Iweko took the water bottle and carefully slipped the straw between the cuts in the veil. Taking her time, she took her drink slowly. Looking around her, Iweko saw that she was not alone. Most of her colleagues were doing the same thing she was doing; slacking off, just waiting for the bell.
It might not be the right thing to do, but after a hard shift at the factory all the women, including Iweko, needed a breather for the day ahead. The moment the bell rang, everyone stood up and took off. Iweko took her punch card and joined in the dash for the clock. As her station was in the middle of the factory, she joined halfway in the queue. Not that it matters much as all the women were in a rush. Before you know it, Iweko was at the exit of the factory.
Before leaving, Iweko went through a quick check to make sure her clothing was in order. She was wearing a plain brown kimono with gloves and socks that covered her hands and feet. Most importantly of course was her black hoodveil. Covering her head, Iweko made sure the hoodveil was secured around the head. The 2 piece veil totally covered the whole face outside the small area near the eyes. A cut in the veil made it easy for her to drink refreshments, but even that cut was overlayed, making it impossible for anyone to see her flesh. Seeing that everything was in order, Iweko made the daily dash home.
Situated in the Rat Province, Port Tama was a city that depended on the small port for her livelihood. For centuries, men had fished in the Sea of Blue Snow and used ports like Tama as their port of call. When the season was in full swing, the fishing, crab, lobster ships will go into the Sea of Blue Snow and make their catches. From there, the seafood would be unloaded in port and the women of the fishermen would clean and packed the fishes into boxes. After which, trucks would deliver the cargo all over Vippon.
As you might expect, the fish factory was situated near the port and far away from the residential areas. Afterall, no one want to live beside the smell of fish all day and Iweko’s home, like most, was at the fringe of the city.. This also means that women like Iweko had a long walk home everyday. Head facing downwards, Iweko ran for home. At least she attempted to run for home. Like all women in the Rat Province, Iweko’s 2 feets were connected with a short rope. Since ancient times, it was considered ungainly for women to run and the rope was an ancient way to maintain a woman’s modesty. Tradition dies hard in the Rat.
The rope prevented Iweko from taking a full stride, or even half a stride, making a fast walk all but impossible. Add to this was the constant wind and rain. The Rat was a small but important province in Vippon as it was the only province that has access to the sea. Bordering the rich Sea of Blue Snow, it supplied closed to all the seafood consumed by the citizens of Vippon. However, the Sea of Blue Snow was not a gentle sea. It was both cold and rough as heavy wind can cause big waves at sea, making fishing a dangerous if high-paying career. The wind lashed against the mainland as well, bringing along with it the ever-present water vapour from the sea. Head faced down, rope between the feet, heavy wind and constant rain makes walking fast dangerous for women. Still, Iweko walked as fast as she dared. She knew that being late was unacceptable for her father-in-law.
Shuffling as fast as she can, Iweko finally made it home. Her family knew the knock-off time at the factory and Iweko, like all the women who worked at the factory, had a curfew. As usual, Iweko had missed it.
“Woman, you are late again!” Her father-in-law was holding the cane at the entrance of the house. Knowing better than to argue, Iweko kneed and bowed her head to the ground. As with most families in Port Tama, Iweko was from a fishing family and her husband was currently out at sea fishing.
The husband was out at sea; the wives were working at the fish factories; the mother-in-laws were keeping house and the father-in-law oversaw the women in the husband’s absence. It was the way fishermen had lived for centuries in Vippon. They had piece of mind while out at sea, miles from their wives because they knew that even in their absence, their fathers will see to it that their wives were behaving honorably.
A retired seaman himself, Iweko’s father-in-law ruled the house with an iron-fist. He began berating Iweko for being late and accused her of dishonoring the family and her husband for her lazy ways. Iweko kept her head bowed to the ground and accepted everything that was said silently. It was almost a daily ritual as it was almost impossible to make it home in the time set by her father-in-law. However, this was a scene played out all over the city at the moment as Iweko’s father-in-law was not harsh. The curfew set by the in-laws were too short for the women on purpose.
The purpose was punishment. Her father-in-law walked to the side of her and Iweko steeled herself for what’s coming. She heard the swish of the cane and immediately Iweko’s buttocks was aflame with pain. Iweko kept silent despite the pain and took the beating silently. Her father-in-law alternated between her buttocks and her back as Iweko silently kept count of the strokes. Even after years, Iweko couldn’t help but feel humiliated having a public caning in full view of her neighbors.
After 22 strokes, her father-in-law stopped. This meant that she was 22mins late today. Iweko did not know if this was true but as a woman, it was not her place to question or complain, only to accept the rules and orders of the men of the house.
At the order of her father-in-law, Iweko stood up and went in to the house. Her two young sons were on the sofa watching television. Iweko immediately stood at attention and gave them both a respectfully low bow. A wave in dismissal from her sons later, Iweko went into the kitchen. Her mother-in-law was already there with Iweko’s daughter. Iweko bowed to her in-law and enquired if there was anything she needed help in. However dinner was almost ready and her mother-in-law told her to go for her bath and prayers.
Iweko wasn’t surprised. Her oldest daughter Amiko was already 12 years old and was already helping in the kitchen. Since Amiko would be taking the veil next year, she had been given lots of housework in preparation for the big day. Knowing in her heart everything was in order, Iweko went to her bedroom. In her cupboard, she took out her spare kimono.
In her frugal family, every woman was only given 4 plain brown kimonos. Excluding the one she was currently wearing, one was in the wash, one was drying on the bamboo pole, and this was the spare. It was just enough for the women. Iweko took out her spare bra and panties and rush to the bathroom. Before that, Iweko stopped in front of her father-in-law who was reading the papers in the living room. Kneeling, Iweko bowed to the ground and begged her father-in-law to allow her to go for the bath. Her father-in-law gave his approval and Iweko, while on her knees, turned around. Her father-in-law unhooked the rope between her feet, and gave a kick to her buttocks. At the signal, Iweko stood up and walked to the kitchen.
Iweko walked quickly to the back of the kitchen and into the bathroom. Taking off her fish-smelling kimono, she threw it into the wash. Iweko then took off her underwear and her hoodveil as well. Everything went into the wash. Her mother-in-law would wash it tomorrow. Iweko a quick shower, not that she could stay in there long anyway. Hot-water shower was only allowed for the men and children; grown women like her were only allowed cold showers. In a cold place like Port Tama, a long cold shower was impossible.
After she finished, Iweko put on the spare kimono, hoodveil and walked out. The family altar was in the living room. Every family in Vippon has an altar at home worshipping their ancestors, and Iweko’s family was no exception. Head down, Iweko walked to the altar and kneed before it.
Most people in other countries found it strange that in Vippon only women were engaged in religion. Most people did not understand the Vippon religion of Ancestral Worship. People in Vippon believed that when they pass on, their forefathers still lived on in spirit and can influence the physical world if they wish to. However as with most spirits, their forefathers couldn’t care less about the physical world and you must beg them to help you and your family. As men are leaders of society, you can’t expect them to beg for favors on a daily basis; but woman could! So religion is considered a women’s job in Vippon.
Iweko again made sure her kimono and hoodveil were in order; it wouldn’t do to insult her ancestors by being poorly-dressed. Iweko bowed her head to the floor and silently begged her ancestors to keep her husband safe. In this, her family was lucky. In her family tree, there were no less than 16 seamen, 3 of whom were captains of their own ships. Iweko knew all of them by name and begged each one of them one-by-one to make sure her husband return home unharmed.
With 16 pleas, it took a long time to finish her prayers. By the time she was finished with the prayers, it was dinner time. Dinner was a quiet affair for the women. Iweko, her mother-in-law and Amiko sat at the dinner table which had a screen cutting across the table. This screen separated the men from the women and as Iweko and her mother-in-law lowered their veil to take dinner, the screen prevented the men from seeing their faces. In fact, her husband told Iweko that it has been years since he saw her mother’s face. Iweko only hoped that she could match her mother-in-law’s care and discipline in the future.
The women finished quickly, both Iweko and her mother-in-law immediately put their veils back on. The 3 women then sat quietly with their head down and their hands folded on their laps. After the men had finished, the women cleared the table and did the washing. As her sons were playing their latest computer games and her father-in-law was reading the papers, the women were busy with the washing. They also cleaned the whole kitchen again.
By the time they were finished, it was late but Iweko tested Amiko on her knowledge of cooking. Since she was working at the factory, the training of Amiko was left up to her mother-in-law. But as her mother, Iweko made a point to test Amiko on occasions to make sure she had learned everything she had been thought. Personally, she felt her mother-in-law was a little lenient with her granddaughter.
The test was cut short when her father-in-law announced it was time for bed. It must have been later than she thought. As Amiko and her sons went to their room, Iweko followed her father-in-law into her bedroom. As her husband was out at sea, Iweko was not allowed to sleep on the bed. Instead she followed her father-in-law to the cupboard she took her kimonos from. Iweko put her hands behind her and her father-in-law tied them up with a thick rope. He then opened up the cupboard and Iweko obediently went into the cupboard. The cupboard was small so she had to knee to fit into it. Iweko’s father-in-law went to work again with more ropes. By the time he was finished, Iweko found that she would not move an inch. The ropes had tied her feet together and it looped over her head crisis-crossing over her body. The tie was to prevent her from dishonoring herself with temptations.
The door of the cupboard closes and Iweko was locked up in the darkness. In some way she was lucky. Iweko knew that some of her colleagues were locked in small wooden boxes barely big enough for them.
A small light is then switched on within the cupboard. It shone on a stern picture of her lord and master which was placed on a hook inside the cupboard. The hook was directly in front of her eyes. Iweko relaxed and looked at the picture of her husband. It would be the last image she would see before she goes to sleep and the first thing she would see when she wakes up. Iweko wondered what her husband was doing now on the distant seas. Silently, she leaned her head against the cupboard’s door and tried to get some sleep. It would be the same thing everyday until her master came home.
Iweko looked at her husband’s picture once more and then closed her eyes. Be safe, my lord and come home soon.