensive too. All those jewels are real and there’s a lot of them. They’re well cut too, expertly so. An Arab knows about jewellery and she knows that this is a masterpiece.
Beautiful maybe, yet beauty can hide, and cause, so much suffering. She casts her mind back to that day. That day when she was so excited. That day when she suspected nothing.
Princess Ayeesha of Basra had enjoyed a privileged childhood. A very privileged childhood. She could only ever remember sleeping on silk cushions, wearing silk and satin dripping in gold and jewelry, eating the finest food and having servants attend to her every need. As she approached her eleventh birthday she may have been a little chubby, but she was the most-loved daughter of the heir to the throne who had never had to do anything for herself and was looking forward to a grand coming-of-age party with the finest sweets and treats and a wagonload of presents. As she approached the banqueting chamber she felt the excitement tingle up and down inside her.
She reached the large doors and two handsome servants opened them whilst a third announced her name to the sound of a gong. All the greatest people in the kingdom were present; the Grand Vizier, her brothers and sisters, her mother the Sultana, the Caliph and her beloved father himself, the Sultan. She ran up to him and he embraced her warmly. “Happy birthday Ayeesha!” he declared. “It is to be your last as a girl so I hope that you enjoy it.” She didn’t quite understand the meaning of these words, but whatever, they were not important. Instead she rushed to the table and started stuffing her face with halva.
After about an hour of feasting and dancing however, when Ayeesha was well and truly stuffed, then Sultan Abdul-Rahid clapped his hands thrice and all sound and movement stopped. “We are hear today to celebrate the birthday and coming-of-age of my beautiful daughter Ayeesha,” he announced. Everyone looked at her and she smiled proudly. “Now would you all please give her a round of applause as her mother escorts her to the Ladies’ Chamber and assists her in the passage into womanhood!” The whole room clapped loudly but Ayeesha was confused. ‘Passage into womanhood’, what on earth did that mean? Her mother came up to her and silently took her hand and as the room carried on clapping she was led outside and into the Ladies’ Chamber.
The Ladies’ Chamber was a large room where many of her father’s concubines were sat, lounging about. In the middle however, were three veiled maids and a large man-at-arms who stood with his eyes blindfolded. “What’s happening, mamma?” she asked, still extremely confused.
“You are a lady now,” her mother replied, “and so no man is allowed to see you. Now, undress please.”
“Just do it, Ayeesha.”
Normally she would have argued, but something in the Sultana’s tone disturbed her. Reluctantly, she let the maids take off all her garments until she was completely naked. Then her mother said, “Now that you are a woman, you must wear different clothes. The first of them is this belt.” A maid approached with what looked like a pair of golden underpants which she fitted round the young girl’s crotch and tightened at the belt. They were very beautiful, engraved with geometric patterns and covered in jewels. Ayeesha couldn’t see the point in them however. “But why?” she asked.
“That is not for you to know now,” cautioned the Sultana. “Now, hands up!”
Warily, she did as she was bid and another maid approached and wrapped a strange object around her waist. This was made of material, not gold, but was embroidered and bejeweled. Furthermore, it was also quite rigid and dug into her so that it made her a little breathless. “It’s too tight!” she complained. “Take it off!”
For the first time in her life, no one responded to her demand.
“Take it off I say!” she screamed. “Take it OFF!!”
“Lie her on the couch,” said the Sultana, and to Ayeesha’s surprise, she was picked up by two maids and lain face down on a couch. Then the blindfolded guard came up and started tightening on the garment by pulling on laces at the back. The whole thing contracted and contracted, squeezing her mercilessly and causing her to fight for her breath. She began to cry and whimpered “Stop! Stop! Stop!” but no one heeded, and in the end she became too breathless even to protest. Still he pulled though, and smaller her middle became until she began to feel faint and see stars. Then the Sultana held up her hand and the man-at-arms stopped.
“This garment comes from Europe,” the Sultana explained. “It is called the corset. Ladies there use it to make their waists smaller so that their bodies are more appealing for their future husbands. The Sultan has decreed the same for you Ayeesha!”
The Sultan! Her own father! Advocated this hell for her! She could not believe it! But now however, she felt too weak to protest. She was stood up by the maids and a tight black sheath fitted over her that reached to the floor. To her dismay she found that the material was thick and it limited her stride to just a few inches. Then however, she first saw it.
As one maid was typing her long black hair back into a ponytail, another approached with it. “Your virgin’s mask,” her mother announced. Like now, when she saw it then, she was struck by its beauty. Gold, jewels, it was a thing of wealth and art. When they placed it on her face though, she began to get afraid. It was thick and heavy and sight could only be gained through two pinholes. Worse than that though, a large wooden protrusion filled her mouth – she was no longer able to speak. The maid tied it tightly at the back and she tried to intervene with her hands, but two other maids took a hand apiece and buckled a thick fingerless mitten onto each one. She was now unable to grasp anything.
Inside the mask, she could breathe but it was hot, even after a few seconds and the claustrophobia scared Ayeesha. What frightened her even more though, were her mother’s words.
“Ayeesha, you are to wear this mask all the time from now on, until the day when you are married to your husband. It cannot be taken off, neither too can the belt which will protect your maidenhead. The corset however, will be removed for thirty minutes daily for bathing purposes, after which it will be refastened. The size of your waist will also steadily be reduced, so that by the time you are married, your husband will be able to encircle it with his too hands. That is all, you are now a lady Princess Ayeesha.”
And following those chilling words, a thick black abayah with full niqaab faceveil was draped over her and she was led back into the Banqueting Chamber. Virtually blinded by the mask and veils, and her stride restricted to a mere mince, she felt horrified at the way in which her life had turned and as the people applauded her entrance into adulthood, thick tears well in her encased eyes.
“Living in that mask was an arduous experience to say the least. Wearing it, I could see almost nothing. The contraption had only two pinholes for the wearer to look through and these were alas, not completely aligned up to my eyes, and so my vision became restricted in the extreme. Furthermore, the way in which the holes were made – they seemed to have been drilled into the wood at an angle, meant that I could only see things that were above me and if I required normal sight – i.e. that straight in front of me – then I had always to bow my head. My mistress said that this was part of the design, as it reminded the wearer always to keep her head bowed in submission as is the decree of our beautiful faith.
This limited vision however, was even further obstructed whenever a veil was thrown over my head which, as I was now an adult, was virtually continually. In order to instruct me in true piety, submission and purdah, I was never allowed to wear niqaab that leaves my eyes free as most girls do, but instead a thick veil that covers the entire face and is embroidered on top. For special events, (which occur on a regular basis for a princess), then several more of these veils were added. Consequently, whenever I left my chamber, by gaze was limited to a haze and on many occasions, my garments completely blinded me.
Worse than that though, was the heat. Basra is a desert city as you well know and in the daytime the temperature can reached over forty degrees. Trapped inside that mask though, even a mild night was unbearable, as the wood retained all heat and my skin dripped with sweat twenty-four hours a day. To help keep the complexion good, my maids bathed me four times daily, submerging my mask-covered head under cold water, but it was no good, within minutes the heat had built up again and on days when my father was outside with his stallions and I was expected to attend on him in my mask and veils, well, I thought I would die and nearly always did I faint after half an hour or so.
It was not the loss of vision or even the heat however, that most distressed me, but instead the loss of my speech. Fitted inside the mask was a large protrusion of rubber that silenced my voice. Not once between the age of eleven and my marriage at sixteen, did I utter a single word. And because I could not talk, then I found that people ignored me. Previously, every desire had been catered for by an army of slaves and servants, but now no one even noticed my presence and instead serving girls used to talk about me in my presence as if I wasn’t there, as if I were a doll or a dog rather than a regal personage. Looking back, I suspect that this was all part of my education – after all, a wife is no more than a doll or dog in comparison to her husband – but at the time it was most trying and many’s the time when I cried myself to sleep because of it.
It was not just my clothing however, but indeed my whole lifestyle that changed on that terrible day. Previously my days had been ones of leisure, filled with childish games and pursuits. Now however, I had lessons from my mistress, duties to fulfill and worse than that, punishments to endure.
Daily I was woken up for prayer and then fed my breakfast by my maid. Wearing the mask I could not of course consume solids, so instead I was kept on a fatty, liquid diet of milk and raw eggs mostly. This meant that I could be corseted down to rather extreme dimensions – my waist measured just 35cm in circumference on my marriage day – yet grew fatty and rounded in all the right places, noticeably my breasts and buttocks. When I went into my adult bondage, both were nothing to speak of – I was only eleven years old after all – but by the end of my confinement they were as rounded and large as any woman’s in the kingdom.
After being fed by my maid, I was then taken to the toilet. Wearing thick mittens, I was unable to do this myself, so after going she always cleaned me up before bathing me and inserting my rod inside my bottom. This was a large cylinder of gold, purportedly the same size as my future husband’s member, (in actuality, I am sure that it was much larger), which served the purpose of training me to engage in sexual congress with that part of my body, useful training indeed, as I was to find out after marriage.
Then I was dressed in all my veils and taught by my mistress in the duties of a wife. Being a princess, these did not include cooking or cleaning for my man, so they were largely in sexual technique – I was forced to watch slaves copulate and then imitate their actions – and practice on a marble statue. I must admit, that these activities did cause me to get most excited down below – back then, being a virgin, I did not understand what these sensations were – but wearing the belt I could never once relieve the frustration. Then finally I was brought to my father’s chamber where I was to stand or kneel in mute obedience to him for no less than four hours daily. This exercise was to teach humility and submission to one’s lord of course.
And so my life continued, miserably, for no less than five years until, several days before my sixteenth birthday, I was introduced to my future husband. I was dressed heavily in seven thick embroidered veils and led into his presence. Naturally, I could not see anything of him, nor he of I, but I caught some of his words to my father and enjoyed being within his presence. Our marriage was arranged for the following week.
The night before the wedding however, was the strangest. Unlike usual, I was led to the queen’s dressing chamber and stripped down to only my corset, belt and mask. Then a vial of potion was fed through my drinking hole. Within seconds I was fast asleep. I did not wake until over twelve hours later when I found myself dressed in a multitude of white veils, so many and so thick that I could not see a thing. Furthermore, my arms were pinned behind me and immovable and my waist felt strange. Then I heard my mother’s voice. She explained to me that whilst I had been sleeping, my mask, corset and belt had been removed and my entire body shaved below the eyebrows and perfumed so that it would be comely and pleasing to my husband. Kohl was applied to my eyes, my eyebrows plucked, my lips rouged and my eyelashes lengthened. Then the mask had been replaced without me ever experiencing how it was to be without it.
After that, my belt was also replaced, but my corset was thrown away and instead a thick golden belt, some twelve centimeters deep and thirty-five centimeters round affixed around my waist in its place. Around this new belt an inscriptions – ‘Submission is a virtue’ – was engraved.
Then my nipples were pierced and tiny bells attached and my arms bound together in a jeweled and laced monoglove behind my back. This secured and my hair brushed and plaited and wrapped around the glove becomingly, veil upon veil of white was added and I was lain down and all waited for me to awaken.
And so that is how I married, mute blind and bound. After the ceremony I knelt for three hours whilst my husband ate before a leash was thrown around me and I was led by my lord to our chamber for the night. In there and only in there, did he unpeel my layers – well, most of them, the monoglove and gold belt stayed of course – before finally my chastity belt was unlocked and he took his pleasure. It was then, after he had blessed me with his seed that my mask was finally unfastened and we gazed upon one another for the first time. Thankfully, he was pleased with what he saw. I too, thank Allah, was not disappointed, and from that moment a new and different phase in my unusual life began, but that my dear daughter, is another tale…”
Copyright © 2006, Dave Potter