The Covered Cleaner
(Part 3 – Dinner parties)
Back to The Covered Cleaner (Part 2).
Chapter 5 – The gag
Cleaning went well for the next couple of days, as Mohammad as out and there was therefore no problem about speaking to him. However, on the Friday morning she found a note and a package with her niqaab. “Can you please be here tonight at six thirty, and ready to serve our guests by seven. I will leave full instructions. In the box you will find a gag. You do not have to wear it, but you may decide that it is the easiest way to ensure that you do not accidentally speak. It is on an elastic strap so you can pull it out of your mouth at any time. It is really important tonight that you do not say anything to the guests, as they are from a very traditional part of Saudi Arabia, but I leave it entirely to you whether to use the gag.”
Nicole slumped into the nearest chair. She fully saw the logic of his suggestion, and was sure he was trying to be helpful. She was not really sure she could guarantee not to speak, but she could not accept the idea of the gag. She dressed and started the cleaning but the idea of the gag would not go out of her head. She decided that perhaps she ought at least to try it, and see how comfortable it was. She took it out of its box and then realised that she would have to remove her niqaab before she could put it on. Oh well, she had better at least try.
It fitted into her mouth behind her teeth and was not particularly uncomfortable, though the main problem seemed to be that she was likely to dribble. She put her niqaab back on, donned the khimar and got on with the cleaning. After a while she forgot she was wearing it. When she undressed to leave, it was not until she looked into the mirror to do her hair that she realised that she was still wearing it. In that case she would wear it that evening, as she did not wish to embarrass her employer. But she was still sure that such a demeaning practice ought not to be allowed in the USA. Victoria had been right: women had fought for their equality.
This of course was what Mohammad had been hoping. Having seen how easily she accepted wearing niqaab he had decided to see just what she would accept. This was the next stage.
When Nicole got to college she saw Mark. As they entered the lecture theatre together he greeted her, but fortunately he didn’t say anything about her clothes or her appearance. In the café that lunchtime she avoided Victoria and Penny and had lunch alone. Again she noticed a woman wearing niqaab and khimar sitting alone in the corner and decided that at the right time she would speak to her – though it was always possible that she would not answer if any men were present. The encounter would therefore need to be carefully planned.
She had worried about the gag all day and was still not decided when she left college, but in the end decided to play safe so as not to risk her job again. It had not been that uncomfortable when she had tried it. Of course she would wear the extra veil so they could not see her face, even though they would almost certainly never meet her again. But she just could not face anyone seeing her and recognising her while she was veiled.
The evening went well, and Nicole felt that she was really getting to move elegantly in the khimar. The guests were charming and she did not find it any problem wearing the gag and inner veil. She did not have to work hard, and when she undressed to leave and opened the envelope containing her bonus she decided that at that hourly rate she happily wear the gag and anything else Mohammad asked for. It would pay for at least a couple of new skirts and blouses.
But she had still not had a chance to ask if she could wear the niqaab when she left the house, and she didn’t feel she could do so without asking.
Chapter 6 – Adam and Liz
After the dinner, things went smoothly for several days. Victoria and Penny did not say anything further about her clothes and she didn’t see Mark in the café. However, on the Thursday another male student from her group approached her when she was sitting having lunch, and introduced himself as Adam. His chat up line also started with the clothes she was wearing but soon turned to something different. “Are you interested in Victorian costume?” he asked. Nicole explained in much the same words as she had used previously. “Are you interested in meeting other people who wear Victorian dress? asked Adam. I belong to a society which re-enacts Victorian events. We all dress up as authentically as possible and also try to behave as much as possible as Victorians would have done. We also arrange visits sometimes to places with a Victorian link. The next one will be to Colonial Williamsburg, a preserved town near Norfolk, Virginia. It is actually 18th century so it’s earlier than Victorian, but most of the buildings were similar at that time. You could come if you like, but it might be a bit much as a first time to meet the society members.”
Nicole was flattered to be invited. At least as a chat-up line it was original, but she declined. However, she liked the idea of meeting others who liked Victorian dress, se she agreed to attend a local meeting with Adam the following week. Adam agreed to meet her and escort her there. His final comment however caught her by surprise. “You should try to dress as a Victorian if you can to attend the meeting, though it is not compulsory. What you are wearing is fine, but you really need to get some boots instead of those sneakers.”
More expense, she thought, but when she looked at herself later in the mirror she had to agree that they looked odd. But what did Victorians wear? He had mentioned boots. Perhaps the web would help. An hour later she had more information than she knew what to do with, and had also looked at the Williamsburg site, quickly deciding that one day she would like to see the place for real.
Boots, she now knew, were essential, probably with a small heel and laced up the front. She could get genuine reproductions but they were expensive, so she would start looking in thrift shops. But in the meantime she would wear a pair of low heeled black court shoes which would not be so conspicuous. But she also saw that a corset was a must. She was not sure she wanted to wear one, but a smaller waist than hers was essential to produce the right image, and she was sure it would make her look attractive. But even a ready made corset would cost well over $100 and one made to measure would be twice that price. Even with the bonus she had received from Mohammad she could not spend that much, so again the thrift shops would have to be her starting point.
When she met Adam as arranged for her visit to the re-enactment society she was surprised to see with him a girl dressed in Victorian costume including a cloak and a heavy veil. ”Nicole, this is Liz,” said Adam as introduction; “Liz, this is Nicole”. Much to Nicole’s astonishment Elizabeth curtsied. “We try to adopt Victorian manners when in costume,” explained Adam, “even if we still use modern things like automobiles and mobile phones”. Elizabeth didn’t say anything, which also surprised Nicole, as she was not aware of any rule against Victorian women speaking in public. The other thing that Nicole noticed however was Elizabeth’s very small waist. It could not have been more than eighteen inches. Her corset must be very tight. But she didn’t comment, merely followed them into the automobile.
The evening went well; everyone was very friendly and even though most of those present were couples she never felt out of place. There was a wide range of ages from teenagers to couples obviously in their sixties or seventies. Many of the women were beautifully dressed, including elaborate hats, and many had very small waists. Best of all, one of the other girls offered to sell her a pair of boots at a very reasonable price. She would bring them to the next meeting so Nicole could try them on before deciding. It was only after Adam and Elizabeth had dropped her off at her apartment that she realised that Elizabeth had not spoken all evening.
She decided that she would certainly go again, and in the meantime would do some more research on the net about what the Victorians wore and how they behaved. And she would have to get a corset. One of the women had mentioned a website, staylace.com, and had suggested that there were instructions for making corsets on the web and you could buy the components on-line. She would look into that.
The next day she had to spend more time than usual cleaning and on college work, but the day after she found a couple of hours to trawl the internet. The amount of information was staggering, and she quickly found enough to tell her that she could make a corset and could afford the materials. So the next thing was to decide on an appropriate style. The staylace site gave her all the information she needed, as well as reassurance that wearing a corset would not damage her insides. She chose a style and downloaded the pattern, then listed what she would need and ordered the materials on-line. It was still quite a lot of money but a fraction of the cost of a custom corset from one of the big firms. Now she would have to wait for the materials to arrive and then find time for the considerable amount of sewing needed. She hoped her sewing was up to it.
In the meantime, Mohammad asked her to serve the food at another dinner at his house. She didn’t think twice this time before she put on the gag and inner veil. This time she was not so nervous when she was with the guests, and she felt that she had done a good job. She wore her black court shoes which she felt looked much less conspicuous than her sneakers. However, even though she did not have to work very hard it was a very long evening and her feet hurt by the end. But at the end of the evening Mohammad left another big tip. On its own it would pay for the corset.
And she had also been able to leave a note for Mohammad asking permission to wear the niqaab outside the house, and had received his permission in a note left with the tip. Her request had come much more quickly than he had expected. He was delighted.
Chapter 7 – Outing in niqaab
The next days were filled with college work and her cleaning commitments. She accepted an invitation from Adam to go to the re-enactment society again the following week, partly because of the boots she had been promised. And she saw Mark a couple of times during lunch at the college. However, while he was charming he did not comment on her appearance.
By now she had a choice of blouses and skirts to wear, as she had altered those she bought to fit better. She felt that she looked good the way she dressed, and she had not had any more comments from the other girls. She was still waiting for the materials to make the corset, but in the meantime had bought a wide leather belt which she fastened tight around her waist. From her research she had a much better idea of what she should wear to look authentically Victorian and was aware that she had a long way to go. Most of the things she would like would have to be made.
However, what was exercising her mind in her spare hours, and especially when she was cleaning Mohammad’s house, was her planned outing wearing the niqaab and khimar.
She had decided that it would have to be on foot as she could not face the thought of showing her pass, with its photograph, on the bus or streetcar. Fortunately Mohammad’s house on Lombard Street was not far from the harbour area, and she decided that for her first outing she would walk to the park near Ghirardeli Square, sit there for a while and then walk back. She might well see people she knew but they would not recognise her if she did not speak. So she had better wear the gag again to avoid the temptation.
Eventually, a day came when it was sunny but not too hot and she did not have anything urgent to do. So when she had finished the cleaning she put on the gag and inner veil and walked down to Hyde Street, turning towards the harbour. When she got to Beach Street she turned left, enjoying the view of the sea. Suddenly she noticed ahead of her two women dressed almost exactly as she was. They were walking together a few feet behind two men wearing the kind of clothes Mohammad wore when he had guests. She guessed they must be the men’s wives. But she lost them when they turned into the former chocolate factory site. When she reached the park she found a seat facing the sea and sat down. It was decidedly warm under her several layers and her head was especially warm with the sun on it, but it was not unpleasant. She sat there for some time daydreaming and watching the crowds of tourists who drifted to and fro.
Suddenly she saw the two veiled women again. They and their husbands walked through the park close to her seat and headed for the park exit leading to Van Ness. Nicole decided to follow them out of curiosity. It was not uncommon to see women wearing half veils but she had rarely seen women veiled as she and these two were. But she lost them when they crossed the street and got on a bus so she decided to return to the seat for a while longer.
Just as she was about to return to Mohammad’s house a woman sat on the next seat who was dressed almost exactly the same as Nicole. Nicole tried to look without seeming to stare, though after a while she realised that no-one could see where she was looking anyway. The other woman’s eyes were visible, but nothing else. Her shoes were black, below a long black skirt and she wore black gloves. She opened her bag and took out a book. Nicole recognised it as one of the textbooks for her course. It must be the girl she had seen at the college. She wondered whether to approach her, but realised that with her gag in she could not speak and the other girl would probably not speak anyway. But it gave her an idea. Next time she saw the girl in the canteen she would sit beside her with a notebook and pen, and try to have a conversation. The sun was getting warmer, and Nicole’s head was beginning to feel hot. The other girl was still reading but Nicole decided that she needed to get out of the sun. So she walked up Van Ness and turned into Chestnut Street. It was a stiff climb, the weather had definitely got hotter and she was pretty warm by the time she reached Mohammad’s house. She slipped inside. Mohammad would not be there at this time of day, so she went to the bathroom to wash and change. She had nothing to change into from the blouse and skirt she had worn under the khimar, but she would have to cope. Next time she planned on going out veiled she would bring a change of clothes, something very light to wear under the veiling.. But it had been great fun. No-one had recognised her, not even the other student, and she had not noticed any stares. There would definitely be a next time and she would do something more adventurous. She would have to think of a way of using the cable cars or streetcars without showing her pass, though it was rather expensive to pay each time. Many tourists from all over the world used them so she would not be out of place.
The story continues in The Covered Cleaner (Part 4).