by Dave Potter
The black hijab and abayah, but no gloves, stockings or niqaab
Exclusively for the ‘Tales of the Veils’ website
Part 1: Introduced to the Solution
“Don’t worry, your father and I have found a solution.”
I looked at mum askew. A solution. That sounded better, but even so, I wasn’t sure. I mean, to me there wasn’t even a problem that needed solving. Keeping things as they are now is not a solution, it is… well, keeping things as they are. I decided to reiterate my position.
“I don’t care mum, I have told you before. I do not want to enter purdah and I will not be wearing one of those purdah suits like cousin Amina. I understand what my faith requires and I shall cover my hair with a hijab and even wear a niqab on occasions when strange men are around, but the whole arm, voice and whatever else modesty, no, it is not happening. No purdah suit and that is that!”
This argument had been going on for months now. Ever since we’d moved back to the Emirates in fact. Well, I say “moved back” although for me and my brothers, “moved to” would be more apt. Dad is Emirati whilst mum, who met whilst at university in Leeds, converted and then came to live out there for several years before he got a job with Mobil and ever since we’ve been living all over the place, mostly in the West, until he got this new position back in Abu Dhabi and we came to live back “home” three and a half months ago. At the time I’d not seen it as anything different as any of the other moves we’d made, but then I soon realised that I had very much underestimated things. Dad’s family are extremely conservative even by Emirati standards and mum, well, let’s just say she seems to have rediscovered the zeal of the convert.
On my very first day I was given new clothes to wear, and these were not clothes that I would have ever chosen myself. They were black, all black. And plain. A long, flowing black abayah with butterfly sleeves, black stockings for my legs, black gloves for my hands, a black hijab for my head and a black faceveil or niqaab for my face. “I’m not going out like that!” I declared and so I didn’t. Later, when I was bored at missing out on all the trips to restaurants and days out I compromised. The black hijab and abayah, but no gloves, stockings or niqaab. And so it had stayed until, a week or so later the comments had started. “You’re bringing shame onto the family, Zonera!” and, “Your aunt keeps mentioning that you are showing disrespect to the Hanif name!” or “I’ve had another comment about how we’ll never get you a good husband if you dress like that!” I mean, like I even want to get married yet???!! But then things were taken up to another level: they took me to meet Amina.
Amina is my cousin. She’s my age and I’ve met her a couple of times before when we were kids and she came to visit us in London and Singapore. She was a nice girl but we weren’t really close. Even so, I was glad when I heard that we would be paying her a visit as I don’t have any company my own age here. However, when we arrived, instead of a happy, smiling girl I was confronted by a silent black ghost. Yes, I mean that; just a cone of black cloth standing in the middle of the hallway. Her niqaab didn’t even have a slit for the eyes and you couldn’t see anything through it. What’s more, she didn’t even show her hands, she just stood there unmoving, only nodding when I greeted her.
Later I found out why. Amina now lives in purdah, something which is becoming increasingly common, fashionable even, amongst Emirati girls. Purdah means covering up and keeping quiet and that’s why she was dressed like that and wasn’t talking to me. But then, when my aunt and mum suggested we all go to Amina’s room to learn more about the “pious” way in which my cousin was living her life, I discovered that there was a whole lot more to this purdah thing. They took her hijab, niqab and abayah off – she didn’t do any of this herself and I soon found out why – and to my surprise underneath she was wearing another full set of clothes: a kind of black catsuit in the kind of material that gym clothes are made from that hugs the figure and lets the skin breath. That would not have been particularly shocking except that the catsuit did not stop at her neck as catsuits generally do but instead encompassed her entire head so that nothing could be seen of her at all. Where her eyes should have been were two mirrored lenses stitched into the suit whilst at the mouth there was only a tiny hole from which a tube protruded. I was shocked to say the least but mum explained that underneath the suit Amina was gagged and the tube was merely help breathing and to suck up her drink.
“But what about food?” I asked.
“It is all blended,” replied my aunt.
“But how does she communicate?”
“By writing notes when it is necessary to communicate although most of the time it’s not. Girls living in purdah should be silent and should be learning by listening, not giving their own opinions. That is why Amina’s hands are protected.”
I looked down at my cousin’s hands. They were encased in what looked like black satin balls and were obviously rendered useless. They were also linked to one another by a black cord which also fastened them to the suit at the waist. She could not lift them higher than her chest. My aunt took one of them, undid the buckle of the satin ball and took it off, handing it to me to inspect. It was like a mitten, covered in black satin on the outside but inside hard black plastic and then padded so that her hand, bent into a fist, could fit snugly and comfortably inside it. As I was examining this thing, the other was removed and Amina was handed an electronic typepad which she began using.
I love being in purdah Zonera, you should do it too. I feel so protected and I know it is helping me get to heaven. Every day my mum kindly lets me communicate with this pad for an hour after dinner so I can let people know any problems I have but other than that I am happy in my black cocoon.
“So, how about it Zonera?” said my mum. “What say you to getting you equipped like Amina at the mall tomorrow?”
“No way!” I replied.
And so it was until today when mum announced her “solution”. I was uncertain but I knew what the alternative was and was aware that, in a place like the Emirates, I could always be forced. There’s no such thing as a safeguarding agenda there. “Ok,” I said at last, “I’ll give it a go.”
The compromise was on the bed. It was some sort of bodysuit just like Amina’s but it didn’t look all that restrictive. It had no hood and no mittens. And it was made of some sort of crinkly material. I stepped into it and pulled it up. It was loose-fitting, light and comfortable. Perhaps this compromise would be ok after all, but then why were they so desperate for me to be wearing it. I zipped myself in and then fastened the collar. Yes, it was comfortable, non-restrictive, ok even. In the mirror though, it looked weird, sort of baggy and unshapely. Then something unexpected happened. Mum entered with a small machine with a hose leading from it. She bent down and then screwed the hose onto a fitting at the base of the outfit. What was happening? Then the machine was switched on and I realised: it was a pump and the reason that the outfit looked so unshapely was that it was inflatable and needed blowing up.
And before I knew it, it had been and things were very different entirely. Where before had been an unshapely mess, now I was the shape of a narrow cone from my neck downwards. Worse than that, the sleeves that contained my arms had somehow disappeared inside the cone as it inflated and so that my hands were now squeezed against my sides and totally useless. In fact, all of me was squeezed except a narrow tube around the lower portion of my legs which enabled me to walk with mincing steps. That was it though: I was now as helpless as Amina.
“What on earth is this?!” I demanded.
“A new line in purdah suits, reportedly cooler and thus more comfortable than the one that Amina wears. They’re very popular amongst the girls I believe and can be worn permanently.”
“Take it off at once! This is ridiculous!”
“Off? My darling, it isn’t all on yet and it won’t be coming off until you’re married. Your refusal to obey has forced us to adopt some drastic measures but I know you’ll get used to them and perhaps even come to love them. But, to finish off, you make far too much noise!”
As I screamed obscenities, a hood was fitted over my head. Like Amina’s it included a built-in gag but in addition to this it was also inflated so that it matched the suit perfectly and the cone effect was complete. Plus the design also reduced my hearing. After this I was fitted with an armless abayah, khimar and thick niqaab and there I stood, ready for my new life as a silent, pious purdah girl.
Part 2: Living in the Solution
It was strange. Very strange. Being trapped inside that garment, literally a prisoner in your own clothing. After I had been dressed I was left alone to get used to it. It wasn’t as you’d imagine.
I tried walking. That was weird. My steps were limited by the inflatable suit. There was a sort-of built-in tube that kept my thighs close together but left the lower legs freer. So I could take steps but only short ones. And what made it harder is that I couldn’t use my arms to balance. You forget how useful your arms are until you can’t use them and now mine were entombed in the suit, fastened to my sides. I felt vulnerable, like I could fall any second. I didn’t but I felt like I could. Later, when I did trip over, it didn’t hurt. The air cushioned everything, but it was nonetheless very disconcerting being unable to break that fall in any way.
Then I tried sitting. This was easier than expected. The suit was not one solid pocket but instead designed in such a way so that whilst some parts were almost rigid, others had a lot of give in them. I could bend at the middle easily and sit but even that felt strange as I was now always sat on a cushion of air, like being in a bouncy castle.
And of course, there were all the other things: the muffled hearing, blurred vision due to a set of mirrored lenses and a niqaab, and the inability to grab anything or communicate in any way. My thoughts, feelings, ideas and personality counted for nothing and instead I was just an anonymous black cone. Just as a purdah girl should be. I began to cry, angry at what they had done to me. I cried for a long time, I can’t say how long exactly, but in the end the tears ran dry and so |I just sat there. Then I felt the need to go to the toilet. But how? IU stood up and minced my way towards the bathroom but then, at the door, I was stuck.
“Do you want to use the bathroom, Zonera?” I turned around. It was Soraya our maid. I tried to nod but wearing the suit I couldn’t so I sort-of bowed instead. “Ok,” she continued, “but your mum says that you must use the one upstairs now. I’ll come with you to prepare you.”
Puzzled, I went upstairs followed by the maid and into the upstairs bathroom. There she bent down, lifted my abayah and then fiddled around behind my suit. A section of it detached and flipped open somehow. She bade me sit on the toilet and then left. I did my business but then wondered what next. However, Soraya reappeared and asked, “Finished?” I bowed again and so she said, “Stay there.” Then I realised why I must only use the upstairs toilet from now on. A month ago dad had replaced the old one with an electronic toilet from Japan. It had a heated seat, bidet, fan, everything. I’d wondered why he’d bought such a thing but now I realised that they’d been planning this whole purdah thing for a while. The toilet had a remote control which Soraya now pressed. A jet of water squirted up my bum cleaning me and then a warm fan came on. Once it had finished, I stood up and Soraya refitted by bottom panel before patting down the abayah again and returning me to my anonymous cone status.
The rest of that day I sat there, as helpless as a baby, feeling sorry for myself. That evening I received my first purdah meal: soup which I sucked up through the gag straw. Then I was ordered in to see mum and dad. I was given a talk about how they knew that I was probably hating it but that it was for my good and that I would later see that they had been right to enforce this on me. I was also told that, if I promised to stay silent unless spoken to, I could have the hood removed for an hour every evening in order to communicate. I bowed to signify that I would but then as soon as it was removed I started crying, pleading, shouting and screaming. That was a stupid move because it came straight back on again and I was sent to bed and it was not taken off for three days. That next time I’d learnt my lesson and was as silent as a mouse until told I could speak.
As the weeks passed I began to learn more and more about purdah living and the thinking behind it. I was included in everything, but always sat there silent and passive. In the past I would have talked or tried to take centre-stage but now I listened – and I suppose, learnt – more. Similarly, although I was there, unable to communicate, I was ignored, as if I were of no importance anymore, just a pious fixture in the room.
To help me understand my new mode of life, mum sent me to purdah classes. It wasn’t really school since there was nothing much to learn, more a short course to explain to girls why and how they would be living. Amina had done the course and said it helped her and so it was decreed that I should too.
The classes were held in the house of a woman across town. To get there I had to mince out to the car where I was strapped in securely. Journeys were a trial because whenever out of the house a blinding veil was added and I had to be guided. Once inside the blinding veil was removed and I minced through to a room where eight other purdah girls sat on chairs in a circle. In our first class we learnt how there are a variety of different suits and that mine was far from the worst. Some were like Amina’s yet some were in thick rubber that got very hot and incorporated features like corsets or posture collars which constricted the body severely. Two girls wearing such suits had no eyeholes in their hoods and would not be allowed any sight until marriage. There were four girls in suits like mine, seen as the most liberal and getting increasingly popular. In secret I nicknamed us “Wizbit Girls” after a character from children’s TV which was a cone that did magic. And that was what we all were: living cones.
Over the six classes the teacher explained that in the past women had been expected to cook and clean as part of being wives, but thanks to modern technology, this was no longer necessary and our sole aim was to increase the piety and standing of the household by becoming pious ornaments for our husbands and fathers and I doing so we would be buying first-class tickets to heaven. For my though, it was more like hell, for the suit, although light and comfortable, for some reason made me very horny and yet restrained as I was there was nothing that I could do about it.
There is one episode that I need to tell you about. It was decreed that every week I must have a bath. Prior to this I was fed a sedative and put to sleep beforehand, waking up again several hours later clean and fresh but ensconced within the solution suit again. But one week Soraya forgot to sedate me and when I was released I made an attempt to escape. It was, of course, futile, particularly with arms so long out of action, and when I was caught my parents were not happy. This time I was sedated and when I awoke, instead of my nice, comfy compromise suit, I found myself encased in a tight rubber catsuit with only pinholes for eyes. Around my waist a tight corset was causing me to gasp for breath whilst a posture collar garrotted my neck. Worst of all though, my arms were pinned behind me, palm to palm, elbows touching and laced into a single leather glove. It was agony although, thankfully, after some time they went dead. Dressed in my veils again, I was led before my father who told me that this was my punishment suit and I would be dressed in it whenever I misbehaved. I stayed in that horrible suit only 24 hours but the memory is seared into my brain forever and I never attempted escape again.
And so my life continued, forever cushioned, restricted and forced to be silent and pious. I realised that one of the key aspects of the suit was that it forced me to experience everything second-hand; my hearing and body were cushioned from the world, and my eyes had to negotiate layers of cloth and glass. When my head was released for my communication hour every evening, it felt so great to feel the breeze and to hear and sea unimpeded. But at the same time I began to appreciate the feeling of protection that my cocoon gave me and, one might almost say, like it. I had started to accept life in purdah but then, around three months after my world had been turned upside down once, it was transformed yet again. I was called into my father’s study and told that the next day I would be getting married to man that I had never met before and then I would be leaving the family home forever.
Part 3: Living as a Solution
My wedding day was a strange affair. I was dressed in the solution suit as normal, with my black veils over me, but over that was a white silken wedding dress, an extra cone to cover the black one… and to blind me completely. I was guided from my parents’ house by my proud father who, I am told, then guided my mother whose personal piety had grown so much since I’d unwillingly entered my purdah cocoon, that she now wore a similar suit herself. Whatever. All I know is that I was told nothing and had to submit to whatever they decided.
It was some hours later before the layers of cloth were removed and I found myself in a room face-to-face with a man. At first I felt shocked that someone so old had been chosen as my husband, but then he told me that he was my father-in-law and that Ahmed, his second son, was my new spouse. That was a relief but what followed was not. Ahmed, it transpired, was an emotional boy who had fallen in love with a girl from the same street who had been promised to someone else from birth. When both families found out they were horrified and so she was bundled into a purdah suit much like mine before then being married off to her unsuspecting fiancé. As for Ahmed though, things were not so clear cut. He pined after his lost love, did not eat and tried even to end his life. In despair, his father arranged his marriage to me, but he refused stating that if he could not be with his love, then he would be with no woman. It was at that point that a solution was reached and, as usual, it would be me having to live with… or should I say ‘as’… it. Even the lovesick Ahmed understood that his love was now gone but then his father suggested something else: he imagine his new wife was the one that he had lost. But how could he do that you might ask? Well, two weeks ago I had been renamed Zara, the name of his desire and he had signed an agreement with my parents that my purdah from now on would be so complete that we would never speak nor would we see each other’s faces. I was to be his wife for the purposes of family honour and reproduction only and besides that focussing on my personal piety through purdah living would be my sole goal in life.
I was horrified and longed to protest; I longed to feel a man’s touch, to snuggle up to him at night and tell him my thoughts. But instead I felt a needle enter my neck and my world went black again.
And when I came too it was still black and that is how it has remained to this day, for I had been fitted with my new purdah hood of thick black leather with no eyeholes whatsoever and an industrial strength inflatable gag. I was lying on a bed, dressed only in my new purdah suit of black latex, my arms pinned behind me in a fearsome monoglove such as many purdah girls wear and which I have now worn from that day on. And if that was not enough, my legs were also bound with ropes, my feet touching my bottom. And so there I lay, unable to move, totally submissive and passive, waiting for my husband to use me. After an indeterminable length of time I heard someone enter, murmur my new name and then unfasten the zip at my crotch. And so I was introduced to married life as a permanent solution to my husband’s woes and as my unseen and unknown spouse entered me I wondered what on earth the future would hold.
My wedding night
Copyright © 2016 Dave Potter