• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 07

Glimpsed through the veil


'Safiya, I missed you,' you tell me. Tell me so easily. Your veil clasped in your hand as though freedom were something silken, to be taken on and off.

'I missed your smile,' my words catch in my own covering. But your smile grows, glows brighter than the sun, even through the haze of stifling sheer cloth spun fine as a spider's web.

Your other hand clasped over the hidden swell of your breasts, I feel you yearn for me, but I hold tight around myself.

Mustn't touch. Mustn't be seen. Mustn't let the veil drop.

Let me keep myself.

You talk fast, muffled words tripping over each other in your excitement. I pick out, 'escape,' 'run,' 'forever.'

Forever, forever, forever.

Do you even know what that means?

To be judged by eternity.

'But our families,' I say, 'we have responsibilities,' I protest, 'it is haram,' I plead, 'Allah would not understand,' my words scatter and fade as I do, 'it is not safe,' the sun scorches me to ashes on the ground, 'we mustn't…'

And your look of horror grows as you fall into my silence. Already I miss your smile, the sun disappearing behind clouds.

You reach out to lift my veil, too close, the smell of jasmine and memories of stolen kisses cut me open. Your lips brush my cheek and it burns.


Glimpsed through the veil


'No,' I pull away. 'Shu'a – I came to tell you no. I cannot come here again. Each time it is too hard to get away and too hard to go back. Father says I am a woman now and am to be married, we –'

'I know you love me!'

Your fingers clasp at the heavy cloth of my robes as I back away, my shawl, my scarves, the layers protecting me from the world.

'It is not enough.' My words are as dry as the arid ground around us. The sun beats down, an inescapable witness and the only light left. I am burnt alive in the swathes of embroidered fabrics my mother tells me to be thankful for. Thankful.

You tell me you hate me. But I know it is a lie.

We are children again and anger twists your beautiful face as a chasm cracks open between us, a vast gulf we will never cross again.

The world fades to grey.

My walls rise again around myself, fortified. My veil casts the world into shadows.

The scrutiny of your eyes crushes me and I have to retreat to stay pure.

As I walk away I hear you weep.

Is any reward worth so high a price?

But the well-worn path winds up into the mountains and I follow it.