A week later, Hanifa pulled Agne out of Quran recital and took her into a side room. Then, sitting down beside her, she said, “I have received two offers for your hand. I am afraid that, due to your age, lack of a dowry and upbringing in the decadent west, finding suitable candidates for you has been tough. However, these are what we have:
The first is called Mohammed Hanifa al-Talib. He is fifty-three years old and you will be his fourth wife. He is not interested in fathering anymore children but is willing to accept you as a wife as he was touched by the story of you reverting to Islam and accepting purdah-living. However, he does view regular exercise in the normally-accepted sense as being incompatible with such a lifestyle, although he is prepared to allow you to engage in walks around the extensive grounds in his house in a village some eighty kilometres or so out of Riyadh. He promises to be merciful and just.”
That sounded about as appealing to Agne as a holiday in hell and what was the point in setting down conditions if she was willing to abandon them at the first attempt, so she shook her head vigorously. Hanifa laid her gloved hand on her charge’s shoulder and continued, “Saaliha, you should not really refuse until you have heard the other offer. However, I did suspect that Mohammed Hanifa al-Talib would not be the man for you. So, we move onto the second. His name is Nasser Udeen Bukhari and he is thirty-six years old. He also has other wives, two, so you would be number three. He is willing to consider fathering further children in the future, though not immediately as he is concerned that your Islamic identity might not be ingrained deeply enough due to your upbringing in the decadent west. However, acknowledging that, he is prepared to let you exercise daily, but only if you fulfil your duties as a wife. You work towards him and he will work towards you. Now, in my opinion, although I would have some reservations, I would…”
But Agne was already nodding enthusiastically. The age difference was not so huge and, while he already had two wives, he seemed to possess a more liberal outlook on the world, or at least, he did in comparison with Mohammed Hanifa al-Talib.
Besides, in this world, what better offer was she going to get?
“I shall inform him immediately,” said Hanifa. “Now, let us return you to the glories of the Holy Quran…”
Agne’s wedding was scheduled for the very next week. This surprised her as she’d expected it to be weeks, if not months in the future. “That is because you are used to the decadent west, Saaliha,” explained Hanifa, “but here in Islam we do things quickly. After all, love does not wait.”
That comment annoyed Agne. After all, where was the love in this union? She had not even met her intended! Every prayer time she still implored Christ to free her from this nightmare, but each and every time that prayer remained unanswered.
The day of her wedding, even though she had only been in her current purdah suit for a week, immediately after the fajr prayer, she was drugged and stripped and her virginal white suit was changed again so that she would feel fresh and clean on her special day. Following this, Hazirah and another unnamed but equally anonymous maid, polished her rubberised form all over using an oil that smelt pleasantly of rose petals. On top of this, her wedding dress was fitted.
It was a sumptuous gown and, if Agne had not been encased in stifling rubber and being wedded to a man whom she’d never even met under a false name and religion, she would have enjoyed wearing it. It began with a pair of white silk stockings held in place by lacy garters and then, over her chastity belt, a pair of silky white drawers similar to those worn in Victorian times. Over her top came a white silk slip and onto her arms were fitted long white silk gloves which reached to the upper arm. She was a little sad that they ended in ball mitts, rendering her hands useless, but was pleased that, in honour of the special day, she was being allowed an unimpeded stride and no arm chain.
Next came a white cotton underscarf and then attention switched to her legs. A crinoline cage to give the gown some width and shape was fitted and then several frothy petticoats were added to increase it further. Following that came the gown itself which was lowered over her head and laced tightly at the back. It was a glorious creation, white silk again, but covered in rich embroidery and decorated with hundreds of pearls. It covered her from the neck down of course, ending at her wrists, but the top part clung to her figure, making the most of her athletic body in a way which was both alluring but also a little disturbing to Agne who was by this time used to being shrouded and her tempting form hidden from view. This, though, was then hidden by a white satin cloak, also richly embroidered around the edges, which was fitted over her head and, when fastened at the front, turned that feminine and alluring silhouette into a seamless white cone. A cone that was complete when the attached veils, three of course, were lowered down and her entire view of the world became a white blur.
A hand pressed on her back and she was guided to the bed where her legs were lifted and boots fitted. The moment she stood up, she realised that they incorporated extremely high heels, something that she was totally unused to after so many weeks of walking around with no shoes at all. Later, when being undressed, she saw that these two were white and exquisitely made.
Thus dressed, a vision of virginal purity, she was ready. She waited in blind silence for some minutes and then hands on either side took hold of her mitts and helped her stand and then mince out of the bedroom and into a new life.
She walked for some distance, totally at the mercy of those who were guiding her and, after some time, she felt the heat rise dramatically. She was already sweltering, what with the rubber purdah suit and layers of cloth, but this was unbearable, like stepping into an oven. Unsure on her heels and completely helpless, she started to panic, but the hands guided her and, after only a few steps, a hand pressed down on her head and the other hands indicated that she should sit. She had arrived at a car! Once seated, her legs were swung in and people fussed with her dress. Then she heard the door shut and felt the engine start and the vehicle move.
The drive was not a long one but she was glad to be in the car, since the air conditioning nullified the effects of the harsh desert sun. However, after what she estimated to be around fifteen minutes, the movement and engine stopped, she heard the door open, and she was guided out again into the merciless sun.
And this time the torture lasted longer. Through her rubber and veils she heard the sounds of a band and people clapping, cheering and ululating. She was guided steadily forward and then guided to sit. A speech was made in Arabic accompanied by more clapping and cheers, and all the while the heat increased and increased until she felt ready to pass out. Just as it was becoming unbearable, she felt the hands on her shoulders again and she was guided up and on again. They went inside, something Agne could tell from the drop in temperature and, after another short walk, she was again guided to sit. And then, something most unexpected occurred:
Her veils were lifted and her rubberised face exposed to the world.
She was shocked. And humiliated. Why she should feel humiliated surprised even her, but it did. After so long being force-fed a diet of extreme modesty and covering, the thought of exposing her face – and, worryingly, Agne now thought of that rubberised visage as her real face – to strangers, was profoundly humiliating. She wanted to curl up and die.
Thankfully, as her eyes adjusted to the light, she could see through the numerous holes in the rubber that the other figures in the room were all women. Or at least, they were all featureless black cones which in this part of the world seemed to be one and the same thing. There were about thirty of them and they were gathered around her. One-by-one, they came up to her and rubbed their veiled cheeks against her rubberised and bejewelled face. She assumed it was their way – the only way that they had – of offering her congratulations.
Some brought presents too. Most were items of black clothing or copies of the Quran, but one black cone approached bringing two very different items. The first was a framed picture that contained some Arabic calligraphy. At first Agne considered it merely a beautiful piece of artwork, but then she spelt out the letters and gave a gasp. It read ‘Saaliha’: ‘pure pious and devoted’: her humiliating new name. But that was not all, for the letters, upon close inspection, she discovered to be formed out of woven human hair. Long, curly, sandy, blonde hair. It couldn’t be…?
The black cone holding the calligraphy put it down by her side and then presented a second gift. This one confirmed her earlier fears and caused her body to shudder in pain.
It was a doll. A beautiful doll that any little girl could fall in love with in a second. She was exquisitely-crafted and her face wore a happy smile. But it was the eyes on that face that attracted Agne’s attention. They were smoky green. And the hair on her head. That was long, curly, sandy and blonde. In short, the same as the hair that formed the calligraphy.
But most humiliating was the outfit she wore. A forest green dress that reached to her knees with exquisite lace sleeves. “Yes Saaliha, she is you,” whispered the voice of Hanifa from behind her veils. “You when you were sinful, decadent and lost. That awful girl who you have worked so hard to forget. Both these gifts are from all of us at Al-Bayt Aleadhara to remind you of the sorry fate that you so narrowly escaped from.”
And with those harrowing words, the bride’s veils were lowered and she was led away from her party.
Several minutes later they were lifted again. She was in a different room now. Gone was the reception chamber and instead she was in a large and luxurious bedroom. Flanked by two anonymous maids, she waited passively as they removed the overhead cloak and started to work on the dress. As they prepared her for what was to come, she eyed the huge bed covered in white silk sheets. So, this was where it would take place, that moment that every girl thinks about.
They worked methodically and carefully and, within minutes, she was entirely naked. Well, naked but rubberised, although these days she was struggling to imagine life without that constant compression and heat. Stripped, she was guided onto the bed and lain out on her back. Then black gloved hands took her wrists and guided them up and out before clipping white leather cuffs around them. The same thing was done to her ankles and she found herself hardly able to move, stretched out like a starfish on the soft sheets. For some strange reason she remembered a book that she had read as a young child about the Aztecs that had shown a young girl laid out on the temple altar of some stone pyramid, ready to be made a sacrifice to the gods. That was her fate, she mused, to be a sacrifice to some strange man and some barbaric religion. As she contemplated her fate, her chastity belt was removed, leaving her intimate parts exposed to the breeze. Then, one of the cones approached her with a final item. She showed it to her. It was a white leather blindfold with the words “Only to be removed by Nasser Udeen Bukhari” embroidered in Arabic in gold thread across the front. The blindfold was fitted and her world went black. She felt someone kiss her rubberised forehead and heard Hanifa say softly, “Enjoy your new life, Saaliha!”
Then all fell silent.