She heard the door open. Worse, she heard the door open while she was in the kitchen! Zahara raced in terror to the door as her husband walked into the house. Kneeling down at his feet, Zahara bowed her head to the floor.
Her husband waited for a moment, a moment Zahara spent silently cursing him for being home early, for the door closed by itself. He sat down on the stool by the door as Zahara crawled to him and untied his shoes. After gently taking off his shoes and socks, her husband stood up and walked to the bathroom. Crawling behind her husband on her knees, Zahara picked up the clothes her husband discarded on the floor. As his husband entered the bathroom for his shower, she then crawled to the laundry basket. Zahara felt the smooth beautiful clothes for a moment and wondered how it would feel to wear these fine clothes. Sighing to herself, she put the clothes in the basket and crawled back to the bathroom.
Kneeling patiently outside the bathroom, Zahara couldn’t help but smell herself. It has been 5 days since her last bath, and 2 more days before her next one. She knew she was very different from the nice soapy smell of her husband. Her orders came.
“Go prepare yourself wife.”
With her husband’s order, Zahara crawled to her room. Unlike the master bedroom, her room had an entrance that was only waist high. Crawling inside, Zahara finally stood up. Shaking her legs from all that crawling, she walked to her bed. To be exact, she walked to her sleeping mat. Her bed was a straw mat, with a pillow and a thick blanket for the cold. Beside her mat were her neatly folded clothes. Zahara took off the shirt and short pants she was currently wearing; her home attire for housework was just not suitable in public.
Zahara put on her blouse. The long sleeves on it reached her waist, and the hands were soon covered with a pair of gray gloves. Her long pants, which were also gray like her blouse, were next. Zahara put on her socks and then tied her hair in a neat bun. It wasn’t easy as there were no mirrors but she had plenty of practice, so there were no problems. One last minute check to see that all of her body was covered. Once done, Zahara crawled out of her room and waited again outside the bathroom.
Her husband finished his shower soon after. Zahara kept her eyes low as her husband walked to the bedroom. Crawling quietly behind him, Zahara reached the room a moment after her husband. Her husband sat on the bed and threw his pants onto the floor. Picking it up, Zahara helped her husband put on his clothes. Shirt, pants, tie, coat; the quality of the clothes was vastly different from the coarse materials of hers. The 3 piece suit was imported from Italy tailor-made for her husband himself.
Once her husband was done, it was time for her. First, her husband put a neck corset on her. The corset covered the neck stiffly, making it impossible for Zahara to move her head either up or down. Several rings adorned the neck corset. These would soon be in use, but first her husband put a belt on her. Zahara’s hands were soon cuffed to the side of the belt. The ring gag came next. Tied around Zahara’s head, it kept her month from closing and impossible to voice anything expect a few grunts. A short chain with cuffs held both of Zahara’s ankles together. Reaching up, her husband clipped the chain with another silver chain which was held in place by the belt. With this in place, it made walking almost impossible for Zahara. Her husband next put a large overcoat on her. Connected to the rings on the neck corset, the huge gray overcoat covered Zahara’s whole body down to her ankles. With no slits for the arms, the coat gave Zahara a shapeless look that totally hid her beautiful figure. The hood was next. Held in place by the neck corset, the hood covered Zahara’s head with only a big opening for her open mouth and a small one for her nose. Zahara was totally blinded by the hood but she knew that there was another piece of her attire to put on. Over her head, she felt the veil being placed over her head. The black veil covered her from head to foot, with only a small opening at the front. Through this opening, a chain was leashed to the front of her neck corset.
Blinded by the hood and veil, Zahara felt a tug on the leash as her husband walked on. Led by the leash, Zahara could only shuffle her feet obediently behind her husband.
As she walked (shuffled) behind her husband in the streets, Zahara couldn’t help but wondering about the city. She had not seen the city since the day she first landed on Kamatora. Enclosed in the windowless house that was her new home, Zahara wondered if it had changed at all the past 18 months.
Zahara’s family was involved in trading but had fallen into hard times due to a few less-than-wise decisions from her father. One day, her father got all his daughters together and informed them that there was a chance to recoup his losses with a new business partner who was from the country of Mahdi. However the deal was risky and his potential partner requested that he gave a daughter in marriage as part of the deal.
Her father explained that in Madhi, family was everything, so the people there believed that there was no chance of cheating if you are family. Zahara remembered the shame on her father’s face as he asked if there was any volunteer for the marriage to save the family from ruin. Trained from young to think of her family first and herself second, Zahara knew that it was her duty as the eldest daughter in the family. Zahara agreed to the marriage.
The country of Mahdi was an island just off the coast of West Africa and Kamatora was one of only 3 cities on the island. It was a slave port in the past, specializing in the female slave trade. White or black, the women passing through its ports were all slaves in chains and for sale. When Islam came along, the men just covered the women’s chain with the veil. When colonialism came, even when slavery was abolished, the chains on the women stayed. Funny how tradition is formed, isn’t it?
3 months later, Zahara landed in the city of Kamatora as the wife of Rahim Sadir. It was the one and only time she saw the city and the country.
On the day she landed in Mahdi, Zahara remembered having a foreboding sensation. At first she consoled herself, trying to believe it was just the weather and the scenery of the country. Despite being located in Africa, Mahdi’s climate had more to do with England than the Dark Continent. On the day of her arrival, dark overhanging clouds were present in the sky. The colonial period of the past left behind many tall gothic buildings and many of these buildings populated the city. Together, the weather and the buildings gave the city a depressing look about it.
Not helping the matter were the people Zahara saw walking around. She wasn’t too surprised to see men leading shapeless women by the leash, she had read about that in her research, but seeing the women shuffling behind their men totally blind was. Zahara didn’t know till then that the women of Mahdi aren’t allowed voice or sight in public.
Worse were the actions of the men. While she was waiting for someone to pick her up at the port, Zahara had looked out into the streets of Kamatora and more than once, she saw men leading their women into a wall or a lamp-post, only to laugh as the woman knocked into the said objects. She even saw a boy about seven leading a grown woman by the leash into a lamppost and then laughing loudly about it. It was only later that Zahara discovered that this was what passed as traditional entertainment in the country. The men of Mahdi thought of this act as funny and useful as it helped break the spirit of their women.
Totally blinded, the women had no choice but to trust their men. To have their trust broken like that was bad enough, to have their men laughing at them was soul-destroying.
Zahara knew that feeling again as she hit a wall in her path. As she heard the laughter of her husband, she knew it was no accident. As a way to break her spirit, it was an effective tool. She felt her leash being tugged. With no choice, the blinded and broken Zahara followed wherever her husband led her.
In her enclosing veil, time lost meaning to Zahara. All she knew was to put one foot in front of the other. After a while, a sharp tug on her leash told Zahara to stop. She felt the veil being lifted off her. Still blinded by the hood, a soft tug on the leash told Zahara to move slowly forward. After a short distance, Zahara felt a downward tug on the leash and immediately fell to her knees. Another tug told her to bow to the floor. Without her hands to support her, Zahara’s head lowered till she smacked her head against the floor. It gave off a resounding thud. Another thud soon followed and Zahara knew there was another woman beside her. The laughter from the men followed right on cue as her husband and another man greeted each other.
After over a year in the country, Zahara knew what was coming. The men finished their greeting and she felt a pressure on her. Her husband had sat on her. Zahara was a woman kneeling with her head to the ground and in Mahdi, that meant she was a stool to be used. The other woman beside her was probably being used in the same way by her man.
Not for the first time, Zahara regretted her decision to agree to the marriage. It was without question the worst decision she had ever made. Worse, there was nothing she could do about it. This was the lot of a woman in the country of Mahdi, and as Zahara felt her husband sitting on her, she knew this was her lot till the time of her death. Servitude, humiliations, and beatings; those would be her life till the the day she died.