The journey in the police arrest wagon while wearing handcuffs and enduring a police-standard gag (which was far more uncomfortable than anything Saeeda have ever worn before) was a nightmare. She had no idea why she was being arrested, and only herself, her father and the husband and wife pair of the Dawsons were in the wagon.
She and Victoria, Dawson’s young wife, being women were treated differently to the arrested men. The two Niqabbed females were made to stand at the back of the wagon with a rope noose round their necks, while the two men—similarly handcuffed and gagged—sat on benches at the front, staring ahead. Although the wagon swayed a little as the two horses that hauled the wagon were plodding slowly through the London streets so there was not much danger of either of the women slipping and hanging themselves, Saeeda had the distinct impression that if either of the females did fall then the police would not lose much sleep over it.
Several time she tried to catch Victoria’s eye to see if there was any sign of her feelings but the woman in the grey Niqab had her head down and made no effort to look at Saeeda. It was almost as if she knew why they had been arrested and was quietly fearing the worst. Saeeda had no idea what the worst could be.
Still, she was confident that justice would be done. It was, she had been a central plank of Britain that the system of law was essentially fair, and she had heard it had even got better in the reign of King Malik. Despite their rough handling at their arrest and their almost-perilous position now, Saeeda was convinced that it would be only a short time before apologies were offered for a quite wrongful arrest.
Through the bars of the wagon Saeeda could see people on the streets going about their normal business, such as shopping or strolling in the spring sunshine. There were rubber-dressed women in Burqas and Niqabs hurrying along on leashes behind a responsible male and Saeeda felt a pang that she couldn’t be like them right now. Free to revel in the spring air and enjoying that satisfying tug of a leash held by a strong man. Submissive and satisfied women striving to be the least problem for the men who naturally ruled. Oh, how one could dream of such things! But here she was under arrest, not walking or being admired for her elegant rubber veil by other protected women, nor had she a man right now to guide her.
She was, wrongly she believed for now, a prisoner but at least a prisoner in the most progressive and blessed nation in all of creation, guided by great men under the great caring hand of Allah. It was only a question of when she would be freed.
But then what had this Dawson couple done to interest the police? Saeeda wished she could find out.
Again, Saeeda tried to look at the person standing next to her, with rope round her rubber-collared throat. The stunningly attractive young woman she had hoped would become her friend; someone with who she could sip tea under their Niqabs as they gossiped about some new restraint for women, or maybe how best they might please their menfolk. Saeeda saw nothing, saw for a single drop of water that fell from Victoria’s veiled face. A tear, or a drip from a well-gagged mouth? Saeeda had no way of knowing.
If only the two men hadn’t met under these circumstances! If her father and Mr Dawson had chosen to exchange business cards and move on, perhaps there would have been a different outcome to this. She might even be home now. Saeeda saw, briefly, the end of Hereford Avenue where the Chapman home was and she wondered if her mother and sister had been told yet of Casper Chapman’s arrest. As Saeeda was the father’s responsibility there need be no mention of the female, but what had her father done to warrant this?
There was no way Saeeda could know. Women were, correctly, barred from taking part in business arrangements and if she was asked, the process of importing rubber and distributing it to the nation would have been quite beyond her. But she had heard of latex smuggling though she couldn’t believe a man as upright and proper as her father would even remotely be associated with such a crime. Casper Chapman was a respectable man, and noted for his faithful presence at the mosque every Friday.
Presently the wagon drew into the courtyard of a large police station, and the men were taken away leaving the two women standing in the wagon, still with nooses around their necks. They stood for a good hour (Saeeda heard the chiming of Big Ben in the distance, so she could calculate the time) and it was almost as if everyone had forgotten they were there. Even the horses that had pulled the wagon were unhitched and moved to the stables for feeding and rest. Was this, Saeeda wondered, an invitation for us to hang ourselves so the Chapman and Dawson families would not be shamed by having their women involved in whatever crime had been committed? Hastily, she pushed the dreadful thought aside.
Eventually two police officers came to release the women, or at least remove their nooses. The women were still cuffed with hands behind them and they were shoved rather brusquely down the steps of the wagon and inside the imposing if grim police station. In truth, it looked more like a prison, complete with iron bars at the windows. Saeeda felt a wave of fresh fear coursing through her as she imagined no one would ever know she was here. Women were second-class citizens, as was considered right and proper, and for all she knew no note would be made of their presence or their passing.
The women were pushed in front of a white wall marked with measurements and placed in front of a camera. A new noose was placed round each of the two women’s necks but to Saeeda’s surprise their Niqabs were removed but not their gags. The two women’s bonnets were removed and tossed aside.
It was a shock at first for Saeeda that any male, even a police officer, should remove a woman’s veil. As far as she was concerned only her father (or hopefully one day her husband, though right now such a prospect seemed very far away indeed) could remove a woman’s veil. Yet here were men doing that without the slightest regard to the modesty of the women and the honour of their families.
The thought however struck Saeeda that as her face was exposed that suddenly her family had no honour. An arrest by the police would automatically make the Chapman family beneath contempt. It would be the same for the Dawson family too, of course, and Saeeda shot a look at the woman standing cuffed, gagged and noosed beside her.
That was when Saeeda fell in love, or at least felt an emotion she had never felt before.
For the first time she saw Victoria’s face, and the woman was beautiful. Saeeda even let out a little gag-muffled gasp as she saw the younger woman’s face, with its cute upturned nose and lovely shaped chin. She had no doubt Victoria had delightful lips though they were, like her own, stretched around a severe police-issue gag. For the first time ever and despite her proper upbringing as a good British Muslim girl, Saeeda grasped the attraction of kissing another woman’s lips. Had it not been for her perilous situation and the rope at her neck, Saeeda would have swooned in delight at the vision of young beauty beside her.
However the women weren’t being unveiled to allow them to see each other. This was far more practical. The two bare-faced females had their photographs taken, first full face and then from the side. Finally with the photographs done and a number of other measurements taken including, bizarrely, bust and waist measurements (waists shaped it must said by excellent rubber corsets) as well as being weighed by being made to stand on a platform while weights were used to achieve a balance, their veils were pulled back on. Not their own this time, but yellow dyed canvas veils with black numbers stencilled on them.
Prison Niqabs, Saeeda knew. This was no police station, but a prison.
Saeeda felt a pang as she saw Victoria’s beautiful face disappear from view under her yellow Niqab. Whatever comfort there was in having her own face covered, she wanted to see more of Victoria. More, she wanted to Victoria to look at her and see something attractive in Saeeda. There was no indication she had.
The two nooses were removed from the prisoners and they were marched, still cuffed and gagged of course, down long stone cold corridors and up flights of well-worn stairs. It was as they passed a window that Saeeda glanced out and down to the courtyard and saw two more women without bonnets being hustled out of another police wagon. With a gasp of horror she realised the older, and plumper, of the two women was wearing the same dress as her own mother was wearing when Saeeda left home with her father earlier in the day. Could it be her mother and indeed sister had been arrested too? She was sure the slimmer female was wearing one of Jasmine’s favourite blue rubber dresses too. Saeeda desperately wanted to beg the escorts to stop and allow her to confirm it was her mother and sister being brought to the prison, but she couldn’t make anything more than an indistinct noise to request a delay, and no one would take any notice of that, she knew.
In a few moments Saeeda was pushed into a small cell. It was only big enough for one person, with along one wall a simple bench for a bed with a flat rubber filled grey pillow and a threadbare grey blanket, marked with stains. There was a small barred window showing a patch of sky, and the cell had several heavy chains fastened to rings set into the walls around the cell. One of them was immediately looped round Saeeda’s neck, locked before one of the police officers began to remove the young woman’s dress by the simple procedure of cutting it off her with a blade. Her lovely prized rubber dress fell in shreds to the floor, along with her thin white rubber underdress, making Saeeda want to weep with both shock at this assault and the loss of such fine clothes. Soon the woman was stood only in her barely over-the-knee-length black rubber stockings, her dark blue rubber corset (new from Sadiq Harrod’s Rubberwear Store recently), her voluminous blue rubber knickers with matching blue rubber brassiere and her elbow-length black rubber gloves. She still had her black leather shoes but they were unbuckled and removed, though her ankle chain was left on.
The greatest shame though for Saeeda was not being in her underwear so much as having so a large amount of her body exposed. She was used, as any proper young lady in King Malik’s era would be, to show the world nothing more than a tiny bit of flesh round her eyes. This may have been a prison but the woman was horrified to have so much of her flesh exposed, such as the narrow band of her lower thighs between stocking tops and knickers and having her bare shoulders and upper arms on view. She felt as good as naked, and was thankful she at least had the yellow prison-style Niqab on the hide her blushes, or where her tears ran down from her eyes.
The officers at the prison (Saeeda had assumed they were all police officers attending to her but now she realised these people sported a number of differences in their navy-blue, high-collared uniforms) had one more thing for the woman before they released her from her neck chain. Another warder came in, holding what looked like a pair of thick mittens with padlocks at the wrists. These were put on Saeeda’s hands behind her back and she was obliged to curl her fingers into a ball to make the mitten fit on each hand. The padlock was closed on each wrist, ensuring it was not only impossible for her to remove them should she have the chance but also kept her hands as fists.
“That’s ‘ere to stop cunts like you playing with yerself,” chuckled one of the prison officers. “Yer ain’t bein’ in ‘ere for yer pleasure, ain’t that be the truth?”
“Fine pair o’ tits on this one, right enough,” said another warder, eyeing the prisoner. “Someone’ll ‘ave fun with ‘em, I reckons.”
Saeeda was understandably shocked at the men’s coarse language, but given her shame at her state of undress the insult seemed less important right now. She wanted to cover herself up with her hands but fastened behind her they couldn’t help.
Saeeda’s neck chain was left on though her handcuffs were removed. Saeeda’s ankle chain remained—she later assumed the prison didn’t have the key to her ankle chain and weren’t in a hurry to find one.
“Yer’ll ‘ave yer gag out later, but only if yer’s good,” said the officer who had told her the purpose of the mittens. “Fer now yer can stay all quiet like wot a mouse does.”
The warder who had commented on Saeeda’s breasts snorted, equally gruffly, “There’s a woman comin’ to take yer clothes off’n yer. Yer’ll be gettin’ yer prison clothes then, see? Shame I won’t get to see yer knockers, but never say never, I always says.”
The leering officers tumbled out of the cell and Saeeda sat alone, attached to the wall by her neck chain. She lifted her mittened hands up to check if the chain was fastened properly, but even her fists told her she wasn’t going to get out of it without help. The gagged young lady sat back on the bed and, with head buried in her bound up hands, went back to weeping over her misfortune and soaking her simple yellow canvas Niqab with her tears.
She had no idea how long she had been sitting weeping, but she stopped when a woman appeared at the cell door. To Saeeda’s astonishment the woman had no Niqab and nor was she wearing a veil of any description. She was dressed in the same colour and type of clothes as the male warders, though she too had ankle chains on her trouser covered legs. The one difference was on the woman’s breast was a sewn-on Christian cross in prison-yellow. She was carrying a pile of yellow clothes, which she set down on the end of the bench.
“Please don’t be scared,” said the woman, whose cultured accent suggested she was anything but cut from the same stock as the prison warders Saeeda had encountered so far. “My name is Mary Crelland, I am a trustee prisoner and am here to help you as best I can.”
The woman was in her forties, Saeeda estimated and had a pleasant face that once suggested it had been well-fed and round, though now her cheeks were gaunt from presumably lack of food. She was also pale from lack of sunlight, but in any case that was the lot of women under the veil, and with nothing on her head Saeeda could see the woman’s reddish blonde hair had been cropped brutally short. Mary Crelland for her part stood and studied the chained, mittened and underwear clad young woman.
“No idea what you’ve done, my child, and I am not allowed to know. Yes, I can tell from the look in your eyes you are shocked I am a Christian. No head covering, as you can see, and my once long hair has been cut short. Well, that’s what happens when you refuse to renounce your faith.” The middle-aged woman paused. ”But while I am a trustee here, it is only because I have been kept some twelve years in prison. I am permitted, despite not being Muslim and a responsible male, to see you naked and help you get dressed in your prison clothes. I am sorry to say your fine rubber underwear must come off. If it is any consolation it will be raffled off for the poor in London. Some unfortunate woman will appreciate it, I am sure.”
Saeeda’s only response was to stare: she hadn’t seen a Christian in years. Their way of worship were no longer allowed, and their faith had been swiftly eradicated. Churches had been demolished or had been converted to mosques. Every monument, every carving, every painting of Christian symbolism had been removed swiftly under King Malik’s reign. Even roads and places named after Christian saints had been renamed, and some traditional forenames banned. Christians weren’t supposed to exist, yet here was one.
“One thing I can do,” said the Christian, “is at least take your gag out. I am afraid you will wear a gag often, my dear in here—I have to, though today I am blessed with freedom to speak—so enjoy your little freedoms while you can.” With that, Mary reached under the prisoner’s Niqab and unfastened Saeeda’s gag. She placed it on the bench next to her. It clearly would be going back in soon enough.
“Thank you,” said Saeeda, glad to be free of it. “Listen, there’s been a terrible mistake. My name is Saeeda Chapman and my father and I were arrested with another couple, a man and wife. This woman… I need to know where she is—”
“Please,” Mary held her hands up. ”I can’t tell you anything. Even if I knew anything it would be bad for me to tell you about other prisoners. I believe several women have been arrested and brought here today, but that isn’t unusual. We get a good few women in here each week before they get judged and go off to break rocks or maybe serve society in some other way.” Mary shook her head as if there was nothing anyone could say or do.
“But my family, even my mother and sister, we aren’t guilty of anything,” Saeeda said, desperation in her voice. “I can see you were—or still are—a Christian and I remember when I was little being told you people were, well, helpful. Not like Muslims, of course, but kind enough. You have to help me, I beg you.”
“My dear, I am still a Christian, for which I am locked up. I cannot renounce what I am and so I am a prisoner here, just like you. At night I am put in a cell, and I can expect to be beaten and spat at.” To Saeeda’s surprise the middle-aged woman knelt before the girl, her hands hanging loose by her sides. “I regret I cannot do more to help you in your distress, for I can see you are troubled greatly. But you may, as some women do when they come here, wish to blame a mere infidel for the ills of the world or their lives. It may help you to spit in my face. Most women here do that if they can: it helps them to get through this by hating me and my faith.”
Saeeda gasped. This was not what she expected, but she could see that there would be some modicum of release in abusing this woman and her wretched faith. She understood, because Muslims were superior in every way to Christians. Fora second she thought of hawking up a mouthful of saliva but then Saeeda surprised herself.
“No. That won’t help me. But… I want something else from you…” She didn’t know how to say this gently, so she plunged ahead. “The woman I need to see… her name is Victoria. Victoria Dawson. She said looked wonderful, out of her veil… she said something that made me… well, want to experience a feeling.”
Saeeda swallowed, loudly. “Not to spit on you, but to experience something soft. A kiss, if I may be so bold. A kiss from the lips of a woman.”
Mary nodded, and gave a small smile. ”I understand, my lady. Muslims under the veil may not kiss other women easily. But I am open faced, unveiled as infidels should be, and for now so are you. I regret I am not your dear friend and alas, the years have left their mark on me. But if you wish us to kiss, then please do so. I will remove your veil and you may do as you wish, spit or kiss.”
Saeeda gulped again, but with her veil removed she moved her face close to Mary’s. She hesitated, then pressed her lips to the kneeling Christian’s lips. They were soft and, dare she think it, magical. The Muslim young woman held the kiss for a few seconds, and then beyond her imaginings her heart soared. Instinctively, Saeeda opened her lips a little, and she felt Mary do the same. Their tongues touched and probed, their kiss became deeper. Saeeda slipped off the bench and put her arms round Mary as they kissed more. She felt Mary hands on her narrow, corsetted waist, holding her close. Finally, they broke the deep, wet kiss.
“I had no idea,” said Saeeda, dreamily, as she lightly licked her damp lips.
“And now you know,” whispered Mary.
“I thought of Victoria, when I kissed you,” admitted Saeeda.
“And I thought of my husband, from when he and I were together, so we both gained,” said Mary. “Now, we do not have much time. I must get you dressed.” The pair moved apart and Mary stood, gathering up the prison clothes.
“Your underwear, my lady, must come off.” Mary spoke briskly, the memory of that deep, warm kiss already receding into the past.
“I will see you naked, but your shame will be spared for I am a Christian prisoner, and therefore worthless. I will assist you in removing your clothes and fit you in your yellow prison dress. Underneath that you will wear a canvas body suit which can be closed tight from your breasts to your hips, which is rough to the skin but necessary to give you some feeling of modesty and closeness, the way your lovely rubber corset does now. You will of course continue with your yellow canvas Niqab; it bears your prisoner number and though you told me your name, you are merely a number here. Happily for your beliefs, your hair will be covered. On your legs will be canvas leggings by way of a sort of long set of knickers, laced between the legs with cord to allow placing over ankle chains, and you will wear coarse yellow woollen stockings with rubber soles attached. You are not permitted shoes. Your hands will be covered with yellow woollen gloves. There will be no flesh visible, you will be pleased to know, and your prison Niqab has a thick gauze eye-covering. Your vision will naturally be reduced, but modesty assured.”
Saeeda flinched at the unattractive thought of everything she knew and was familiar with would be removed. No comforting rubber, just canvas. Coarse and lowly, a mere number and not a person with hope for the future. There was none now, she knew, and thus she had better make the best of it. A good Muslim must bend, she believed.
“If you would be so kind as to unhook my rubber corset, I would be grateful,” said Saeeda after a moment. “And if you would be so kind as to ensure it goes to a good Muslim woman for her comfort and support, I would be pleased.”