Helen Goes To Kyserba
by Steve Quilt
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
“I’m leaving,” said Helen Groves, almost without emotion as she sipped her coffee.
Her friend, June Yelton, blinked in surprise at the blonde opposite her. “Leaving the company?” She gave a half-glance around as the cafe they were in at lunchtime was usually full of Torgenhalst employees who might overhear. Today it was almost deserted, so 25 year-old’s announcement was safe from being the basis of office gossip. June would never say anything out of place and Helen trusted her old friend.
“Company. My husband. This place.” The blonde gave a dismissive roll of her eyes, and nodded towards the cafe windows, running with rain. People outside bowed their heads against the strong winds, clutching umbrellas. “Everything. Including the weather.”
“You’re leaving Bill?” June was incredulous. She had been lifting her coffee cup but let it sink back down. “But… you’ve only been married three years.”
“Four,” corrected Helen. She sighed. “I don’t love him. Not enough, anyway.”
“Okay,” said June, still not over the shock. She didn’t know what else to say.
A brief silence descended on the pair before June gathered her thoughts. “But where will you go, Hel?” Then she gave a small smirk and lowered her voice to a whisper, lest they be overheard however unlikely it was with so few other people in the place. “You got a new man? You never told me you were playing around, you dirty thing.”
“No new man. No new job. I am just ready for a change before I get too old.” Helen took another sip of her coffee and wrinkled her nose. It wasn’t the best coffee she had ever tasted but as befitted this cafe, it was cheap. She set her cup down. “Just a new place. New life,” she added.
“You’re not too old,” said June. “You’re three years younger than me. I’m okay with life. I mean, sure, the job’s not great and Don is a bore at times but he leaves me alone, mostly. Can’t complain.”
“Good,” responded Helen.
“But why leave?”
“Why not?” Helen shrugged again.
“That’s not a reason to do something you’ll regret. I mean, just trying to be different. That we’re not good enough here.” June sounded offended.
“I might not regret it and you are good enough.” Helen sighed and pushed her half-finished coffee away. “You said it all yourself the other day. The company, the way it operates, what we do, the weather, the hours of travel to work to be insulted and ordered around by people who don’t know what they’re doing—“
“I never said all that,” protested June. “Well, not all at once. That contract we have with what’s-their-names in Holland. I know the paperwork’s an almighty mess but we can sort it out.”
“You will, I’m sure. But I don’t want to be around to try.”
June shook her head. She had hardly touched her own coffee. It looked every bit as unappetising as earlier. “I could do with a stiff drink,” she said.
“That doesn’t solve anything. Cooper’s still Cooper the clown, the department is full of bitches and idiots, there’ll be another Holland-like contract next week and the weather is going be shit every day. You know it.”
“So take a lover,” June offered. “I did.”
“And he didn’t work out, did he? Damn near made you lose everything. No, June, I am done with this place, this country. People here disgust me.”
“So where are you going? Australia? You’ve got relatives there.”
“Relatives I don’t like. No, I will be going to the middle east.”
June looked puzzled. “Why?”
“Everything that this place isn’t.”
“I’m not sure I follow.” June felt a surge of anger. Her life wasn’t great but her friend — her one decent friend and rock in a sea of fools — made it all bearable. For a second she wanted to throw her coffee across the room and tell Helen not to be so selfish, to go off on a whim and leave her stuck in the same dull routine.
“You don’t have to follow,” said Helen. She reached across the table and put her hand on her friend’s arm. “But you could.”
“Could what? Go to some Arab place and do what they do.” June shook her arm free, her face crumpled by disappointment. “I can’t go anywhere. Don’s going to get promotion—“
“Don’s always going to get promotion, you tell me, and yet here you are still. Look, I’m thinking of Kyserba. They want people there. Women who know things.”
“Kyserba? That’s miles away. I mean, of course it is. But they aren’t like Dubai or places like that.”
“Not like anywhere else, I gather.”
June snorted a cynical laugh. “You saw that show on television, didn’t you? Them saying it’s paradise. But it can’t be!”
“Well, they’re… Um… You know.” June put her head down, avoiding eye contact. “Not like us.”
“They’re Muslims. Yeah, people keep giving them a hard time. Even now with all they have achieved.”
“Don says that they don’t regard women as equals.”
“Kyserba regards them as more than that. They see them — us, me— as precious,” snapped Helen, annoyed it was coming to this. Then she calmed herself. “Anyway, I don’t care what your husband says. Bill says the same sort of thing for what it matters. It gets me down, hearing him carping. We live in a different world now.”
“Oh, that ReOrdered World crap.” June sniffed before she gulped down her coffee.
“Not crap, June, and you know it. The world is getting better because people are recognising, finally, what is important. Families, loyalty. Making things better. Not seeking dissent and being uncontrolled.”
“I don’t know how you can say that, Hel.” June’s empty cup went down harder than she might have liked.
“Look at those girls we saw at the mall on Saturday, June. You remember them, all naked flesh and loudmouths and making waves. They had been drinking at their age! The way they were rude to that old couple, for example who just wanted to sit down while shopping. Muslims don’t do that. We saw them in the stores. They are polite and careful and considerate.”
“They were shop workers, for heaven’s sake! They have to be.”
“They are like that all the time. There’s Amina in accounts. She’s Muslim, right? She’d do anything to help anyone. She dresses modestly, reassured but not pushy, and she is thoughtful. Amina never causes trouble, the way old Simpkins does on the sly, stirring things up. Or her fat friend Fiona, telling lies and making stuff up. You know it and so do I.”
“So you’re going off to be one of them.” June said after moment.
“One of what?”
“Muslim,” June nearly spat the word out.
Helen sighed. “If I wanted to be a Muslim I can do it here. I can go to the local mosque and take lessons, convert when I’m ready. No, I want to go to Kyserba. Better weather, better system. More hope for women.”
“You are only reacting to what they said on the telly.”
“No, I am going on what I have been researching. I have been interested in the place for a while. You know they have some of the best hotels in the world in Serba?”
“Where the hell’s that?”
“The capital of Kyserba. I have to say June, your geography is appalling.”
“So is your decision to run away.”
“I am not running away. My plan is to go there for a few years. Five, probably, under a contract. I am guaranteed a job and somewhere to stay. I get looked after in a society that cares, where I am precious. Valued. More than I am at Torgenhalst or at home.”
“ReOrdered World, like you said.” June grumbled, but she didn’t add anything more.
“I’ll miss you,” said Helen, smiling at her friend across the table. “I know you don’t approve, but I have to make a break.”
“You don’t know what you’re getting in to. Bill says… oh, never mind.” June shook her head, a look of dismay clouding her face.
“June, I will go into this with my eyes open. We will still be friends and I will tell you all about it when I get home. Promise.”
“You don’t speak whatever language they have out there. There’s no TV, not like ours. No soaps.”
“They speak a dialect of Arabic. I have been studying for a while. Anyway, most of them in Serba speak English. As for TV, I can live without all that manufactured drama. People arguing and lying to each other… all that shallowness. No, that’s not what I want. Not any more.”
“So what’s the next step?” June was sullen but she was trying to be understanding.
“Hand my notice in, then leave Bill though I doubt he’ll notice me gone other than I won’t be there finding the TV remote control for him. I will go to the Kyserba embassy, talk to them and start the process. It will be fine. Honest.”
On the platform at the station, June embraced her old friend Helen. She was fighting back the tears as she did so. “I don’t want you to go,” she whispered in Helen’s ear as they hugged.
“I know, but I have to do this,” said Helen, hugging her friend tightly. “I will see you again. This won’t be forever.” Behind them, the departure board was announcing the train to London was five minutes late. Late, like everything else in the country as far as Helen was concerned.
“Let me look at you,” said June, breaking their embrace. She stood a little away and looked her friend up and down, taking in the long, straight black skirt that reached almost to the floor and hid Helen’s ankle-height boots, then her tightly buttoned long-sleeved black jacket above a simple white blouse, buttoned up to the neck. Despite the sun breaking through the clouds, Helen had chosen to wear a knitted woollen cap, black like the rest of her outfit and pulled down tightly with her pale blonde hair tucked in under so it was almost impossible to see. Her hands were covered with thin black leather gloves. Apart from her face — and Helen had no make-up — there was nothing visible of her flesh.
“You look like one of them,” said June.
“A Muslim woman, I presume you mean. Well, it’s the least I can do. Being modest and all that,” smiled Helen.
June sighed in amazement. “God, your figure, girl. When we hugged you felt rigid. Are you wearing a corset under all that get up?”
“Yes. I hear in Kyserba women are corseted. Seems only right to cover up properly and get used to wearing something tight.” The younger woman patted her tummy, grinning as she did so. “Holds me in nicely and keeps me straight. You should try one, hon. Does wonders for the sense of being.”
“Nah. Don would get too excited if he saw me in something sexy,” chuckled June. Then she looked round. “Where’s your luggage?”
“I’m leaving everything behind as I told you. All I need is what I have here. I don’t need anything but my soul and my willingness. Simplicity is the best,” replied Helen. “In my handbag I have some money, my passport, my letter of recommendation from our local Imam—“
“You didn’t convert already, did you?” June took a step back, eyes wide.
“No! I talked to him and he recommended as I am a Christian, a Kaffir, that I should not convert just to go and work in Kyserba. He said I should be true to myself above all, but of course, if I did want to convert I couldn’t do better than being in Serba. He has a very high opinion of who they are, what they do.”
“But what if they reject you?”
“That’s the point the Imam made. He said they wouldn’t accept me as a newly converted Muslim because they have strict rules about people trying to get in under that guise. Not being matured in the faith, he said. As a Kaffir they will judge me on my merits as to what I bring to their country. The Kyserba nation allows so many western women in because of our skills. After my time digging Torgenhalst out of the mire my work experience should stand me in good stead.”
June nodded. She was fighting tears back again. “Work won’t be the same without you. Cooper’s going mad, I’m sure.”
“He is the same as he always was. He hates it all as much as I did. Just not my boss any more.”
June pursed her lips. “What did Bill say when you left today?”
Helen shrugged. “He hasn’t seen me for a few days. I’ve steered clear of him. He isn’t important any more. Maybe he never was. I don’t know, but it doesn’t worry me.”
June gave nod of agreement, then looked past her friend down the line. The signals were green, and soon her dearest friend would be speeding away from her, away from her old life to a new existence. She took a deep breath. “Helen… I’ve been reading up on where you’re going.”
“Objections?” Asked Helen, eyebrow raised. She braced herself inwardly for another round of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“Actually, no. I was reading about some woman who worked there. She said they were very strict, you know the dress code stuff, but she was happier than she ever imagined she could be. You said it yourself about being made to feel precious. Being a jewel, she called it. The Kyseberans — is that what you call people from there? — they respect women. Hold them in awe, almost. Well, a covered up awe. She said you don’t parade your awrah. That’s the precious beauty a woman has.”
“I know,” Helen smiled, amused at the amount of pride June was displaying in knowing something like that. “They want women covered because they matter so much. They want them kept pure. Not like the trash we have, the trash we see, like her,” Helen nodded down the other end of the platform to where a red-headed woman in an off-white mini-skirt that was much too short for her, with a low cut green top that showed too much of her cleavage was standing. She was laughing loudly while she chatted on her mobile phone, oblivious to how she looked and how immodestly she acted. “Women like her barely have a place in our society, let alone one as sensible as Kyserba. I won’t miss seeing that.”
June glanced over her shoulder and gasped. “Oh, fuck. I know her. It’s girl from my school called Kylie. Kylie Smith. God she was like that then, but I haven’t seen her in years. She looks a slut.”
At that moment the woman in the mini-skirt stopped talking and looked up at June and Helen. Her face froze for a second and then she made a beeline for them, closing her phone. “June? June Howell? That’s you, innit?”
“June Yelton now. I’m married,” June said, blushing a little at being remotely associated with a tart like this near-bare-breasted female.
Kylie gave giggle as if all that as just some fun. “Oh right. Yeah, I was married. Twice. Real waste of time both of ‘em.” Then her eyes fastened on the modestly-dressed Helen. “Who’s this?”
“My friend Helen. She’s… she’s going away.”
“On holiday?” asked Kylie, a frown on her face as she took in Helen’s appearance. “You don’t look like anyone goin’ on holiday to me. Not like that.”
Helen gave a weak smile and inclined her head as if to say: ‘Well, there we are.’
“You look like my next door neighbours do. They’re Muslims,” said Kylie, with a grunt of what might have been displeasure.
Helen didn’t say anything but June did. “I am sure they are nice people, Kylie. Just because they don’t dress like you.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” Kylie demanded. She thrust her chest out to show her obvious cleavage more. “Men like this sort of look.”
Helen gave a non-committal sort of shrug, but this Kylie was clearly wound up and wouldn’t let go and pressed on. “People like you, this Renewed World thingy—“
“ReOrdered World,” interrupted June, hotly.
“Yeah, that,” said Kylie. She arched her thin, plucked eyebrows and pushed her heavily made-up face towards Helen. “People like you think you’re better than the likes of me.”
“Never said that,” said Helen, wishing the train would come and she could leave this woman alone, and finally leave the place that she once regarded as home.
“I see the way you look at us women. You Muslims think we are just rubbish.”
“I’m not Muslim,” said Helen. “I dress as I wish, you dress as you wish. Nothing more to say.”
“Yeah, well,” said Kylie. Her face looked hot, as if she realised she was saying too much. She didn’t move away, however. “You waiting for the London train?”
There was no point in Helen lying. “Yes, I am,” she said.
“Helen has an appointment at the Kyserba Embassy,” June chipped in.
“Oh,” Kylie blinked. She had clearly heard of the country. “I see.”
Helen was unsure what to say. She stood, hands folded in front of her, being as meek as she could be, partly wishing June hadn’t given this woman so much personal information. But then soon she would be on her way so perhaps it didn’t matter what was said here.
“My sister Jean, she went there,” said Kylie, looking a little self-conscious. “Years ago. Made her home there, she did.”
It was Helen’s turn to be startled. “I see,” she said.
“Sit with me on the train and I’ll tell you about her,” said Kylie to Helen. “Please. I can tell you what happened to her.”
Helen wanted to say she didn’t want to hear disparaging things about Kyserba and Muslims, but she relented. She could always move seats if the worst came to the worst. “Very well,” she said.
The train was approaching and there was only time for another tearful hug from June and promises to write and stay in touch and how much they loved each other. Then she and Kylie were on the train and Helen’s old town, her old world, was slipping away.
“You’re corseted,” said Kylie as the train view of the passing town gave way to open fields. “You have to be, the way you hold yourself,” she said.
Helen admitted she was.
“Black, is it? I hope so. White underwear is reserved for brides out there,” said Kylie.
“Black it is,” admitted Helen. Plain, without any lace or decoration. Just something to hold her in and keep her straight. Keep her focused, because that was what it did.
“Good,” smiled Kylie. “Listen girl, the Kyserbans, when you get there… they want you to follow their rules.”
“I know,” said Helen. “I have studied this. Talked to the Imam near me. I know what they want, what I want.”
Kylie smiled for the first time, her face looking softer and more open. “Good. I bet you think I’m a slag.”
“No!” Helen lied.
“You should. See this I’m wearing? I don’t know why I do it.” The redhead reached up and tugged at the top of her low cut top, as if trying to hide her cleavage. Then he reached down and taking hold of her hem tried to make her skirt longer. “I sort of feel inadequate dressed like this and you like that.”
“Don’t be,” said Helen. She felt a growing warmth to this woman she had initially thought was a whore. Possibly even a prostitute, yet now she was acting like someone who had feelings. Someone self-aware of the importance of their appearance, which was the Muslim way. From that came modesty, and from that sprang respect for people and willingness to please others.
“I shouldn’t be, but I am.”
“You dress, shall we say, openly because you want to attract a man?”
“Maybe,” said Kylie, staring at the passing countryside. “But you know… all the men I get are like all the men I’ve ever had. They’ll all do the same to me like they always have done.”
“Then change,” said Helen. For a moment she wondered if she had gone too far.
Kylie though wasn’t angry. If anything she looked deflated. “I agree, I should. But for what?” She looked at Helen.
“For self dignity, if nothing else. You want to be happy, but you have to happy in yourself first.”
Although Helen thought this sounded like some standard women’s magazine agony column advice, Kylie nodded. “My mother wanted me to be a nun,” she said. “You know, black habit, that sort of thing. Modest, serving, praying.”
“Why didn’t you?” Helen asked.
“Men, Drink, Distractions. You know… or perhaps you don’t. Sensible women like you don’t fall into the ways that stupid bitches like me do. Like me going’ to London to do what? Spend money so people are impressed with me. But they never are, not deep down. Not where it matters.”
“You’re not stupid,” said Helen, “There’s a good woman in you. But…”
“But not like this, right?” Kylie smiled. “So what do I do? I become like my sister, perhaps. I go to Kyserba and no one sees me again.”
“Is that what happened with your sister?”
Kylie nodded, a mistiness in her eyes. “Jean was a good girl. Better than me. Everyone said it. Me too.” She laughed for a moment at her own admission. “She wanted something else though, so she went to Kyserba. She said it was the future, but I didn’t see it. Not back then.”
“Now?” Helen ventured to ask.
“Now I think maybe she was right. I don’t understand this ReOrdered World stuff. I don’t know what it means. Something about dignity and values… not being like me, that’s for sure.”
“What does your mother say?”
“She died a few years ago. I think she was heartbroken at how I turned out. She missed Jean, but the letters stopped coming.”
“Don’t be. She’s gone to better place. I miss mum an’ Jean. I keep hoping some man will take me and change me. Stop me being like this. They don’t, if I am honest, because they don’t know what I am. Don’t wanna know. They see this shell as the real me, and think I am just out for a good time. But, I don’t how to stop it all. Like this train. It sort of carries me along whether I want it or not.”
“But you bought a ticket.” Helen didn’t add it was a ticket to life.
Kylie understood and gave a nod. “You’re right. I made a choice. I go to London and hope I come back better. But it will be the same, won’t it? I’ll be the same. A new dress, but unless it’s got a slit up the leg or shows me tits off, no one cares. The people who look at me expect me to be like this, but I don’t.”
Helen was amazed at the change in this seemingly cheap and brazen woman. She could see there was a lot of her own being in Kylie, and she said so. Or rather, she said that her life had lacked direction but that was about to change. “Your life can change too,” she said, quietly. “You have a return ticket you don’t have to use.”
“An’ is Kyserba the way for me to go?”
“I think it is. Seriously. The money you want to spend on, forgive me, a tart’s dress in London will get you a ticket to Kyserba.”
Kylie grinned. “You mean, no more men trying to look up my skirt or down my front?”
“I mean you being what you want to be.”
Kylie sighed. “Yeah, there’s that. But Kyserba, well, that’s a big step for anyone. Jean told us in letters about life there. Being anonymous, dressed in a burqa all the time. The corsets, the underclothing rubber outfits — oh don’t look surprised, that’s what the women out there wear. Body hugging ain’t the half of it! Being modest and silent, and those gags! I mean I wear a gag when my man wants some bondage fun, you know, being tied up an’ stuff. But women out there had a rota to be silent. Maybe some western women are allowed to speak, but if you marry into a Kyserban home the woman is anonymous under a burqa and stuff. They get gagged all the time because words are taboo, especially from a woman’s lips. It traps men and displeases Allah, Jean said.”
“I heard it could be tough, depending on which area you were in. Serba isn’t so demanding, they say.”
“What they say and what they do are two different things,” counselled Kylie. “Jean was a slave in her own home. A prisoner. That’s why the letters stopped. Her husband might have stopped her writing, or it was the man’s first wife. Jean was second wife. Co-wife, they call it, but the number one was always number one. My sister had to do what she was told by the man, his first wife an’ his parents. You want that for yourself?”
“No, I’m married. Or was. I expect soon my husband will file for divorce, but he can have everything. I am not going to contest it.”
“No, thank heavens,” said Helen, and she meant it.
“You might be bred out there, if you marry. They like pregnant women in burqas.”
“Then that is just…” Helen hesitated. “The will of Allah.”
Kylie, to Helen’s surprise, nodded. “My Muslim neighbour, Aisha, she would come in and talk to me. She didn’t have a burqa on in my house, just a hijab, but when she went out she had the full covering. She loved it all, saying it was the will of Allah. She used to ask me like I was the way I was. I suppose the way you do.”
“Kylie, I don’t want to judge you.”
“But you must given how I look.” Kylie leaned back in her seat. She looked resigned and sad.
“You can still make it different, it’s not too late,” said Helen.
“So I go to London, buy myself an outfit like yours so I button up to look modest and we go to the Embassy together and they let me in to do what? I work in a factory back home. Shit work at best. No one wants those skills out there.”
“What if I vouch for you. Say you can do something useful. I don’t know… a hotel receptionist. They need those in Serba.”
“What if I don’t want to have my knees chained together?”
Kylie grinned at Helen’s astonished look. “No one told you? Even western women have to have their knees chained together out there. Kaffir clips, they call it. Makes for little steps at best. Being kept modest, but also to stop you opening your legs wide. No one’s going to fuck you if you have knee chains on. Not that and a chastity belt. Jane had to wear them both she said. Oh yes, and a nappy, because going to the toilet outside of allocated times is forbidden. Haram as they say.”
Helen gulped. “I had no idea.”
“So you going to turn round and go home, now you know what lies ahead?”
“No. What I’m going to do is tie my own knees together so I have to learn to take little steps.” Helen took a deep breath. “No pun intended but I am not running away from this. Not now.”
“Much better,” said Kylie, “that I tie you knees together, angel. Bondage experience counts, right?”
The journey on the train to London was, in retrospect, one of the most enjoyable things — other than dressing for her new life in Kyserba — Helen had done in a while. Completely to her surprise she had bonded with Kylie, who at first glance had looked nothing more than a cheap whore with gaudy make-up, flaunting herself in her heels, mini-skirt and low-cut top.
Kylie had told her about what she knew of Kyserba from letters sent by her sister from the middle-eastern country, but more than anything Helen was simply enjoying the woman’s company. Of course, the pair of them drew astonished glances from other travellers on the train. Helen, in her all black modest garb complete with black gloves and black knitted cap, was in complete contrast to the sexually-open Kylie, with her mane of vivacious red hair.. Yet Kylie it was increasingly clear to Helen was a genuine and sensitive woman who had merely lost her direction in life. As the once seemingly coarse woman said: “The more I chase men the more disappointed I am in them and me.”
“Then it is time for you to change,” Helen begged the woman next to her. “Come with me. From what you said you don’t have anything to take you back to your old home and old way of life. The factory job will be fine without you, and I would appreciate your help.”
“You mean when I chain your knees up, Helen?”
“Chains? I thought you were going to tie them?”
Kylie laughed. “I think the sooner you get used to chains the better. Kyserba doesn’t bother with ropes when chains will do.” Then she sobered up. “It’s a very big step for me to try to be like you. Like I said, they will probably reject me, even if I dressed sensibly. There’s lot of things I would miss about living in England and yes, I know what you said about being precious and feeling valued. I know I’m not in this way.” She indicated herself. “Men look at me and think after they have fucked me they can toss me aside. Even after they tie me up they don’t regard me as anything but three holes. No, make that two holes if I am gagged.”
“Then stop them doing that. Come with me. Help me. You never know, you might find your sister there.”
Those words hit Kylie hard. Tears welled up in her yes. “It’s been three, four years,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “Jean could be anywhere. Or dead.”
“She isn’t. I know she is fine. Kyserba values all women. They protect them. Their health system is superb. Jean I am sure is alive and well and would love to see you.”
“And how does she recognise me if I am hidden under a burqa?”
“Your voice — at least when you are allowed to speak. You said it yourself, you won’t be gagged all the time. If she sees your eyes through the mesh of a veil she will know.”
Kylie stared out of the train widow, deep in thought. London was approaching because there were more and more houses. Soon they would get off the train and go their own ways, but Helen was determined not to let that happen.
“I will give testimony for you. Islam is a religion of listening and compassion. I will say at the Embassy that you are seeking asylum, because of violent men here.”
“Well, that’s very true,” reflected Kylie. “Getting slapped around is the least of my worries back home.”
“If you show you are genuine, and I have seen it so they will, they will let you go there. You can find your sister, get to be happy.”
“I don’t know,” Kylie pursed her lips. “It’s such a big thing.”
“And what’s at home for you? Being slapped around as you called it by men who don’t value you. Feeling obliged to dress to attract men, yet they repel you. Working at a factory where no one thinks you are anything. I had a job where they didn’t respect or support me. You need what I do, to feel precious.” Helen put her hand on Kylie’s and squeezed it.
“Don’t,” said Kylie, tearfully, but didn’t pull her hand away.
“Yes, I must. We are sisters. Sisters in Islam. Oh, we don’t have to covert. We just have to be modest and considerate. Allah will guide us in the right direction. In fact. Allah guided you and I to meet at the station with June’s help, have you thought of that?”
“Funnily enough, yes that occurred to me. You won’t believe this, but I have read the Quran. Not all of it, but Aisha gave me a copy. I liked what I read. You know, in my flat I have a full length abaya. Black, as befits a modest Muslim woman. I bought it to wear so that I would feel like Jean would feel. No one knows this, just you. I would put it on and kneel and read the Quran. I even… I even gagged myself so that I would be more humble.”
“And you loved it all,” said Helen.
“Yes, because I wasn’t being gagged to stimulate any man’s sex urge. God — Allah — knows they have that in plenty where I live. But I did it to show my words should be guarded, that I should only say what was true when I had the opportunity.”
“You are more Muslim than you think,” smiled Helen. “I love that in you.”
“You love me?” Kylie looked startled.
“Not that way. I love you as a sister would. I admire what you have done, what’s in you. I want to meet Jean. I want you to come with me and find her and then introduce me to her. Three proud women in burqas being as one.”
With her free hand Kylie dabbed her tears away. “Silly me, crying. It’s just that… no one has cared before like you do.”
“Allah cares. We just echo his sublime love.”
Kylie, unexpectedly threw her arms round Helen. “I need to know you won’t leave me,” she said, fresh tears in her eyes. “I can’t be strong on my own, not like you.”
“I am in awe of your strength and resolve,” said Helen, hugging the redhead back. “I want to help you because that is what we Muslims do.”
Kylie kissed her new friend on the cheek and then giggled, wiping off the smear of red lipstick on Helen’s face. “That’s better,” she said. “So I’m a Muslim now?”
“In spirit. You are like me. Facing up to a world that’s wrong for us and doing something about it.”
“Then we go to a Islamic Law dress shop, like the ones they have in Kyserba,” said Kylie, extracting herself from the embrace. “I shed this rubbish and wear a modest dress. A hijab, or a niqab maybe. It doesn’t matter which, providing you are there.” Then the woman paused. The train was slowing and clattering over points on the approach to the London terminus, passing Victorian-era grim brick buildings, soiled with grime. Blank walls, not seeing the intervening dark times but built when Victorian women were modest the way Muslims were now. “But if they say no to me, what do I do?”
“If they say no to you then I will stay with you. Here. You and me will be strong for each other. We will dress modestly and be Muslim women. Our own world, hoping it is the start of a better world for all women. A ReOrdered World has to begin somewhere, even in this benighted island.”
“But you want to go to Kyserba!”
“And so do you. I can tell. We will find a way. Allah will find way,” smiled Helen. “First things first, you go and wipe all that make-up off and then we get you properly dressed. Including a black corset.”
“Don’t forget the gag, sister,,” smiled Kylie. “A black ball gag apparently is the best. Buckled tight and hidden by a veil.”
“Only if our knees are chained under our burqa,” retorted Helen with a grin, and felt happier than she could possibly imagine.