The Covered Cleaner
(Part 7 – Telling Mark)
Back to The Covered Cleaner (Part 6).
Chapter 18 – Serious discussions
Next morning she decided she had to tell Mark everything. If he didn’t want to know her as a veiled woman she needed to know now. It would be a real tussle but she didn’t think she would be happy with Mark if he would not let her cover up. She felt comfortable in niqaab and even the burqa. Even her modest normal clothes were too revealing. She decided that if she was going to speak to Mark she would have to wear normal clothes. In the end she compromised by adding black gloves and a large square scarf which she tied on round her head and neck as she had seen many Asian girls wear. With a long skirt and a long sleeved high-necked top she felt reasonably covered, even if she would have preferred her face to be covered.
Her chance came at lunchtime. The cafeteria was quiet, and Mark was sitting alone at a table so she joined him. After some small talk she launched in: “There is something important I need to tell you. Can we go somewhere more private?”
It came out all in a rush. Mark looked alarmed.
“You’re not ill are you?” he gasped.
Nicole realised that she had been too melodramatic.
“No, nothing like that, just something you should know about me. Can we go to the park by the chocolate factory? I have no more lectures today.”
“Neither do I, and I think I need to hear what you have to say“, responded Mark. “Let‘s go.”
On the way, Nicole was silent – not something she found hard these days. But today it was because she was trying to decide how tell Mark about her love of veiling. She led them to the seat where she had had her first meeting with Zyrafete and sat him down. Then, because she felt that she needed to face Mark she knelt at his feet.
.”Well,” started Mark, but she put her finger to his lips.
“Please just let me talk. When I have finished you can ask questions, go or whatever.”
And she blurted out the whole story starting with the job and her grandmother’s photo and ending with the dinner where she wore the burqa. As she spoke she could see Mark begin to smile. He reached in his pocket and took out his phone. He began flicking through the menus. Nicole wondered if she was wasting her time.
Then Mark spoke: “My turn now. I know all about you wearing a veil to class and so on. I even followed you home last night after your dinner. I have taken lots of photos of you on your own and with your friend. Here, have a look.”
He handed her the phone.
“How did you find out?” asked Nicole, still not knowing whether Mark approved.
“It was easy. When you weren’t present at lectures there was an extra veiled student sitting with your friend. I checked at the office that there were no new students. And then I followed you a few times. It was luck the first time I saw the three of you together. And it was even bigger luck that I spotted you wearing that big black thing that completely covers you, but you were just coming out of your apartment building and it couldn’t have been anyone else as the girl was carrying your purse.”
Nicole looked at the photos. Mark had seen her almost every time she went out veiled. But what did he think?
“So do you mind? I told Mohammad I had a boyfriend and I meant you, but I shall understand if you don’t want to have anything more to do with me.”
Mark put his hands round her head and pulled her towards him.
“Mind! I don’t quite understand but I certainly don’t mind. I liked you originally for your modesty. This takes it several steps on. You will have to give me time to get used to it, but I don’t have a problem with you veiling except that you are very pretty.”
“Do you realise that I usually wear a simple gag when I am veiled to remind me not to speak? I have got so used to it that I don’t really notice it, but I definitely do not speak when I am in niqaab or a burqa. Can you cope with that? Zyrafete and I use notepads to pass messages but that is not very convenient. So you will just have to accept a silent girlfriend.”
“Again, that is fine with me. I think it will be harder for you. But how much do you want to go veiled? Always, most of the time, occasionally?”
“Most if not all the time. I have been dressing normally much of the time so as not to lose you. I would still like to go to the re-enaction events in Victorian dress as long as I can wear a fairly thick veil. There isn’t much I can’t do in niqaab, though the burqa is more difficult – but I haven‘t had much practice yet. Oh, there is something else. Last night Mohammad and his friends gave me a present for being willing to wear the burqa – two masks from Arabia. One is leather and the other is fabric and decorated with lots of coins. Apparently the older women still wear them in the areas where the two friends come from, rather than veils. I have not tried them yet and the one with coins looks like a challenge as it is heavy and will be very conspicuous, not what I am seeking, but I have promised that I will try them. I will definitely try the leather one first as I could easily slip a black veil over it. If you are up for it, I will wear it to the lecture tomorrow as long as I have you for support.”
“Done,” responded Mark almost before she had finished. “Now I want you to pretend you are gagged. I don’t need persuading. I am hooked. I can’t wait to start this adventure with a veiled and silent girlfriend. Now sit beside me on the seat, you can‘t be comfortable there on the ground.”
In fact it was not until Nicole got up that she realised how stiff and uncomfortable she was. She gratefully slipped on to the seat and Mark put his arm round her. Then he pulled her scarf down over her eyes and round her face until there was just a small opening for her to see out.
“You are showing too much flesh” he remarked, “and as you don’t have your veil with you, you will have to do the best you can with your scarf.”
Nicole was so happy she could have cried. She didn’t think Mark realised the full implications of his offer, and they hadn’t yet discussed her burqa. But tomorrow was a new start and they would have to see how things went. It was not a catastrophe if Mark backed down, as she had no religious foibles, just a wish to dress as modestly as possible. She snuggled closer and soon fell asleep in the warm sun.
Chapter 19 – Wearing the mask
An hour or so later she woke, not realising immediately where she was, and her scarf had slipped to cover her eyes. Mark’s voice immediately put her at ease.
“Wake up, sleeping beauty. I think it’s time you went back to your apartment and got ready for your job. I’ll walk with you.”
He rearranged her scarf so that it covered her head and most of her face. She could see with one eye but the other was partly covered, but it didn’t matter. They got up and walked to the park entrance.
“Let’s take the bus” suggested Mark.
Nicole was not going to disagree, and fished in her bag for her pass. The driver gave her only a brief glance as they boarded despite the rather bizarre way her scarf was shrouding her. As they sat down, Mark reached over and tweaked her scarf.. Suddenly she could not see anything at all. She was sure that had been Mark’s intention so she did not object. When the time came to dismount Mark made no attempt to uncover her eyes but instead led her carefully from the bus and towards her apartment. This was not quite what Nicole had had in mind but it was not unpleasant. When they arrived at her door he at last pulled her scarf back, kissed her and bade her goodbye. Nicole knew that she was not intended to reply, so simply opened the door and went in. Looking at the clock, she realised that she had just 15 minutes to change for work. She wondered whether just to throw on her burqa but decided it would make walking too slow so she quickly changed into her usual cleaning clothes. She decided to be brave and got the leather mask out of the box. It tied easily behind her head. She could see clearly and it was shaped to sit on her nose so there was no danger that it would slip down. Its lower edge hardly covered her mouth. She decided she could cope but quickly put her usual niqaab on top as she was not sure what reaction it would get in the street.
By the time she had finished her cleaning work she had forgotten she was wearing the mask. As she was putting away the cleaning cloths Mohammad came in.
“I thought I should remind you that tomorrow is the day of our big dinner. Are your friend and her mother still helping?”
Nicole nodded. She suddenly realised that she was not wearing her gag and remembered that it was because she was wearing the mask.
“What do you think of your masks?” asked Mohammad.
Nicole assumed that she was not expected to speak so she grabbed a pad on the table and wrote
“The are lovely though I am not sure when I could wear the one with coins as it is so conspicuous. I‘m wearing the leather one now and it‘s very comfortable.”
Mohammad read her answer and smiled. “Can I see it?”
Nicole did not know how to answer. Should she take off her niqaab? She decided that she would, but in the toilet so that Mohammad would not see her unveiled. She nodded and scribbled “Give me a minute” on the pad before hurrying out of the room. Taking off her niqaab she removed her veils and looked at herself in the mirror. Taking a long black veil she wound it round her head to cover her hair and then tied another under her chin . The mask showed well but she was otherwise covered. If she was going to wear the veil regularly she needed a chador as the veil round her head was rather hot. She returned to the kitchen where Mohammad had sat down. She stood in front of him, hands clasped and head down, in what she hoped was a suitable pose.
He smiled. “You can look up, I am not your master or husband, only your employer. But I have to tell you that if I didn’t know you already had a boyfriend I would be very tempted to ask you to be my wife. I know you are not a Muslim, but you are far more modest and decorous than most Muslim girls I have met. One day you will make an excellent wife.”
Nicole blushed, hoping he could not see it behind the mask. She was very glad she need not speak. After a few moments, Mohammad continued.
“Thank you very much for letting me see you in the mask. It is as beautiful as I hoped. I really hope you enjoy wearing it. And if you do feel able to wear it tomorrow night it will give me great pleasure. By the way, I shall be out tomorrow so I will leave instructions for the evening on the table. There will be six of us for dinner. Please decide among yourselves which guests you will serve, two each, though if you are wearing your mask I would like you to serve me please. I will write out a timetable as it would not be appropriate for me to speak to you during the dinner. I am sure you and your friends will do a fine job.”
Nicole was not sure what to do so she just stood waiting for Mohammad to move. Fortunately he quickly turned and left the kitchen. She returned to the toilet and put her veils and niqaab back to normal, and hurried back to her apartment, her mind a turmoil. She really did not know what to do about all the attention Mohammad was giving her. She couldn’t resign from the job as she needed the money, but she was not comfortable about how twice he had virtually proposed to her. She tried to concentrate on her course work but found it hard. Eventually, she decided just to go for a walk wearing her burqa. That way she was completely alone even if the street was crowded, and could think things through and calm down.
Chapter 20 – Mark and the burqa
But as she entered the park she saw Mark sitting on the seat where they had sat together earlier. She wasn’t really ready yet to cope with being in his company completely covered, but he saw her and waved so she had no choice to join him on the seat. She intentionally didn’t sit to close to him, as she felt that it would not be appropriate for someone wearing a burqa. Mark quickly understood and did not move nearer, putting down between them the books he was carrying.
“I didn‘t expect to see you again so soon, and certainly not dressed as you are. Don’t worry, I know you won’t speak and I shan’t expect you to. I’ll just enjoy your company.”
They sat together on the seat, both silent and enjoying the afternoon. Nicole was trying to sort out her thoughts but couldn‘t calm herself. She was glad the burqa hid everything. Mark, meanwhile, was wondering how to progress the chance meeting. Eventually he suggested that they went and looked at the seals. Nicole nodded to this and they walked slowly towards pier 39. The seals were basking in the sun, and Mark couldn’t help likening their complete blackness to Nicole’s, though he refrained from saying anything. As they walked back he kept a slight distance so he could watch her without being conspicuous. She glided along so elegantly she might have been wearing a burqa for years rather than weeks. Eventually, they reached the junction where their ways parted.
“See you tomorrow,” whispered Mark just loud enough for Nicole to hear.
She nodded slightly, and that was the end of the meeting. As she returned to her apartment, Nicole wondered how their relationship could develop if she veiled all the time.
By the time she got back it was time for a shower and to dress for the dinner. She decided to accede to Mohammad’s request and continue wearing the mask, but she put a sheer black scarf over her face to cover it on the journey to his apartment, just enough to hide the mask but not so thick as to prevent her seeing easily.
She had arranged to meet Zyrafete and her mother at the end of Mohammad’s road. When she arrived they were there ahead of her. They went into the house together. Nicole could not immediately tell who was who until she remembered that Zyrafete was taller than her mother. She took Mohammad’s instructions and read them, then passed them to Zyrafete. When the girl had read them she wrote a brief translation for her mother. “Any questions?” wrote Nicole. There weren’t any so she wrote again: “I’ll serve Mohammad and the person next to him. Zyrafete serve the two people on the left as you go into the room. Aferdita can serve those on the right.” Zyrafete translated for her mother who nodded.
From then on the evening went like a dream. Nicole was most impressed with the grace with which Zyrafete and her mother served the food and poured drinks, and the way they seemed to know what was wanted before they were asked. Nicole had warned Mohammad that Zyrafete’s mother spoke no English but it didn’t matter in the least. Eventually as requested they served coffee and retired to the kitchen.
Nicole wrote on her pad “You two can go now if you like,” but Zyrafete quickly responded
“No, we will wait until you have finished.”
So they sat quietly to see if anything else was needed. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes Mohammad appeared.
“Can we all have more coffee please?” he asked.
Nicole nodded and quickly set a tray with six jugs of coffee. The three women entered together, and each served “their” guests, then quietly retired to the kitchen. It wasn’t long before Mohammad appeared again.
“Thank you all very much for your hard work. You may go now. Your money for the work is in the table drawer.”
Nicole hadn’t mentioned money to Zyrafete who looked puzzled. She quickly scribbled
“I didn’t say anything about money because Mohammad didn’t, but he usually gives me a bonus if I serve at a meal. Let’s see what’s in the drawer.”
Three envelopes, each with $50, were marked “With my sincere thanks for your hard work”.
“That’s more than I expected” wrote Nicole. We must have done a good job!”
As they left Mohammad’s house, A man was waiting for them. It must be Zyrafete’s father, surmised Nicole, who was surprised to receive a firm hug first from Aferdita and then from the girl. She reflected on the way home that they were good friends to have.
The next day brought an unexpected postscript to the evening. Nicole wore niqaab for her lesson and as usual met Zyrafete in the canteen. As she sat down, they were joined by a third woman in niqaab. Zyrafete got out her pad and wrote.
“Here is my mother. She so enjoyed wearing niqaab last night that she has decided to wear it often. I think my father is surprised but he does not mind at all. So today she has come to thank you for introducing her to veiling.”
Nicole stood and embraced the woman who then sat beside them. Zyrafete wrote a brief message to her and she scribbled a reply.
Zyrafete translated: “She thanks you very much and hopes you approve.” Nicole nodded vigorously.
Just then a very confused looking Mark came up to the table.
“Can I join you?”
“Of course, but don‘t expect us to speak” wrote Zyrafete.
“Which one of you is Nicole?” asked Mark. Nicole waved her hand. “So you must be Zyrafete. Pleased to meet you,” said Mark not sure whether to offer to shake her hand or not. Zyrafete realised his problem and held hers out.
“This is my mother, Aferdita” she wrote on her pad and passed it to Mark.
“I thought we suddenly had three veiled students. It is hard enough telling you two apart. I’m very pleased to meet you,“ he said turning to Zyrafete’s mother.
Aferdita nodded in response though Mark got the impression she had not understood him. They ate their meals silently. When they had finished Mark got up and, feeling rather awkward, made his excuses and left. Nicole wondered if the experience had been rather too much for him. He must be realising that having a veiled and silent girlfriend was going to be hard work. She just hoped it would not put him off.
The story continues in The Covered Cleaner (Part 8).