The Surprise: Part 4
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
After a pleasant quiet flight we finally came to a stop on the runway. After another half an hour I finally had my luggage and went through the immigration control. After showing my passport and visa, a veiled woman came up to me and asked me to follow her. I was a little surprised, because I had already passed the passport control. She asked me to go to a nearby room. Once there, she pointed to a pile of black cloth.
“Women have to cover themselves in Saudi Arabia. Please use these garments to cover your clothes up.”
I stared in confusion at the woman and then at the clothes.
“You have to put on the clothes, otherwise I have to send you back.”
With mixed feelings, I went to the pile of black clothes.
“Can you help me?”
“Yes, I would recommend taking off your own clothes down to your underwear.”
“Now take the abaya and pull it over.”
After taking some time to pull the abaya over my head, the woman came in with a headscarf which she tied around my head. Finally, she gave me another niqab with an eye slit. After I had this wrapped around my field of view was limited. I had to lower my head to see where I was standing. It was unfamiliar. I had once guided me to find your way. After the woman checked the niqab’s alignment, she let me go. When I entered the arrival hall, I saw a man with a fully veiled woman holding up a sign with my name. After a few steps I had reached the two.
“Are you Katie Miller?” the man spoke to me
“Yes, and you are Sultan and you are Soraya?”
Soraya came up to me and hugged me but said nothing .
“Soraya lives in purdah and wears a gag outside the house to prevent other men from hearing her voice.”
At first, I thought it was just a joke, but following his gaze I realised it was serious.
“I am pleased to meet you in person, Soraya,” I said.
“Then let’s pack your things and go home.” Sultan said and beckoned to a porter. After a short while the luggage was loaded and we were on the way to Soraya and Sultan’s house.
Finally we were home and after a short time Aisha had served us tea. Katie had taken off her clothes and put on her own clothes.
“Are not you unveiling yourself?” Katie asked in wonderment.
“No, I live in purdah, which means that I completely cover myself, always and everywhere, so I’m wearing those clothes now. I know you will not understand that, but the Qur’an is interpreted very strictly here and all women, especially in this family, live in purdah. This also means that a woman’s voice is believed to be awrah. In order to prevent women speaking accidentally around strange men many women including me always wear a gag when outside of the house. At the beginning it was not easy, but in the meantime, I’ve become more or less used to it. I cannot change it anyway. ”
“Why can’t you change that?”
I then told her the whole story to this day.
“If you had written this story as a screenplay, no producer would come up with the idea to film the story. The whole story is just too far-fetched and unbelievable. The best stories are still those from real-life. Sorry, so I did not mean that ”
“That is alright. I started the stone rolling. My life has taken this turn and I have no choice but to accept it, even if it is difficult. The first days and weeks were hell. But what should I have done? I am here in a country where a woman is not worth much. If I left my husband, if that’s even possible, my whole family would suffer. Besides, I do not even know where to go. I have only Saudi citizenship and so cannot march to the German embassy and ask for help.
Meanwhile, I visit a Koran school to learn the Koran. At first I had the impression that I should be indoctrinated there. I have been assigned to two women as tutors who are constantly trying to convince me that living in purdah is the only real thing for a true Muslim. Noor and Samira are really annoying. After a week, it was enough for me. The two had probably not expected me not to give in and object so much and I had from then on most of my time. Although both try to get me involved in a discussion about purdah every now and then, but I block it off and then there are calls again. In the meantime, we get along really well and both help me understand the Koran better and also with my pregnancy. But meanwhile, we can talk about everything else. In the meantime, I am always looking forward to visiting the Koran school, because then there is variety and I can talk to other women. It is still quite new for me and Noor and Samira and above all Alima are a great help to me. Simply talking to someone helps a lot to dispel the dull thoughts. I also met other women in the Koran school and I hope that I can maintain the contacts later. What helps me is that everyone has the same fate. Everyone lives like me in purdah. Some, like Noor and Samira, because they want it, others because, like me, they are forced to do so, either by the family or the husband.
Besides, I am pregnant and am expecting my first child soon. A girl. I know that Sultan wants a boy as his progeny. Well, what is not can still be yes. ”
“I can understand you and help you wherever I can. I will always be there for you.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
“Tell me, is there a possibility here that I can sunbathe? But only if you do not mind.”
“I do not mind, only I cannot accompany you. It should be possible on the roof. Nobody can see you there. I think Sultan will not mind. I just want to ask you to pull something over.”
“Thank you. And you really do not mind?”
“No that’s fine.”
“OK see you later.”
“See you later and have fun.”
“Do you have plans today?” my mother asked me.
“I’m going to the movies with the girls tonight and then to the café.”
“Nice. I am happy that Soraya’s friends have fully accepted you.”
“We get along really well. Especially with Nelly.”
“I’m glad you settled in so well. I initially had my reservations. But it was better and easier than I thought. We should now consider what you want to continue. Your education is recognized here as a secondary school certificate. You should graduate from high school for a degree. ”
“I also read up on this. I have already learned I could go to business school and graduate there. ”
“That’s not a bad idea.”
“Then I would like to study. Preferably journalism. Then I would write about the conditions for women in the Islamic states. ”
“I’ve never asked you how Saudi Arabia is, I’d like to know everything, but only if you want to tell.”
“What would you like to know?”
“How did you grow up, when did you have to wear the veil.”
“I think in the early years, life was not so different from life in the west. Fatima and Mahmood have each spent several years in Germany and therefore had a different outlook to most Saudis. I grew sheltered with my sisters, but also with some family contact. We also went to school in a normal way, which was very important to Fatima, as she believed we should also have our own knowledge. Things eventually changed when Mahmood took on a new job in a very fundamentalist area. Fortunately, Fatima insisted that we continue to go to a normal school next to the Koran school, and if Fatima wants something, then Mahmood has to agree. I was always happy when I could drive to my “aunt.” She lives in the area we used to live in. Everything was more liberal and we had to go there too But that was a lot easier. A simple veil and a simple abaya over the western clothing was fine. Whenever I had to go back, I started to cry terribly. Because what awaited me in the new home was a horror for me. Starting with the underwear. These were panties with a long legs that went almost to the ankles. Thick black stockings, a shirt with long sleeves and a high neck. The shirt and the panties were tied together with ribbons. For the business, a slit was provided in the panties, so you did not have to undress completely.
Then came black gloves, an overhead abaya a three-layered niqab and finally a khimar, which made sure that the veil was not blown over the head. To eat or drink, we had to pull the three layers of niqab out of the khimar and gently lift it so that no one could see even the slightest bit of skin. Subsequently, the layers of niqab were pushed back under the khimar. The khimar is basically a large cloth with a hole in the middle, which is placed over the head so that the hole is over the face, which is covered with the niqab. There were similar clothes for sleeping but lighter.
The whole thing was like a sauna. Especially when we had to stand in the sun. At about 12 Aisha, Safiya and I had to help Fatima in the household. There was not much time for other things besides school and housework. We were prepared by our mother for our future role as wife and housewife and mother. In particular prayers had priority.
Because Fatima and Mahmood spent a few years in the West, we were married late, so Safiya and I were not married at 16 or earlier, but only at 18. So I was married to Sultan for about a year when Fatima came to me and Soraya and me told everything. I did not expect Sultan to demand a divorce from me immediately after he learned about it. Sultan is a kind person. He is strict but he would never do anything that would hurt Soraya. I really like him.
You probably wonder why I did not rebel against this treatment as a 2nd grade person. I grew up like that. Even though I was always looking forward to visiting my “auntie”, I was aware that eventually I would be married and disappear forever under the veil like Fatima and Safiya and all the other women in the area. And if you are so limited, it is even more important to have a man who loves you and treats you like a woman. And that is what Sultan has always done. He adhered to the traditions, but always showed me respect. There are also cases in which the woman is treated no differently than a pack animal. In some families, horses and camels are much better treated than women. And when Sultan then wanted a divorce, I did not know what to expect. I did not expect Mahmood and Fatima to take me to Germany to meet you. I was afraid that I would get married to another man. Half a year ago I would not dream of living a free life as I can.”
“I have to say you have energy, and I’m sure you’ll find your way around here as well, I’m happy you’re here.”
“Thanks mom, I’m happy too.”
Hopefully, Sultan keeps close and tells no one about how it really came to a divorce. When that comes out, I’m pretty much in the shit. But let’s wait and see. So far, Sultan has kept quiet and everything is going as planned.
“So I have to get ready now so I can get there in time.”
“Ok, have fun!”
“Thank you Mama”
It was good that Katie was there. Nevertheless, the regular visits to the Koran school were not suspended. Katie had to fill her time herself. Mostly she sunbathed on the roof.
Noor and Samira have now become good friends to me, even if they continue to try to convince me of a life in Purdah. They support me during my pregnancy where they can. I am also very grateful to them. Alima also became a very good friend to me, just as Nelly used to be in Germany. I can talk to her about everything and she can listen well. But that Katie has come was the biggest ray of hope for me.
After Sultan had picked me up from the Koran school, I was having tea with Katie, and we were talking about her problems with her professor when Sultan came to my quarters unexpectedly. This usually happened only in the evening after the night prayer. So something must have happened, which does not tolerate any delay.
In his wake were the police.
“Did you sunbathe on the roof of this house yesterday?” Katie was asked by the policeman.
“Yes, I was on the roof, and I’ve sunbathed – is that forbidden?” was the answer from Katie.
“Then I have to arrest her because of the disturbance of public order.”
“A neighbour has reported you, he feels hurt by the nudity you showed which despoils his honour.”
“Sultan, what’s that?” Do something, Katie is innocent.” I tried to persuade Sultan to act.
“Katie, I’ll do what I can, I cannot stop the arrest, but I’ll call our lawyer right now and ask him to represent you, I’m sure we’ll get this done quickly.”
“Can you please tell me which neighbour has complained?” Sultan now asked the policeman.
“Sorry, as long as the investigation is underway, we must not provide any information,” was the answer.
“Would you please dress yourself?” the policeman ordered Katie.
I went with Katie, who was totally shocked and speechless, into my dressing room to dress her according to the rules.
“It’s going to be all right, Sultan and the lawyer will do anything to get you out of here as soon as possible; it’s just a misunderstanding.”
“I hope that’s it, please try everything possible, I’m scared of what’s coming, I’ve read a lot on the internet and the punishments are fierce.”
“I promise you to do everything in my power and will also ask Sultan to do everything in his power, I will not let you down.”
After Katie was completely veiled, we went back. The police took Katie in the middle and led her to the police car and drove to the police station.
“Please Sultan do all that is possible for Katie to be free again, I could not forgive myself for her being punished for such a trifle.”
“It’s not such a trifle as you think, it may be in Europe and America, but this is a serious crime, but I promise to do whatever I can, if only I knew which neighbour filed this complaint then I would negotiate directly with him, but that will probably be the lawyer’s first course of investigation. ”
Sultan disappeared into his office to start everything.
I was sitting there now and did not know what to do. I reproached myself that Katie was now locked up and it was partly my fault. Just because I had invited her, she had to spend the night in a cell. I hoped she would not have to stay in prison any longer. The only thing I could do for Katie was to pray. I started to pray. I prayed to Allah for help for Katie, so I prayed to show her a way out of the darkness. I knew Allah has the power to do this.
I do not know how long I prayed, suddenly Sultan stood in my room.
“I talked to the lawyer, he immediately contacted the court and negotiated a bail I’m going to drive off and deposit the bail and pick Katie up.”
“Thank you, I love you.” I said as I slowly rose due to my pregnancy and wrapped my arms around Sultan’s neck. He kissed me on my veil.
Sultan let go of me and went to pick Katie up. I finally knew that I love Sultan. He is a wonderful man. After a long doubt and longing for homesickness, I suddenly knew where I belonged. I belong to Sultan and nobody else. Allah has led me on the right path. I will always be there for him.
After some time, Sultan returned with Katie.
“Katie, you are initially on bail, but not allowed to leave the country, the attorney will now request access to the file and then I know who reported you, and as soon as I know that, I’ll sit with him to find a solution If I succeed in convincing him to retract the allegation then you are free, you may be expelled from the country and will never be allowed back in. But then you can continue your past life and if you want to see us again we will still come to you or meet in another country. ”
Tears of happiness came to my eyes. Sultan is a wonderful person. He proved that again. And for Katie, I was pleased that she is free first and I’m sure that Sultan will also get the allegation retracted. I never expected that Sultan would consider travelling with me to another country so that I could meet Katie. Sultan is always good for surprises.
After Sultan had left us, we sat for some time in silence before our tea.
“I’m really scared of what’s coming, if Sultan can not convince the person who filed the complaint, what happens to me?”
“Honestly, I do not know, I’m so sorry, if only I had not invited you then you’d be safe at home now and we could chat.”
“Soraya, please, you’re absolutely innocent of everything, you’re my best friend, even though we’ve never met each other face to face. I would not have missed this visit for anything in the world. I’m only scared of being flogged or worse. ”
“You’re right, we’ve never looked each other in the eye, but we’ll catch up with that, Sultan will not mind, and Allah certainly will not.”
I lifted my veil and looked directly into Katie’s blue eyes.
“Oh Soraya, finally I see your face, even if it’s just this one time, thank you, I’d like to be with you more often, I’ve never had a girlfriend like you.”
“Ok Katie, you’ve always been there for me, I’ve never been able to help you yet, I’d like to help you out of this mess.”
“Even though you never helped me, it does not matter, because I always knew that I could always rely on you, you took me as I am, I repudiate others with my sometimes rude nature I’ve always listened to it, even when I was a bit rude, you never stopped the contact and that’s what I like about you, and for that I would like to thank you forever. ”
“If we stick together, then we will make it through this crisis, and I would do anything to help you.”
“Thanks, I think I’m going to sleep now, it was a busy day and I’m pretty tired.”
“Yes, I will still do my prayer and then lie down.”
“Good night Soraya.”
“Good night Katie.”
The next morning Sultan drove me to Koran school as in the previous weeks. As always, Noor and Samira received me at the entrance. After a very warm welcome we went as usual in our room and started to learn. After the excitement of the last day, it was very reassuring to sit together with Noor and Samira and concentrate on reading the Koran.
After having persuaded the two of their constant attempts to convince me that a life in Purdah is the only true one for a Muslim, I have been quietening down in the last few weeks and getting along better and better. They still could not stop trying to convince me that living in Purdah was only worthwhile for a Muslim, but these attempts had diminished significantly and we got to know each other better.
It has always been a nice change for me. Finally, I was able to communicate with other people. Even if the two are very fundamentalist. With increasing knowledge of the Koran and the Sunnah, I was able to understand Noor’s and Samira’s point of view at least a little better. Although I still do not believe that living in Purdah is a desirable goal for a Muslim, but on the other hand, I already live in Purdah and I am also aware that I will live like this for the rest of my life.
So far, I was not completely sure how to assess Sultan. He is obliging and very affectionate, but on the other hand he always succeeded in sending me back to rock bottom. In those moments, I sometimes doubted if he really loves me or if he married me because he and my dad did that too. After all he did yesterday for Katie, I knew he loved me, otherwise he would not have been so much in favour of Katie. The mere possibility that Katie may visit me would have long since dispelled my doubts. But because of the experiences I have had over the months we have met, I expected something to happen again, which brings me back to rock bottom.
After Sultan picked me up, I went straight to Katie. She had slept well despite the situation and was very composed. The lawyer had meanwhile also reported and communicated to Sultan the name of the neighbour. After he had picked me up from the Koran school, Sultan went to the said neighbour to talk to him. I sincerely hoped that Sultan might succeed in agreeing with the neighbour to withdraw the allegations. We had to wait and see what Sultan could achieve.
“How did you feel today in the Koran school?”
“Noor and Samira have once again tried to convince me of their ideas, but after a short discussion that was over and we returned to the Koran, they are really nice friends, but sometimes those two annoy me with their ideas, but then when I express my displeasure about it is over again. Otherwise, the visit is always a wonderful change for me. But right now I am happy to be here again and to see you. How are you?”
“Luckily I do not have to be in jail, but I do not know what to expect and that makes me nervous. ”
“I promise you, we will do everything in our power to get you out of it, I hope Sultan can soothe the neighbor so he’ll take back the allegation.”
Melanie and Anna
“May I come inside?”
“Yes, please. ”
“I would like to ask you something”
“Well then go ahead”
“You’ve told me a lot about your life in Saudi Arabia, but I’ve never asked you how it was so completely covered with veils, can you tell me something about how you felt?”
“Yes, but remember that these are individual feelings, not every woman feels the same, one thing is the same for everyone at least, it’s warm under the veil, especially when you’re in the sun. There were days when I felt comfortable in my cocoon, on other days I would have liked to throw everything in the garbage – as I said, individual feelings that are different for every woman. If you really want to know how it is like a veil, of course, it also makes a big difference whether you are veiled voluntarily or by force, and it depends on the length of time you are veiled, if not forever, so the feelings really are you should veil yourself for a long time, not just for a short time. ”
“You mean I’m supposed to run around covered for a long time.”
“If you really want to know how I lived, then it is necessary to do this over a longer period of time, just as I have lived, which means that the prayer times are the day frame, with housework, food, and Koran study in between In principle, you can only leave home with the consent of your husband and only in the company of a Mahram man. ”
“What does Mahram mean?”
“This means that the man accompanying you must be a close relative, either blood relatives or married men like the father-in-law or the husband’s brother and, of course, your husband.”
“This means that the woman is completely dependent on the men and only allowed to leave the house with her husband’s permission.”
“It’s a very traditional way of life. It has its pros and cons, depending on whether you’re a devout Muslim or rather not so devout, there are men in Saudi Arabia who never see their wives without a veil. Sultan, Soraya’s husband has never seen me and Soraya without a veil, and I think that will stay that way, at least in the case of Soraya.”
“It’s going to stay that way with you, too, or has he already seen you?”
After he handed in the divorce, I’m with Soraya’s parents and have left Sultan’s house veiled – here in Germany I’ve not been with Sultan, but when I get famous and appear on television, he may see me unveiled. ”
“Haha very funny.”
“Just a joke, so what do you want to give it a try?”
“I’m not sure, I need to think it over.”
“Can it be that you are afraid to cover yourself for a long time and live like a devout Muslim?”
“Why are you saying such nonsense? Why should I be afraid? These are just clothes. ”
“And I do not mind if you dare or not, I’m absolutely sure that you would not endure a week like living a Muslim in Purdah.”
“Of course I could do it, and if need be longer.”
“What, do we want to bet that you can not live that way for two months?”
“I do not bet.”
“So you’re scared of it.”
“No I’m not.”
“If you are not afraid why do not you bet with me because you do not dare.”
“What are you doing when I win?”
“If I win, you’ll do all the housework for a year and wash my clothes. ”
“You do not mean that seriously.”
“Yes, if you spit so big, that must have consequences if you give up prematurely.”
“I’ll think it over.”
“So you are a coward.”
“Do not call me coward, I’ll prove I can do it.”
“Ok, what do you want me to do if you win the bet?”
“If I win you will be my personal maid for a year, of course, as a French Maid with a beautiful uniform.”
“Deal, when should we start?”
“Once we have all things together and you have learned to pray.”
“Why learn to pray, I do not understand”
“The Muslims have a certain process of prayer with certain prayers and suras to recite, and that’s what you need to learn first.”
“Ok, and where do we get the clothes?”
“In online stores, there are plenty of them, I’ll order a lot in the next few days, and we should start the next month’s first, so you have almost three weeks to prepare and we can talk things over.”
Soraya and Katie
After Sultan returned from his visit to the neighbour, he came directly to us to tell us about the visit.
“Unfortunately, my visit was unsuccessful, I tried to convince him to take back the allegation, but right now he will not, we have agreed to speak again in the next few days, I’m sorry it did not go any better I’m going to call the lawyer now to hear what he could do.”
We were both sitting in our seats in consternation, speechless. The consternation of Katie was palpable. She had high hopes for this conversation and was now when this hope burst like a bubble is terribly distressed. After what Sultan had said to her, she began to cry bitterly. I sat with her and hugged her. What should I say. Everything would have been just an attempt to make something look better than it actually is.
As long as the neighbor does not pull back the allegation, Katie would float in this uncertainty. I hoped Sultan would have more success with the call to the lawyer.
After half an hour Sultan came back and told us about the telephone conversation with the lawyer.
“The lawyer studied the files, and the charges go back to the allegation of our neighbour, who seems to be the only one who saw Katie undressed, but since the Shariah says the man’s statement is more important than the woman’s, we have bad odds. The judges, if we fail to bring the man to reason, will convict Katie of possible sentences of between one and five years imprisonment, or between fifty and fifty lashes, and the attorney believes that in the light of that, Katie is a US citizen judges are likely to decide on a one-year prison sentence, but it depends on what the witness says, and I’m sorry I cannot say better. ”
“Oh my god, what should I do.”
“The lawyer will speak tomorrow with the prosecutor and the judge to see if any other solution is possible or at least to find out in which direction the judge and the prosecutor tend.”
“So there is no hope?”
“The only hope we have is that our neighbour withdraws the allegation and after that it does not look like it right now.”
“Thank you for your help. ”
“You are a very good friend of Soraya and therefore I like to do it, I will continue to do everything in my power to get you out of this.”
After that Sultan left and silently left us behind. We both followed our thoughts. For me, in particular, the eagerness of Sultan was unusual that day. What surprised me was the behaviour of Sultan compared to when I met Sultan. At that time he was harsh and thought himself superior, treated me like a kind of goods he intends to buy or exchange. In the last few weeks he has changed somehow, without being able to say exactly what and how. The Sultan I met, I suppose, would never have allowed me to invite Katie, let alone get involved with Katie the way he did. Did Sultan change due to my pregnancy, or is there a different reason? I did not really make sense of him. If we have solved Katie’s problem then I will talk to her about it. At the moment I just keep watching.
“I hope Sultan can achieve something with the neighbour, I think if I had to go to jail for a year, I would go crazy.”
“I trust Sultan to succeed, and maybe the lawyer will be able to do something positive tomorrow, I will not give up hope, I will help you with everything I can.”
“I thank you.”
Who would have thought that Anna would make such a bet? Let’s see where that leads. I just hope she does not back out.
“I wanted to order the clothes for you now, but the bet is still on?”
“I do not know.”
“I knew that you back out, so a real coward.”
“I’m not a coward”
“Then what would you call yourself, make a bet first, and then renege on it? That’s a coward for me.”
“No I’m not and I’ll prove it to you Not only that I’m going through the bet, I’ll double the time if you double your bet as well.”
“Deal, so maybe not a coward.”
“Stop calling me a coward.”
“Ok, I’ll stop, so I’ll order the clothes now, have you been busy with the prayer?”
“Yes I practiced.”
“Ok, if you have any questions then let me know, then I’ll help you.”
I did not think that Anna actually has the guts to pull it off. Calling her a coward had actually spurred her on. So, what Nelly told me was true, that Anna was always the daredevil, but gets easily upset when she called her a coward. Obviously Soraya had done this one or the other time to get what she wanted. It is incomprehensible to me how Anna gets so excited about something that she even shoots herself in the knee. Well, I should be right.
What a pile of crap! Again and again I walk into the stupidest traps, just because I cannot control myself. How can I get out of this bet? How can you be so stupid? Again and again something like that has to happen to me. I thought this was over after Soraya disappeared into Saudi Arabia, but Melanie is no different.
Soraya and Katie
The next day, I stayed home to help Katie. The refusal of the neighbour to pull back the accusation and the possible punishment had hit her pretty hard. To expect a punishment for something that is not punished anywhere else in the world is certainly hard to understand.
“How are you today?”
“Bad, I did not sleep well considering what to expect.”
“I understand that, if I could, I’d take the punishment for you, after all, you’re here for me.”
“Please Soraya, you are not at fault at all, I should have told myself before, and I would have come anyway because you were very dear to me.”
“You’re also dear to me, if I could wish for anything, I’d wish you stayed here, but that’s illusory, but you can dream it.”
“If the rules on clothing and lifestyle were not so strict, I would stay here too, but I can not quite imagine how I should live like this, I grew up free and easy, I’ve always been able to do and leave No one told me what I was allowed to do and what was not.”
“I know, I felt the same way, and suddenly I was in a situation I could not control anymore, I just had the choice between plague and cholera, that’s really crappy.”
“I’m really impressed with how you deal with it, most of them putting their own well-being in the foreground and those of the others behind, and you did not even know your family well, that was an incredibly brave decision.”
“Thank you, but I think most would have so decided.”
“Surely you would have decided otherwise, but have you ever regretted the decision?”
“Of course, I’ve often thought about what would have been if I had decided otherwise, but I say that was a wrong decision, no, that’s not important for my family, by the way, you’ll get to know my family later My parents come over with my two sisters and grandchildren.”
“This is great news, I’m looking forward to meeting your family, so maybe I’ll understand your decision better.”