Under The Rubber Veil
Standing in front of the large mirror in the hall, Saeeda Chapman adjusted the top of her Niqab so it fitted snugly under her eyes, and then made sure the black rubber panel over her forehead was on her eyebrows. It wouldn’t be seen to be showing too much flesh while out and about. As she made sure everything was just so for her trip with her father, Saeeda couldn’t help but feel a tremble of excitement: it had been over a month since she went out last, largely as she was unmarried and her father was always busy these days. It had been hard sitting inside, staring out through the windows to watch the spring blossom emerge on the trees along Hereford Avenue. Of course she also saw other young women of her age being properly escorted out by either their male relatives or even—lucky thing— by a young bearded beau, though as always the young lady would be chaperoned by some older lady. But going out into the teeming streets of London was the thing that thrilled her, and as she would be with her father she would not need to be chaperoned. There would be shops to look in (if her father allowed her to pause and look, of course) and a chance to see what fashions were being worn on the streets of the Empire’s capital.
They might even get a chance to see the Changing Of The Janissaries or even, praise Allah, a sight of good King Malik going out in his gilded carriage. Perhaps with one or two of his harem following behind on a length of golden chain. How the crowds would cheer their king! How much too would the throng of men cast longing eyes at the lovely veiled women in their near-transparent trouser gowns as they hurried, hands secured behind them as one would expect, after the royal carriage. No doubt that was a sight that thrilled Casper Chapman too, though the old man would stand and comment on the fineness of the King’s horses or the polish on the guards’ scimitars. Anything to hide his true feelings, Saeeda thought with a smile.
Happy that her Niqab was as it should be, Saeeda turned to her mother to show how tidy she looked. Mrs Chapman smiled at her daughter: she looked lovely in her dark green rubber floor length dress and matching rubber gloves. It was a pity she thought that her daughter’s Niqab didn’t match the dark green rubber, but that was the fashion: black rubber veils this year, everyone insisted, no matter what dress one wore. Fortunately as Saeeda’s mother Violet often said, “Black rubber goes with everything.”
Now Violet was polishing the large black rubber bonnet—complete with white lace trim—that her daughter would wear when she went out with her father into the city. “Got your gag in nice and comfortable, my dear?” Asked the mother from behind her own Niqab as she finished making the bonnet gleam.
Saeeda nodded. Her gag was fine. No woman in the Chapman household was allowed out without a gag under her veil, and though Saeeda had worn one at home for long periods if her father so decreed, it was good of her mother to check all was well, however used to it she was. But then it was new red ball gag with underchin strap as well as conventional behind the head buckle and as all women knew, it took time for one’s jaw to adjust to a new gag.
Carefully Violet placed the bonnet on her daughter’s head, fussed over the white lace trim and smoothed down the white silk ribbons at the sides. “You look lovely my dear,” said Violet, suppressing the inevitable statement she usually made that she wished her daughter was promised in marriage. The young woman was 20 now, and already like all good mothers Violet was feeling marriage was passing Saeeda was going to miss out. King Malik had decreed that all women under the age thirty should have at least four children and it troubled the Chapman household that their eldest daughter hadn’t been spoken for yet.
They’d even changed her name from Sally to Saeeda in the hope of encouraging a good Muslim man to come forward and ask for her hand.
However Casper Chapman had been very busy with his import business: since King Malik’s rapid ascension to the throne following his wife Victoria’s sudden illness and death in 1867, the British Empire had acquired virtually all the rubber in the world and people like Chapman had rushed in to secure business opportunities. ‘The future is rubber,’ was a favourite saying of Casper, but running a business took time. He frequently didn’t even have time to attend his usual club where he might meet the father of a young man looking to help his son find a good wife. Still, Saeeda was going out now and perhaps, just perhaps, a father of a respectable Muslim young man would approach Casper on the street and ask if the young lady was free for marriage. Stranger things happened, Violet believed.
Violet indicated Saeeda should hold her green rubber gloved hands out so the mother could clip the two thick rubber wrist cuffs together with Chapman’s Patented Rubber Restraint Links, an invention increasingly being sewn into the dresses of young women so their hands could be secured behind them or, like today, in front as the occasion demanded. The fastening was such that the wearer could not release the cuffs herself, though no woman would dare. A locked girl stayed a locked girl, and a locked woman was peace on earth, went the saying.
Violet hooked on a four-foot leash to the D-ring sewn into the throat part of Saeeda’s rubber dress and let the leash dangle, waiting for the man of the house to claim the locked young female.
Locked in this case also meant a gag, more often than not. Now Saeeda was ready to go out with her father, if he could just tear himself away from reading the stocks and shares page of the day’s edition of The Times. The two women stood in the hall waiting, Saeeda silent because of her gag and Violet quiet out of respect for her husband. They would, as all good English Muslim women did, wait patiently for the man.
Happily they didn’t have to wait long. Casper bustled out of the sitting room, removing his spectacles from his nose and putting the newspaper down hard on the hall table. “Damned if Scottish Latex aren’t up again on the market. Heaven knows what schemes they are cooking up in Edinburgh,” he grumbled. His wife, who would be expected to know nothing of such men’s interests of business wisely said nothing. She had learned years ago even a sympathetic ‘Never mind, dear,’ (or worse, a comment on the effectiveness of Scottish rubber ventures) would get her a couple of days chained up in the cellar and a beating too. A week of gagged silence awaited all the women in the house, as well; Violet, Saeeda and the 18 year old Jasmine would all wear a mouth-stopping gag as a consequence of one injudicious remark from any of them.
Without looking at his daughter, Casper grabbed the leash. “We will be a few hours, woman; be ready for a coupling when I get home. Ensure you are suitably gagged,” ordered the man to his wife and set off for the front door, pausing only to put on his smart, rubber-coated top hat. Wouldn’t do for a man who had invested so heavily in latex to be seen not wearing the product that was making his fortune, he believed.
Saeeda hurried along behind her long-striding father, glad to be finally out of the house and feel the spring sunshine on her and being able to hear the chirp of the birds in the trees too. She was hoping not to cause a pull on the leash as that usually irritated the man, and happily the ankle chain she wore under her long rubber dress was long enough for her to take decent strides behind him.
Soon enough they were across Prophet Glory Road and its busy lines of horse drawn vehicles (all, Casper noted with pleasure, with new rubber tyres on their wheels) and to the shops. Of course Saeeda couldn’t expect her father to stop and allow the young woman to admire the latests fashions in the shop windows, but as fate would have it Casper met up with an acquaintance. The two men stopped to talk and exchange news right outside Mrs Ahmed’s Emporium and as it said in the window, offering the latest fashions from Paris. They weren’t rubber, of course, as France couldn’t afford to buy much rubber from the British Empire (and what they could afford wouldn’t go on such frivolities as women’s clothes) but Saeeda had a wonderful chance to see the wonderful satins and silks on display. She might have wondered what it was like to wear anything but rubber if the girl the other man was leading didn’t flicker her eyes at Saeeda.
As always the rubber-dressed woman on a leash following the other man—Mr Dawson, she was sure she heard her father say, and who was considerably younger that Casper—was appropriately silent and had her hands fastened behind her, which pushed out her sizeable breasts and showed off her well-corsetted waist. Eighteen inches, possibly, which matched Saeeda’s own corset size. The female led by Mr Dawson was wearing a blue rubber dress with white panels at the side, which looked very attractive though her Niqab was not fashionable black but a rather uninspiring grey, and not even in rubber. Saeeda felt sorry for the girl not being in the current trends, who being probably about her sister’s age and therefore a little younger than herself would be keen to be seen to be in fashion. Of course it was hard to tell under the blue-dressed Niqabi’s large blue bonnet if she was smiling with her eyes but Saeeda detected the usual ‘slow blink’ greeting that all women used when wearing their Niqabs. Saeeda blushed, for having a young woman make eyes at her always set her heart fluttering for some reason.
Saeeda had heard stories—scurrilous tales not fit for polite company—from the family maid when Eliza was not gagged, of women being allowed to have congress with other women, either for their husband’s entertainment or for their own personal pleasures. Saeeda had no idea what women would do in that situation for all women were, she understood, breeding machines to satisfy men. She also presumed they would not be restrained while they did such things, though no doubt they would be gagged. One tale was that women actually allowed another woman’s lips to brush their own, but how by all that was righteous did two women do that while wearing Niqabs? Impossible, she decided, like fantastic stories of special ships that could travel under the sea.
Saeeda felt she wanted to know this young woman’s name but it was unlikely to be mentioned by the men. However even if they did, with her tight fitting Niqab over her ears it was sometimes hard for Saeeda to hear other people’s conversations. Equally she tried to avoid listening as it was improper for women to eavesdrop when men were talking. Nonetheless, she stared at the other female, who by now had correctly averted her eyes. It was what women were expected to do.
However the two men had agreed to continue talking in a nearby coffee shop so both females were tugged towards the establishment. Inside the two females were led to the Ladies Room where they could sit on a simple bench with their hands secured above their heads. As the two women’s wrists were fastened above their heads to brackets in the wall, the younger man by the name of Dawson suggested, as his wife wasn’t gagged, it would be reasonable for Mr Chapman to remove his daughter’s gag so that the two females might converse.
Casper Chapman looked unsure about this, but relented. He unfastened Saeeda’s gag but left it round her neck (“In readiness,” he said) and the two men departed to order coffee in the larger, more open men-only drinking lounge.
“Your gentleman is very kind,” whispered Saeeda to the woman sat alongside her, after exercising her jaw for a moment. “I do not usually get my gag removed when out and about with my father.”
“Ah, your father, I see. My gentleman as you call him is my husband, George. He trusts me to be silent when out, so I try not to disappoint him.”
The two women exchanged names, and Saeeda learned that her secured companion was called Victoria. “Named after the dead Queen,” said the woman in the grey Niqab. “My husband and I have been married a mere few months, but he is determined to succeed in business and I am grateful he chose me as his wife.”
“Of course, you seem very fortunate. I was Sally until my parents changed my name to Saeeda, hopefully to attract the blessings of Allah in marriage. They are anxious I should be wed and bear many male children to help King Malik in his glorious reign.”
“Is it glorious?” Victoria turned her head a little towards Saeeda so they could make eye contact. The married young woman had lovely bright blue-green eyes. They seemed to sparkle with a mischievous glint.
“Of course it is,” protested Saeeda. She felt her cheeks colouring up under her rubber Niqab. “He is ordained by Allah to guide the British Empire and his loyal subjects under the banner of the one true religion.” Even as she spoke she felt she was just saying it because that was what everyone said. ‘Good King Malik’ who was credited with the rescue of Queen Victoria from depression after Prince Albert’s untimely death and who had then assumed the crown with surprisingly little difficulty after Victoria’s unexpected demise. He had become the first Muslim ruler of Britain and therefore head of its sprawling and increasingly acquisitive Empire.
“If you say so, Saeeda,” sighed Victoria. She said it as if she had endured this argument many times before.
“I do not mean to offend you, Victoria. Please forgive me.” Saeeda was clearly eager not to have a disagreement so soon with someone she secretly hoped might become her friend. Saeeda saw very few people outside her immediate family and servants, and it would be good to sit together with Victoria in the drawing room at home and if ungagged be free to talk of their hopes and fears, providing of course no males were in the house who would be disturbed by idle women’s chatter.
“There is nothing to dispense forgiveness over,” said Victoria. “You are right, dear Saeeda, that King Malik is our head, but I am intrigued by how he has achieved this. Six years ago, when the Queen died, it was said she expired in labour, yet she had many children before that without complications. Her physicians were the finest available, the midwives vastly experienced. But even putting that aside, may I say that when Victoria took the hand of Malik, merely it was said to placate the Arabian powers who threatened to block our sea routes to India and the east, the King as now is agreed he would never assume any role in becoming head of church and state. Indeed, there is no church now, merely mosques.”
Saeeda was startled at all this coming from a young woman’s mouth. Mostly women when allowed to speak would confine themselves to matters of home and garden, or of course fashion trends, when not discussing some latest romantic novel of dashing Arab princes taking western wives. Political talk was simply not expected. She said so, though kept her tone apologetic.
“We women will one day not be cuffed and gagged and possibly not even obscured by a Niqab,” said Victoria. “It will take time but we will go about unveiled one day. Perhaps not all clad in rubber and free of a corset, too.”
“My corset is stout rubber,” said Saeeda, still somewhat shocked by this seditious talk of a future that surely could not come to pass. “I am grateful for it, as it is my comfort and pleasure to be so restricted.”
Victoria gave a low laugh. “But when you marry and fall pregnant, as if you would have any choice in the matter, what then? Will you be restrained for your nine months as so many women are while locked up, because they cannot be seen without a corset, given their expanding belly? Even rubber it seems cannot stretch indefinitely.” Victoria paused. “I believe Queen Victoria did not take kindly to being locked up when expecting, and perhaps that was why she died.”
“I do not know where you get all this from,” said Saeeda, wishing they were both gagged so they could sit quietly.
“From listening and thinking,” said Victoria. “That cannot be restricted, whatever the menfolk say.”
“Be that as it may. We have our duty as women. It does not do for pregnant women to be allowed to exercise,” said Saeeda, feeling herself both blushing and feeling a rising unease in her. She had hoped Victoria would be her friend, and yet this younger female who should not have had any sort of opinion of the greater world was talking of matters that ran counter to everything Saeeda understood to be right and proper. “If you have children, dear Victoria, I hope you husband grants you comfortable chains during your confinement.”
“Why are we restricted and restrained so much?” Victoria wanted to know. “Custom? Does it excite men to think of their wives and daughters to be hampered by chain and clad in rubber?”
“Rubber is the future,” snapped Saeeda, remembering her father’s dictum.
“Not for the King’s harem, it would seem,” said Victoria. “Have you seen his scantily-clad women, drawn on gold chains behind his carriage, with near naked bodies on show for all to see? How the men gather for that. Some women too, for they adore seeing a naked female if they are permitted.”
“This is wrong,” said Saeeda, but she was feeling a strange surge in her about seeing for herself another naked female, or one at least dressed in near-transparent fine fabrics that did very little to hide a harem girl’s body.
“It is life and love, all of which takes many forms,” said Victoria. “Tell me, dear Saeeda, have you even kissed another woman?”
The surge of weird feeling inside Saeeda—a sort of insistent warm buzzing deep in her belly—suddenly got hotter. She wriggled a little on her bench seat, hoping that would persuade this disturbing but oddly exciting sensation to go away. It didn’t.
“Are you trying to rub yourself to achieve pleasure?” Asked Victoria. She sounded amused. “If we weren’t secured like this we could explore each other’s bodies, as women must when ignored by men. If we were not veiled our lips could engage. We are quite alone here for now and untroubled by men it would be nice to be intimate with you, Saeeda, even if it is only a kiss.”
Each of Victoria’s words were like a hammer blow to Saeeda’s senses. She had never heard anything like this before and preferred to dismiss rumours of the maid’s tales of women having relationships as nothing more than the idle gossip of servants. Yet something in her said as much as she wanted to recoil, equally she would be intrigued to throw herself at another female and explore.
There was a moment of silence and then Saeeda desperately tried to haul her confused feelings together. “Victoria… Mrs Dawson… I would pray for Allah’s wisdom for you. You are a woman. You are married. You have duties. You should not be given to idle and unworthy thoughts. It is not in our nature to be so debase as to seek comfort outside of the loving structure of dominant husband and submissive wife. One day I hope to be wed to a man who sees my role properly. If I am to be gagged and confined, that is because the man has wisely decreed it to be so for my benefit. Chains are to be worn with pride. If with Allah’s blessing I bear my future husband a son I would want him to be in control of the woman he eventually marries. Should Allah choose to burden me with a girl, I would in time expect her to submit to her future husband. Society relies on the male being above the female—”
Saeeda got no further. Outside the Ladies Room there was confusion and shouts, the sound of a struggle and a table in the Drinking Lounge being knocked over. Seconds later two burly police officers appeared at the door of the Ladies Room, a sight which shocked Saeeda as normally only the relatives of females should be seen in here. They had handcuffs in their hands, open ready for use. “These two here,” growled the officer wearing sergeant’s stripes. “They’re with those men we’ve arrested. We’ll take them in, too.”