Waiting In Line: A Re-Ordered World Story
The difference was so obvious to Emma Delaney it was almost too painful to observe.
Under the sign that displayed the words ‘Veiled Females’ the line of women in their Hijabs, Niqabs and Burqas calmly and patiently waited their turn to show their passports and landing authorisations. The shorter line waiting under the sign that displayed the words ‘Non-Veiled Females’ was a seething mass of pushing, frustration and barely concealed hostility to everything around them. They were annoyed at the system, the airport, the world and of course themselves, and they didn’t care if it showed.
Ahead of Emma she could see a pair of non-veiled women—one dressed in an ill-fitting pant suit that was a size too small and creased badly across the top of her thighs, the other wearing a mini-skirt and top that didn’t meet at the waist and revealed a roll of fat—were actually pushing each other, arguing that they had got into place first. It was ludicrous, Emma thought, that one place in a queue should matter so much. There would surely be plenty of taxis waiting outside the terminal, the roads into London would be just as bad at any time of day. Near her a woman dressed in a peculiar combination of tartan skirt and striped blouse was in tears, going through her handbag repeatedly, swearing that she was sure when had brought her cell phone and anyway, her husband was a bastard and he’d get everything that was coming to him by the time she’d finished.
The line of veiled women was noticeably longer; the shorter non-veiled queue however was not moving at all, which served to increase the levels of dissatisfaction among the blondes, brunettes and red-heads whose uncovered heads bobbed and swung this way and that. At the front of the non-veiled line the arrival officer (who Emma thought looked very smart in her official grey hijab and blue long dress) was attempting to sort out some error on an unveiled woman’s landing authorisation. Every time the officer asked a question, the woman with a curiously old-fashioned beehive hairstyle (or perhaps it was a wig) repeated it loudly so as many people as possible could hear the exchange. “What? The date’s wrong? How could that happen?”
Clearly the hijabi couldn’t answer that. The system of dates the world used had been fixed for centuries. But mistakes happen, especially with impatient people.
“This is not good enough! I demand to see someone in charge here,” yelled beehive. Her fists were clenched, which was singularly unladylike, Emma thought. She was also leaning towards the hijabi, as if wishing to bury her beak-like nose in the face of the arrival officer. Although the officer was trying to calm the woman, and would have explained that clearance could be given if the woman signed a disclaimer, she wasn’t being allowed to finish. Emma got that because beehive was repeating everything the hijabi said, except at full volume. But no, the unveiled woman wasn’t going to do any signing of anything. She was going to get to see someone important, or else!
The line of agitated women groaned. Then Emma heard one of the women behind her say: “It’s those veiled women’s fault. All of them. Look at the one holding us up. She looks smug in her burqa,” sneered the woman. “She’s glad we are being delayed. They all are.”
Emma wanted to point out that the officer following procedures was wearing a hijab, not a burqa. She herself was appalled at the level of ignorance on display here. It was worse when another woman joined in. “Yeah, look at ‘em over there. They’re like fucking robots in their greys and blacks, all doped up, probably.”
“Probably,” laughed another woman. “But they ain’t free, are they? They put up with all this covering up shit and never say a word ‘bout it.”
“Not allowed to, I guarantee,” snorted the first woman.
The second woman laughed too. “I bet they look at us and wish they had what we have. You know fashion and freedom.”
A couple of agreements came from other unveiled women, including what Emma detected was a somewhat forced laugh as if the woman guffawing didn’t quite believe it herself.
Emma looked across at the line of quiet, patient veiled women. They wear wearing a lot more colours than just greys and blacks, Emma noted. Those colours were present of course in plenty, but that was what the ReOrdered World preferred. But it was by no means any kind of law, as many unveiled women claimed. It was a matter of personal choice or, possibly, what their families or menfolk preferred. In the line opposite was proof there was no uniform control. There were rich silken fabrics in a range of colours, whatever style of veil was being worn. The burqa clad women were wearing either a lovely deep blue or a pleasing sea green as well as the conventional white and pale blue. The niqabis had a variety of colours for their floor-length dresses (though black was prominent, as Emma would expect) and a good number of the hijabi clad women were dressed in virtually western style clothes, though any dresses and skirts were floor length and arms were covered. But uniform they were not.
A woman in a niqab, a royal blue niqab with gold edging, turned her head slowly and stared at the line of bickering non-veils. She inclined her head slightly as if weighing up the unhappiness emanating from a few yards away. Then she turned back with an imperceptible shake of her head.
Behind her was a more conventionally dressed woman, by western standards at least, who wore a long grey-green skirt that brushed the floor with a matching, long sleeved jacket, elegantly cut and with wide lapels, one of which displayed a silver Arabic-inscription brooch. The woman’s hands were black gloved—not unusual about any of the veiled women—but was notable to anyone looking was while her hair was covered with a black scarf reaching down to her eyebrows and tucked perfectly into the top of her high-buttoned jacket, she also had a veil like a niqabi would wear. It began at the bridge of her nose but descended not as many niqab-wearers preferred to her waist at the front (like a long but high apron, Emma fancied), but stopped just above the silver brooch. Her outfit caught Emma’s eye and she stared at how different this was.
The woman was aware of Emma looking, and she held her attention as she stared back across. Emma was startled, for the woman in the all-too short veil had bright blue eyes. She would have stared more but the line of bickering non-veiled women began to finally shuffle forward to a choruses of ‘about time, too,’ comments.
The process of checking correctly completed documents took no time at all and, gratefully, Emma soon emerged from the terminal at Heathrow with her baggage. The air was cold, as she expected in London at this time of year, and with a shiver she headed for the taxi rank. For some reason there were more people than taxis and people, both veiled and non-veiled, were pressing forward to look for a cab. It would be hopeless getting a cab quickly. Emma wondered if she should go back in the terminal and get a drink, but in truth she had enough of airports and the confusion it all brought to her life.
Emma noted, though she felt she shouldn’t have done, that the women in the veils were getting taxis faster than those without. For a moment Emma thought this was just her imagination, and then she thought that perhaps this was because a lot of the cab drivers these days were muslim. They would naturally prefer to take women either of their own faith first, or feel more comfortable with a properly modest woman. Of course, Emma chided herself, this was a fair and equable society: there would be no preferences. Yet there was no doubt there were more taxis heading off with veiled women in them than unveiled females.
Annoyance swelled in Emma. It wasn’t her fault that the world had gone mad—as some said—and wanted women veiled. Or rather, what women themselves wanted. Of course people were people, and trends came and went. That was always true. Yet the veiled and the non-veiled was a division that seemed to produce a difference in people. But this was no time to spend idly thinking. Emma was cold, standing here and speculating about things she didn’t know. She had to get into the centre of London as soon as she could. As she stood, wondering whether to join the line of people waiting for a cab, she felt a hand on her arm. Emma turned, and her eyes met those of the bright blue eyes of the woman from the veiled women line, the woman who wore the short niqab and the distinctive silver brooch.
“Excuse me, but would you like to share a car with me?” Asked the woman from behind her black veil. Her eyes made it look like she was smiling, even though her lips were not visible. “I don’t like to think of you waiting out in the cold,” she added.
“I don’t know,” said Emma, taken aback. She had imagined many of the women in veils did not speak English, or more likely were reluctant to speak to the unveiled. The kuffirs and the immodest, she had decided, would not warrant kindness.
“I really think you should come with me,” said the woman in the niqab. She still had her black-gloved hand resting lightly on Emma’s arm. “It’s okay, I don’t bite and I won’t carry you off to some harem,” she said with a small laugh behind her veil.
Emma relented. “Thanks, I’d like that. I thought it wouldn’t be warm here in London but as you can see I didn’t come prepared for it being quite so cold.” She indicated her own dress, and her short jacket that barely covered her forearms.
“Then we must get you warm,” said the niqabi. “Over here. There’s my father’s car waiting for me.” The woman pointed to a sleek black car waiting to one side. There was no one telling it to move on, though it had distinctive number plates of blue letters and numbers on a white ground. It was what ordinary people called the sign of the ruling class, at least when they were being polite. They had far less civilised words if they thought no one from the authorities was listening.
Emma followed the niqabi to the car, and a smartly dressed man in a dark blue chauffeur’s uniform complete with peaked cap got out and opened the back door. “Hello, Miss Amina,” he said and gave a small nod.
“James, good to see you,” said the niqabi. “I am giving a friend of mine a lift into London. A friend who, unfortunately, I don’t know the name of yet.” She turned a querying eye towards the unveiled woman following her.
“Emma. I’m Emma Delaney,” smiled Emma, glad of the prospect of getting out of the cold. The inside of the expensive and large car looked comfortable, far more so than one of the standard black cabs London was famous for.
“And I’m Amina Smith,” said the niqabi. “Please, get in and James will take you to wherever you wish to be. Leave your case here and James will put in the boot.” Emma noticed that this Amina Smith had no luggage, apart from a small handbag that matched her dress.
Emma climbed into the back of the car after the niqabi. The seats were soft leather and there was a glass screen dividing the driver from the rear of the vehicle. As Amina settled into her seat she again put her hand on Emma’s arm. “You must tell me what brings you to London,” she said.
“And I should ask you how you get to travel in such comfort,” responded Emma.
“Oh this… No big deal. My father is Colin Smith, he’s a bigwig in the Social Justice Ministry. I don’t suppose you have heard of him.”
“I’m not from London,” said Emma. “I’m sorry, but I don’t really read the British papers much.”
“Thank goodness,” chuckled Amina. “You won’t then be seeing the way the media have lately been attacking the Social Justice Ministry, or the PM for that matter. Harriet Cowley is one tough lady but the media have their claws out for her. Anyway, I’d hate you to have a bad impression of me before getting a ride.”
“I’m grateful for this. I thought I’d have to take a cab, and…” Emma trailed off and looked at the queue of people waiting for a cab outside the terminal. A line of all women, because London like so many other cities in the world segregated women from men where it could. A line of women who mostly weren’t veiled. The veiled females seemed indeed to be getting preferential treatment.
“I’m just glad to help,” said Amina.
The chauffeur had put the case in the boot and was now getting in to the car, ready to drive. As he started the engine a policeman, instead of asking why the big car could park where it did on exclusive purple-striped lines, was holding up the other traffic and waving the car out. “The elite plates have some value,” said Amina.
The big car pulled smoothly out with James giving a nod of thanks to the police officer, though as Amina added, they would probably have no faster journey into London than an ordinary cab. “I am afraid the purple priority lanes don’t exist everywhere,” she said.
Emma nodded. London, as part of the European Muslim Authority, was changing and reshaping itself but change always took time. Harriet Cowley as Prime Minister had been a big proponent of Britain becoming allied to the EMA , and she had done much to oversee what many now agreed were necessary changes to a society that had slowly unraveled. Emma remembered it was often called the ReOrdered World, yet despite the proliferation of veils and niqabs and even burqas on the streets of the nation, she knew Harriet Cowley wasn’t veiled fully herself. She frequently wore a hijab, true, but that was a less common event than some of the media said even back home for Emma.
“Do you mind me asking,” said Emma after a few moments, “how come you are called Amina? Is your father, you know…”
“Muslim? Lord, no. And neither am I. Oh, I have taken the name Amina as I always liked it.” The blue-eyed woman leaned in closer to Emma as if sharing a confidence. “The name means honesty, and I try to exhibit that. Actually, I was named Tanya when born, but I am not Russian, either! No, when I got the chance I thought it better to have the name of a respectable muslim, and hopefully try to follow the lead of her name.”
“I see.” Emma pursed her lips. “You wanted to know why I was in London. Well, I am one of the hated media, sorry.” She gave an apologetic shrug. “I’m here to report on the Fifth European Convention of The Veil. My editor thinks I will bring a fresh eye to it.” She didn’t sound convinced herself as she said it.
“First of all,” said Amina. “I don’t hate the press. They do, and have done, a great job in helping to educate people about the veil. Women like me can now feel safe behind the veil, however they prefer to wear it. Some like me have the niqab, others don’t go so far.”
“And the burqa,” said Emma, recalling the comment her editor had said about the way all of the English were now in burqas. Even the men, he had joked, though of course that wasn’t true.
“Some prefer the burqa, thought mostly they are the Muslims who like it. We non-believers prefer to be modest this way.” Amina indicated herself as she spoke.
“But why?” Emma wanted to know.
“Why the veil?” Amina was grinning again, her blue eyes were sparkling. “Because we feel safer, better able to deal with people, more inclined to be calm and rational. You saw that yourself in the lines at the airport. I have to say we see it all the time: the non-veils get so angry about everything.” She shook her head. “It’s like they feel guilty about the world. There isn’t, I regret, much of a sense of peace about those who go around uncovered. One thing the veil does, especially the niqab, is to give the wearer both confidence and a sense of unity. It’s hard to explain, but there we are.”
“And you have worn a veil all your life?”
“No. At school—I went to a boarding school in Kent—I wore the standard schoolgirl’s outfit. Knee-length grey pleated skirt, navy blazer, tie… the embodiment of middle-class England, if you like. But when you get to sixteen you can wear what you want. I chose to wear a niqab, and I haven’t regretted it.”
“Your mother approves?”
“My mother wears one too. So too does my sister, though she hasn’t changed her name. She’s still Natasha, of all things. And dad doesn’t mind, though as Natty as we call her is my twin I admit dad gets us confused at times. That’s one of the reasons I wear this brooch. It’s to help him recognise which one of us is Amina.” The woman in the niqab laughed lightly.
“It’s Arabic, isn’t it?” Emma indicated the brooch.
“Absolutely. It is the script badge of the European Covered Women’s Movement. There are lots of us who now wear this, to show we support the veiling of women, even if they have yet to take the veil. Sort of an identity thing.”
“Because,” said Emma with a slow nod, “you can’t show your face to a man.”
“Nor to a woman who isn’t committed to the cause. I cannot take my niqab off and show you my face, or any part of my body other than my eyes and the bridge of my nose, because you aren’t a member. I am not even supposed to take off my niqab unless all the other females present are veiled. Men of course can’t be part of our group, at least not openly, though many support us. Even James here, our trusty driver, is not allowed to see my face. The badge shows I am not allowed to even speak to a man I don’t know.” Amina put her hand up to her brooch. “It tells a lot of people a great deal about me. Mostly, that I believe in the veil.”
“Yet you allowed me into your car,” said Emma.
“We are committed to charity to those we regard as less fortunate than us,” said Amina. “We are obliged to help those who, forgive me, are less fortunate than ourselves.”
Emma bristled a little at this. “You think I am less fortunate than you?”
“Not materially. That doesn’t matter at all. Everyone has the right to be free, whatever and however they envision that freedom. Just like I am free to cover up, as any woman is. Her choice is whether to do it or not.”
“That sounds like religious stuff to me,” said Emma.
Amina smiled again behind her niqab. “I don’t think so. Whether you believe in Allah or not is unimportant. One’s inner beliefs shouldn’t divide society though I admit it has in the past. But we needed to change here in the UK, and make an effort to balance society. My dad does the political part, and I think does it well despite what the papers might say from time to time. I do my bit the way I see fit.”
“But you have to admit religion is the problem,” said Emma. As she spoke, the car slowed in the traffic. They were driving through a suburb of west London.
“Not entirely. Look over there,” said Amina, waving her hand at the window on her side. “At the church. There’s a wedding there.”
Emma looked where Amina was indicating, and there was indeed a wedding at the church. The bride and groom had just come out of the church and stood on the stone steps to a rapturous reception from several dozen people. The bride, holding a spray of flowers, was dressed in a white niqab with a thin gauze over her eyes for extra modesty. It was church, not a mosque, and more to Emma’s surprise was that the bride’s marriage was clearly to a woman. The groom was a woman with a more conventional black, full-length niqab on, though she had no eye covering. The couple embraced to what was obviously tremendous approval from their families and guests, with men on one side and women on the other. Emma could also see the vicar, in more traditional religious wear for somewhere belonging to the Church of England, was clad in a hijab. It looked odd with the usual C of E dog-collar at her throat.
“As you can see,” said Amina. “We embrace all beliefs here. The veil is a comfort, not a barrier.”
“I’ve seen same sex marriages before,” said Emma, a little more sharply than she might have. Like her sister back home, marrying a woman old enough to be their mother. “It isn’t news.”
“No, it isn’t intended to be,” said Amina, kindly. “I just want you to see that we are okay with all sorts of things with the veil. And before you ask, I did not arrange for that as a show.”
The traffic eased and the car picked up speed once more. Emma felt bad about her seeming lack of charity. She wanted to apologise but wasn’t sure how she should handle this. The journalist stared out of the window. There were indeed a lot of niqabs and hijabs on the streets, and women driving were wearing them too. Including, she saw, a woman driving a big truck. “At least you allow women to drive,” she said.
“We do. Just as we allow them to vote and become prime ministers and even report the news. Just like in your country.”
Emma blushed. She had painted herself into a corner and felt bad. “Very well, I apologise. It’s just that I came here expecting to see problems.”
“Oh, we have them, everyone does. And there is nothing to apologise about, Emma. You have your views, which is understandable.”
“So I go to the conference and I report what?”
“You report what you see. You can even go to the conference, as an accredited journalist, without being veiled. I know from attending one myself not everyone either in the audience or on stage or among the reporters and camera crews, if female, are veiled.” Amina paused. “We don’t judge. Despite reports in some places, the veil is not part of an enforced law here. We don’t do that.”
Emma nodded. The car was again slowing, and this time a female police officer in a bright yellow and silver safety-style niqab was directing the traffic on to another road. She recognised the official plates on the big car and saluted. The driver, James, wound his window down as he stopped the car by her and had a brief conversation with the officer. The glass screen prevented the occupants in the back from hearing what was said. But as the car resumed its journey on a new route the intercom clicked on. “Sorry to interrupt you, Miss Amina, but we are being diverted because of an accident on the main road. I estimate we will be in central London in about twenty minutes if we take the old western road. Sorry to delay you.”
“May I ask,” said Emma, sensing news, “was it an accident, or something more serious? I mean, a car crash, or a fire or, say… a bomb?”
“Officer didn’t say, madam,” said the chauffeur, calmly. The intercom clicked off.
Amina regarded Emma carefully. “I sense you are looking for a more dramatic story while here. Something far more exciting than a mere accident. Or a conference, for that matter.”
Emma nodded. “I suppose so. No disrespect to the speakers and attendees, but the conference won’t be page one news. It won’t lead the evening news bulletins.”
“No, it won’t,” said Amina. “But how about I offer you a deal.”
“A deal? For what?”
“You come to my home to stay. Not the hotel where you are booked in. I hear it isn’t a great hotel, in all fairness. While you are there asa guest in my house you put on a niqab, like mine. You then get to report the event as a seeming believer.”
Emma thought for a moment. “How do you know I don’t believe in women wearing the veil?”
“I suspect you regard us all as a bit strange. But here’s the second part of the deal. If you wear a niqab, while you are here in the London, you get to interview the prime minister. One-on-one, no holds barred. How does that sound?”
Emma stared at the woman next to her, searching her bright eyes for any signs of humour or even deception. “And how would you arrange that?”
“Prime Minister Harriet Cowley is a personal friend of my family. She’s my godmother, believe it or not. She is coming to the family home tonight for dinner. It isn’t an unusual occasion, for she comes often. She will even come with her niqab-clad slave.”
Emma’s eyes widened. “Did you say a slave?”
“I did. The PM is a liberal woman, but she also is committed to the Muslim ideals. Islam still has slaves, and has done despite the west’s apparent ban on them. She will be bringing her personal slave with her, and you can ask her about it all then. I should add, the PM may not come if there is some unforeseen international crisis. The world is still an uncertain place despite the growth and stability of Islam and Muslim beliefs.” Amina sighed. “But if she can be at my home, she will be.”
“So why can’t I interview her and not wear a niqab?” Emma asked.
“Because you wearing a niqab will tell Harriet that you are for real. That you can be trusted. Look, politics is a minefield. She has to be careful who she reveals herself to. Bringing her slave is an act of trust for me and my family. She trusts us. But if she sees a woman there—a reporter—without even a hijab on, she might think she cannot be sure of you.”
“Couldn’t I just tell people she has a slave? That would be news.”
Amina shrugged. “You could, but then you are merely taking my word for it, and I am nobody. You will be telling people something you do not know is true. No reporter likes to do that. Not if she is any good at her job.”
Emma nodded. She had wanted to see what sort of mayhem was at the scene of the accident, hoping it was an outrage and not something simply accidental. She knew from news reports back in her own country there were militants in Britain who opposed what they said was the Islamification of the west, but apart from the preponderance of the veil on women and their voluntary segregation at certain times, there was little evidence of such a thing. Women weren’t more Muslim than at any time, according to official figures. They just preferred being covered up. But Muslim issues were important to Britain, and indeed most of Europe. Harriet Cowley was a driving force in the new direction the government was taking, and an interview with the PM—even if slavery and her slave wasn’t mentioned—was too good to be true.
Emma nodded. “Very well. I will wear a niqab, and hopefully there will be nothing to keep Ms Cowley away tonight.”
The dark blue and gold-trimmed niqab was something quite wonderful in Emma’s eyes. She stared at herself in the mirror in the guest bedroom at the Smith’s home and felt a strange, almost resolute, glow within her. All her life she had been ‘seen’ by everyone and in a way exposed, but now with all her face hidden apart from her brown eyes she felt more at peace, and equally more capable, than she had ever felt before in her life.
“How do you feel now you are in a niqab?” Asked Amina from behind Emma’s shoulder.
“I hate to say it, but pretty good,” came the reply.
“Why do you hate to say it?”
“Because I thought I was me when I showed my face. But this is different. I am still me but not, well, subject to judgement. No one is scanning my face to see how I am feeling, or how I am reacting. But also… and this sounds terrible, I know, but I wanted you to be wrong.” Emma took her gaze from her veiled self and directed it at the woman next to her. “I wanted to think you were suffering from some sort of self-delusion. Maybe even hiding from the world.”
“And am I?” Amina sounded as if she was amused.
“No, I don’t think so. I think you are able to do what you want without being judged, or blamed, or investigated.” Emma paused. “You are you.”
Amina nodded. “Good. I was hoping you felt this way. I know some females, and I don’t mean to flatter you Emma but you are a pretty woman, resent not being able to show their good looks to the world. I wanted to see how you would cope with that, with your cute nose and full lips being hidden from casual gaze.”
“Funny that… I don’t resent it,” said Emma. “In fact, I hadn’t even thought about it. Somehow, looks and appearances feel kind of less important.”
“Good. And how do you like the design of your niqab?”
“It’s beautiful. I never thought I would say that, but the edging in gold… It’s astonishing. I could look at it for hours.”
“Yes, beauty is transferred, that’s all, to the niqab.”
“But yours is plain. Why?”
“Because I believe in the niqab as a symbol, pure and simple. On sure, I have decorated ones I wear at events, like say the opening of parliament or receptions at the palace or even a meeting of the Ladies Of Seclusion to which I belong. But mostly I prefer a plain niqab. A short one, for some women wear them down to their knees. But there are trends and styles even in this.” Amina indicated herself. “There is always some semblance of beauty or perhaps vanity in all we do.”
“And now you could show your face to me, if you wished. You implied that in the car coming here.”
“I could, but the mystery of my face would fall away once seen. As soon as I show you my face, you will judge me. You will do it because that, with respect, is what you have done all your life. It is the western way, a way more and more women in this country are rejecting. Forgive my seemingly unfriendly approach, but you need to know me more as a person before you see my face.”
Emma sighed. “Yet you have seen my face. You, by your own terms, have judged me already.”
“I hope I haven’t. I have tried hard to train myself to only see the form outwardly, and work for the veiling of women so they may be free from this insidious pressure and demand of facial beauty. But, I did say something along those lines, I admit. So, if it helps you, I will show you my face. However for me to do so, I will ask you wear several layers of fine gauze over your eyes. It will soften the detail, even obscure some of my features, but you will see something of me when I remove my niqab.”
Emma took a deep breath. “No, I will not force you to do that. I would rather see your eyes and the fullness of your veil rather than oblige you to do something you do not wish. I am, after all, both a guest in your home and in your country.”
“Well said,” Amina nodded. “You are already showing many signs of neing a truly good veiled woman. Now, we should go down to eat and you can meet the PM. I have sent her a message already and asked her if she is okay with an informal interview. She said no problem. Harriet is happy to meet you.”
“And her slave?”
“The slave will be with her. But I would ask you, in the spirit of being veiled, not to judge what you see. It may surprise you that the leading woman in our nation—for that is what Harriet is whoever sits on the throne—not only has slave but treats her in a certain way.”
“It sounds intriguing,” said Emma. “But I take it the slave is veiled?”
“Yes, as you would expect. Now, Emma, let’s go downstairs and get ready to greet our fellow guests.”