Getting married to my darling, next week, and with serious hopes of a job promotion, I had been blissfully floating along on the proverbial ‘Cloud 9′.
At the Departures Drop-Off area of Manchester Airport, Terminal 2, I retrieved my single piece of luggage from the boot of the car. And then I kissed, hugged, and said my fond goodbyes to the sweetest, most adorable and most beautiful girl in the whole world.
Sandra, my fiancee, was twenty-three – two years younger than me. Sandra was the girl of my dreams. And she was the girl to whom I was engaged to be married, next week, just in time for Christmas.
I was a very lucky man. A golden, happy future lay ahead of me. I had everything to live for, everything to look forward to. Gratefully, I counted my blessings.
Sadly, as things turned out, I had ‘counted my chickens’, too.
I did not – could not – know at the time, that, as I had climbed the aviation steps with a spring in my step up to the waiting aircraft, every step I took was taking me another step away from the life I knew; the life I loved. My life with Sandra.
I felt a hand firmly grip my wrist. “Hi, Sandy …” said the familiar voice of my boss, Miss Susan Smith, addressing my fiancee, “… very touching, I’m sure,” she added sarcastically. “Sorry to cut the love-birds’ stuff short, but we’re running late, as it is. Come on, David. Get a move on! Or you are going to make us miss our flight,” cajoled Miss Susan Smith, in deliberately trying to make me look small in front of Sandra. And who, I might add, in having only just arrived at the airport by taxi, had only made our flight by the skin of her teeth, herself.
Sandra stood close to me, and she carefully adjusted the knot on the pale blue silk tie that she had bought for me, especially for my business trip with my boss. After a final hug and kiss from Sandra, there was an emotional catch in my voice, when I told her, “I’m going to miss you like crazy.”
“Oh, per-leeese! You’ll have me in tears,” mocked Miss Susan Smith. “You are going on a three-day business trip, David. Anyone would think you were going on a ten-year mission to Pluto.”
As soon as Sandra had driven away in her car, Miss Susan Smith immediately let fall the thin veil of ‘civility’ that was purely for Sandra’s benefit, and she returned to her – where I was concerned – usual, nasty persona.
Domineeringly, she instructed me, “Go and find a trolley for our luggage, David … and be quick about it, too! If we miss this flight, I’ll have your balls for a game of conkers!”
Oh! That woman! To myself, I thought, ‘Up yours, lady!’ But I replied, obediently and respectfully, “Yes, Miss Smith,” and I went to do her bidding.
Life (usually, but not always) went easier for me, when I simply put up with her bullying attitude, and subserviently played the role of her Yes Man. I didn’t like it, and I wasn’t proud of myself. But it meant less aggravation, in the long run. Besides – and, more to the point – jobs in junior/middle management were very hard to come by and, well … I had Sandra to think about, too.
Miss Susan Smith was not the easiest person to get along with. Our relations were somewhat strained – to say the least. And I knew the reason for that …
This was the first time that my boss had taken me with her on a Company business trip. Hence, Sandra’s tasteful present, to me, of my pale blue, silk tie. To make a good impression: “It suits you, David,” Sandra proudly told me.
This was to be a 3-day trip. A rather short visit, considering the travelling distances involved: We were going to Arabia … some place I’d never heard of.
Our Company – ‘Jordan’s Climate Control’ – sold air-conditioning units, and we were very hopeful of winning some highly lucrative contracts, in that very hot region of the world.
Miss Smith had led me to believe that if all went well, on our business trip, I would be suitably rewarded. She had strongly hinted that I could even be in line for a step up the promotion ladder. She had also alluded to the higher salary that would be commensurate with the new position.
The extra money would certainly come in useful, that was for sure. Especially so, now that I would soon be getting married to my darling Sandra. Perhaps even starting a family soon, I mused, in blissfully contented reverie as I searched for a luggage trolley in the very busy Departures Terminal.
There were a lot of ‘early bird’ flight departures at this very early time of the morning and, as I could not immediately spot a vacant luggage trolley, I made my way to the front of the queue at the Arabian Airways check-in desk. There, I grabbed the next trolley to become vacant, after its contents were unloaded onto the luggage conveyor belt, and I returned with it to Miss Smith, as quickly as I could … Not quickly enough, though, for Miss Susan Smith’s liking.
“How dare you, David? Keeping me waiting here for you, for all this time?” she complained peevishly, while making a big show of rubbing her gloved hands together for warmth, on this bitterly cold mid-December morning in Manchester.
Miss Smith then added acerbically, for good measure, “I certainly hope that this is not an indicator, David, of how much use you are going to be to me on our business trip!”
My God! The woman was insufferable. Concerned, though, at getting off to a poor start, I tried to apologise. “I’m sorry, Miss Smith … but, it’s very busy in Departures. I couldn’t find a vacant trolley, and—”
“Oh, just shut up, David! I don’t want to have to listen to your pathetically lame excuses, all the time – I have quite enough of that to contend with, at the office … And, if anything is vacant, David, it is your thick, stupid head. Well, come on then! What are you waiting for …? My God! Do I have to tell you everything? Do I have to spell everything out? Get this trolley loaded up with our luggage so that we can join the check-in queue!” instructed Miss Smith; her voice steadily rising in scale, as she issued her order to me in her customary, deliberately over-the-top, theatrical exasperation.
I cringed in humiliation, as fellow air passengers turned their heads towards us, in looking to see what the decidedly unseemly ruckus was about. Looking to see, what poor, downtrodden sod was being openly berated by his domineering female companion. Looking to see, what hapless, unlucky sap was being publicly castigated, by some overbearing, loud-mouthed, bitchy female.
At seeing the looks on the faces of my fellow passengers – male and female, young and old – regarding me with their various expressions: curiosity, amusement, pity, sympathy, contempt, my face went hot from my acute, keenly felt embarrassment.
Oh! That woman!! Always putting me down. She was a piece of work!
Hastily turning away from that sea of openly staring, inquisitive faces, I obeyed my Superior’s instructions, and I loaded our luggage onto the trolley.
We then joined the queue to the Arabian Airways check-in desk. And, after passing through Passport Control, we headed for the Departure Lounge to await the call for our long-haul flight: to Wadi Ya Meen … somewhere in Arabia.
Of course, I knew the reason, that accounted for Miss Susan Smith’s sour, tetchy, irritable mood. For her snappy, sniping, bitchy way, with me. And when we had sat down in the Departure Lounge she duly confirmed, what I already knew, when she said vindictively – cattily – “I have absolutely no idea, David, what Sandra sees in you. No idea, at all. She is absolutely, totally wasted on you … On any man, come to that.”
Yes … It was an open secret at the office that my boss, Miss Susan Smith, was a lesbian. And … that she fancied my Sandra.
In fact, she had had â€˜designs’ on Sandra, for some time. From the first moment I had introduced them, in fact, almost a year ago, now, at Jordan’s office Christmas party. I had reason to remember the occasion well …
Miss Susan Smith had been â€˜hitting on’ Sandra, at my Company’s Christmas party. Quite openly. For anyone to see. For everyone to see. As if she was … ‘staking a claim’.
Miss Smith had hardly left Sandra alone, all evening. Miss Smith had drank heavily. Glass after glass of red wine, thinning out – dissolving – what few inhibitions she had, and fuelling her lustful, out-of-control ardour. Her pawing, exploring – ravishing – hands were everywhere. She was shameless. She was unsubtle; didn’t even have the basic, common decency to at least wait until my back was turned, before touching my Sandra up.
Needless to say: I was not looking forward to this year’s upcoming office Christmas party, in less than two weeks’ time. In fact, I had told Sandra that we needn’t go to the party; we could say that we’d made other plans, this Christmas. I had suggested that we could go to Sandra’s Company’s office Christmas party, instead. But Sandra had surprised me. She said she wanted to go to my office’s Christmas party; was looking forward to it, had been for months. It would be “more fun,” she’d said.
At last year’s office Christmas party, during a brief interval when Sandra had gone to ‘powder her nose’, Miss Susan Smith had brazenly told me that she “knew” that Sandra was bisexual. “Maybe a ‘closet’ lesbian,” she’d mused blithely. She could “always tell,” she claimed boastfully. Miss Smith had also declared to me, quite frankly, that she would be “working on” Sandra – to take her away from me. “Sandra will be mine, David … You’ll see,” she had predicted confidently. Sandra was “wasted” on “the likes” of me, Miss Smith told me, matter of factly.
Such was the convincing and persuasive, one hundred percent certainty of Miss Susan Smith’s conviction as to Sandra’s bisexuality – “latent lesbianism” – that I did not deny the apparent truth of it: telling her, instead, that “Sandra loves me. We are going to be married … perhaps start a family, soon.”
To which, Miss Susan Smith had ominously replied, “No, David … I won’t let Sandra squander herself on you, like that. I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again: Sandra will be mine. One day, Sandra and me – we’ll be an item.”
At the time – though I had, of course, tried to brush it off as the most implausible, absurd, absolute nonsense imaginable – still, I had actually shuddered, at hearing her terrible, unthinkable prediction. I was made uneasy, at hearing her disturbing, malignant words.
Words – like little black seeds – that Miss Susan Smith had planted, in the fertile soil of my mind. That would fester inside me; would thrive, in those perfect growing conditions. Their horrible black shoots; sprouting, taking root, growing, getting stronger … taking hold. The fully grown black weeds, entwining their impossibly strong roots around the core of my being … eating away.
I had felt a decided, icy chill. A freezing-cold, slimy tendril of fear had touch my heart, at hearing Miss Susan Smith’s highly confident claims about my Sandra. As if of superstitious dread. As if I was, somehow, actually divining the immutable truth of her hideous, diabolical prophesy: “One day, Sandra and me – we’ll be an item.”
It wasn’t long, before there was an announcement over the P.A. system, and Miss Susan Smith and I responded accordingly; making our way to Gate 16. And, after producing our boarding passes and our conveniently opened Passports for the inspection of an Arabian Airways air hostess, we were soon boarding our Arabian Airways flight: to Wadi Ya Meen.
Our aircraft would make one scheduled stop en route: at Wadi Ya Wan.
This was, explained the female pilot – Captain Jazmin – over the P.A. system, for the purpose of changing the air crew. And also to allow a small number of passengers to disembark, at that Arabian airport, whose vacated seats would then be taken up by newly embarking passengers. Then, said Captain Jazmin, the aircraft would continue on as scheduled, to its final destination: Wadi Ya Meen.
Wadi Ya Meen, was the city where Miss Susan Smith and I would be attending a series of business meetings over the course of the next three days.
I sat in an aisle seat, and Miss Susan Smith sat in the seat next to me. The window-seat, I saw, was occupied by a mature, distinguished-looking gentleman, who had a full head of thick, wavy grey hair, and who wore a pin-striped business suit that looked as though it cost more than I earned in a month. He was a man, I thought, who looked as though he was used to getting his own way.
The first thing that Miss Susan Smith did, once seated, was to kick off her black, office pumps. “Aaahhh! That’s better, David,” she informed me, as she rested her left foot on her right knee; her sole facing towards me. “Mmmmmm,” she added in a blissful sigh of relief as, looking at me, meaningfully, she scrunched, wiggled and splayed her dark pantie-hose covered toes, while running her finger tips back and forth along the full length of her sole, as though in an ultra sensitive, feather-light massage.
“I know just how much you want to get on, in our Company, David … But, if I do promote you – and, it is a big IF,” cautioned my boss, “I think it will have to be on the proviso, that I write some new … duties, into your job description. Top of the list: Massaging my feet, for me. Oh, and all of my office girls, of course. Massaging their feet for them, too,” Miss Susan Smith told me, in all seriousness.
I felt my face burn from sheer embarrassment, at the very idea of my boss’s … proviso. Massage her feet … and all of the office girls’ feet, too? She had to be kidding! Well, as far as I was concerned, she could stick her damn proviso in her damn pipe, and damn well smoke it!
She couldn’t possibly be serious – but she was. Very! I felt incredibly flustered. I had to say something. But what? “Er … I don’t know, Miss Smith … I’m not too sure about that. Besides … I wouldn’t have the time … surely,” I blustered ineffectually.
I had to get my boss to forget her … proviso, once and for all. I had to think of something, to steer her away from it. But what?
And so, by means of emphatically demonstrating my distinct lack of enthusiasm for her so-called proviso; as though as a response, to Miss Susan Smith’s letting loose the rather pungent, decidedly offensive aroma of her freshly released pantie-hosed feet, in a sort of half-joking gesture, I made a great pantomime of waving my hands, in wafting the stinky odour away from me … towards Mr Pin-Stripe.
Having evidently detected the malodorous intrusion, Mr Pin-Stripe looked past Miss Susan Smith – and glared at me, meaningfully. As though expecting me, to do something about the sudden pong. As though Mr Pin-Stripe expected me, to ‘have a word’ with my female companion. Ha! Fat chance of that! Miss Susan Smith was hard enough to get along with as it was, without needlessly inviting further trouble.
I thought that this was one occasion, when the mature, distinguished-looking gentleman with the full head of thick, wavy grey hair, and who wore a pin-striped business suit that looked as if it cost more than I earned in a whole month … was not, for once, going to get his own way.
Miss Susan Smith smiled to herself and, it was in the manner of someone thinking pleasant, highly agreeable thoughts, that my boss settled herself all nice and comfortable, for the flight to Wadi Ya Meen. And, I thought I knew exactly what she was so happily thinking about, too … her ‘proviso’.
Soon into the flight, two Arabian Airways air hostesses arrived at our row of seats – one pulling, and the other pushing their refreshments trolley. “Oh, goody!” exclaimed my boss, before either of the two air hostesses even spoke a word. “I’ll have a glass of red wine, please!” She wasn’t joking, either – despite the early hour.
I imagined that both of the young ladies – attractively attired, as they were, in their lilac-coloured, Arabian Airways uniforms – were probably very beautiful … I say ‘imagined’, and ‘probably’, because it was difficult to be sure. Since, as was the custom of their country, they wore veils when in public. Only their eyes, hands, and feet – the air hostesses wore Arabian Airways issue, lilac-coloured mules – were visible.
Their veils were semi-transparent; of a thin, white, gauzy material, that made the details of their facial features rather vague, and difficult to discern. Though this, I thought, had the decidedly alluring effect, of making their eyes all the more expressive; their gaze, seeming to emanate an enchanting, almost hypnotic air of Eastern mystery. I felt a tingle of excitement … I was actually going to Arabia! I would have some stories, I was sure, to tell my Sandra when I got back.
Although the two Arabian Airways air hostesses wore veils, still, I thought that I could discern enough of their enigmatic features to convince myself of the actual reality of their beauty.
And, judging by the looks of Miss Susan Smith’s eyes, bulging out of her head – so could she!
At seeing the looks of blatant, undisguised lust that were plainly evident upon my boss’s ogling face, I found myself thinking that a veil would not come amiss now – to cover up her own, shamelessly leering face. You couldn’t take her anywhere, I thought to myself, facetiously.
Miss Smith seemed especially enthralled, by the air hostess who was serving my meal. And, no wonder; as the air hostess appeared to be a woman after Miss Susan Smith’s own heart: Regarding me, with such a down-her-nose, derisive, withering look of disdain.
The air hostess’s dark, almond-shaped eyes eloquently conveyed her great distaste of me; projecting her apparent bitter resentment. Resentment, that she should be reduced to such a deplorable, demeaning position as this – of actually having to serve, as Miss Susan Smith would have put it: ‘the likes’ of me.
The Arabian Airways air hostess’s name, according to her name tag, was Claudia.
Made decidedly uncomfortable, by the unaccountable, highly unsettling power of Claudia’s glowering, spiteful stare, I diffidently said to her, politely and respectfully, “Er … thank you, Claudia … That is very kind of you.”
Although Claudia said nothing to me in reply, still, she had about her an air of undisguised, simmering animosity towards me that I could not fail to pick up on. I sensed – read, like in-coming radio signals – her eloquent dark eyes sending out her apparently hate-filled transmissions; her malevolent messages … How dare I, speak to her without her permission? How dare I, look her in the eyes? How dare I, utter her name?
Of course, I had no idea, not a clue, about what was going on here; about the cause of Claudia’s obviously hostile attitude towards me. I mean, it could hardly be personal – we’d only just met. Yet, I sensed that there was more, much more, behind the belligerent, baleful glare, that Claudia directed at me like a black beam of malice. Things, that were going on behind the scenes. Out of sight. Things, that were unknown – unknowable – to me.
Claudia’s dark, almond-shaped eyes glittered maliciously, dangerously. I actually felt quite shaken: Shaken, at sensing Claudia’s intense dislike, her bitter, red-hot resentment, towards me. Shaken, at feeling the full, venomous force of her open hostility, against me. I mean, what the hell had I done?
I couldn’t see. Couldn’t understand. Couldn’t fathom out, for the life of me, what Claudia could possibly have against me. How could I? It was unaccountable. It was quite inexplicable … At the time.
Claudia’s steady, brazen stare unsettled me, discomposed me – disturbed me – to the extent that I had quite lost my appetite for breakfast. And I was distinctly relieved, when she prepared to move on down the aisle with her refreshments trolley.
Not missing a trick, Miss Susan Smith took the whole, incredibly delicious thing in. She was both delighted – all but whooping with joy – and intrigued, by the mysterious ‘incident’. Her curiosity was wildly aroused. Well and truly piqued, by the highly singular scene involving myself – her downtrodden Yes Man; her yes-Ma’am-no-Ma’am-three-bags-full-Ma’am underling – and the feisty, hot-blooded Arabian Airways air hostess, Claudia.
“What a peach! Ha ha ha! Oh, that was priceless! Ha ha ha! I bet Claudia would soon put you in your place, David. She would soon whip you into shape – I’ll bet!” Miss Susan Smith opined confidently, of her apparently kindred spirit.
And, neither of us could have known, just how prophetic her whimsical words would turn out to be …
It was just as the two Arabian Airways air hostesses prepared to move on down the aisle with their refreshments trolley, that my boss committed the act that would change my life forever: Miss Susan Smith suddenly leaned across me and, to (even my) amazement and horror, she sharply pinched Claudia’s very shapely bottom.
This so startled Claudia, to the extent that she actually jumped; Claudia’s bare, brown heels lifted at least an inch off her lilac-coloured mules, in her reflex reaction … as she loudly squealed: “YOW!”
Claudia was scandalised.
Claudia whirled around and, in believing me – yes, me! – to be the outrageous culprit, she fixed her dark, angry eyes on mine. Her eyes were in ‘locked-on’ position, firing her laser-guided, high-explosive thoughts … shooting me down in flames.
Claudia was ready to erupt. There was no doubt about that. Claudia, I could see, was incandescent with rage; seemed barely able to contain herself. Claudia was in the throes of a white hot anger. She was outraged, that â€˜the likes’ of me should have the towering temerity, should have such incredible impertinence, such appalling audacity – such insolence – as to touch her person in such an inappropriate, disrespectful – highly offensive – manner.
Yes – ME!
For, Miss Susan Smith’s demeanour was a perfect picture of pure innocence. Of sweetness and light. Her mildly puzzled-looking … what’s up? facial expression, plainly suggesting – and, convincing anyone who saw it – that she had not the faintest idea at all, not a clue, about the cause of the kerfuffle. Not an inkling, about what could possibly have sparked the sudden commotion.
Claudia glared at me. Her glinting, glowering dark eyes eloquently conveying the great magnitude of her dark anger. Claudia was silently telling me – and, in no uncertain terms, either – that she would like nothing better, at this moment, than to deal my loathsome face not just one, and not two, either … but a punishing, systematic series of sharp, stinging, tear inducing slaps, as a means of adequately addressing ‘my’ indefensible display of appalling impropriety and great offence, upon her person. And thereby meting out instant, suitable, satisfactory – proportionate – retribution.
I sensed all of this, just as surely as if Claudia had voiced her thoughts and feelings through a loudhailer. And, I found it to be extremely unpleasant – to say the least – to be subjected to the seething intensity of Claudia’s vengeful, implacable gaze.
Such was the unmistakable message of Claudia’s furious stare, that her plainly worried colleague – Samira, according to her name tag – hurriedly intervened, in her clearly appearing to sense that Claudia was actually on the brink – the very edge – of launching a violent physical outburst against me. On the very edge, of an ill-considered – reckless – impulsive, foolishly indulgent act. An act, that would be sure to have … consequences.
Inevitably resulting: not only in Claudia’s instant, unappealable dismissal from Arabian Airways, but also making her virtually unemployable, too, by any other Company in the Air Lines industry … Claudia’s flying career would be over.
For long, tension-filled moments, both my own personal safety, and Claudia’s flying career, hung precariously in the balance. Only Samira’s calm, cooing, soothing words, held Claudia at bay; kept her from going … too far. Claudia stared at me, wordlessly, venomously. Claudia was clearly frustrated, that she could not – at least, not without … consequences – unleash her barely restrained wrath upon me.
Claudia wanted to teach me a lesson. A lesson that I would not soon forget. Remember for ever, in fact. I watched her brown fingers; flexing, unflexing. She wanted to slap my face, I knew. She was itching to, yearning to. I could tell. It was so obvious. Claudia wanted to slap, and slap, and slap … To teach me, teach me, teach me.
While I, for my part, could only helplessly stare back at Claudia, in horrified dismay. For some unknown reason, Claudia had already taken an instant dislike to me, in the first place. And now … this.
I was appalled, by Claudia’s innocent and perfectly understandable misapprehension of the incident. I was sorely aggrieved, by her reaction; her misplaced furious indignation. Not at her, of course. The blame, lay firmly at ‘someone else’s door.
I perfectly well realised, that trying to place the blame where it rightly belonged – at Miss Susan Smith’s door – was not an option. It simply wasn’t. It would be futile, and counter-productive.
Futile: because Claudia already clearly and firmly believed that I was the offending miscreant. And, any attempt now, to try and blame Miss Smith, would surely only be seen as ungallant and ungentlemanly, at best. But, more likely, as unmanly – cowardly.
Counter-productive: because I would most certainly be talking myself out of my job. Oh, I was under no illusions, about that! No sir! And, not only would Miss Susan Smith have no compunction in firing me from my job, but she would also darkly delight in making me carry the can for her own saucy misdeed.
Calmed, to some degree, by the soothing influences of her concerned colleague, Samira – who was urgently whispering, no doubt, balm-laden, sound and sensible advice into Claudia’s ear – Claudia at last moved on down the aisle with Samira, with their refreshments trolley.
Miss Susan Smith smiled at me, smugly. Delighted that she had so deftly deflected the blame for her saucy little bottom-pinching prank, so squarely and firmly onto me.
Soon though, Miss Susan Smith would be even more delighted. She would soon be even more thrilled, with her deft, successful shifting of the blame onto the shoulders of her innocent, hapless underling. For, this incident was far from over – it was just starting. The unforeseeable ramifications; the unknowable repercussions, of Miss Susan Smith’s cheeky, saucy little bottom-pinch … about to unfold.
The aircraft landed en route, as scheduled. It was 11 a.m. Local time. We were now in a rather remote part of the Arabian Interior, at the small desert city of Wadi Ya Wan.
This was where the air crew would leave the aircraft, to be replaced by fresh air crew. And, where a small number of passengers would disembark. These de-planing passengers’ vacated seats would then be taken by newly embarking passengers, who would then fly on to the aircraft’s final destination: Wadi Ya Meen.
It was a pity, I thought, that we were not flying direct to Wadi Ya Meen. This en route stop-off, at Wadi Ya Wan, was something of a nuisance, I felt. Just a delaying, tiresome, pesky hold-up, that was just adding extra travelling time onto the journey. And, somehow, being on the ground seemed even more boring than being airborne.
But, as I was looking out through Mr Pin-Stripe’s window, curious to see what was out there (not much, believe me), I became aware of an increase in the low, background hum of the passengers’ conversation, and of a sudden tension in the air. What was going on? I wondered.
As I was seated in an aisle seat, I saw the female Captain of our Arabian Airways flight – Captain Jazmin – accompanied by her air crew, briskly striding down the aisle with a distinct air of businesslike, no-nonsense, purposeful intent, about them. Captain Jazmin meant business, I could see. But, what business? I wondered idly. Funny … but Captain Jazmin seemed to be looking at me. Staring me right in the face. Nah, I thought to myself … it just seems that way.
Of course, at first I had thought nothing of it. Until the party of air crew halted … upon reaching my seat.
Then, I was rather taken aback – to say the least, when Captain Jazmin formally – coldly – addressed me. Her manner was decidedly curt. Bereft, in fact, not only of any vestige of natural friendliness, but devoid, even of the more basic courtesy of the professional politeness normally afforded to passengers.
Captain Jazmin’s voice carried well. And it rang out; loud and clear, and infused with the stern tones of her official authority. And I was shocked to the core, at what she said to me. It was beyond embarrassment: as nosy, gossip-loving passengers craned their necks to see better; as more than 200 Nosey Parkers looked on, and listened avidly to the scandalous details of the unfolding ‘mid-air’ drama.
“A very serious charge, of ‘Indecent Behaviour’, has been formally lodged against you by one of my air crew,” Captain Jazmin gravely informed me, as she helpfully but rather needlessly indicated the balefully glaring Claudia as the said molested member of her air crew.
Captain Jazmin continued acidly, “You have committed a very serious offence, aboard my aircraft. This matter will be dealt with immediately. You will now vacate your seat. You will accompany me off this aircraft, and I will personally escort you to the airport Police Station, where you will be arrested, and formally charged … Didn’t you hear me? Did you hear, what I just said …? You will come with me. Out of your seat! Now!” ordered Captain Jazmin angrily, when I made no discernible move to comply.
I was literally dumbstruck, from my disbelieving shock. I had actually lost the power of speech – I opened my mouth; but the words just wouldn’t come out, the way they were supposed to. I was so red-faced (I know I was!), from such humiliating, cringing mortification, at hearing Captain Jazmin’s scathingly accusing words (broadcast all over the aircraft!), that I could only wordlessly vacate my seat, as she had so peremptorily ordered.
Captain Jazmin, of course, had no real reason to disbelieve the word of Claudia. And, she seemed to be already convinced of my apparent guilt, by the very damning fact that I did not protest my innocence – whereas, any innocent person surely would have. Wouldn’t they? Oh, yes. I was guilty as hell, in Captain Jazmin’s eyes.
For, I had decided to ‘go quietly’. To take the rap. To pay the fine – as I thought that it surely couldn’t be any more serious than that … just for a pinched bottom.
I turned to Miss Susan Smith, and I saw the look of malicious glee that now positively radiated from her gloating face. She was loving it! Absolutely loving it. Intervening in my behalf, I could see, was clearly not on her agenda. She was over the moon, at my predicament. A predicament, for which she was wholly responsible. A predicament, that she had so carelessly caused, landing me in this trouble with the Arabian authorities.
Oh! That woman!! She was the bane of my life! She really was. She was like a niggling, nagging thorn in my side; pricking away at me, all of the time. Always causing me hassle. Always giving me grief.
As Captain Jazmin personally escorted me to the airport Police Station, I tried to gee-up my spirits, a little, by giving myself something of a morale-boosting, mental pep-talk: ‘Come on, David … Don’t worry, you’ll soon have this little matter sorted out. No problemo. It’s just a little misunderstanding, after all. Easy to sort out. Oh, yes, easy peasy. Ha ha! Then you’ll soon be back aboard the plane, with her Ladyship, and laughing off this whole daft thing – this ridiculous pantomime’, I assured myself soothingly.
But, at the airport Police Station (which also served as an impromptu Courtroom, on occasions such as these), it was not long, before the actual seriousness: the true, appalling gravity, of my situation, was finally brought home to me – and with about the same subtlety, as half a ton of collapsing builders’ scaffolding raining down upon my unsuspecting head – when Claudia formally accused me, before the Court, of committing an act of Indecent Behaviour upon her person.
For, a representative from the British Consulate in Wadi Ya Wan, a Miss Withenshaw – who, just like Captain Jazmin, also seemed readily inclined to believe in my apparent guilt – brought me crashing down to Earth in horrified disillusionment.
Miss Withenshaw, was a shoulder-length, dark-haired woman, perhaps in her late twenties, I thought. She was easy on the eye; I’ll give her that. If not exactly a beauty. My first impressions of her, were that, while she was quite attractive: nice face, good figure, great legs, these positive attributes were rather offset, I felt, by what seemed a somewhat strait-laced, overly prim and proper nature.
I listened to Miss Withenshaw and, I was aghast, at what she said. She stonily informed me, that in this, more remote – “rather backward” – part of the Arabian Interior, the prevailing custom was that an accused person was presumed guilty, unless innocence could be proved.
Miss Withenshaw then formally advised me that, as I could not actually prove my innocence, in this matter, I would now be formally charged, convicted … and sentenced. There would be no question of a fine, she told me. For here, she told me, things were done differently, very differently indeed, than they were back in England.
Then, added the decidedly unsympathetic-sounding, acerbic-tongued female representative of the British Consulate: “After having duly served your sentence, you will be formally deported from Arabia. And, with a criminal record to your name.”
My God! I was absolutely aghast. I was incredulous. I could hardly believe what Miss Withenshaw was, so matter-of-factly – coldly – explaining to me. I was a British citizen. Surely, Miss Withenshaw could help me … couldn’t she? Be of some assistance to me, in my wretched predicament?
In the same frosty manner, Miss Withenshaw went on to tell me that the prevailing custom in this, more remote (“rather backward”) part of the Arabian Interior – the Province of Wadi Ya Wan – was that the victim of a crime was given, by the Court, a number of choices: Choices, with which to decide as to how, exactly, the perpetrator of the crime against them was to be punished … To satisfy their own, particular sense of appropriate retribution.
Upon seeing that Claudia was about to formally testify to the Court, Miss Withenshaw told me that she would translate for me everything that was said, pertaining to my ‘trial’.
It was rather absently, the way that Claudia perused the Court’s â€˜menu’ of punishment choices that were open to her selection. As if she were already quite familiar, with the contents of the ‘menu’. As if the offerings were always the same … And, as if she always chose the same ‘course’.
Claudia formally read aloud, to the Court, the precise nature of the punishment option – the penalty – that she wished me to suffer. The form of ‘correctional therapy’, that was most appropriate, and that would best serve to â€˜rehabilitate’ me from my apparent disrespectful and chauvinistic attitude towards females.
“I, Claudia, hereby pronounce to the Court, my rightful and righteous sentence, upon my vile transgressor … the convicted criminal – David,” intoned Claudia, in a clear and confident voice. As if she had been here, and done this many times before; as if she were no stranger, to these proceedings. And I waited with bated breath, to hear the details of my fate: a fate, of Claudia’s very own choosing.
“I, Claudia, decree that the convicted criminal – David, shall return with me to my home village: To suffer the time-honoured, traditional chastisement, of â€˜A Thousand Suns’.”
‘A Thousand Suns’. What the …? Was this for real? I wondered incredulously.
“I, Claudia, decree that my foul assailant shall serve out his sentence in my home village, of Wadi Ya Noh. In the village square, in Humility Hole.
“I decree that: I, Claudia, and my village sisters, shall be this criminal’s chastisers.
“I decree, that my vile transgressor; my foul assailant, the convicted criminal – David, shall learn repentance, at our hands, and humility, at our feet … This is the chosen chastisement, of I, Claudia.”
I couldn’t believe my own ears! Humility Hole … village sisters … chastisers … learn repentance at their hands; humility at their feet …? This was surreal. No! This was more than surreal – it was plain, stark raving bonkers! I would certainly be having words with Miss Withenshaw. What a farce! You couldn’t make it up!
Upon having formally passed upon me the punishment sentence of her choice, Claudia gave way to the Court official – who was not an actual Judge: A Judge was only called for, I learned from Miss Withenshaw, when an accused prisoner claimed that he/she could actually prove their innocence. Otherwise, it was routinely the Court official: a sort of local Governmental multi-functional handyman, who was the arbiter presiding over such … cut-and-dried, summary prosecution proceedings as these.
“The chosen sentence of Claudia, upon the convicted criminal – David, is hereby formally and officially recognised, sanctioned, and passed by this Court,” declared the Court official.
“Upon due completion of his ‘A Thousand Suns’ sentence, the convicted prisoner will be formally deported from Arabia. And, with a criminal record to his name. That is all … the Court is dismissed,” announced the Court official, in tones as blithe and as carelessly delivered, as a bored railway station announcer advising of the imminent arrival of the 15:30 from Liverpool Lime Street.
Oh, I was definitely going to have words with Miss Withenshaw, about this! This was going too far. It was a ridiculous state of affairs. Simply preposterous.
I vehemently demanded, of the representative from the British Consulate, “Just what, exactly, is going on here, Miss Withenshaw? I know what you said – but what does it all actually mean? What the hell is: ‘A Thousand Suns’, exactly? And all of that other … gibberish? What is happening?”
To which, Miss Withenshaw replied, to my absolute horror and dismay, “â€˜A Thousand Suns’, means a thousand days, David. Your sentence is to last for a thousand days.”
“What!” I cried with shocked incredulity. “But … that’s, that’s …â” I stammered, as I frantically tried to calculate. “But … My God! Miss Withenshaw, that is about equal to two years and nine months! You’ve … please, you’ve got to stop this … this farce! This whole thing is nuts! You’ve got to help me! Can’t you do something, Miss Withenshaw …?” I pleaded hysterically.
When Miss Withenshaw made no reply, to my increasingly frantic pleas, I yelled at her, in a sort of last-throw-of-the-dice desperation: “You’ve got to help me … it’s your job!”
“It is not my job! I am not here, to help the likes of you to wriggle off the hook!” Miss Withenshaw yelled back at me, in high indignation. “Now, give me your Passport, David. I’ll take it back to the Consulate with me. You will be able to reclaim it, in … due course.” I didn’t like the way she said: “… due course.”
Miss Withenshaw then went on, rather more calmly; as if she was rather soothed, by what she was about to say to me. “Anyway, David, in case you haven’t noticed … you are in Arabia now. The Law of the Land has been applied, and your sentence has been passed. And … that’s it,” said Miss Withenshaw, in a rather flippant, off-handed manner that made my blood boil.
She went on, in the same careless-sounding tone. “The Court has spoken, David. And … that’s all there is to it, I’m afraid. The decision of the Court is final. And the customs of the land have been duly observed. There is nothing further that I can do for you, at this moment, other than to advise your boss, Miss Susan Smith, as to the salient details of the outcome of your trial,” said the British Consulate representative, nonchalantly.
In my extreme agitation, I asked her, “But … what was all that other stuff? About punishment, chastisement. Repentance at their hands … and humility at their feet?”
“Well, David …” pondered Miss Withenshaw, “… perhaps I should leave you to discover that, for yourself. And, after all, you will soon be finding out, won’t you?
“You are in Claudia’s hands, now. And you will be under her complete control, for ‘A Thousand Suns’, as it were … There is one thing, though, that I think I can predict with full confidence: After you have spent the next two years and nine months, David, at the tender mercies of Claudia and her village sisters, you will never have the disrespect; the insolence, to pinch another woman’s bottom ever again!”
As the British Consulate official’s chilling words sunk in, I suddenly became overwhelmed by an appalling sense of panic. Consumed, by fear-fuelled notions of what might lie ahead. The fear of the unknown. The fear of my sentence: ‘A Thousand Suns’. A sentence, of 2 years and 9 months!
A fleeting succession of harrowing thoughts hurtled across my tormented, panic-stricken mind scape … What about my fiancee, my darling Sandra? What about our upcoming marriage, next week, just in time for Christmas? What would Sandra say, when Miss Susan Smith returned home in three days’ time, and gleefully relayed to her the shocking, appalling news of my incredible predicament? The (“salient”) details, of my ‘A Thousand Suns’ sentence. Served in a tiny village in the middle of the Arabian desert. Being ‘chastised’; by my ‘victim’, and by her village sisters. Learning repentance, at their hands, and humility, at their feet.
What a disaster! I couldn’t let this happen. I just couldn’t … I had to ‘come clean’. I was desperate. It was the only way.
This whole thing had gone too far. Far too far! In desperation, I frantically tried to reverse my disastrous decision. My disastrous decision to take the rap; to carry the can for the saucy misdeed of my boss, Miss Susan Smith. I had made a terrible error of judgement – I saw that now.
I parted company with my dignity – after all, it was the least of my concerns, at the moment.
“Miss Withenshaw … I’ve gotten myself into the most awful muddle, here. There has been a terrible miscarriage of justice. You see, I’ve made a big mistake … I didn’t do it! And that’s the truth! Please, Miss Withenshaw! I am innocent, I tell you! You must believe me!”
“You made your ‘big mistake’, David, when you committed your act of Indecent Behaviour upon this young lady,” she replied coldly, indicating Claudia.
“But, Miss Withenshaw, it wasn’t me! It was my boss, Miss Susan Smith! She did it! I saw her! I swear!”
The British Consulate representative looked at me, in deepest disdain. “Oh! That’s it! I have heard it all, now …” she replied contemptuously. “If you can’t do the time – don’t do the crime! Why can’t you take your punishment like a man, David?” asked Miss Withenshaw disgustedly.
In tears now, at the awful realisation that this horrible, heinous nightmare was actually becoming an unavoidable reality, I pleaded; poured out my heart, to the cynical British Consulate representative.
“Because I am innocent! Because I took the blame for my boss … because I had to – to keep my job!
“Because I thought that I would only have to pay a fine … I mean, I know it was wrong, but, but … it was just a bottom-pinch, for heaven’s sake! How was I to know, that there would be such a song-and-dance over such a little thing as that?
“But, most of all, because of my fiancee … my Sandra. We are supposed to be getting married, next week! Just in time for Christmas. Oh, hell! God knows what she is going to make of all this!” I blurted, in acute distress.
At hearing my heartfelt, emotional outpourings, Miss Withenshaw remained unconvinced, unmoved – implacable. Indicating Claudia, she replied stonily, “Well, David, even if I believed a single word of what you say – which I don’t – perhaps you should have thought of all that, before you indecently assaulted this young lady, shouldn’t you?”
My God! There was just no getting through to the woman. What she had just said didn’t make any sense. But I had quite lost the heart to argue with her anymore. I knew it was futile. I was just banging my head against the proverbial brick wall. No wonder, that I was starting to get such a rotten headache!
I was distraught. And, my abject despair did not improve any, either, as I listened to Miss Withenshaw embark upon a censorious verbal spree. A holier-than-thou, righteous tirade of moral lecturing.
“Do you know, David, men like you make me sick. But, you are not in England now … you are in Arabia. Where such acts of social nonacceptance are taken rather more seriously than they are back home … and so you are certain to suffer the punishment that you so richly deserve,” admonished Miss Withenshaw severely.
“All I can do for you now, David, is to officially notify your fianceÃ© of your current situation. I shall write to her, informing her as to the nature of your crime. And, I shall advise her of all of the details, as pertain to the attendant sentence that has been duly imposed upon you by the Arabian Court.”
My God! So Sandra was actually going to receive an official letter from the British Consulate, in Wadi Ya Wan.
In addition, then, to Miss Susan Smith’s sketchy report – the “salient details” – Sandra was going to get the full, unabridged version, straight from the … horse’s mouth. Sandra would be receiving a full, detailed account of my humiliating predicament – chapter and verse! Straight from Miss Withenshaw’s official pen. My God!
“It is men like you, David, who make me ashamed to be British …” oh, she was really on a roll now; really getting into her righteous stride, “… you so carelessly commit your misdemeanours while abroad, in the smug belief that you won’t get into any trouble. That there will be no irksome, tiresome come-back; no inconvenient consequences, as a result of your crass, anti-social behaviour,” ranted Miss Withenshaw.
“You think that your immature, asinine pranks will not backfire on you. Don’t you? You complacently think, don’t you, that if you do carelessly break the laws of a foreign country: well, no worries … the Consulate will come and pick up the pieces; the likes of me, will come to your rescue. You think the likes of me, will come hurrying along on my white charger, and whisk you away from trouble,” accused the sorely aggrieved Miss Withenshaw, scornfully.
“Well, David … you know differently now, don’t you?” said Miss Withenshaw. And, I had heard a distinct note of satisfaction in her voice. Satisfaction, that I was about to get everything I deserved – and then some!
“Also, David … if you are innocent, as you now so suddenly claim, you have just admitted; to me, and in front of many other witnesses, that you have actually committed perjury in an Arabian Court – a far more serious crime, and with far more serious consequences, than the one you have just been convicted of.
“If you want my advice: you will keep quiet about that. Very quiet. You have already made your bed, David. And now, you will have to lie in it – for the next two years and nine months,” said Miss Withenshaw, with obvious relish. Mercilessly piling on the misery, in believing me to be not only guilty as charged, but – and, far worse, in her book – totally remorseless, too.
The terrible injustice of Miss Withenshaw’s harsh, pitiless words – her damning indictment – slammed cruelly home, totally crushing me. She was right, though: it could have been worse. Much worse. I had, as she had pointed out, committed perjury by taking the blame for something that I hadn’t actually done.
All that I could do now, I realised despondently, was to try to somehow reconcile myself, to the awful reality of the situation that I now so incredibly found myself in. I knew it would be pointless to argue further; to make any more pleas. I would just be wasting my breath. Just as Miss Withenshaw had told me: I had made my bed, and so now I must lie in it – for ‘A Thousand Suns’!
As I was being frog-marched out of the Court by 2 policemen, I shouted back; urgently, frantically: “Miss Withenshaw! Miss Withenshaw!! Please … tell Sandra I love her!”
Outside, I was quite taken aback by the sudden, scorching heat that immediately assailed me. Newly arrived from a very chilly, frost-bound England, I was stunned by the ferocious, bludgeoning power of the Arabian sun – even in December – as it beat down pitilessly out of a cloudless blue sky.
Then, it was Claudia who was standing in front of me. Standing 3 or 4 inches taller, on her lilac-coloured mules, than my 5 feet 7 inches, Claudia looked down at me – and down on me. Claudia said nothing: just stared down into my fretful eyes, for long, contemplative moments.
Claudia’s eyes were shining; a shine that came from within. Shining, with unfathomable, frightful thoughts. Glittering, with a gleeful, vengeful triumph.
Aboard the Arabian Airways aircraft, I had felt Claudia’s highly aggressive, openly hostile demeanour towards me, to be very intimidating. But, now that Claudia was actually on her ‘home turf’ … she was terrifying. Menacing. I sensed threat, emanating from her, in almost palpable waves.
Without warning, Claudia raised her right hand and delivered a sharp, stinging slap to my left cheek and, while I was still registering the sudden, unexpected pain and shock of her powerful, anger-fuelled blow, she followed it up with another resounding slap, to my right cheek. “Aaahhh!!” I exclaimed, in pained surprise, in the aftermath of seeing Claudia’s right hand so suddenly and swiftly lash out, immediately followed by her left hand, as quick and as unavoidable as cobra strikes.
Apparently gratified, by my reaction, Claudia stood back from me. There was such a look of gleeful, exultant satisfaction in her dark, almond-shaped eyes, as she saw my bottom lip quivering. Uncontrollably trembling, in shock, in pain – in humiliation.
I knew, that these were the barely contained, vengeful slaps that Claudia had so longed to inflict upon me aboard the Arabian Airways flight, but had been obliged to resist that very powerful impulse in the greater interests of keeping her job.
But now, Claudia had been given – to all intents and purposes – free reign. Carte blanche: the Court’s blessing, to punish me with impunity. To ‘chastise’ me.
And, it seemed to me, that the very fact that Claudia had had to wait so long, for this moment, only served to heighten her pleasure; only served to make the moment all the sweeter, to her. To make it all the more satisfying. To make all of her sweet, sweet anticipation … well worth the wait.
My cheeks were scorching hot. From Claudia’s stinging slaps, yes: but more – far more – from my burning humiliation.
I had just stood there! Just stood there, and let Claudia slap my face – twice! Well … not ‘let’ her, exactly – but that’s not the point! I had done nothing about it! Nothing!! I hadn’t protested. I hadn’t complained. I hadn’t even said as much as a single, solitary word against her, in response … Because I was thoroughly cowed, by Claudia. That was the awful, shaming truth of it.
I could only cringe, before Claudia; the very essence of pathetic helplessness. I could only fall apart, and crumble, before her. Her eyes; dismantling me, demolishing me, reducing me to nothing more than a long pile of human rubble. The sheer power of Claudia’s personality – her presence – the gaze of her dominating, smouldering, seemingly all-knowing eyes, effectively emasculating me.
I silently stared into Claudia’s dark, almond-shaped eyes. Eyes, that sparkled maliciously; glittered malevolently. Eyes, that brooked no challenge. And eyes, that spoke of dark, dark promises. Promises, of dreadful revenge. Promises, of the untold cruelties that awaited me at her wrathful hands. As Claudia stared right back at me – seemingly reading every turbulent, terrified thought in my head – I was starting to feel really scared. Claudia’s powerful personality; her unnerving presence – her aura – thoroughly intimidated me.
After all: not only did Claudia now hold the upper hand – she held all the cards. I’d heard of the decks being stacked – but this was ridiculous. Claudia held all of the aces; all of the trumps … And now, she was playing her hand.
Claudia’s eyes, her voice, her superior demeanour – her very presence – held me in thrall as she spoke to me at length … she wasn’t the sort of person you could easily ignore. And, Claudia’s command of English, I now found out, was confident and assured: Not limited, to such basic vocabulary; commonly used phrases, as would serve merely to help her get by at work – but quite proficient.
“David. For â€˜A Thousand Suns’, you will be in my power. You will be at my mercy. You will be at my feet. And, every day, I will make you pay. Oh, yes! You will pay …” exulted Claudia.
“In my home village of Wadi Ya Noh, David, you will have many female teachers … my village sisters. Teachers, who will each derive great pleasure and satisfaction, from teaching you – an Englishman – your daily lessons of respect and humility. And I promise you: you will learn them well!” predicted Claudia, on rising notes.
Claudia was getting steadily worked up; her voice rising. And I listened to her with ever increasing trepidation. I knew I was in trouble here. Big trouble.
“There are many women of Wadi Ya Noh, to whom promises of marriage have been made. Made – by English oil workers! Yes, promises, David! Promises!!” Claudia almost shouted.
“Promises,” Claudia continued feelingly, “that were treacherously broken! Promises, of a better life – in England. As lawfully wedded wives. Living, as equals!” Claudia yelled in my face, almost hysterical now, in at last finding a suitable outlet for her uncontainable outrage.
“Promises,” Claudia went on hotly, “that were cruelly and callously reneged upon. Broken promises! Lies! False words, out of lying, deceiving English mouths!” shouted Claudia, pointing an accusatory finger at me. “Promises, David,” Claudia asserted angrily, “that your accursed countrymen never intended to keep!”
Now, at coming to the ‘meat’ of her speech, I heard a distinct hitch, in Claudia’s voice. For such was the strength, of her torrential outpouring of raw emotion. Claudia was, I realised, ‘letting it all out’.
“All of these women, were left with child. With no husband; no father, for their child, they were treated like lepers. Worse, than lepers! Despised, shunned, ostracised from the caring, loving bosom of their society – exiled, to Wadi Ya Noh!
“Condemned, to a lifetime of scratching, scraping poverty. Condemned, to an existence of mind-numbing, soul-destroying monotony; of endless, mindless drudgery. Condemned, to endure the blazing, unrelenting sun of that God-forsaken wasteland!” Claudia complained bitterly.
Claudia’s voice then dropped to almost a whisper. As if conspiratorial; as if, for my ears only … “I, Claudia, am the child – the tainted fruit – of such a woman.”
Again, Claudia pointed her finger at me. “But now, David … in my home village of Wadi Ya Noh – for â€˜A Thousand Suns’, you, yourself, will pay for the vile sins committed against the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
“It is most unfortunate for you, David, that you are an Englishman. But your misfortune is our delight.
“As an Englishman, it is right and fitting, that you will now serve as the focal point of our long-awaited retribution. The focal point, upon which to finally satiate our … feelings. The focal point, upon whom to vent our wrath. Our long-simmering, pent-up rage and resentment. Yes, it will now be for you, David, to pay the price. To pay: for all of the wicked misdeeds of your own, accursed countrymen!” proclaimed Claudia vengefully.
By now, I was perspiring freely. Sweat was literally dripping off me – not all of it, because of the blazing Arabian sun, either.
I saw a new, taunting smile touch Claudia’s dark, almond-shaped eyes as she went on, vindictively – nastily. “Also, David … it will be of the sweetest piquancy, to the cruelly spurned and abandoned females of Wadi Ya Noh, to know that you will now miss your own, forthcoming marriage … how ironic, David.
“And, it will gladden our hearts; fill our hearts with joy, to know that you will be thinking about – pining for – your own stranded bride … while we administer your chastisement.
“We have a saying in Arabia, David: â€˜Revenge is a dish, that is best served cold’. Well … the females of Wadi Ya Noh have been sharpening their appetites, for long, miserable years – some of them, for much longer than I. They have waited a long time – too long – for their cold dish of revenge. But now … you are here, David. And …” proclaimed Claudia rapturously, “… their time has come!
“The cruelly spurned, treacherously abandoned females of Wadi Ya Noh, shall savour the ambrosial taste of your righteous come-uppance! Their appetites are whetted. They are hungry for revenge. They shall taste, at last, their sweet reward. For now, David, I am going to serve you up to them. You – an Englishman; the finest, of all delicacies! And … they shall feast! As shall I!
“Now, come! We waste valuable time, here!” commanded Claudia, impatient to be making tracks, now that she had concluded her emotionally delivered speech; had got it off her chest.
Aghast – panic-stricken – I began, “I’m really very sorry, about … what happened to your mother, and to the other ladies, Claudia. Really, I am … But—” I got no further. I was again stunned to silence – nearly knocked off my feet, this time – by another stinging, even more vicious, power-packed double-slap to my face from Claudia’s blurring brown hands. Right across my mouth. “Aaahhh!!” I exclaimed in shock and pain as, once again, I found myself reeling from Claudia’s punishing slaps.
Already, I could feel my bottom lip beginning to swell. Claudia had given me a fat lip! I could feel it trembling, too, betraying my ever increasing fear of her. “You will be silent, mangy cur!” yelled Claudia right in my face, her dark eyes blazing angrily, venomously.
(I would learn later, that it was through the various contacts of her powerful and influential local Tribal Lord, that enabled Claudia to earn her meagre living. It was through him, that she had secured her part-time job as an air hostess with Arabian Airways.
Though, ‘part-time’ is laying it on rather thick, since Claudia only did one return flight per week: Every Sunday, Claudia operated on the Arabian Airways early-morning flight: the Wadi Ya Meen to Manchester flight – which she boarded when it stopped off en route, at Wadi Ya Wan. Claudia then stayed overnight at an airport hotel, along with the rest of the aircrew. The crew then returned the next day: on the Monday, early-morning Manchester to Wadi Ya Meen flight – from which Claudia disembarked at Wadi Ya Wan.
As I understood it, Claudia was routinely transported to and from Wadi Ya Wan airport by the local police, who were in the pay of the local Tribal Lord. As payment for arranging and facilitating both: Claudia’s part-time job, and her … airport transfers, by police vehicle, Claudia was obliged to give her local Tribal Lord half of her income. This sum of money, was half of what she earned from working her return flight to Manchester: Flight Pay, and Overnight Allowance payment.
It was all thanks to Claudia’s income – meagre, as it was, that the females of Wadi Ya Noh could afford to buy their simple, every-day necessities. The food, and other basic goods, that they purchased from the traders who arrived in their village by camel, every Tuesday afternoon.)
Dismissively waving away the police officer who was ‘riding shotgun’, Claudia took it upon herself to roughly manhandle me into the back of the waiting, sun-bleached, dented and battered – scrapyard-defying – four-wheel drive police Land Rover. “Get in, David!” Claudia snapped – all but snarled, at me – and I silently obeyed … Claudia was in control, now. Full control. She was the one shaping events. For me, now, it was all about damage limitation: don’t do, or say anything that might provoke Claudia’s ire. That had to be my rule of thumb, from now on.
Claudia got into the police Land Rover, right beside me, and the door closed with a loud clang as she slammed it shut after her. Before I knew what she was about, Claudia was snapping tightly closed around my wrists, the set of handcuffs that were attached to the wire screen that separated the rear compartment of the police vehicle from the police officers’ in front. Upon hearing the distinctive ‘click’, Claudia grunted in satisfaction, and sat back on the seat.
I was dismayed. Not only had Claudia snapped closed the handcuffs painfully tight, but the chain was too short to allow me to lean back on the seat. I was therefore forced to sit on the very edge of the seat; leaning forward, and with my arms fully outstretched. I would actually have been better off standing up – except there wasn’t enough headroom for that. I looked at Claudia imploringly – as if to say: is there really any need for this? Claudia’s dark, almond-shaped eyes stared implacably back at me. Challenging me to complain. Daring me, to utter so much as a single word of protest … and, I believed, hoping that I would.
The police driver started the Land Rover, engaged first gear and, when he put his foot down on the accelerator, the clapped-out engine of the dilapidated vehicle growled, snarled throatily – angry-sounding – like a bad-tempered, old and overburdened, maltreated beast, upon its being suddenly prompted forward yet again by humans with sharp sticks.
The police Land Rover bounced, jounced and jolted over the uneven, treacherous terrain, and I was immediately obliged to feed my fingers through the small gaps in the wire screen, and hold on for dear life. My God! It was like sticking my fingers through the angled, sharp-edged holes of an over-sized cheese grate.
“Shut up!” commanded the comfortably seated, securely seat belted Claudia, unsympathetically, when I winced and groaned at the pain caused by the violent motion of the vehicle. Winced and groaned, from the gross discomfort engendered by the highly erratic, unpredictable movement of the careering – seemingly, recklessly driven – police Land Rover. Winced and groaned, as I sat uncomfortably on the very edge of the seat, in maintaining my for-dear-life grab-hold of the sharp-edged wire screen with increasingly agonised fingers. “I said … be quiet!” ordered Claudia again, irritably.
I fervently hoped that it would be a short drive – a very short drive, as we headed for Claudia’s home village, of Wadi Ya Noh.
I had never imagined, that such a bleak, cheerless, desolate landscape as we travelled through could exist on planet Earth.
As we made the bumpy, dusty, sun-pummelled journey to Claudia’s home village of Wadi Ya Noh, I stared through the police Land Rover’s front windscreen, looking for the first, tell-tale signs of our destination – and hoping I would see them soon.
Needless to say: the aged police Land Rover did not have air-conditioning, and I was sweating profusely. I was totally unaccustomed, to such incredible, debilitating heat, and I was wilting in it. Wilting – I thought I was melting! In the close and cramped confines of the police vehicle, I felt as if I was being slowly cooked alive in a tin-can. Claudia and the 2 policemen, though, seemed as cool as cucumbers. Unperturbed – seemingly impervious – to the highly oppressive, furnace-like conditions.
The decidedly joyless journey – of about 10 or 12 miles, I guessed, took about 30 minutes, or so. But, to me, it seemed a lot further; seemed to take a lot longer. My God! Talk about a ‘white-knuckle’ ride!
I don’t know quite what I had been expecting … but I was ill-prepared – to say the least, for what was actually the shocking, wretched reality, of the village of Wadi Ya Noh.
A well-known phrase vaguely came to mind: a Chinese proverb, I think. Something about it being better to travel, than to arrive. Perhaps the author of the proverb, I mused, had preceded me to Wadi Ya Noh.
Certainly, that would have explained his sentiments. ‘Culture shock’, doesn’t even come close. I felt as if I had just stepped out of Doctor Who’s Tardis, having time-travelled right back to the early Middle Ages.
Consisting of just a couple of dozen miserable, extremely primitive, mud-brick dwellings, Wadi Ya Noh was not even a … â€˜one camel town’.
These decidedly wretched little homes, I saw, were arranged so as to form a perimeter around the Village Square. So that the highly unfortunate inhabitants: the impoverished, poor-as-dirt denizens of these pitiful little hovels, at least enjoyed a fine view of Humility Square, and … of Humility Hole, at its centre.
From the ‘comfort’ of their own homes, I would soon learn, the females of Wadi Ya Noh could relieve the mind-numbing monotony of their (otherwise) cheerless, nothing-to-look-forward-to days, in a most congenial and highly satisfying manner. By viewing, at their leisure, the daily sufferings: the ongoing oppression, the terrible torment, the continuing cruelty – in short: the chastisement – of the current miserable incumbent of Humility Hole.
Through the grandstand view of their ‘living room’ window, the females of Wadi Ya Noh could conveniently watch, as the convicted criminal currently incarcerated in Humility Hole, was ‘obliged’ to demonstrate the sincerity of his respect and humility, at the feet of their village sisters’.
They could watch, as the miserable man was obliged to pay, said respects, to the females of the village who; throughout the whole day, frequently ventured out from the relative cool of their humble abodes, to ‘visit’ their wretched prisoner … in their personal – and, richly entitled – participation, in his punishment and rehabilitation – his chastisement.
They could watch, as the other females of Wadi Ya Noh made their own short journey’s – their own pilgrimages – across the dusty, sun-blasted, hard-baked, compressed-mud ground of Humility Square, to Humility Hole … to present the soles of their feet, to their helpless captive’s conveniently positioned face.
The police driver – in trying to avoid running over the 3 or 4 emaciated, raggedy-furred village dogs that were either too curious or too sun-maddened to get out of the way – slowly and carefully guided the Land Rover between 2 of the closely-spaced poor homes (whether out of concern for his vehicle, or the homes … I wouldn’t like to have said), and then drew to a stop near the centre of Humility Square.
Though it was quite unnecessary – the clapped-out, noisy old Land Rover amply announcing its presence for itself – the police driver twice sounded the horn. He then switched off the engine and, apart from some half-hearted yapping from the mangy mongrels, the quiet once again descended over the village.
Claudia then released me; unclasping the painfully tight handcuffs that were securely chaining me to the wire separating screen of the police Land Rover.
I was rubbing my sore wrists; relieved to see that no real damage seemed to have been done to them – or to my fingers – when, by means of securing my wandering attention, Claudia sharply jabbed her elbow into my ribs. “Take a good look around, David,” she instructed. Looking out through the Land Rover’s side window, I was truly appalled, by what I saw.
“Welcome to Wadi Ya Noh, David. My home village …” Claudia glared at me, and her voice was gleeful, as she went on, “… and now, for â€˜A Thousand Suns’ – your home, too!”
We then got out of the police Land Rover, and stood on the dusty, hard-baked, compressed-mud ground of Humility Square. It was like stepping out of the frying pan, and into the fire. Without the protective cover of the vehicle, I now felt the full force of the oppressive, unrelenting rays of the Arabian sun beating mercilessly down. It was hellish.
But then, I saw something even more hellish – something that I had not noticed before, while sitting in the police Land Rover. Something, that Claudia had deliberately not pointed out to me; wanting to see my reaction, no doubt, when I saw for myself. For, I now saw, to my absolute horror, that a man’s head was actually protruding from the ground.
He was, of course, the current wretched incumbent; the latest unfortunate occupier, of that inhumane institution – Humility Hole.
The turbaned prisoner, I noticed, was at least facing away from the worst of the glaring, roasting Arabian sun. And, that was nothing to be sniffed at – in this place.
In those highly restrictive confines, the prisoner could not (at least, it seemed to me) extricate himself from Humility Hole unaided. Roughly the shape and dimensions of a vertically placed coffin, I could not see how the prisoner could even turn around – let alone, climb out – of Humility Hole.
Between them, the two policemen reached down and, after removing the man’s filthy dirty head wear; that they unwound from his head like some kind of long, badly soiled industrial-length tea-towel, they roughly pulled on the wretched man’s arms, dragging him out of his claustrophobic prison.
The man was of Arabian appearance, and in his mid-thirties … perhaps – it was hard to tell. He was haggard looking – to say the least. His black hair now stood out in random, unruly, dirty knotted clumps. His beard was straggly and unkempt … although, from what I had seen so far, since landing at Wadi Ya Wan airport, that didn’t seem particularly remarkable.
Although the man was completely naked, he made no effort to cover ‘himself’ up – his modesty, being the least of his concerns, at the moment.
He looked as if he had not bathed for weeks – months, even. His body was filthy. Soap and water; strangers both.
But – and worst of all – on his body I could see many scars: a haphazard, crisscrossing of his flesh. Both: old, healed wounds; and new, sore-looking, vivid red lines. I was utterly appalled. I saw literally dozens of these scars: across his back, his sides, his shoulders, his buttocks, and even on the back of his legs. I wondered … what the hell had caused his dreadful scars?
The man was wild-eyed. Gaunt-looking. Haunted. Hunted. His eyes darted this way, that way: seemingly sensing a threat here; danger there … As if there was always a threat. Always danger.
For how long had he been kept imprisoned in that dreadful, maddeningly restrictive hole? I wondered. Had he actually gone mad? He certainly looked it – or not far off. My God! That was were I was headed … Would I go mad?
The 2 policemen then roughly bundled their filthy, unresisting – well, he didn’t want to stay in Wadi Ya Noh! – prisoner into the back seat of their Land Rover. But; at least sparing him, I noticed, the distressing ordeal of being handcuffed to the wire separating screen. Sparing him, the ‘white-knuckle’ ride that Claudia had so cruelly forced me to endure. Perhaps the 2 policemen had taken pity on him. Would they take pity on me? I wondered. When they came for me, after I had served my ‘A Thousand Suns’ sentence, in Humility Hole.
The 2 policemen then waved a polite goodbye to Claudia – she might be from Wadi Ya Noh; but Claudia commanded their respect – and got into their Land Rover.
And then the place erupted with noise, as the aged Land Rover’s clapped-out diesel engine was started; revved-up, and the 2 policemen drove away.
Despondently, I watched their departure. I watched, as a huge cloud of sand tinged with oily black smoke billowed up in their wake, almost obscuring them from view. And then, just moments later, they were gone. As if they had never been here. As if they had been just a mirage, after all.
Now, I saw a number of shapeless, all-black garbed, almost identical-looking figures begin to slowly emerge from the open doorways of their wretched mud-brick dwelling places and, as one, they shuffled towards Claudia and I. With instinctive trepidation, I watched their advance as they shambled towards Claudia and I; inquisitive as to this new arrival – the latest incumbent, of Humility Hole.
To see these shapeless, anonymous-looking figures approach, was highly unsettling – unnerving. But, far worse: as they slowly advanced, they began to emit what was, to my ear, a profoundly strange – alien – vocal chorus. A weird, extremely primitive-sounding, ululating wailing.
The singularly unsettling – disturbing – sound, had a somehow nerve-jangling, chilling timbre, to it. A distinct note of menace, that had the hairs on the back of my neck jumping to attention.
The decidedly eerie sound; to my ear, seemed infused, somehow, with discernible messages. A melange of meaning, that was understood – perceived; intuited, at an instinctive, basic level.
I sensed, from the increasing volume of sound, expressions of various feelings and emotions: curiosity; pleasure; satisfaction; eagerness – impatience, to name just a few. And, most obviously – and most worryingly – I divined an undercurrent of seething, just-under-the-surface, ready-to-erupt violence. These shambling, shapeless, anonymous-looking figures were uniformly attired; as ancient custom dictated, in their severely austere, all-black garb. Which I thought must be a style of burka, as it covered the whole body except for the eyes, hands, and feet.
These shuffling, shapeless, clone-like, shrilly ululating figures were, of course … the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
The overwhelming impression, was that nothing had changed, in Wadi Ya Noh, for many hundreds of years … And, of course, it hadn’t.
It was all too easy to imagine that the poor, primitive denizens of Wadi Ya Noh had never even heard of electricity. Never heard of TV. Or of washing machines. Easy to believe, that they had never heard of radio; of CD players; of micro waves; of cookers; of fridge-freezers. That they simply had no knowledge – not even an inkling, of the existence of any of the common, every-day things that most people take for granted in the twenty-first century.
Claudia later explained to me, that the village of Wadi Ya Noh was a place populated entirely – exclusively – by female inhabitants. Populated only, by outcast, ‘Fallen’ women – and their ‘tainted’ daughters. And, there was an underlying reason for that, she told me …
Boys, explained Claudia, were ‘confiscated’ by their local Tribal Lord. Some of them would be used for slave labour. Their working lives, starting early: as soon as they were able to pick up a shovel; push a cart … if they were strong enough, they were old enough.
While other, ‘specially selected’ boys, would become the pets and playthings of perverts, in the Tribal Lord’s own palaces and grounds. There, they would remain in such service, until such a time as their star’s were fading. Until they began to lose their popularity; their appeal; their allure; their … usefulness. Then, they would be replaced by younger boys, and carted away to join the slave-labour gangs working in the quarries; the mines, the sweat-shops …
As ‘Fallen’ women, it was the decree of their local Tribal Lord, that any labour-saving, life-enriching devices that modern-day progress could provide and bless their lives with, should be denied them. For, this was their own chastisement. There was not so much as the feeble glow of a 40 Watt bulb, in Wadi Ya Noh.
Such, was life, for the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
No wonder, then, that the females of Wadi Ya Noh had chips on their shoulders the size of Gibraltar. No wonder, then, that they had scores to settle; bones to pick; axes to grind …
Now, there were 19, all-black garbed, shapeless, anonymous-looking, shrilly ululating figures gathered before Claudia and I.
Dressed, as they all were, in their shapeless, almost all-covering black burkas, the females of Wadi Ya Noh seemed, at first impression, to be wholly devoid, of even the slightest semblance of individuality. Of identity. Of actually being … someone. They seemed anonymous. Clone-like. Carbon-copied. They seemed almost identical – like peas from the same pod – making it almost impossible to distinguish one from another; to tell them apart. To identify them.
But, I would quickly learn that this was in fact very far from the case. For, concealed under the highly deceptive shrouds of their totally impersonal, depersonalising, decidedly drab and dreary dress … lurked unique individuals. Quite literally: hidden personalities. Real people. Women and young ladies. Some of whom, despite their unfortunate … disadvantages, still somehow managed to display strong, bright, vibrant characters.
I would soon learn their names. I would soon learn, too, of their mother-and-daughter/s relationships; who were the lone mothers. And, I would soon become acquainted, with the many and varied traits of their individual personalities … but that was later.
The females of Wadi Ya Noh eyed me closely. Intently, curiously – hostilely. Ululating, all the while. Their malevolent gaze was extremely intimidating.
Suddenly, as one – as if at some given signal that only they could hear, their blood-chilling ululating ceased. The silence was complete. There was not a sound, from anyone, or anything. It was an unsettling, eerie, ominous silence, that even the village dogs did not dare to break, it seemed. All there was, was the females’ eyes. The silent scrutiny of their dark, almond-shaped eyes. Looking at me, staring at me – assessing me.
The seconds stretched out, unsettling me even further, as I waited for something to happen … I knew that something was about to happen – and, not something nice, either.
Then – and with the same apparent, utter lack of individuality, of one cell separating itself from a clump of other, similar cells – one of the females detached herself from the huddled, shapeless mass of the all-black garbed, clone-like figures. Then she stepped forward, and she warmly embraced Claudia.
And Claudia returned her hug with equal warmth; murmuring to her what were obviously the fondest of endearments.
Claudia then turned to me and said, “David, this is my blessed mother, Meena. She was one of the â€˜lucky’ ones. At least, the faithless wretch – the Englishman, who spurned her and abandoned her as soon as he learned of her pregnancy – left her with enough money to give me a decent education, at the airport town of Wadi Ya Wan.
“In her misplaced gratitude, my mother named me Claudia, after that foul wretch’s own mother. Something my mother has painfully regretted, ever since – as I have.
“For, while he may have salved his own conscience, with his … ‘compensation’ to Meena – a pitiful sum of money, in any case, given the truly stupendous wages he was earning as an oil worker – we can never forgive him, for condemning us to Wadi Ya Noh!
“I have vowed to find him: Vincent – the mangy dog! – my treacherous, worthless father. Find him, and make him pay: Pay, for deserting Meena. For abandoning me. I have vowed to find him, and to make him pay, in the way of our own, time-honoured tradition. And that is the day that I live for. The day when I shall, at last, confront Vincent. Come face-to-face, with him. And finally … bring him to account. On that glorious day, my loathsome, deceitful father, shall come to know of the wrath of Claudia.
“Perhaps you have some understanding now, David, of why you – an Englishman – will be considered such a valuable prize, by the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
“Now, David! Precious seconds of time are being lost – like grains of sand, slipping through my fingers. We must begin your ‘A Thousand Suns’ sentence: your punishment and rehabilitation – your chastisement – without delay!”
Claudia then translated to me, at intervals, as she addressed her village sisters – the poor, cruelly repressed females of Wadi Ya Noh. Attentively, curiously, and with mild inquisitiveness, the shapeless, all-black garbed, huddled mass of females listened to Claudia, as she explained the particular circumstances of why I had been brought to their village: just what, exactly, I was being punished for.
But, as soon as Claudia spoke the word: ‘Englishman’, an eerie silence descended over them. Suddenly, the atmosphere became super-charged: sparked, with crackling electricity, and they hung onto – clung onto – Claudia’s every single word. Their dark, almond-shaped eyes never left my face. For many of the females, it had just got ‘personal’.
The expressions in their eyes, as they had fixed unwaveringly upon my face had, at first, been merely curious. Mildly inquisitive. After all, the females of Wadi Ya Noh were quite used to having male prisoners brought before them, to suffer their own, particular form of … justice.
But then, Claudia had let the cat out of the bag: told them that I was English.
And the merely curious, mildly inquisitive expressions in the females’ dark eyes turned, on the instant. Turned, to hateful, spiteful, malevolent – vengeful – glares.
Now, the ululating wailing that the females of Wadi Ya Noh had, as one, emitted as they had emerged from their humble homes and shuffled towards Claudia and I, was as nothing. As nothing!
The females of Wadi Ya Noh, now emitted a deeply disturbing, yodelling-like, unholy chorus of discordant sound. It was such a keening, eerie wailing; such a God-awful, ululating hullabaloo, that it shredded my nerves, and froze the blood in my veins just to hear it.
For, my instinctive interpretation, of the meaning of the dreadful sound – thrumming with malevolence; resonating, with the palpable, vibrant undercurrent of violent threat – was clear and unmistakable … Payback Time.
As soon as Claudia had finished addressing her village sisters, about me, as one, the all-black garbed, shapeless, now shrilly ululating females of Wadi Ya Noh, promptly fell upon me, in an irresistible maelstrom of female fury.
With an air of great satisfaction, Claudia stood back and watched. Claudia watched, as her village sisters – the betrayed and abandoned, vindictive and vengeful females of Wadi Ya Noh – set upon me with a vengeance. Claudia watched, as their brown, grasping, grabbing, gripping hands frantically pawed and clawed at me, roughly stripping me of (almost) all of my clothing.
The hysterically ululating females of Wadi Ya Noh frenziedly plucked my clothes from my body. My expensive (by my modest standards), brand-new suit; shirt, underwear, shoes and socks – the females of Wadi Ya Noh, literally tearing them off me. Angrily ripping them from my body, until they had left me without so much as a stitch on …
Except, that is … for my pale blue silk tie: The tie, that my fiancee, my Sandra, had chosen. The tie, that she had bought especially for my business trip with Miss Susan Smith. To make a good impression: “It suits you, David.” The tie, that the fiendishly ululating females of Wadi Ya Noh were now half throttling me with: pulling me this way; dragging me that way.
The tie, that now made me look even more ridiculous, than if I was completely naked.
I looked on, horrified, as the females of Wadi Ya Noh then squabbled raucously. Their noise was terrible as, like squawking sea gulls scrapping over carelessly discarded food scraps at the sea-side, they greedily snatched up from the dusty ground the tattered remnants of my destroyed garments. Competed for them, in wanting to be the one’s to tear what was left of my clothes, into strips; to shreds. To nothing more, than tiny tufts of fluff and fibres, that would blow away on the hot desert wind.
Sitting on the dusty, hard-baked, compressed-mud ground of Humility Square, I could only look on. Aghast, at what I beheld.
Throwing the ripped remains of my clothing to the dusty ground, the rampaging females of Wadi Ya Noh emitted their dreadful, terrifying, nerve-shredding ululating wailing as they angrily stomped, stamped and trampled them – as though they thought they were stomping, stamping and trampling upon the vulnerable, defenceless bodies and faces of the unfaithful wretches who had so cruelly spurned and deserted them.
One of the younger females – Nagga – spotted my shirt buttons lying on the dusty ground, and she contemptuously kicked them into Humility Hole.
I was so scared, by now, I did not even think to cover ‘myself’ up with my hands. After all … it was the least of my concerns, at the moment.
Then, apparently satisfied that they had at last wrought the maximum possible destruction upon my clothing, the females of Wadi Ya Noh returned their full, wrathful attention upon me.
Howling horrendously, the females of Wadi Ya Noh shuffled menacingly towards me. They converged upon me, in an all-black garbed, shapeless, shambling mass. Crowding in on me, with openly hostile, vengeful intent.
In the face of their howling aggression, I soon found myself cravenly cowering as I was immediately overpowered and overwhelmed by the sheer, irresistible ferocity of the females’ wrath.
But, caught, as I was: so utterly unprepared – shocked; frozen into defenceless immobility – I had received several kicks to my unprotected face, head and body, before my instinct for self-preservation somewhat belatedly kicked in. In a desperate effort to protect myself from the females’ angry onslaught, I curled myself up into a tight, foetal-like ball, so as to make as small a target of myself as possible.
But, it was useless.
Brown hands angrily grabbed hold of my arms and legs and, despite my best, fear-fuelled efforts of resistance, those brown hands easily prised my arms and legs apart; pulled them wide open. Leaving me totally exposed; utterly defenceless … The females of Wadi Ya Noh would not be thwarted; would not be kept at bay. Would not be denied.
I was half-deafened by their frightful, ululating wailing as, barefoot, the females of Wadi Ya Noh furiously kicked at my vulnerable head, face and body, in a frenzied free-for-all of flying female feet.
The females then looked around for and picked up the scattered-about shoes that they had so hurriedly kicked off: a motley collection of old, ratty, tatty, worn-out shoes.
Some of the females then stood over me; some of them knelt over me and, ululating all the while, they viciously slapped the length and breadth of my exposed and defenceless body with the soles of their worn-out shoes. It was a stinging, relentless rain of derogatory blows, that I thought was never ever going to stop.
When it did stop … the females were kicking again. I was helpless, defenceless – totally vulnerable. I was, as Miss Withenshaw had put it: at their “tender mercies.” Which was a contradiction in terms, if ever I had heard one: there was nothing tender; nothing merciful, about the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
I tried to turn my face away; tried to squeeze my arms and legs back together … especially my legs. But, it was futile.
The brown, bare feet of the females of Wadi Ya Noh were inescapable, unavoidable. Kicking here, kicking there, kicking anywhere and everywhere … Kicking, kicking, kicking.
Some of the females lashed out indiscriminately; as though quite indifferent, as to where they landed their punishing kicks – as long as they landed them.
While others took care – some, special, particular care – as to just where, exactly, they sadistically targeted my exposed anatomy. Just where, exactly, they got me with their snide swipes, with their cruel kicks. With their vengeful, stamping, stomping feet.
Then they were wielding their shoes again … I tried to avert my face; close my legs. But, it was hopeless.
Brown hands had grabbed hold of my ankles, and roughly pulled my legs wide open. And kept them open. There was nothing I could do – nothing! No way to protect myself, no way to defend myself as, ululating triumphantly, the females of Wadi Ya Noh had subjected me to their frenetic flailing of female footwear.
Whack! Whap! Slap! Smack! Thud! Thunk! The females of Wadi Ya Noh gleefully lashed out, maliciously targeting my vulnerable body with their bin-worthy footwear: their worn-out sandals, slingbacks, flats, flip flops, pumps, mules …
The only thing that stopped me from getting a truly hideous hiding, was that, in the throes of their great excitement, the females actually greatly hindered each other; got in each other’s way, in their mad maulings of me. All of them wanting, all at the same time, to be the one’s to get in the choicest, most punishing kicks; the best, humiliating shoe slaps. And, I was very lucky that that was the case, otherwise …
Then one of the more mature, more heavily figured, and … particularly malevolent, females of Wadi Ya Noh – Fatima – knelt over me; straddling me, with her back to my face. What now? I wondered worriedly.
As I pondered fearfully upon this latest, and decidedly unpromising development, I glumly stared at Fatima’s broad back, and at her even broader bottom, draped, as it was, in the coarse cloth of her black burka. And then I gloomily looked at her bare, brown feet, positioned close by either side of my head. My God!
The top of Fatima’s left foot rested upon the dusty ground, exposing the whole of her fleshy, wrinkled sole. I shuddered with revulsion. Fatima’s hard-skinned heel, the ball of her foot, and her toe pads, were grimy with the accumulation of ingrained dirt from walking about barefoot so often.
I turned my head away from the revolting sight – only to see a close-up view of Fatima’s similarly soiled right sole. The heel of her right foot was pronounced. The skin of her arch was stretched taut and smooth as she rested her toe pads upon the ground; pressing firmly down, as though to gain better purchase, extra leverage, from that foot.
Fatima then raised her right hand high above her head, and I saw the scuffed and scruffy shoe she was holding – wielding – by the toe end of the shoe. The extremely well-worn shoe that she was so tightly gripping in her right hand, I saw, was a mule. The heel; midnight-black, from the frequent contact with her grubby, grimy, filthy dirty heel.
With her left hand, Fatima then grabbed hold of my penis. And, none too gently, she pulled it towards her … out of the way. And, to keep it out of the way, she firmly held on to it.
It was to my utter, disbelieving horror; my quaking terror, that my realisation of Fatima’s unspeakable intention finally dawned upon me. But there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing! Fatima was straddling me; pinning me to the ground. I was trapped; helpless. Nevertheless, so panic stricken, was I, that I wriggled and writhed about under Fatima – until Nagga firmly placed the ball of her foot on my windpipe … to ‘calm’ me.
Fatima’s ululating wailing now took on another, much higher note. A shriek. That was the only word for it. And it was a shriek, of such malicious, malevolent portent; of such chilling, wicked glee, that I was all but wetting myself with dread, as she prepared to swing.
Even in my worst nightmare, I could hardly have dreamed up such a diabolical scenario as this.
I knew what was going to happen … I saw Fatima’s right hand disappear as she brought her shoe down, hard and fast – and accurately – scoring a direct hit on my exposed testicles with the chunky, flattened-out heel of her ratty, tatty, worn-out mule.
It was awful. The pain. Nothing could have prepared me for such incredible, all-consuming, mind-shattering anguish.
But, I was not quite so out of it as to not notice the reappearance of the mule, when I saw Fatima’s right hand reappear above her head, still tightly gripping her shoe by the toe end.
I knew what Fatima was going to do … And so did Nagga, who now threateningly rested the bottom of her bare heel on my Adam’s apple, in case I got any ‘ideas’.
To my right, I saw Fatima’s grimy, filthy dirty right sole; saw her toe pads spread on the ground, gripping firmly. And then I saw her toe pads suddenly press down into the ground harder; for extra, thrust-supporting purchase and leverage and, I looked up, just in time to see Fatima’s shoe wielding right hand disappear again on its high-speed downwards trajectory.
Maintaining her firm hold of my penis, Fatima swung her worn-out mule down again with all of the force and energy of her vindictive venom … “Uuuunnngg!!” I groaned, as Fatima scored another direct hit, and as a dull, ugly agony flooded every cell of my body.
Oh, the agony! The anguish! It was literally all-consuming. Focusing the attention of my entire mind, to the exclusion of all else.
Eventually, I registered that Nagga was repeatedly slapping my face with the soles of her feet – in lieu of smelling salts – to bring me back to my senses.
The females of Wadi Ya Noh danced, demoniacally. They laughed, giggled, cackled, and whooped: as befitted their ages; their personal dispositions. But, most of all – they ululated. A raucous, ear perforating chorus of resonating, reverberating, yodelling-like wailing, that shredded my nerves, and froze the blood in my veins just to hear it.
Suddenly, all of the air in my body was violently expelled. It was ‘pressure-pumped’ out of me, in a single, whooshing exhalation of breath as, with a squeal of malicious delight, another of the younger females of Wadi Ya Noh – Kandi – jumped onto my stomach, heels first.
The effect was paralysing. I tried to gasp for air, but it was futile. I had forgotten how to breathe, it seemed. My respiratory mechanism simply refused to function – as if all of the wiring had been kicked in, by a resentful, malicious vandal on some benighted social housing estate.
It seemed to have frozen; to have become totally seized up. I willed it to work again – but it wouldn’t. Couldn’t. I couldn’t draw breath. The longer it went on, the more I thought I was going to suffocate. I was actually getting scared. The seconds ticked away. No breath. Tick-tick-tick … Still, no breath. I began to worry even more. Started to panic: if this went on, for much longer …
It didn’t help, of course, that Kandi was energetically mashing the soles of her brown, bare feet into my stomach, as if she was treading grapes in the south of France.
More of the females of Wadi Ya Noh followed Kandi’s example. More and more of them stepped, barefoot, onto my supine body, as if I was their dance floor and they were joining a mini conga line. Swaying precariously, they held onto each other to assist their mutually uncertain balance – to prevent themselves from falling off me. All that was missing was the music … but then, the females of Wadi Ya Noh made their own ‘music’.
It seemed impossible, that so many of the females could ‘climb aboard’ me all at once. Yet, amazingly, more of them continued to do so. As if they were going in for one of those bizarre, off-the-wall World Record attempts, of the sort where the contestants cram themselves into a Mini Cooper; a telephone kiosk, etc., until every possible inch of room is taken up.
The pressure soon became enormous, horrendous, under the females’ combined body weight: under the soles of their variously pounding, pummelling, pressing bare feet. Together, in their diabolical dance, they stood on me; jumped up and down on me, stomped me. Trampled me underfoot. Literally, as well as figuratively – they walked all over me.
I felt the ball and toes of a bare, brown foot pressing firmly into my left cheek as, ululating triumphantly, another of the females of Wadi Ya Noh – I didn’t know who it was; I couldn’t look up, couldn’t see – forced my right cheek flat against the hard-baked, rough and gritty ground of Humility Square.
Tiny sharp stones dug painfully into my right cheek as, single-footed, she then stood on my left cheek, and rested all of her weight upon my helpless face. The crushing weight was terrible as, single-footed, she pinned my head to the dusty ground. She then brought her other foot to bear, too. And then I felt the pressure of the full, rocking to-and-fro, gently swaying motion of her body; the soles of her feet, firmly planted upon the left side of my face and head, gripping assuredly. And slowly, rhythmically – cruelly – she grinded my right cheek into the dusty desert ground.
After what seemed an eternity, I felt a wave of great, immense relief, when she finally stepped off my face … only to be replaced, by another gleefully ululating female of Wadi Ya Noh.
From an outbuilding, some of the females brought a thick wooden pole (probably fashioned from an uprooted palm tree, I supposed), and they lowered it into the small, coffin-shaped, crude excavation at the centre of Humility Square – Humility Hole. As soon as the pole was in place, brown hands grabbed hold of my ankles, and 2 of the females roughly dragged me across the ground, over to Humility Hole.
Now, I got my first proper look into that awful pit. I saw my shirt buttons. They were lying in the dust at the bottom, where Nagga had so contemptuously kicked them … Nagga: who had pressed the ball of her foot to my windpipe, to ‘calm’ me; Nagga, who had threateningly rested the bottom of her heel on my Adam’s apple, in case I got any ‘ideas’, while Fatima …
About 8 feet of the pole now protruded from Humility Hole. The dreadful hole, from where the 2 policemen had earlier pulled out the man of Arabian appearance. The haunted-looking man. The filthy dirty man. The appallingly-scarred man.
I then heard a sudden whistling, shrieking – whooshing sound. A sound of violently displaced air. I heard it again. Then again. I looked about me, in search of what had caused that fearful sound … And I saw Claudia wielding it. Now rigid with terror, I watched, as Claudia took another practice swing … Whoosh!
Claudia then stood before me. She was a fearsome sight. Yet magnificent … in a darkly regal, sort of way. As if she was the Queen of Wadi Ya Noh.
Nemesis-like, Claudia was brandishing in her hands, an extremely wicked-looking cane. It was in fact, the official issue of the Arabian penal authorities and, such canes were routinely supplied to all such … correction centres, as Wadi Ya Noh.
Just the very sight of that cane, was enough to instil a knee-buckling, quaking fear, in all but the most hardy of observers. For, it was the females of Wadi Ya Noh’s appalling, terrifying instrument of chastisement – the Katang.
The Katang looked to be about 6 feet long. It was the convenient, easy-to-use diameter of a pool cue, at its handle, and so sat snugly in the palm of the hand of the user. The cane tapered gradually; becoming very whippy, and ending in a whiplash-like point. The evil-looking cane was very flexible – unbreakable, in … normal use – and, as I had just heard, it made the most hideous, blood-curdling shriek as it scythed through the air.
With that dreadful cane, in her hands, Claudia’s eyes shone brightly in gleeful anticipation. She watched my disbelieving, terror-struck face as I stood trembling before her. She watched me coming apart at the seams, as my fearful realisation dawned: My realisation, that what I had already been subjected to, so far, by the females of Wadi Ya Noh – the kicking, the shoe-slapping, the stomping, the trampling – would seem like a Women’s Institute cucumber sandwich fund-raiser party, compared to what was coming next.
“David. Your time has come! Time, for you to pay! You will pay for your own sin – your sin against me. And you will pay for the sins of your wretched, treacherous, accursed countrymen. For, someone must pay!
“Now, you will face Katang. You will stand over the Hole of Humility. You will stand with your hands above your head, holding onto the pole, ready to receive the cane. You will receive one stroke of the cane, from each and every one of the females of Wadi Ya Noh. If, at any time, you are disobedient, or if you remove your hands from the pole before you have been given permission, your chastisement will be increased.
“Now, David. Step forward. Katang awaits you! Stand over the Hole of Humility, and hold onto the pole, ready to receive the—”
“Nnnnoooo!” I wailed in acute anguish, at the very thought of what was about to happen to me: A stroke of that terrible cane – the Katang – from each and every one of the females of Wadi Ya Noh. All 20 of them! My God!
Unperturbed – sounding quite pleased, in fact – Claudia calmly announced, “For your disobedience, David, today’s punishment is now increased. You will now receive not one, but two strokes of the cane, from each and every one of us. If you disobey again, you will incur a third stroke of the cane, from each and every one of us. And so on … I hope I am making myself quite clear.
“Now, David. Do I have to tell you again …? No, I didn’t think so,” said Claudia sardonically, as she watched me miserably take up the position she had ordered: standing over the Hole of Humility, and with my hands above my head, holding onto the pole.
Claudia then stepped behind me and, moments later, my fear and trepidation – my absolute dread – was more than amply vindicated. I heard the cane announce its first approach – the first of many, that day. The very sound, of the long and flexible, whippy cane – the Katang – was filled to the brim with the shrieking, howling promise of sudden, excruciating pain – WHOOSH!
And, that was exactly what I got: delivered to my bare buttocks, by Claudia’s wrathful hand.
And nothing – nothing – could have prepared me, for the agonising, unspeakable experience … For the kiss of the Katang.
When the long, whippy cane bit savagely into the cheeks of my exposed bare bottom, the pain was utterly intolerable. I howled my anguish. It felt as though Claudia had savagely whipped my bare backside with a length of white-hot cheese wire. I cried out, screaming at the scorching, singeing fire. I wailed, at the explosive, flaring, devastating agony that nearly stopped my heart.
Still, I remembered Claudia’s dire warning. I kept hold of the pole; hands above my head. I had already disobeyed once, incurring a second stroke of the cane from each and every one of the females of Wadi Ya Noh. And, I was certainly not about to make the same mistake again! For to do so, would be tantamount to personally placing the dreadful Katang in their hands again, and making them all a gift of a third.
The very sound of Claudia’s first cane stroke striking my exposed flesh; the sound of my agonised, anguished cries; the sight of my tormented, pain-contorted face, triggered the continuance of the hideous, yodelling-like wailing, of the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
Their awful, blood-chilling ululations spiralled up to tumultuous, exultant new heights. They were beside themselves with malicious glee. They were in a fever of uncontainable, ecstatic anticipation of the joys still to come. Not least of which, was their own, two strokes of the cane, upon my exposed and vulnerable person … their own turns, with the Katang.
Claudia then duly administered her second, scream-inducing stroke of the cane – making ‘her mark’, in exactly the same place as her first stroke. And, in that exact spot, there would be an enduring, tormenting pain; a pain, eclipsing all others. A pain, that would serve as an almost constant reminder of Claudia, in the coming days and nights.
Claudia then handed over that wicked instrument of exquisite torture, to her mother. Now, it was Meena, who wielded the Katang.
Cackling unpleasantly (a sound that I would come to know well), Meena; obviously an old and accomplished hand, at these traditional, time-honoured proceedings, gleefully dealt my bare buttocks a carefully aimed, expertly delivered, howl-inducing kiss of the Katang.
My God! The sheer, intolerable agony of it! It had me whimpering. Had me moaning. Had me begging and pleading for mercy. And, Meena cackled all the more, as she duly delivered her second; even more harrowing, even more devastating cut of the long and flexible, whippy cane, once again targeting the cheeks of my exposed and vulnerable bottom.
Meena then passed on, that dreadful implement of acute affliction; that guarantor of abject misery – the Katang – to the next vengeful female in line … Fatima.
Meena then joined Claudia, who, after having duly administered her own two strokes of the cane, had come around to face me: To gleefully watch my face. To smile at me. To smirk. To taunt. And, to gloat, as I was soundly, mercilessly thrashed, at the hands of her vengeful village sisters.
First, Claudia had watched with appreciation and pride, the expertise with the cane that her own mother, Meena, had exhibited. Meena had then joined her and, together, they stood and gloated over my hideous predicament; their dark, almond-shaped eyes rarely leaving my face.
Claudia and Meena avidly watched my face as, one by one, the females of Wadi Ya Noh had stepped forward, and took their turn. Their turn – with the Katang.
First, they watched my face as Fatima had stepped forward, and then sadistically administered her 2 strokes of the cane. And then, it was Nagga who stepped ‘up to the plate’. And then Kandi … followed by all of the other vengeful females of Wadi Ya Noh.
My God! The females’ cruel caning went on, and on, and on. It was awful. Terrible. I thought it was never going to stop.
One of the worst, most terrifying aspects of these hideous proceedings, was that I had absolutely no idea, where the next viciously administered stroke of that wicked-looking cane might strike my exposed flesh: my shoulders; sides; back; buttocks, or legs. After each cruel cut of the cane, I could only wait in trepidation for the next one.
And, this went on, until all of the shapeless, all-black garbed, shrilly ululating females of Wadi Ya Noh – all 20 of them, had dealt me their due entitlement: their two punishing, retributive – chastising – strokes of the cane.
I was in a world of pain. Such anguish! Such torment! I was moaning. I was crying. I was shaking and trembling from shock. I was babbling incoherent nonsense – all but demented.
And, it was as placidly as parents, watching the amusing antics of children partaking in some multi-participant playground adventure game, that Claudia and Meena had beheld the scene before them. In quiet contentment, Claudia and Meena had stood happily together, holding hands. Joined, in their spiritual solidarity.
And, it was with such a dark serenity, such immeasurable gratification, such immense pleasure, that they had watched my traumatised face, as I had stood (almost) without a stitch on, before them. Bleak, undisguised malice had shone desolately out from their dark eyes, like rays of harmful black light.
Claudia and Meena had revelled and gloried, in closely watching my agonised face. Revelled and gloried, as my face had crumpled, from the effects of such unbearable anguish. As it had screwed up; as it had contorted, from the just-can’t-take-any-more, unspeakable agony. Revelled and gloried, in my being given one hell of a caning, by their village sisters. By the shapeless, shuffling, black burka clad, incessantly ululating females of Wadi Ya Noh.
Claudia now addressed me again. Her heartfelt satisfaction; her ineffable gratification, evident in her voice. “I told you, David, that you would learn repentance at our hands. That was your first caning, your … initiation, with Katanga. We will bring Katanga to you again. On each and every monthly anniversary, of your â€˜A Thousand Suns’ sentence.
“You have now received your first lesson in repentance, at our hands, David … Now, you will receive your first lesson in humility, at our feet,” Claudia informed me, matter of factly.
At a gesture from Claudia, some of the females of Wadi Ya Noh removed the pole from the Hole of Humility, and they shuffled away, returning it to the outbuilding that they had got it from.
Claudia then told me, “Now, David, you will learn your first lesson of humility, at our feet.
“Unlike your lessons of repentance, at our hands – which we must teach you only once a month as, unfortunately, we must allow your skin time to heal, after your sessions with Katang – you will be taught your lessons of humility, at our feet, on a daily basis.
“Every day – yes, every day, for â€˜A Thousand Suns’ – at dawn, we will put you in your place of learning: the Hole Of Humility. Your head will protrude out of the Hole of Humility – at the level of our ankles. As is fitting.
“Throughout each and every day, David, you will be called upon, by the females of Wadi Ya Noh, to demonstrate the sincerity of your respect and humility, at our feet. You will be called upon, to convincingly convey to us that you wish for nothing more, than to be allowed, by the females of Wadi Ya Noh, these opportunities to demonstrate to us, the sincerity of your respect and humility,” Claudia informed me.
Claudia then turned her back on me. As she shuffled away, I watched her Arabian Airways issue, lilac-coloured mules slapping against the bottoms of her bare brown heels as she walked towards the mud-brick structures, and I saw her enter the one directly ahead of me.
After winding the decidedly grubby, industrial-length tea-towel like turban around my head, as a means of protecting me from the oppressive, fiercely blazing Arabian sun, the females of Wadi Ya Noh – none too gently – lowered me into my “place of learning” – the Hole Of Humility. When my feet touched bottom, only my turbaned head protruded out of the hole, with my chin about 3 or 4 inches above the edge – at ankle height. (“As is fitting.”)
Having put me in my place (as it were), as one, the females of Wadi Ya Noh looked down on me, in Humility Hole. Their dark, almond-shaped eyes solemnly promising me hard times ahead. I remembered what Claudia had said to me: “Perhaps you have some understanding now, David, of why you will be considered such a valuable prize.”
The females – most of them – were of rather short stature; being not much more than 5 feet – 5 feet, 5 inches tall. Now, though, they towered above me. Seemingly 10 feet tall. I was their helpless, hopeless captive – their highly-prized, Englishman prisoner.
Surely, I thought, there was no chance, not even the remotest possibility, of escape, from Wadi Ya Noh. There was nothing but blistering, baking desert for miles around. And, even if I did manage to escape – at night; it would have to be at night …
I could just imagine Claudia’s outraged reaction: If she had to come out into the desert looking for me. If she had to rustle up a posse of her village sisters, to help her recapture me. If she caught me – and she would: Well, if I thought I was in trouble now …
And all that I would accomplish, probably, would be to land myself with another sentence, for my trouble. An extended stay, in Wadi Ya Noh. Obviously, I was going nowhere.
Soon, I saw Claudia returning. She had changed out of her Arabian Airways air hostess uniform, and she was now wearing the shapeless, all-black garb – the customary, traditional dress of the spurned and abandoned females of Wadi Ya Noh.
I could still tell that she was Claudia, though: Though Claudia was now dressed in the same shapeless, clone-like, depersonalising black burka as her village sisters, somehow, she stood out from the crowd.
Claudia was carrying a large wooden bowl and, as she approached my ‘place of learning’, I could hear the tantalising, sloshing sound of water. Tinkling, like liquid music – literally, like music to my ears – it sploshed and splashed about in the bowl as Claudia walked towards me.
A few drops of water sloshed out over the edge of the bowl, and the brilliant Arabian sun lit them up, like diamonds under a jeweller’s spotlight … until they dashed themselves upon the dusty desert ground of Humility Square, when their lights went out forever.
Suddenly, at hearing those alluring sounds of water, I remembered just how extremely thirsty I was. Even more so, when Claudia tormentingly placed the large wooden bowl of water on the ground, just in front of my face. Just close enough, so that I could see over the rim of the bowl, and watch the mesmeric effect of the hot, brilliant sunlight glinting upon the tiny wavelets of the still sloshing – and, slowly evaporating! – freshly-drawn well water.
Claudia looked down on me. She watched me, as I watched the water. Attired as she now was, in the same, shapeless, all-black garb as her village sisters – the black burka – I could only recognise Claudia for certain, by her eyes. For otherwise – for all that she stood out – she was now (almost) as anonymous; as clone-like, as all of the other females of Wadi Ya Noh.
By now though, I was learning a lot, I felt, from the females’ eyes – body-language skills, would not be of much use in Wadi Ya Noh! I was already beginning to discern, from their dark, almond-shaped eyes (apart, of course, from their obvious, bristling hostility; a trait, common to them all), a good idea, as to the approximate ages of the females, and hints as to their individual personalities, even.
As for their names … well, the females of Wadi Ya Noh gave me plenty of good reasons to remember their names. And I learned them quickly.
As one, the females of Wadi Ya Noh gathered to Claudia. Their sister in scandal, who had so gloriously delivered me – an Englishman – into their vengeful hands. They listened avidly to Claudia, who translated for them at intervals as she instructed me as to how I was to always conduct myself, towards them: How I was to – at all times, demonstrate to them, the sincerity of my respect and humility.
How I was to – whenever a female approached me, at Humility Hole – address the female by her name, in welcome, and tell her that I was her slave.
And Claudia told me what I could expect, if I failed to comply with this standing instruction. Or if any of the females of Wadi Ya Noh, even so much as suspected my being insincere, to them … WHOOSH!
It would mean the Katang, threatened Claudia. And, it was no idle threat, either. Though my body was now heavily cane-striped, Claudia informed me that there were some places on my body that had actually been avoided; left untouched, by the kiss of the Katang. Deliberately left unharmed, by the females of Wadi Ya Noh. So that any such supplementary chastisement could then be duly administered, in the event of its subsequently being called for.
So that the Katang could sit snugly in the palms of the females of Wadi Ya Noh’s warm brown hands … and strike again.
But, the use of the Katang – as truly terrible, as it was – was not, in itself, a disciplinary measure that was sufficient to cure the errant ways of every wrong-doer, in their society. In itself, the use of the Katang was not a guarantee of future deterrence, where certain … ‘problem’ categories of offenders were concerned.
And so, a more … efficacious, disciplinary measure was called for.
According to the culture of many parts of the Arabian Interior, not only was it socially unacceptable; a definite no no, but it was the greatest, gravest, most gross and offensive of insults – strictly taboo – to show the soles of your feet.
The Arabian penal authorities, in their infinite wisdom, had long ago devised a certain; 3-phase form of corrective punishment, that was effective – in almost 100 per cent of cases – to chasten certain … ‘problem’ offenders.
It was a penal measure, that was designed to get such problem offenders back onto the straight-and-narrow – quickly, and permanently. As one might assume, from a measure that achieved such brilliantly successful results, it was a decidedly drastic measure. The implementation of which, the Arabian penal authorities did not take lightly. It was, due to its … sensitive nature, only used when it became clear that nothing else was going to work. As a last resort.
This tried and tested, brilliantly successful penal corrective measure of old, was to actually subject these problem offenders, to their culture’s acutest form of all possible humiliations: demonstrating the sincerity of their respect and humility, at the feet of … ‘Fallen’ females.
Which, in their culture, was as low as it was possible to get – rock-bottom.
There were different ways, that the females of their culture could ‘fall’. But, however these females had fallen, they never fell as far as the males who were brought before them … to demonstrate the sincerity of their respect and humility, at their feet.
For, almost without exception, such males were afterwards left with a life-long, indelible stain on their character. And, not only, on their character. For, it was an indelible stain, that; although invisible from outside, would, like a slowly burning acid, forever be keenly felt, inside. Therefore, in being never forgotten; in always being reminded, served as an effective deterrent. For life.
And so, to achieve these desirable ends, the Arabian penal authorities – as a last resort – had these problem offenders transported to such bleak, miserable, dreadful places, as … Wadi Ya Noh.
Transported to such places, to be subjected to their culture’s worst of all possible humiliations. To suffer the time-honoured, traditional chastisement: Demonstrating the sincerity of their respect and humility, at the feet of ‘Fallen’ women; and at the feet of their ‘tainted’ daughters.
Claudia, as the victim of ‘my’ crime, had been duly accorded the privilege of being the first of the females of Wadi Ya Noh to administer that wicked-looking cane upon me – the Katang – and thereby initiating my … initiation: my first lesson in repentance, at their hands. Now, by dint of that very same principle, Claudia would also be the first to teach me my first lesson in humility, at their feet.
“Now, David. Starting with myself, you will now demonstrate to us, the sincerity of your respect and humility, at our feet,” stated Claudia. “Down the centuries … for time immemorial, the females of Wadi Ya Noh have been ordained to perform these traditional, time-honoured rituals of chastisement. In strict adherence, to hallowed dictates of ancient standing, the females of Wadi Ya Noh perform these revered rituals, in three, distinct phases.
“First: You will breathe in, deeply, of our foot scent. You will inhale from our toes. And, as you do so, you will look at – focus your whole attention – upon the bottoms of our heels.
“Secondly: You will kiss the soles of our feet. As, and when, and how we present the soles of our feet to you. You will also kiss the soles of our feet, in your own, personal display of reverence, as we allow you to … express yourself.
“Thirdly: We may then – or, we may not – permit you to drink. For we have the power of discretion, in this matter.”
Claudia then positioned herself, accordingly: Standing with her back to me; the backs of her heels, directly in front of my face, and with the large wooden bowl of water just in front of her toes.
Claudia then slipped the big and second toes of her brown; admittedly rather shapely, dainty right foot, from the toe-post of an extremely well-worn, strapless, camel-leather sandal, thereby freeing her foot. Claudia then balanced her weight, upon her left foot. Her poise was graceful; steady, effortless and unwavering.
The bare sole of Claudia’s right foot, I saw, as it reached for my conveniently positioned face, was of a dark-honey shade of brown, several shades lighter than on the tops of her feet. Claudia cupped her toes around my nostrils; the ball of her foot, resting upon the bridge of my nose. All I could see now, was the bottom of Claudia’s smooth-skinned, pinkish-tinged heel, right in front of my eyes.
“You will remember what I told you, David … or I shall bring Katang to you again! Breathe in, deeply, of my foot scent. And, as you do so, look at – focus, your whole attention – upon the bottom of my heel. Demonstrate, to me, the sincerity of your respect and humility, at my feet,” commanded Claudia.
With Claudia’s mere mention of that dreadful cane, she had effectively secured my unthinking obedience and compliance. Following Claudia’s explicit instructions, I breathed in, deeply, of her foot scent: sniffing the undersides, and in between her nostril-cupping toes; and, as I did so, I looked at – focused my whole attention – upon the bottom of her heel.
Upon hearing my obedient sniffing of Claudia’s toes; upon seeing me compliantly staring at the bottom of Claudia’s bare heel, as I did so, as one, the closely watching females of Wadi Ya Noh gave voice to their delight and gratification, by means of starting up their dreadful, horribly shrill ululating wailing again.
The females of Wadi Ya Noh smiled and smirked; laughed and giggled … this, was what it was all about! They crowed, clapped, chuckled and cackled, as I obediently inhaled, deeply, of Claudia’s in-between-the-toes foot scent – and, as I compliantly stared at the bottom of her subjugating heel, as I did so.
To my relief, though, there was not the awful stink that I was expecting, as I obediently inhaled Claudia’s in-between-the-toes foot scent. Of course! Claudia would have showered this morning. Back in Manchester, at her airport hotel … unlike her village sisters.
My God! Manchester. Was it really only this morning? It seemed like a lifetime ago, now. A world away, too. Ha! I had thought it was flipping freezing! Now, though – I would think it was lovely and cold.
“Now, David, you will kiss the sole of my foot. Kiss all over. Demonstrate, to me, the sincerity of your respect and humility, at my feet,” instructed Claudia.
As one, the females of Wadi Ya Noh looked on wide-eyed. They were rapt, delighted, enthusiastically cheering spectators, as they watched Claudia perform the hallowed rituals of old: the ancient, traditional, time-honoured ceremonies, of Humility Hole chastisement.
The females of Wadi Ya Noh shrilly ululated their approval and satisfaction. They wailed ecstatically, as I obediently kissed the bare, smooth brown sole of Claudia’s right foot. They cooed contentedly, as I kissed all over – “as, and when, and how,” Claudia presented the sole of her foot, to my conveniently positioned face.
Claudia then presented her bare sole to my lips, expectantly. Fearing the reappearance of the dreadful Katang – if Claudia suspected even a hint of insincerity – I pressed my lips firmly into the sole of her right foot: her toes; the ball of her foot; her arch, and finally her heel. Which was exactly: “as, and when, and how,” Claudia had presented her foot to my lips.
Then, at Claudia’s leaving me to my own … initiative – I could only presume; to demonstrate, to her, the sincerity of my respect and humility, at her feet, in my “own, personal display of reverence,” – I kissed all over the sole of Claudia’s right foot, at random.
And then Claudia took control again. Once again, I kissed the parts of Claudia’s sole that she, herself presented to me, for the obedient attention of my respectful lips. I continued to kiss – “as, and when, and how” required, until Claudia finally removed the sole of her right foot from my face, and slipped it back onto her sandal.
Claudia then balanced upon her right foot, and she presented me with the bare sole of her left foot … and the whole humiliating procedure began all over again.
After which, Claudia told me, to my dismay, “I will not permit you to drink, David.” Claudia then added, magnanimously, “I give that honour, to Meena. My blessed mother. She shall be the first, to … let you drink.”
It struck me as rather odd, the way that Claudia said that: “… let you drink.” As if Claudia’s words were ‘loaded’. Which, of course, they were …
Of all of the 20 females of Wadi Ya Noh, Claudia would be the only one, on that first day, to deny me water. The only one, to refuse to … let me drink.
Claudia then stepped forward, joining the raptly observing throng of her village sisters. Then, Claudia meaningfully pointed her finger at me. And, the strength of her high emotion was plainly evident in her voice, as Claudia decreed, on rising, hallelujah-like, euphoric tones: “Meena …” addressing her mother, by her first name. “… your time has come!”
I realised why Claudia was letting Meena go first: Claudia knew, that I would always remember … ‘my first’.
At Claudia’s dramatic prompting, Meena then shuffled forward, towards me. I heard the softly swishing, rasping, rustling sound of the coarse cloth folds of Meena’s black burka, as she slowly advanced – homed in – on me.
Remembering my standing instructions, as issued to me by Claudia, I welcomed Meena accordingly: “Meena … I am your slave,” I told her.
Then the rustling stopped. Meena was here – at Humility Hole. At my “place of learning.” And, Meena was cackling horribly, hideously, in gleeful anticipation … Her time had come.
Now; just as her daughter had done before her, Meena positioned herself, accordingly: standing directly in front of me, with her back to me; the backs of her heels, right in front of my face. And, with the large wooden bowl of (as yet, untouched) water on the ground, just in front of her toes.
Just as Claudia had done, Meena slipped her right foot from her camel-leather sandal. A sandal, that looked positively ancient. Looked as though it had been passed down, countless times, through many generations. A long worn-out, ratty, tatty hand-me-down, for the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
Meena’s sandal, I saw, was indented. There was a round, deep depression at the heel, and five smaller, distinctly separate depressions – like comfortable and convenient, ready-made grooves, for the next wearer – at the toes.
And the leather of Meena’s sandal was black. Profoundly black. Black, from the accumulated dirt and grime from the soles of its many past female wearers. Black, from the indelible stain of absorbed female foot sweat of ages. And black, from the soles of Meena’s own feet, too.
In comparison, Caudia’s sandals looked quite presentable.
Meena’s feet, I saw, were of about the same size, shape and colouring as her daughter’s feet. But, that was where the similarities ended.
Claudia’s feet were clean; her soles, smooth-skinned, and her toenails neatly trimmed. By comparison, Meena’s feet were grubby, grimy, filthy dirty. Meena’s soles – especially her toe pads, the ball of her foot, and her heel – were rough-skinned, and she had unkempt, dirt encrusted toenails.
I waited, in horrified dread. Any moment now, Meena’s grubby, grimy, filthy dirty feet, were going to …
As Meena took her weight upon her left foot, her balance was nigh on perfect; just as steady and as unwavering as Claudia’s had been – if perhaps not quite so graceful. Meena then reached back for my waiting, conveniently positioned face, protruding out of Humility Hole. And, with the sole of her grubby, grimy, filthy dirty right foot, Meena cupped my nostrils in her gripping, clutching toes.
My God! The smell was truly appalling. It was unbelievable. Shocking. Horrible. Terrible.
My mind seemed to start imploding, upon computing this new … data. As if alarm bells had started ringing in my mind. As if deploying firewalls, upon detecting the imminent attack of some particularly pernicious form of malware. As if trying to throw all of the OFF switches; activate the fail-safe mechanisms. As if trying to ward off the malicious threat. As if trying to shut down. Before it was too late. Before … something, short-circuited. Before all of my fuses blew. Before my mind crashed, from downloading such a nauseating, retch-inducing, eye-watering stink.
Meena, at hearing my moans of obvious distress; my groans of acute anguish, cackled her great satisfaction.
Meena then harshly yelled something at me in Arabic: an authoritative command. Though I didn’t (yet) understand her words, I didn’t need Claudia to translate for me – it wasn’t rocket science. For Meena was merely following Claudia’s example: invoking the first of the three, traditional, time-honoured, ritualistic commands, as were routinely issued by the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
And so, I knew what Meena must be saying to me: ‘Breathe in, deeply, of my foot scent’ … ‘And, as you do so, look at the bottom of my heel’.
It took me about half a second to decide which was the worst case scenario: breathe in, deeply, of Meena’s foot scent … or have Meena take the cane; the dreaded Katang, to me for my disobedience – and then be made to breathe in, deeply, of Meena’s foot scent anyway.
I breathed in, deeply, of Meena’s foot scent. And, as I did so, I looked at the bottom of her heel. Obeying my ‘standing instructions’.
I reeled – physically, and mentally – from inhaling Meena’s pungent, dreadfully potent – noxious – in-between-the-toes foot scent. It was awful. Horrible. It was extremely distressing – to say the least – to be ‘obliged’ to sniff it up, exactly as instructed … Or else!
But, as bad, as vile, as profoundly horrible as Meena’s foot-stink was, I dreaded even more, the return of that wicked-looking, long and flexible, hellishly shrieking cane. The Katang.
Meena had had an awful lot of practice; had a lot of solid experience behind her, with the Katang. Meena had been administering the terrible Katang, upon the exposed and vulnerable flesh of the incumbents of Humility Hole, for the past 25 years. Since, as a ‘Fallen’ woman, she had been exiled to Wadi Ya Noh, along with baby Claudia – her ‘tainted’ daughter.
I knew, from my own nightmarish experience, that Meena was an adept – as all of the females of Wadi Ya Noh had proved themselves to be – in the dark art of expertly administering that fiendish instrument of exquisite affliction.
But, add to that, the females’ great yearning for vengeance, for retribution – for revenge. And, add to that, the malice, the malevolence – the sadism, with which the females’ so gleefully wielded the Katang, and …
My body was still flaring, with relentless, red-hot pulses of fire. My skin was still aglow, from the painful after-effects of my vicious, merciless caning. After-effects, I knew, that would be sure to linger and linger. Still tormenting me, days after my terrible, retributive thrashing, at the vengeful hands of the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
And so, I continued to breathe in, deeply, of Meena’s foot scent.
Meena removed the dry, leathery sole of her filthy dirty right foot from my conveniently positioned face … and she immediately replaced it, with the similarly soiled sole of her left foot. Her toes; again cupping my nostrils, in faithful adherence to the hallowed dictates of the first, of their 3-phase, time-honoured traditions of chastisement – their foot-sniffing ritual.
In accordance with Claudia’s highly explicit standing instructions, I looked at – focused my attention – upon the bottom of Meena’s bare heel, as I breathed in, deeply, of her in-between-the-toes foot scent.
From my extreme close-up ‘vantage point’, it was like looking at the bottom of Meena’s bare heel through a magnifying glass. I stared intently, upon the rough textured skin; at the loose flakes, around the edges of Meena’s heel. I surveyed the fine, hair-line cracks; and the wider, deeper fissures, that were starting to appear on the bottom of her hard, dry, flat-bottomed heel.
This excessive wearing and tearing damage was caused, I mused, by the very nature of Meena’s rough, tough, extremely hard – impoverished – living conditions.
Well, I mused … that was only to be expected, wasn’t it? After all, the females of Wadi Ya Noh lived in such a … ‘small way’. They aboded, in such dismal, dingy, decrepit dwellings. They existed, in ‘houses’, that were built from bricks of mud. They endured, in their grim and grotty homes, in the middle of a vast, arid, sun-blasted desert. And, they were decreed, by their local Tribal Lord, to cope without even the most basic of home comforts, that would have served to at least alleviate the abject wretchedness of their lives, in Wadi Ya Noh.
I mused further, along similar lines, in an effort to distract myself – if even for just a moment – from the appalling olfactory onslaught of Meena’s in-between-the-toes foot stink. But, it was to no avail.
My God! The stink was intolerable. But, I had to tolerate it. I couldn’t risk Meena taking that hellish cane to me again; unleashing its terrible power upon my exposed and vulnerable flesh. I couldn’t risk Meena bringing the Katang … out of its lair.
For, in the more than capable hands of the females of Wadi Ya Noh, that cane was like a demon. A demon, their … ‘familiar’, that was totally under their control.
To the females of Wadi Ya Noh, the Katang was not considered as merely an inanimate object. Far from it. The Katang was solemnly revered – by such ‘Fallen’ women, and their ‘tainted’ daughters – as the symbolic talisman of legends and lore of ages. For them, the Katang was a symbol of redress.
The females of Wadi Ya Noh spoke of the Katang: not as ‘it’ or ‘that’, as if their cane was just an object; a lifeless thing. But by name, and as if their terrible cane was actually sentient. As if their dreadful cane was some sort of … living entity.
Katang was their fiendish little pet. Katang was a pet, that loved to sit snugly, in the palms of their warm brown hands. But, above all, Katang was their devoted servant. And, Katang loved to serve them. Loved to do the bidding, of the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
I didn’t want to hear that terrifying, whooshing shriek, as that terrible cane whistled towards my bare, vulnerable bottom. I didn’t want to go through the roof, again and again, each time the Katang bit savagely into my defenceless flesh. Bit into my shoulders, back, sides, legs … or buttocks: Where Meena had earlier administered her two devastating, whimper-inducing cane-strokes, and reduced me to a bawling, begging-for-mercy, gibbering wreck.
No, I did not want the females of Wadi Ya Noh’s fiendish little pet being unleashed upon me again. And I was resolved to do just whatever the hell I had to do, to prevent any such … supplementary, chastisement from being meted out to me.
And so, I continued to breathe in, deeply, of Meena’s foot scent.
Upon her hearing – and feeling – my obedient, compliant sniffing of her clutching, nostril cupping toes, Meena cackled with wicked delight. Oh yes … her time had come.
And, the closely watching females of Wadi Ya Noh enthusiastically expressed their whole-hearted approval, in the usual way: they ululated. They ululated their encouragement, to Meena. They ululated their sheer, rapturous enjoyment, in observing the highly gratifying scene being played out before their eyes.
Just as I was able to discern some idea of age, expression, and personality, from the females’ eyes, I was also able to discern some idea of meaning, too, from the various tones, nuances, cadences, pitches and intensities of their – undeniably dreadful; yet, to the tuned-in ear, expressive – ululating. Yes: it was a terrible noise. But, it wasn’t ‘just’, a terrible noise.
Meena returned her left foot to her ancient, camel-leather sandal … and she promptly returned the sole of her right foot to my conveniently positioned face.
Once again, Meena shrewishly yelled something at me, in Arabic: another authoritative command. I knew, of course, that Meena was commanding me to perform the second, of their 3-phase, time-honoured traditions of chastisement – their foot-kissing ritual.
With the dreadful Katang, ever in mind, I immediately – unhesitatingly – obeyed Meena.
As highly humiliating as it was, kissing the soles of Meena’s grubby, grimy, filthy dirty feet was less offensive to me, than the ultra-horrible ordeal of sniffing her in-between-the-toes foot stink.
And so: knowing the dreadful penalty that I would incur, for even the slightest act of disobedience; for committing even the slightest infraction of the rules; for showing even the slightest of cracks, in the sincerity of my respect and humility, at their feet … in exactly the same manner as I had done so for Claudia, I compliantly performed my utterly degrading requirements.
Meena was exultant. She was truly ecstatic, at being able to so authoritatively command my obedient, compliant – slavish – attentions. Meena was quite beside herself. Overcome, with an uncontainable surfeit of pleasure, of happiness. Overcome, with gratification, as I – an Englishman – demonstrated the sincerity of my respect and humility, at her feet.
In giving suitable expression to her sky high, bubbling over emotions, Meena ululated. And, in the up-and-down modulations of Meena’s ecstatic outpourings, I discerned a high, clear note; the meaning of which, was quite unmistakable: Glorious victory.
Meena continued to ululate and, there was a distinct peal of gleeful, undreamed of triumph in her shrill, yodelling-like wailing, as she reached behind her, and presented the sole of her right, grubby, grimy, filthy dirty, stinky foot to my conveniently positioned face … Her time had come.
Meena, now aged 41, had been waiting, and waiting, and waiting … for revenge.
Oh, yes: of course Meena had, over the past 25 years, administered … chastisement; not only, to many an Arab man, but also to many white men, too, of many different nationalities, while they were helplessly incarcerated in Humility Hole.
But, she had never yet chastised an Englishman … and Meena wanted an Englishman. As Claudia had put it: “The finest, of all delicacies.”
For, it was an Englishman – Vincent – who had so callously broken his solemn promises, to Meena. His promises of marriage; of a better life, in England. Living as equals.
It was an Englishman, who had so cruelly spurned and deserted Meena, and her yet-to-be-born child – who he knew; should his baby turn out to be a girl, Meena was going to name Claudia. After his own mother.
This Englishman – Vincent – had abandoned them; mother and child, to their horrible fate. Condemning Meena and Claudia, to the bitter hardships of a bleak, terrible, mindless existence. An existence, that had but one … consolation: Administering chastisement, to the male incumbents of Humility Hole.
Meena had borne her bitter grudge, for a long, long time. For too long. Waiting, endlessly waiting. Waiting, for years and years; and the waiting was souring her soul.
Meena had waited, since the birth of her daughter – her beloved Claudia, the only light in her bleak life – 25 years ago.
25 years ago, when that mangy cur, that accursed Englishman, that ‘man-of-the-world’ – Vincent – had seduced sweet, innocent Meena. Had deflowered her, when she was just sixteen.
And then Vincent – the treacherous, deceitful wretch – had callously reneged on his solemn promise to sweet, naive Meena. Heartlessly, pitilessly forsaking both of them – mother, and their yet-to-be-born child.
Ever since then, Meena had dreamed of; had longed for this very moment. For her moment: For Payback Time.
And now, at long, long last – all thanks to Claudia, her beloved daughter – Meena’s wait was finally over. For now, Meena actually had an Englishman, at her feet … Her time had come.
Understandably, Meena was very possessive, highly covetous, of the new incumbent of Humility Hole – their Englishman foot slave.
Meena was loath, greatly reluctant, to relinquish her highly agreeable, ineffably gratifying position. She was extremely reluctant, to let the next, impatiently waiting female in line … Fatima – who was equally eligible; and who also had every entitlement, as one of the many females of Wadi Ya Noh to be made pregnant by a subsequently absconding Englishman – to take her rightful, eagerly awaited turn with their highly-prized prisoner.
Fatima was impatient, to be taking her turn with the first Englishman ever to be incarcerated in Humility Hole. The first Englishman, ever to be … chastised, by the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
But the females of Wadi Ya Noh did not begrudge Meena her ‘moment in the sun’. For, they knew that Meena had been in a very dark place, for the past 25 years. Besides: they knew that their own, feverishly awaited turns with that foul wretch; that mangy dog, would come soon enough. They knew, that their Englishman foot slave was theirs … for ‘A Thousand Suns’. Ha! He wasn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
And so the females shrilly ululated their pleasure and approval, their encouragement, as they rapturously watched Meena; one of their elder village sisters, joyously milk her long-awaited moment, for all it was worth – and then some.
The avidly watching females of Wadi Ya Noh ululated approvingly, as Meena authoritatively commanded me to kiss the soles of her dirty, stinky feet. Again and again. Both: left to “express” myself, and kissing the different parts of Meena’s soles, in my “own, personal display of reverence,” – and then at the harsh, demanding, personal and particular promptings of Meena, herself.
The females of Wadi Ya Noh ululated gleefully, victoriously, triumphantly. They were jubilant, as Meena had their helpless captive – their Englishman foot slave – demonstrate the sincerity of his respect and humility, at her feet.
What an awful, terrible, horrible experience. I was sure I’d never get over it. Ever.
And, my God, it was hot! I wasn’t used to this kind of heat. I wasn’t accustomed, to this searing, scorching, relentless Arabian sun – and it was only December!
By now, I was becoming terribly thirsty. Distressingly so. This was getting beyond a joke. I’d had nothing to drink, for hours. Not since Claudia and her colleague (and counsellor), Samira, had served coffee aboard the Arabian Airways flight – of which I’d had just one cup.
My throat felt as though lined with coarse-grain sandpaper, and stuffed with thick wads of cotton wool. My tongue felt thick and swollen; wholly devoid of moisture. I was as dry as the proverbial bone. And, I was getting drier by the second.
Just the thought, of that cool, glinting, sparkling, freshly-drawn well water, in the large wooden bowl at Meena’s feet … I wanted water, craved water – needed water. By now, I was desperate for water. I just simply had to have it. I implored Meena: “Please, Meena. Please … Water!” I pleaded beseechingly. “Please, Meena … let me drink.”
Of course, Meena understood only her name – but she certainly got the gist of what I was saying. Claudia translated the rest anyway … And Meena had just learned her first few words of English.
Meena cackled maliciously. This was what it was all about; this was sweet revenge, indeed. Meena removed the sole of her right, grubby, grimy, filthy dirty, stinky foot from my face, and she dipped it into the (by now) almost lukewarm water in the large wooden bowl at her feet.
I watched, in spellbound revulsion, as Meena submerged the sole of her right foot in the precious water. And left it there, soaking – and immediately dirtying the clean liquid. After some moments, Meena withdrew her foot, and she hovered her foot over the bowl, vertically, to allow excess water to drip back into the large wooden receptacle.
I watched, in horrified fascination, as the clean and sparkling water that streamed down Meena’s bare sole gradually turned into muddy-brown, viscous blobs, before reluctantly dropping from the tips of her toes. I watched, utterly appalled, as the vile-looking drops plopped; made tiny splashes that caused ripples upon the surface, and instantly further contaminated the clean, freshly-drawn well water with a quickly spreading, muddy-brown tinge, like a rapidly proliferating harmful bacteria.
Meena then presented the sole of her wetted, still dripping right foot, to my conveniently positioned face.
So … Now I understood: this was the time-honoured, traditional method, by which the females of Wadi Ya Noh permitted their helpless prisoners – the wretched incumbents of Humility Hole … to drink.
I stared at the revolting, yet hypnotic, sight, just inches from my eyes. I was utterly appalled, unbelievably disgusted – but I was thirsty. So incredibly, unbelievably thirsty. In my whole life, I had never imagined there could be thirst like this – and I had only been in Arabia for a few hours. And, it was only December, at that.
The sole of Meena’s right foot was now a wet, milk-chocolaty brown. I was totally revolted – but I was mesmerised, too, by the awful sight. The sole of Meena’s right foot: her toe pads; the caramel-coloured undersides of her toes and her arch; the ball of her foot, her heel, glistened, as it reflected the brilliant Arabian sunlight. It was almost beautiful.
But Meena’s right sole was drying rapidly, in the moisture-devouring desert heat. I was wasting valuable time – wasting precious water. The life-sustaining fluid was evaporating fast. The steady dripping of the dense, disgusting, muddy-brown drops of water from the tips of Meena’s toes onto the dusty, barren wasteland of Wadi Ya Noh, had all but stopped. Had almost dried up.
So I began to lick – to lap like a sun-maddened, thirst-crazed dog.
Almost instantly, I felt my tongue become coated with a layer of thick, muddy water, as it began to absorb the ghastly, gooey liquid.
And, the females of Wadi Ya Noh ululated uproariously.
First, I licked at the pads of Meena’s toes: this was where the muddy-brown droplets of water were forming, and I could not allow them – could not afford – those vital drops of precious liquid to fall to the dusty desert ground; to go to such appalling waste. I then licked the undersides of Meena’s toes, before progressing to the ball of her foot. I then moved onto her arch, and then her heel, which I frenziedly sucked on, trying to draw out every last bit of wetness.
And then I returned my attentions to Meena’s toes. My God! It was awful, disgusting – but I had to do it. I furiously sucked on Meena’s toes, one by one, before madly playing and plying my moisture seeking tongue up and down her sole. Ugh! It was terrible, horrible. But it had to be done.
With her bullying toes, Meena then parted my lips; prised open my mouth and, before I knew what she was about, she had inserted all five toes into my now, wide-open mouth – not, that I would have dared to try and prevent her from doing so. Not with the dreadful Katang, ever in mind.
My God! I could hardly believe that Meena would do such an appalling, abusive, utterly humiliating thing – that any female would. But there was more to come, when Meena then forcibly crammed her toes in even further, deeper, ‘obliging’ me to accommodate them all.
My God! It was awful. So incredibly horrible. But then my terrible ordeal got even worse, when Meena brutally forced in more and more of her foot; cruelly shoving her foot, even deeper into my mouth, further and further. Until I started gagging. Until I was almost choking … Until I was helplessly staring, teary-eyed, at her still-glistening, hard-skinned, flat-bottomed, dominating heel, barely more than an inch away from my eyes – almost too close to focus on.
Meena then slightly eased the terrible pressure upon my mouth and throat. And once again I stared fixedly at her muddy, still-glistening heel, right in front of my eyes, as I sucked on and in-between all of her toes.
I moaned like a maniac, as I fought to overcome my stomach-turning disgust; moaned, as I tried to ignore the foul tastes and textures of the globules of gunge that my probing tongue prised loose, and excavated from in between each of Meena’s toes.
For, so desperate, was I, that I sucked like crazy, in a frantic effort to absorb every last bit of precious, life-sustaining moisture, before it evaporated away into the hot desert air.
At beholding the ineffably pleasing, supremely gratifying scene unfolding before them, the ecstatic, blissful ululations of the avidly watching females of Wadi Ya Noh, rose even higher; even more shrill, in pitch. And now, there was a distinctly triumphant, jubilant – celebratory – quality, to their dreadful ululating.
Yes: that was exactly it, I realised. The females of Wadi Ya Noh were celebrating.
The females of Wadi Ya Noh smirked and smiled, chuckled and giggled, laughed and cackled, in their ecstatic, jubilant, triumphant delight. Like a coven of evil witches around their cauldron at mid-night, they capered about, danced deliriously, cavorted comically.
They all but high-fived each other, in mutual congratulation, as they saw Meena’s dirty, grimy, wettened foot: saw her dominating heel, at the level of my teary eyes; saw her toes, crammed deep into my mouth … being sucked – being licked clean – by their Englishman foot slave.
Playing to the cheering crowd, Meena at last withdrew her right foot from my mouth and, theatrically, she exaggeratedly turned her ankle this way, that way – every-which-way – so that she, and the rest of the females of Wadi Ya Noh could closely inspect the results, so far, of my tongue-cleaning attentions upon her filthy dirty sole.
Upon her observing that the sole of her right foot was covered in muddy-brown splotches; full of dirty smears, streaks and lines, comprised of mud, grime, dirt, foot sweat – and my saliva, Meena again submerged the sole of her right foot in the large wooden bowl of water at her feet. Meena flexed, scrunched, and wiggled her toes in the precious water, as she swirled her foot around the bowl.
The originally clean and sparkling, freshly-drawn well water, was now turning as dull as dishwater … But, no: it was worse than that – a lot worse.
For the water was starting to turn a decidedly unhealthy-looking, darker shade of brown. Starting to look less and less appealing. Less and less wholesome. Less and less palatable … as the heavier bits and pieces of mud, dirt and grime that I had tongue-loosened from the sole and toes of Meena’s right foot, broke up, and then slowly sank to the bottom of the bowl, like bits of dirty jetsam … While the lighter particles simply dissolved; permeated the water; and floated on the surface, like the sinister-looking scum tide of some washed-up chemical waste residue.
I was utterly appalled. Absolutely disgusted. My stomach was turning over, just at the very sight of the deliberately – purposefully – spoiled water.
But, I was also very hot and very thirsty. So incredibly thirsty. I had never known such terrible thirst. I was burning up; on the verge of spontaneous combustion, I was sure, from the relentless, oppressive heat of that terrible Arabian sun. I had to have water. Just had to. Any water. Even …
Again, Meena allowed the excess, muddy-brown droplets of water to drip from the toes of her right foot, and back into the large wooden bowl at her feet, before presenting her sole to my conveniently positioned face … letting me drink.
This time, I did not hesitate. Whoever said: ‘He who hesitates, is lost’, was bang on the money. This time, I did not stop to think. I did not stop to consider; to ponder, about what I was actually doing. I didn’t give a second’s thought, about my degradation. My humiliation. This time, I did not allow a single drop of that precious water to be lost. My God! I needed that water. I needed every last drop. Every drop that I could possibly get. And I was now totally beyond caring, as to how I actually got it.
I promptly licked, lapped and sucked on every part of the sole of Meena’s mud-streaked, filthy dirty right foot. Licked, lapped, and sucked, like a man possessed. As though my very existence depended on it – as it surely did.
And, the ululating wailing of the females of Wadi Ya Noh, was their dreadful, untuneful, unmelodious, decidedly discordant background music, as they watched Meena … let me drink.
At last; and after having submerged the sole of her right foot in the large wooden bowl of water for the 4th time, Meena again withdrew her right foot from my conveniently positioned face to inspect her sole again. Meena studied her sole carefully. Scrutinised it critically. And, Meena saw that I had now actually licked, lapped and sucked the sole of her right foot, thoroughly, flawlessly, spotlessly clean.
Now, it hit me. Hit me, like a karate kick to the solar plexus. The unthinkable reality, of what I had just actually done. The dreadful depths, to which I had sunk. I hung my head, in deep, soul-destroying shame. I couldn’t believe, what I had just actually done … I could never hold my head up again.
And, my gut felt so horribly weighed down; my stomach, heavy and uncomfortable, to say the least. The dust, dirt, grime, foot sweat; these were the unpalatable, stomach-turning cocktail of ingredients, the … foreign matter, that combined to make up the horrid, gooey mud-soup that I had licked, lapped, sucked and slurped from the sole of Meena’s right foot.
The mud-soup, that had (if the dreadful way that I now felt, was any indicator) overloaded, overwhelmed, and overflowed my body system’s sludge-collecting, filth-sifting filters, and then slowly drifted down, through my stomach, and sunk to the very bottom of my gut, like dirty, silty old engine oil draining to the bottom of a sump.
I felt as sick as a dog; my stomach, on the point of revolt. On the verge of a violent upheaval, just at the very thought of what I had actually consumed.
But, the awful state of my physical health, was actually of far less concern to me, than was the truly dreadful state of my psychological well being.
My sense of shame; of soul-shredding humiliation, was like a powerful, irresistible force of mental gravity. It crushed my spirit; dragged me down. And down.
For, after what I had done today – albeit, I felt I had little choice in the matter – I felt that I could never walk straight-backed again. I could only walk with my head down. Slump-shouldered. Dejected. Shame-faced.
For, there would be an indelible stain upon my character that: although invisible from outside, it would, like a corrosive, slowly burning acid, be forever keenly felt, inside.
Meena sighed. And, it was a sigh of blissful, ineffable satisfaction. For, I – an Englishman – had demonstrated, to Meena, the sincerity of my respect and humility, at her feet.
Meena ululated. It was a high-pitched, almost ear-piercing sound. In the throes of her overwhelming, ecstatic, heartfelt joy; in her incredible, undreamed of happiness, Meena ululated.
Elation. It was, of course, the sound of elation. Thrilling, exhilarating, spirit-soaring elation. Pure and simple. For … her time had come.
Though it was scant compensation, it was a blessed consolation. It really meant that much, to Meena. Who had been so cruelly spurned, so callously abandoned, 25 years ago, by the English oil worker – Vincent. Resulting – as a ‘Fallen’ female – in her exile to Wadi Ya Noh. Along with baby Claudia – her ‘tainted’ daughter.
Meena’s long-standing, sorely grievous grudge – a grudge, that had, for all of these long years, unceasingly tortured her mind; had relentlessly eaten away at her insides, like a nagging, gnawing, tormenting tangle of worms – was, at last, now being satisfactorily addressed. Redressed.
Meena was, at long, long last, tasting her cold dish of revenge. For, Meena was actually inflicting her culture’s greatest, gravest, grossest, and vilest of all possible insults: having the soles of her feet sniffed, kissed, and then licked clean – upon an Englishman.
Meena gleefully displayed the sole of her English-tongue cleaned right foot to her village sisters – who did not take offence, at the usually direly offensive, grievously insulting, showing-the-sole-of-your-foot, gesture. Not a bit of it!
Instead, upon seeing the results for themselves – Meena’s still-glistening, spotlessly clean right sole – those of Meena’s village sisters who were not already barefoot, began to remove their own shoes: a motley assortment of colour-faded, barely serviceable, ratty, tatty, worn-out flats, pumps, slingbacks, mules, clogs, sandals, rubber and plastic flip flops …
Meena’s village sisters displayed to each other the soles of their own, dusty, dirty, grubby, grimy feet, while at the same time meaningfully pointing their fingers and gesturing at me – their highly-prized, Englishman prisoner …
Pointing and gesturing, towards their Englishman foot slave. Safely and securely incarcerated, in Humility Hole. A picture of pure despondency. Waiting, helplessly and hopelessly. Waiting, for each and every one of them to take their eagerly-awaited, richly entitled turn.
Meena then submerged the sole of her left foot in the large wooden bowl of water at her feet. She let her sole soak, for a few moments; flexing, scrunching, and wiggling her toes, and leisurely swirling her sole around the surface of the water in the bowl.
Meena then withdrew the sole of her left foot from the once-clean, but now, increasingly dirty water. She hovered her foot over the bowl, vertically; her toes pointing downwards. I watched, as the water ran down from the bottom of Meena’s heel to her toes, and then dripped from the tips of her toes, in unsightly, muddy-brown – almost black – viscous droplets, back into the receptacle.
The sole of Meena’s left foot was now a wettened, muddy, milk-chocolaty brown. Now, with her left foot, Meena reached back and, she was poised; her balance, confident and assured, as she presented the sole of her left foot to my conveniently positioned face … letting me drink.
The great ball of the glowing, still fiercely glaring Arabian sun was almost down, by the time I had demonstrated the sincerity of my respect and humility, at the grubby, dirty, grimy feet, of all of the females of Wadi Ya Noh. All 20 of them.
There had been the strict … protocols, of the 3-phase, time-honoured, traditional rituals to duly observe, at the feet of every female of Wadi Ya Noh.
Firstly: there was the deeply disgusting, acutely distressing – foot-sniffing ritual.
Secondly: there was the extremely degrading, bringing-you-to-your-knees – foot-kissing ritual.
Thirdly: there was the appallingly cruel, hideously humiliating – foot-cleaning ritual … letting me drink. Or not, as the case may be: for the females had the power of discretion, in this matter.
Demonstrating the sincerity of my respect and humility at the feet of the females of Wadi Ya Noh, had been incredibly horrible and disgusting and, by far, the worst experience of my life. And I am sure I will never be able to forget it. I couldn’t paint too black a picture: grim, harrowing, humiliating; it had been a truly horrible, terribly traumatic, mind-scarring ordeal.
Their ululating wailing was almost constant, hardly ever seemed to stop. But, when it did, the ensuing silence was usually so deep, so threat-laden, so ominous, as to make me actually want their awful noise to start up again. In the desert air of Humility Square, their ululations rang loud and clear. Sang out: individually, at one pitch of intensity or another; yet also amalgamating, into a single wall of raucous sound, that grated on my nerves, wearing me down. Slowly driving me mad, I was sure.
And I was still thirsty. Thirsty as hell. And, I knew that this was the way it was going to be, for ‘A Thousand Suns’. I knew, that the females of Wadi Ya Noh would keep me thirsty. I knew, that they would keep me begging and pleading; keep me forever beseeching them for water. Keep me pathetically imploring them, to … let me drink.
I knew, that it was all part of the set-up – was what Wadi Ya Noh was all about: chastisement. I knew, that it was at the ‘sole discretion’ of the females of Wadi Ya Noh, whether to deny me water – or to permit me to lick, lap and suck the water from their dirty feet, when they presented their wettened, milk-chocolaty brown soles to my ever waiting, conveniently positioned face … letting me drink.
That is – when they deigned to.
For, they would not always grant me water, after that first day of my incarceration in Humility Hole. For, to the females of Wadi Ya Noh, it was almost as pleasing, to so cruelly deny me water, as it was for them to … let me drink.
It was almost as satisfying, almost as gratifying, to the females of Wadi Ya Noh, to callously refuse my pathetic pleas for water – to use their power of discretion. To submerge their dirty soles in the large wooden bowl of water, for a nice, cool and refreshing dip; dirty it up some more … and then simply walk away from me, without easing my ever raging thirst.
Without ‘being cruel, to be kind’.
It was almost as rewarding, to the females of Wadi Ya Noh, to leave me forlornly staring at their bare, wet, retreating soles. To leave me watching them leave their trail of wet footprints behind them, as they walked away from me. To leave me watching the dust, dirt and grit of Humility Square, sticking, clinging to their damp soles, soaking up that precious moisture, and thereby so tauntingly wasting the vital water that I so desperately needed.
It seemed quite impossible, for a prisoner to get out of Humility Hole unassisted. Certainly, I could not manage it, when Claudia told me that it was time to come out of there. I tried, but it seemed futile: no footholds, no handholds; impossible to get sufficient leverage with which to push myself out with my arms. The females watched my efforts with amused interest. Leading me to believe that it was, actually possible; that others before me had somehow managed to do it.
But I failed miserably. It took 4 of the females of Wadi Ya Noh to pull me out: two to each arm, while another of them – Kandi – lent supplementary assistance – hauling me out by my tie …
My pale blue, silk tie. The tasteful, thoughtful present from my fiancee, Sandra, who had bought it especially for my business trip … with my boss, Miss Susan Smith. Oh! Miss Susan Smith! That woman!! She had a lot to answer for. She really had. Oh! If only she could see me now – it would make her day!
As soon as I had been dragged out of Humility Hole, many of the females of Wadi Ya Noh shuffled a short way into the desert, to use the communal latrine before going to their humble homes for the night.
“We will relieve ourselves later,” Claudia told me, unabashedly. “Now, come with us, David. We will start, as we mean to go on: you will walk four paces behind Meena and I, and you will keep your eyes lowered, upon our feet, at all times,” instructed Claudia, matter-of-factly.
On uncertain, wobbly legs, that threatened to collapse under me at any moment from the strain of standing in the same, highly restrictive position for so long (I hadn’t really noticed, until now, just how tired my legs actually were: there had always been so many … distractions), I obediently followed 4 paces behind the shuffling, black burka-clad forms of Claudia and Meena.
And, just as Claudia had commanded, I kept my eyes lowered; fixed upon their feet. For, I had the uneasy, eerie feeling, that the females had the uncanny power of actually knowing when I was disobeying them. And so, it was in this decidedly humble fashion that I followed the two females as they shuffled home wards … towards one of the pitiful, mud-brick hovels of Wadi Ya Noh.
If I had been expecting the interior of Claudia and Meena’s poor dwelling place to be much of an improvement on the exterior, I would have been sadly disappointed. But I hadn’t been; not really. After all, their pitiful little home was built of mud, with perhaps a bit of straw mixed in, to help bind and strengthen the mud.
After all, after she had bought in her weekly necessities, Claudia would hardly be able to afford ‘luxuries’ for the home. Not, at any rate, with what little was left of her decidedly modest income from her part-time air hostess job with Arabian Airways.
An inventory of contents wouldn’t take long: There was a threadbare rug that covered most of the ‘living room’ floor, with 4 cushions (of indeterminate colour) on it, for sitting on – there were no chairs.
Ancient, colour-faded tapestries depicting various typical desert themes, were the decorative adornments on 3 of the 4 walls.
There were a few rough, holey blankets with traditional Arabian patterns and designs on them, folded away tidily in a corner on the floor.
In another corner, 2 black burkas were folded up neatly: the extent, I assumed, of Claudia and Meena’s ‘wardrobe’.
Claudia’s air hostess uniform – which she normally left behind at the Arabian Airways crew room – was folded neatly on top of the 2 black burkas; her Arabian Airways issue mules, sitting atop the small pile of clothing.
And, Claudia’s lilac-coloured, Arabian Airways air hostess uniform and mules, were highly incongruous – to say the least – in such a drab and dismal, deeply depressing setting. The pleasant shade of pale purple, just not seeming to belong. Seeming somehow … ‘wrong’. Seeming as out of place, as a splash of colour in a black and white photograph.
In another corner, a primitive cooking-pot sat upon a metal tripod, with a small gas bottle placed under it.
On a small, very old and heavily scarred wooden table, were a couple of old and battered pots and pans, a few very basic cooking utensils, and some sorry-looking tin plates and cups.
Roughly carved out of one of the mud walls, was (as far as the females of Wadi Ya Noh, were concerned) the one, saving grace: a single, unglazed window, that afforded – as did all of the dwellings of Wadi Ya Noh – an excellent, unimpeded view of Humility Square, and of Humility Hole, at its centre.
And that, pretty much it, was it: Home, Sweet Home.
My God! What a way to live. What a bleak, miserable, wretched existence. I was aghast, utterly appalled – a fact, that was certainly not lost on Claudia. “Welcome to our home …” said Claudia, in a parody of hospitable graciousness, “… and yours, too, David. For ‘A Thousand Suns’.”
Later, upon returning from our moonlit visit to the communal latrine, Meena prepared and served up a decidedly frugal meal – to say the least – for her daughter and herself.
My stomach was audibly groaning with hunger pangs. I salivated – all but drooled, as I watched Claudia and Meena eat their meagre supper from their old and dented tin plates with their fingers. As was the custom. And, it was a custom I would have to adopt – if I wanted to eat.
When they were finished eating, Claudia and Meena fed me their scant, wholly unappetizing leftover scraps. I had no idea what the food was – apart from a few dates, half a fig (the tooth marks plainly visible, from where Meena had bitten it in half), and a bit of hard, dried-out coconut – and I didn’t want to know, either. But I was so ravenous, after such an energy-sapping day, that I wolfed down every morsel they gave me.
After our supper, we sat on cushions on the floor; Claudia and Meena sitting opposite to me, cross-legged. Within a matter of minutes, I was already in some considerable discomfort: the hard-baked, compressed-mud floor of the dwelling, having about as much give in it, as a slab of steel-reinforced concrete. Claudia and Meena, though, seemed perfectly comfortable.
The glimmering, flickering glow of a short and stubby wax candle on the floor close by, served as the only supplement to the illumination from the moon and stars that shone in through the unglazed window.
Even though I now wore a (absolutely hideous-looking) vertical striped, black-brown-and-grey, single-piece, one-size-fits-all, poncho-like garment of a decidedly rough and abrasive fabric (especially against my bare skin) that Claudia had given me to wear, I thought it was starting to get decidedly nippy. Claudia and Meena, though, didn’t seem in the least affected by the suddenly creeping chill.
Claudia and Meena remained attired in their black burka’s; after all, what did they have to change into, anyway – evening dresses and ball gowns? Their spare black burkas, was the only alternative clothing that they had.
As always, only their eyes, hands, and feet – now bare – were visible to me.
For a while, Claudia and Meena talked to each other in easy, familiar companionship, and I contented myself with listening to the cadences of their strange tongue. Of course, I had no idea what the two chatting women said; what topics they might have been talking about. Although I did hear my name mentioned a few times. Which I actually found quite disconcerting; suddenly hearing my name being mentioned, straight out of the blue like that.
Although I was itching to ask Claudia what she and her mother were talking about, I thought it prudent to remain silent … I was to be seen, and not heard. I realised that.
Then Claudia suddenly addressed me directly; started asking me some questions. Personal, probing questions. About my life in England.
About where I lived: did I live in Manchester, or thereabouts? About what sort of house I lived in: how big, how many bedrooms … did I actually own it? About what I did for recreation: did I play any sports, go to football matches, go to the cinema; did I drink, go to the pub?. About the Company that I worked for – Jordan’s Climate Control: what was my job title, what did I actually do there, to earn a living; what was Miss Susan Smith like, as my boss?
And … Claudia asked about how much money I earned.
Which seemed to be quite academic, really, since I would be spending the next ‘A Thousand Suns’ (minus 1), as the foot slave of the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
I couldn’t fail to notice, though, what Claudia did not ask me about: Claudia did not ask me – not one single question – about my fiancee, my Sandra.
Claudia did not ask me, about my one-and-only. She did not ask me, about the woman of my dreams, pining for me (I hoped), thousands of miles away, back home in England. The woman, whom she knew perfectly well that I was supposed to be getting married, next week, just in time for Christmas.
Claudia did not ask me about Sandra, I realised, because, to Claudia, Sandra simply didn’t matter; simply didn’t enter into the equation. To Claudia, my Sandra was of no account; neither here nor there. To Claudia, my darling Sandra was inconsequential; a non-entity. To Claudia, my Sandra was irrelevant.
I answered Claudia’s questions frankly and honestly. After all, I had no reason not to – or, at least I thought I didn’t … I didn’t know, then, that Claudia was being diabolically underhand with me. I didn’t know, then, about Claudia’s secret, dastardly agenda.
Claudia translated everything I said, to Meena. Everything. And, like a young girl being read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by her mother at bedtime, Meena’s eyes lit up, with incredulous, child-like wonder, as she absorbed every detail, all of the amazing, other-world information. Not least, upon hearing the extra-juicy – fantastical – bits … about males working under the authority of females; and, that that was really nothing out of the ordinary, in England.
And, Meena listened to me. She stared at me, as I spoke. Her dark, almond-shaped eyes unwavering, as she listened with a fascinated, rapt attention to the strange-sounding language of their Englishman prisoner, who sat compliantly at her feet.
This would become the established pattern, for the way the three of us spent our evenings together, after supper. These questions and answers sessions: Claudia asking – me answering. Often, Claudia’s questions would be at the behest of the ever curious, ever incredulous Meena. And, little by little, Meena would pick up more and more English … It would come in handy for her.
At the time, I was actually very glad of these … ‘little chats’. Since I would otherwise have been left alone with just my own miserable thoughts for company. Little did I know, that Claudia was stringing me along; skillfully manipulating me. Little did I know that, snippet by snippet, I was actually feeding Claudia all of the information she needed: the ‘gen’, to enable her to construct, and then to actually implement, her carefully thought through, wicked little scheme.
Soon, it was bedtime. The females of Wadi Ya Noh went to bed early (well, there wasn’t a lot to stay up for), and they got up early, too. “It can get cold at night in the desert, David. And so you will sleep at our feet, to keep them warm for us. You will sleep unclothed,” decreed Claudia.
This practice, too, would become the regular and established custom, for the way the three of us spent our nights together.
At first light, Meena kicked me awake – and, none too gently, either. “Wake up, sleepy head!” she told me, and I heard the sly, mischievous, sneaky snigger in her voice. Except that I was already awake, and I had heard Claudia whispering conspiratorially to Meena, teaching her those few words of English. Very funny, Claudia, I thought to myself.
Meena, I realised, had actually just spoken her first few words of English: “Wake up, sleepy head!” she had said. And, it was a phrase that Meena would use often, in the times ahead – when she kicked me awake, at first light. Her … rude awakening, signalling the start of yet another horrible day, in Humility Hole.
In fact, as bone-tired, as I was, I had been lying wide awake for most of the night. I had found sleep – any sort of meaningful shut-eye, quite impossible. And, no wonder!
What: with the hard as steel-reinforced concrete, compressed-mud floor to lie on, and with just the thin, inadequate, full-of-holes blanket over my naked body, with which to keep out the desert-night cold.
What: with my thoughts in turmoil, going over and over all of the bizarre ins-and-outs of my incredible, heinous predicament.
What: with Claudia and Meena’s feet, giving me no peace; using the full, length and breadth of my naked body for warmth, all night.
What: as, when I was lying with my back to Claudia and Meena, I found, to my great consternation, that Meena had the habit: the highly disconcerting – appallingly invasive, habit – of forcing her cold, warmth-seeking feet in between my clenched together upper thighs, and warming them on my genitals … It was little wonder, that I had found sleep elusive.
Outside, the Arabian sun was already warm. While Claudia and Meena breakfasted, I visited the communal latrine. Of course, I’d heard about outside-toilets. But this was ridiculous.
After eating a few mean and mysterious morsels of food – Claudia’s and Meena’s leftover breakfast scraps – Claudia said, “Come, David. To Humility Square. It is the second day of your ‘A Thousand Suns’ sentence, in Humility Hole.”
Meena grabbed hold of my pale blue silk tie – the tie, that my fiancee, my Sandra, had bought for me … My God! I was missing her terribly already – and she proprietorially pulled me along behind her, like the owner of some docile beast of burden, leading it by its yoke.
The females of Wadi Ya Noh were already gathered at Humility Hole, impatiently awaiting our arrival. Or, more to the point: my arrival. Their latest prisoner – their Englishman foot slave.
Upon seeing us approach, the females of Wadi Ya Noh began their nerve-shredding, blood-curdling, ululating wailing. They couldn’t wait to get started; impatient to begin the day’s proceedings, as a matter of urgency. They couldn’t wait, to lower me into Humility Hole. Couldn’t wait, to get my day’s chastisement underway. They couldn’t wait, to have me demonstrate the sincerity of my respect and humility, at their feet.
Four pairs of brown hands – two pairs, to each of my arms – roughly grabbed hold of me, and lowered me into Humility Hole. My God! It was going to be a long day. Far longer than the day before; when I had only arrived in Wadi Ya Noh in the early afternoon.
Claudia wrapped the filthy dirty turban that I had worn the day before – the very long, industrial-length tea-towel like turban – around my head. And then she wrapped another, equally filthy dirty turban around the first one. I was extremely grateful for the extra turban. For the double-protection insulation from the scorching, searing Arabian sun. Of course, Claudia wasn’t acting out of kindness – she just didn’t want me conking out on them all from the effects of sun stroke, that’s all. Nonetheless, I was so grateful to Claudia, I could have cried.
I didn’t care about how ridiculous I must have looked; double-turbaned up, as I was. After all … that was the least of my concerns, at the moment.
From my fixed, standing position in Humility Hole, I was directly facing Claudia and Meena’s humble home. The way I would always face, I realised. Facing their single, unglazed window. Later, from the relative cool of their mud-brick dwelling, Claudia and Meena would be looking out from that window, I knew. Watching. Enjoying. Gloating … As, throughout the long, sun-blasted day, in Humility Hole, I demonstrated the sincerity of my respect and humility, at the bare, brown, dirty feet of the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
With Claudia taking her turn first, followed by Meena, the females of Wadi Ya Noh began subjecting me to the same, time-honoured, traditional, 3-phase rituals: foot-sniffing, foot-kissing, and foot-cleaning. The hallowed rituals, that they had performed with such unbounded enthusiasm; with such gleeful relish, the day before.
Most of the females of Wadi Ya Noh … let me drink. Including Claudia.
But some did not. Some of them, would deny me water. Until tomorrow, or the day after, or even the day after that … When the soles of their feet would be a lot dirtier. When the soles of their feet, had become grubby, grimy, filthy dirty, from walking about barefoot the whole time. When their soles would be much harder for me to tongue-clean. When it would take me much longer, to perform my terrible task. When their humiliating insult, would be all the greater. Then, they would … let me drink.
In the middle of the afternoon, a small caravan of camels and riders – 4 camels, 4 female riders – arrived at the village square of Wadi Ya Noh. It was Tuesday: the day of these traders’ weekly visit to the village.
As the 4 female traders set about the business of unloading their wares from their camels’ saddle bags, and setting them down upon blankets on the ground, I saw Claudia hand over a small brown envelope to one of them. This was how Claudia passed on half of her earnings as a part-time Arabian Airways air hostess onto her local Tribal Lord.
Ululating shrilly from their excitement (there wasn’t much else for them to get excited about, in Wadi Ya Noh), as one, the females of Wadi Ya Noh quickly converged upon the small caravan. Each of them – first things first – vying to be the first, to try on their favoured choice from the dismal, tatty selection of old, well-worn shoes for sale.
I could see, even from my lowly vantage point, that all of these ladies’ shoes had seen better days – to say the least. Many of them, in an even worse state of repair than the ones that the females already had on their feet. Still, this was no deterrent to the females of Wadi Ya Noh, who each tried on many different pairs of shoes – whether they could afford to buy them or not. Mostly, not. Mostly, in fact, they just wanted to try them on.
My God! I sighed, with incredulity. Even in this place. Even in Wadi Ya Noh: Women – and their shoes …
This priority dealt with, the females of Wadi Ya Noh then purchased their groceries – food; gas bottles, if needed – for the coming week. Though I could see various foodstuffs displayed, I could not put a name to many of the food items; had no inkling whatsoever, as to what much of the food actually was. But I saw dates, figs, coconuts, olives. And I saw what I thought were various kinds of pulses, rice and beans … And, something that Meena purchased, that looked alarmingly like a sheep’s head.
Claudia, as the one holding the purse strings – indeed, the only one of them with a purse at all – paid for all of the females’ purchases, concluding their business with the caravan traders for another week.
Their business having been duly concluded, Claudia then led the 4 female traders towards Humility Hole – towards me.
The 4 female traders wore full-length, pale blue burkas. All that was left uncovered, were their eyes, hands, and feet. Just like the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
Rather sedately, the 4 female traders shuffled towards me. As they slowly approached me, I wondered vaguely about their ages. It was hard to tell, but I got the impression; from the way they moved, from the way they carried themselves, of their all being of about the same age. I thought they were a bit younger than Claudia, who was the same age as me – 25. In their late teens … their early 20s, perhaps.
One of the approaching female traders, I saw, wore a pair of extremely well-worn, black mules. My attention was caught, as she approached me in her very dignified manner, by the distinctive, slap-slap-slapping sound they made, as they smacked against the bottoms of her bare heels as she walked towards me.
One of the other female traders, I saw, wore a pair of scuffed and scruffy black flats. They were at least a size too large for her, I thought, since her heels kept popping out of them at her every step.
The other 2 female traders both wore strapless, leather sandals, similar to those worn by both Claudia and Meena. Like flip flops, they also slap-slap-slapped at the two females’ bare heels, as they walked towards my protruding head, at Humility Hole.
As soon as this party of 5 shuffling females – Claudia, accompanied by the 4, pale blue burka clad, female caravan traders – had arrived at Humility Hole, Claudia addressed me authoritatively.
As she did so, the 4 female traders looked down on me; their great disdain of me, abundantly evident. Their utter, crushing disdain of me, was in the withering expressions in their dark, almond-shaped eyes. It was in their very bearing, as they stood there and looked down on me, in Humility Hole. Of course, they knew who – or, rather, ‘what’ – I was. Why I was there; what was my purpose.
“David … these four females, who I have brought before you, are the faithful, loyal servants; the obedient chattels, of our Tribal Lord. See! They are tired and weary. They have travelled far, to get here. They are hot and dusty, from their long, arduous desert journey. And, they still have far to travel,” Claudia informed me.
“But first, David, before they continue on their journey … you will refresh them.”
Claudia expanded on her statement, authoritatively. “You will now refresh them, David. You will show them the hospitality of the females of Wadi Ya Noh: You will demonstrate the sincerity of your respect and humility, at their feet,” commanded Claudia.
The first, of the 4 female traders (the one wearing the black mules) positioned herself, accordingly: standing directly in front of my protruding head, with her back to me; the backs of her heels, right in front of my face. And with the large wooden bowl of; by now, heavily stained, brownish-black water, positioned at her darkly-tanned feet, just in front of her toes.
Without ceremony, she slipped her right foot from her colour-faded, scratched and scuffed, extremely well-worn, black mule. Standing, now, upon just her left foot, she was elegantly poised. Her one-legged balance, was assured, effortless; seemingly a quite natural, innate ability.
She was steady and unwavering, balletically graceful, as she reached her right foot behind her … her bare, brown sole, seeking my conveniently positioned face.
Upon cupping my nostrils in her toes, she sharply yelled something at me, in Arabic: an authoritative command. By now, I was understanding their incessantly repeated, ritualistic, harshly issued instructions: ‘Slave! Breathe in, deeply, of my foot scent!’ … ‘Look at the bottom of my heel, as you do so!’
She then placed the sole of her foot upon my face, in an attitude of relaxation: her toes, curling under and gripping the underside of my chin; her heel, resting against my forehead, for a few moments, as she relaxed her weight against my face.
Then she again harshly shouted something at me in Arabic: another authoritative command: ‘Slave! Kiss my foot!’
She eventually removed the sole of her right foot from my face, and I watched her dip it into the large wooden bowl of ever increasingly dirty water, at her feet. She let her foot soak for a few moments, luxuriating in the refreshing, although by now, lukewarm water. She swirled her foot around in the water; sighing her pleasure at the highly agreeable sensations, as she wiggled and scrunched and flexed her toes in the already unpalatable, already dirty, unhealthy water. Making it even more unpalatable, even more dirty, even more unhealthy – even more undrinkable … which was, of course, the whole point.
She then lifted her wetted foot out of the bowl, and she hovered it, vertically, over the bowl. I watched, mesmerised; in horrified fascination, as the brilliant Arabian sunlight reflected from her glistening, gleaming, milk-chocolaty brown sole. Her sole dripped and drizzled water. In path-carving rivulets, the precious, life-sustaining fluid ran down from the bottom of her heel, down her arch, over the ball of her foot, to the tips of her toes. And I watched, entranced with revulsion, as dirty, brownish-black – almost tar-like – fat drops of water formed, and then sluggishly, reluctantly dripped from her toes, and back into the bowl. Contaminating the large wooden bowl’s remaining contents, even further. Then, she … let me drink.
This, too, would become a custom – a weekly custom. Every Tuesday. It would become an intrinsic part, of the monotonously regular pattern of my miserable existence, in the God-forsaken village of Wadi Ya Noh.
Every Tuesday, without fail, I would be performing the time-honoured, traditional: foot-sniffing, foot-kissing, and foot-cleaning rituals, as I demonstrated the sincerity of my respect and humility, at the hot, dusty, dirty feet of 4 – not always, the same ones – caravanning female traders.
My God! This was one hellish nightmare, that I had found myself in. I still could hardly believe it: that it had actually happened.
But, every morning, at first light, after yet another restless night’s sleep, Meena would kick me awake: “Wake up, sleepy head!”. And every morning, Meena would proprietorially lead me to Humility Hole, pulling me along by my tie … My pale blue silk tie, that my Sandra …
And, it was all thanks, to my boss – Miss Susan Smith. Oh! That woman!! All of this … this Wadi Ya Noh affair, was all her fault! All of it! She was to blame. The lecherous, blame-deflecting, bottom-pinching hussy!
Each new day, seemed a littler hotter than the day before, as the days turned into weeks. The weeks, into months.
Christmas Day had come and gone, without me even knowing about it …
For, there had been no Christmas tree, gaily hung with fairy lights and colourful, tensely balls; an angel or star decorating the top, presents, at its base.
No Christmas Dinner: no turkey with sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, sprouts, and all of the other usual trimmings, that I customarily stuffed myself stupid with.
No Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. No sumptuously rich Christmas cake, covered in thick, white icing.
No one wearing silly, multi-coloured party hats, clinking glasses of mulled wine, and saying Cheers! And, Merry Christmas!
No one kissing under the mistletoe.
No one imitating Father Christmas, and saying Ho! Ho! Ho!
No one pulling Christmas crackers: the lucky winner laughing inanely; yet triumphantly, at getting to unfold the enclosed slip of paper, and reading out the naff joke.
No one exchanging yule tide gifts; compliments of the season, and generally having a merry old time, on that festive occasion.
No … There was no such thing as Christmas, in Wadi Ya Noh. Hell! I doubt if there was a mince pie within a thousand miles.
Then, and worse still – My God! The worst! – I was given the most terrible, the most heart-breaking news. Claudia, upon returning from one of her flight duties to Manchester, had passed onto me a letter from Miss Withenshaw, the British Consulate official in Wadi Ya Wan.
Miss Withenshaw’s message was that my fiancee, my darling Sandra, had broken off our engagement. Sandra’s reason: she and my boss, Miss Susan Smith, were now … ‘together’.
So, my boss’s dreadful prophesy had actually come to pass, then. I remembered my boss’s fateful words to me; Miss Susan Smith’s confident prediction: “One day, Sandra and me – we’ll be an item.”
This dreadful news devastated me. It knocked me for 6. It was just all too much, for me. My Sandra … had left me.
Sandra had not even sent me a Christmas card. But then: why would she? She had dumped me, hadn’t she? We were ‘over’. I was history. Consigned to her past.
I was distraught. ‘Us’ – me and Sandra – was the only thing that had kept me going, for all of this terrible time. But now, we were ‘over’, and it was the final straw.
Now, I was totally, utterly crushed. Bereft. Inconsolable. Now, I felt really, really alone.
Suddenly, there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, I had nothing to hold onto, anymore. Now, there was nothing to pull me through the traumatic trials of my seemingly endless, sun-blasted days … and my equally trying nights.
Now, there was nothing to help me endure the daily, awful torment of my hideously humiliating subjugation, in Humility Hole: demonstrating the sincerity of my respect and humility, at the feet of the females of Wadi Ya Noh … who were overjoyed, and who celebrated my terrible news; revelling, in my abject misery and despair.
Sandra … My God! My throat hurt excruciatingly, every time I thought of her. The yearning, the longing, was terrible; a vice clamped painfully around my heart, every time I remembered her lovely, sweet face. Every time I remembered what I had lost.
Sandra had recently told me, that I was “Putting it on a bit,” that I could stand to lose a few pounds in weight. But this was ridiculous. By now, on my subsistence diet of Claudia and Meena’s scant, leftover scraps, I was half-starved. Hardly more than a bag of bones – the mangy village dogs were better fed than me. But then, they were better thought of, weren’t they?
My thirst was a devil. The very devil. The females of Wadi Ya Noh revelled in denying me water, almost as much as they revelled, in … letting me drink.
And, that was the worst thing of all: That, in the intolerable torment of my ever raging thirst, I had actually been reduced, to begging, pleading, beseeching, pathetically imploring the females of Wadi Ya Noh, to allow me to drink the water from the soles of their grubby, grimy, filthy dirty feet, when they deigned to present their wettened soles to my conveniently positioned face, in Humility Hole.
Every day, the glaring, relentlessly pummelling Arabian sun seemed to shine for longer, seemed hotter … I could feel it through my turbans.
Then, it was March, and I had served the first 3 months of my ‘A Thousand Suns’ sentence, in Humility Hole.
And, for the 4th time, I was recovering from a session with the Katang. I was recovering from the harrowing, devastating effects of a vicious, malicious, expertly administered caning by the females of Wadi Ya Noh, when Claudia amazed me … by making a proposal. Or, more accurately: a proposition.
I would reflect, later, that the timing of Claudia’s proposition – immediately post-caning – was no coincidence. Claudia was striking while the iron – or, rather, my bottom – was hot.
I couldn’t believe it. Claudia’s proposition was, in fact: for me, to make her a proposal. To ask Claudia, for her hand in marriage. Or, more accurately: a Civil Partnership. Claudia told me that it would be just like a marriage … only different.
Claudia proposed to go and live in my home, in England. And bring Meena with us.
Claudia, in outlining her proposition, told me that she had a number of non-negotiable terms and conditions. Non-negotiable terms and conditions, that I must agree to – in writing; and signing on the dotted line – before she would allow me to marry her.
The British Consulate official at Wadi Ya Wan, Miss Withenshaw, was legally empowered to marry us, Claudia informed me.
To these ends, in the presence of Miss Withenshaw, as official witness, I would be obliged to sign a pre-nuptial agreement contract, that would then become a legally binding document: both, in Arabia, and in England.
Under the terms of the contract, explained Claudia, it was not necessary to consummate the marriage, to make it legal. And divorce was only possible, if Claudia wished a separation.
As Claudia reeled off to me her long, seemingly endless list of non-negotiable terms and conditions – term, after term; condition, after condition – I grew increasingly appalled. Aghast. I was shocked. Stunned. Utterly disbelieving.
Claudia’s terms and conditions, I told her, were beyond the pale. Wholly unreasonable. Quite unthinkable. Totally unacceptable … But, I told Claudia that I would accept them.
With a heavy heart, I capitulated. Resignedly, I gave Claudia the green light (if not, exactly, the thumbs up) to approach Miss Withenshaw … and to have her damned contract drawn up.
Well, anyone would have!
If I refused, I would have another 2 years and 6 months – another ’900 Suns’ – to endure, in Humility Hole. In that sun blasted hellhole!
Every day, all day, I would be performing those soul-crushing, utterly humiliating … rituals.
Every day, all day, I would be performing those time-honoured, traditional rituals: the foot-sniffing, foot-kissing, and foot-cleaning rituals, as I demonstrated the sincerity of my respect and humility, at the soles of the always dirty, always demanding feet, of the females of Wadi Ya Noh.
Telling them, in welcome, as they shuffled towards me, at Humility Hole: “Claudia … I am your slave.” “Meena … I am your slave.” “Fatima …” “Nagga …” “Kandi …”
Not to mention, “refreshing” the 4 female caravan traders, every Tuesday.
Claudia was offering me a deal. And it was a deal, that; as truly heinous, as diabolical, as it was, I was going to grab with both hands.
I would, I’d thought at the time, just have to regret my hasty decision at leisure, later – when I was back home, in England.
The following Monday, when Claudia returned to Wadi Ya Noh in the police Land Rover after her usual flight duty, she was accompanied by Miss Withenshaw, the British Consulate official. Miss Withenshaw had Claudia’s Civil Partnership pre-nuptial agreement contract with her, all ready for me to sign – Claudia had already signed. Miss Withenshaw was there, to formally witness my signature upon the legally binding document. And, of course … to ‘tie the knot’.
My God! But I wouldn’t have thought that an even deeper humiliation was possible, until I beheld Miss Withenshaw’s facial expression, as she looked down on me, in Humility Hole. The ineffably pitying look on her face, as 5 of the females of Wadi Ya Noh unceremoniously dragged me out of Humility Hole; one of them – Kandi – lending her usual supplementary assistance, by hauling me out by my tie … My pale blue, silk tie, that my Sandra …
“I take it you know why I am here, David …” said Miss Withenshaw, in her plummy, Home Counties accent.
As she went on, I was surprised to hear that her former tones, of 3 months ago: tones, of official, cold formality, were actually softened towards me, slightly. There was a definite hint of compassion, in her voice, upon seeing for herself, the ravages that 3 months in Humility Hole had wrought upon me. Well … better late, than never, I suppose.
“I am legally obliged to ask you … are you sure, quite sure, David … Are you absolutely certain, that you want to sign this Civil Partnership pre-nuptial agreement contract? Won’t you think again …? It’s not too late. Once you have put your name to this document, David … there is no going back. The terms and conditions, as laid down herein, will then become legally binding: both, in Arabia, and in England,” advised Miss Withenshaw gravely.
“Yes, Miss Withenshaw, I am. I am certain. It is a case of ‘Hobson’s Choice’, I know. But I must grasp this chance to get out of here. I simply must! To get back to England! I simply can’t abide the thought, Miss Withenshaw, of another two and a half years, stuck here … Stuck here, in this damned hell-hole … Waiting to be caned half-to-death, every month!” I told Miss Withenshaw, feelingly.
“David, I understand. Really, I do … But, I advise you – I strongly advise you, to consider your position carefully, very carefully indeed, before you sign this document. Just … just think about what it will mean, for a moment, David …”
Miss Withenshaw paused, to let me think about what it would mean, for a moment.
“Thank you for your concern, Miss Withenshaw, but—”
“Under the terms of the document,” continued Miss Withenshaw solemnly, “you promise to serve, honour, and obey Claudia. Unlike a conventional marriage, it is not necessary to consummate this Civil Partnership, to make it legal. And so it cannot be annulled, for that reason. Furthermore, David, divorce will only be possible, if Claudia wishes a separation. And, that’s not to mention, all of Claudia’s other … stipulations.”
“Yes, Miss Withenshaw, I know all of that, but—”
“Think about it, David … is it really worth it? Really …? After all … your remaining time here will soon pass. Before you know it, David, you—”
“Soon pass! SOON PASS!!” I yelled incredulously. “What …? Another two and a half years, here? In this place? Another two and a half years, of being fed on leftover scraps. Scraps of … of … of God-knows-what, that even the dogs turn their noses up at? Another two and a half years, of … of …”
(I couldn’t bring myself to mention, to the decidedly prim and proper, Miss Withenshaw, my being made to sleep at Claudia and Meena’s feet, every night. And; more to the point, of Meena’s … highly disconcerting – appallingly invasive – habit).
“… of being stuck in that baking-hot hole, every day, from dawn until dusk? Every day, bollock-naked, being subjected to … to … to the village women’s dirty, stinky feet in my face, all day long?” I demanded of Miss Withenshaw, not unreasonably, I felt.
“Another two and a half years, of being forced to perform their … rituals! Forced to sniff their feet! Forced to kiss their feet! Forced to lick the soles of their feet clean, as my one and only means of getting water? And – muddy, filthy dirty water, at that! No! NO!! Can’t you see …? I want out! I’m getting out! Get a grip, woman! And give me a pen! Now!!” I demanded of Miss Withenshaw, the poor woman. Who, after all, was only trying to act in my own best interests … to save me from myself.
“Very well, David. I can see that your mind is quite made up. That there is no persuading you to see reason; no making you see sense,” said Miss Withenshaw stiffly. Yet, with a distinct undertone of resigned disappointment, in her voice. And of regret, too, as if she actually did feel sorry for me. And, was it my imagination, or did I hear a note of dismay, too? Dismay, at what she knew lay in store for me; my future plight, as Claudia’s ‘husband’. “I did my best for you, David,” she said gravely.