panty-hosed feet

It was cold, back home in the north-west of England, and the last of the March evening light was fading to night as I got out of the Airport Taxi outside my house.

I simply can’t describe, just how immensely glad – acutely relieved – I was, to be out of Arabia. To be out of that terrible heat. Relieved, to be back home, and in familiar surroundings again. To hear English voices again, saying ordinary, every-day things, in normally modulated voices – and not just the belligerent babble of the black burka clad females of Wadi Ya Noh, speaking sternly and harshly and shrewishly to me in Arabic, as they so mercilessly chastised me, at their feet.

But, alas, I hadn’t returned home from Arabia, without certain … ‘baggage’.

For, as I helped the taxi driver to retrieve luggage from the boot of the taxi, the other 2 passengers – both female, and dressed in their traditional, almost all-covering, black burkas – made a beeline for my front door.

The younger of the 2 black burka clad females, immediately upon exiting the taxi, had expectantly held out her hand to me and, in her exotically accented English, she had demanded that I hand over my front door key to her. And so I had complied, and I had obeyed her command without demur … as I knew that I must.

As I paid and tipped the taxi driver, he regarded me with yet another of his odd looks. Though, once again, he refrained from actually saying anything. It was the same odd look, that he had been regarding me with ever since he had picked up his 3 passengers, about half an hour ago, at Manchester Airport – Terminal 2. The taxi driver nodded at me, by means of expressing his acknowledgement (if not gratitude) of my generous tip, then he got back into his taxi and swung the driver’s door shut behind him.

And then a great, depressing wave of soul-destroying helplessness and hopelessness hit me, pulverising my spirit. It swept over me like a huge, irresistible tide of dejection. It was a sense of despair, that transcended even my acute sense of gross injustice.

It was like a grey, all-encompassing shroud of sheer, abject dismay that settled over me, as I stood and watched the 2 females simply let themselves into my house. As if it was their house … which, in a sense, and to all intents and purposes, it now might as well have been.

New rulers were installing themselves in my home, and establishing their own, autocratic authority – their new Dominion.

For, the 2 black burka clad females who were letting themselves into my 3-bedroom, semi-detached suburban house, with such a proprietorial air, were none other than my new ‘wife’ Claudia, and my mother-in-law Meena.

Claudia and her mother Meena were members of a population of about 30 ‘Fallen’ women who, for their ‘sins’ had been shunned by their unforgiving society, and duly condemned to a bleak exile in a remote – backward – region of the Arabian Interior. As their punishment, they were left to scratch a bare, wretched existence, living in huts made of mud in the desolate, sun-seared desert village of Wadi Ya Noh.

Fortunately – for Claudia and Meena – a way out of Wadi Ya Noh had fortuitously presented itself to them. And, not just a way out of Wadi Ya Noh, either, but a way into a whole new, undreamed of life … in England. Living in my house. With me supporting them. And, not just supporting them, either, but … serving them. I was to become their slave, in my own home. Their house slave, and their foot slave. This was an agreement, a legally binding Contract, that I had ‘willingly’ signed up to.

For, after having served the first 3 months of my 2-year – ‘A Thousand Suns’ – sentence, for the crime of ‘Indecent Assault’, served in Claudia’s home village of Wadi Ya Noh (which was, under Arabian Law, a sentence of Claudia’s own choosing, as victim), Claudia had suddenly and unexpectedly offered me a way out. Or rather, she had offered to ‘suspend’ the remaining 21 months of my wretched sentence. But, of course, there were strings attached. Lots of strings. Enough to tie me up in knots. And they were knots that I couldn’t undo.

The fact that it was not me, who had committed the Indecent Assault – pinched Claudia’s bottom (Claudia was a part-time Arabian Airways air hostesses on our flight), but my lecherous lesbian boss, Miss Susan Smith, who had played the saucy prank, and then craftily wangled it so that I took the blame – made my glowing flame of resentment burn all the hotter.

Miss Susan Smith, had not only got me into terrible trouble with the Arabian Authorities: landing me with an unspeakably wretched 2-year sentence; a criminal record to my name; and eventual deportation from Arabia, but she had also cost me my job, and – my God! worst of all – ultimately caused me to lose my darling fiancee, Sandra … In fact, Miss Smith had actually stolen my Sandra from me and, they were now, according to a ‘Dear John’ letter that Sandra had sent to me via the British Consulate in Wadi Ya Meen, an ‘item’.

Claudia had made a proposal. Which was, in effect, for me to make her a proposal … of marriage.

Or, to be more exact: a Civil Partnership. Or, to be even more exact – precise – a ‘customised’ Civil Partnership.

In short: a Contract, that would be composed almost entirely of Claudia’s Terms and Conditions – or, as Claudia called them: ‘stipulations’ … For instance: that our Civil Partnership need not be consummated, was just one of Claudia’s many ‘stipulations’.

Under Claudia’s instructions, a legally binding Contract would be written up by the local British Consulate representative, Miss Withenshaw, and the Contract would be recognised under both Arabian and English law.

The Contract would contain all of Claudia’s many Terms and Conditions: her wholly unreasonable, uncompromising stipulations, with regard to the conduct of our ‘married’ life. And I would have to abide by them all. Break any one of them, and Claudia had it in her power to have me arrested, and taken straight back to Arabia … To be once again incarcerated in Humility Hole, in Claudia’s home village of Wadi Ya Noh. To serve out the remaining 21 months of my 2-year – ‘A Thousand Suns’ – sentence, at the chastising feet of Claudia’s village sisters … While Claudia stayed at home, living in my house with her mother Meena. Living off my savings, until I returned home and started earning a living again.

But, so desperate was I to get the hell out of Wadi Ya Noh – out of Humility Hole! – I had eagerly grabbed Claudia’s unexpected offer with both hands. And so Claudia and I had both signed the legally binding Contract, as had Miss Withenshaw, as official witness.

Miss Withenshaw, though, to give her her due credit, had tried to warn me, again and again, about the serious dangers of making an ill-considered decision – a knee-jerk reaction. She had tried to warn me about what would be the dire and irrevocable consequences for me, should I be so impulsive – so fool-headed – as to sign Claudia’s diabolical Contract. Miss Withenshaw had done more than her level best, to try and talk some eleventh-hour – last-minute – sense into me, in an increasingly desperate effort to avert what she could plainly see was going to be a certain and unmitigated disaster for me. She had tried everything she could think of, to persuade me to reconsider my over-hasty decision; to make me see the error of my ways: To make me take 10 deep breaths; to stop and think; to put my thinking-cap on – to wake up, and smell the coffee.

In short: Miss Withenshaw had gone the extra mile, to try and stop me going the whole-nine-yards. To try to stop me from pushing my own self-destruct button … my Doomsday button. Miss Withenshaw had tried to save me from myself – or, rather, to save me from Claudia. But I wouldn’t listen.

And so, Miss Withenshaw had duly presided over the ‘nuptials’ for the ‘happy couple’. I had promised to serve, honour, and obey Claudia. Those had been my ‘wedding’ vows – and my ‘wife’ Claudia would ensure that I kept them. Or else …

And so it was to the tumultuous, ululating approval of the watching females of Wadi Ya Noh, that Miss Withenshaw had officially declared: “I now pronounce you, man and wife.” Claudia and I, were ‘married’. And so, here I was …

As the taxi driver pulled away from the kerb, I picked up the luggage – there wasn’t much of it – and I carried it to my front door.

My next door neighbours – Tony and Jan, a chirpy, fun-loving couple in their mid-20′s, who had moved here about 2 years ago after getting married, and who Sandra and I were on very friendly terms with – bemusedly stared out of their front window at me.

After all, I was supposed to have been away in Arabia on a business trip with Miss Susan Smith, for 3 days – not 3 months. I could almost hear Tony and Jan thinking: What was that all about? And, as if that wasn’t enough to arouse their curiosity, I had actually returned home with 2 black burka clad females … What was THAT all about?

But, so completely crushed, so utterly despondent was I, at the spiritually debilitating thoughts of my wretched predicament, that I could barely rustle up the sad parody of a half-hearted wave, to my 2 friends and neighbours.

Tony and Jan continued to stare at me. And, as I put down the luggage, and as I knocked on my front door and meekly waited to be admitted into my own house, the expressions upon their faces became rather less curious, and rather more concerned.

I sighed inwardly … I was going to have some explaining to do.

* * *

My new ‘wife’ Claudia opened the front door to me, and I entered my home with our luggage, putting it down in the hall. I could tell by the particular tone of insistent beeping, that my burglar alarm was going to sound at any moment. Claudia ordered me to tell her the code; explain to her how the alarm worked. She wanted to know how to operate, de-activate, and re-activate the alarm herself … after all, she would need to know.

The house was cold, and I put the central heating on, turning it up high so as to get the house warmed up quickly. Satisfied, at hearing my boiler firing up as though it meant business, I then put the kettle on to make a pot of tea – mint tea.

On our way home from the airport, Claudia had asked the taxi driver to stop outside a corner shop, and she had told me to quickly run into the shop to buy a box of mint tea-bags, plus a few other bits and bobs of food for our evening meal. “You had better get used to mint tea, David,” Claudia had advised me, once I was back inside the taxi. “It is all you will be drinking from now on,” she had decreed. “Coffee is sinful, and I forbid you to drink it,” she said. “And, it goes without saying, that I also forbid you to drink alcohol,” Claudia said anyway.

No wonder, that the taxi driver was giving me odd looks.

As it happens, I hardly ever drank tea – let alone mint tea. I am a coffee person. But now … if Claudia caught me sneaking so much as a sip of the ‘evil brew’ – breaking one of her Civil Partnership Contract stipulations – with a click of her fingers she could have me back in Wadi Ya Noh, and back in Humility Hole before I could say ‘cafe au lait’.

And the same could be said for the occasional glass of red wine that I so enjoyed – Claudia had firmly put a stopper on that, too. My God! But it was just one thing after another.

When I brought the tray of tea things into the living room, I saw that Claudia and Meena were sitting comfortably together on my large sofa. Then I thought to myself: Oh! Just make yourselves right at home, why don’t you? upon seeing that Claudia had put the Al Jazeera channel on my large (50-inch), high definition plasma flat-screen TV. And I had no sooner served Claudia and Meena their cups of mint tea, when Meena pointed to the carpeted floor, at her feet, and she harshly yelled at me one of the few words of English that she knew: “Slave!”

My own cup of mint tea had still been on its way to my lips. But now, I was a fraction too slow in returning my cup of mint tea to the tea tray, untasted. “David! You heard my mother! You will obey Meena! And you will obey Immediately!” commanded Claudia angrily. And I obeyed Claudia – and Meena … as I knew that I must.

I listened to the occasional, gentle chinks of Claudia and Meena’s china tea cups against their saucers. I listened to the sound of their voices, as they engaged in companionable conversation in their own, Arabic tongue. In short: I listened to the sounds, of Claudia and Meena’s inestimable contentment.

I listened to their quiet discourse, as Meena rested the leathery soles of her bare feet upon my face, repeatedly cupping her toes over my nostrils; and as Claudia slowly, absentmindedly, played her own smooth bare soles over my chest and stomach.

A short time later, Claudia said, “David. Serve Meena and I more mint tea. And then return to your place, at our feet.”

“Yes, Claudia,” I replied obediently … as I knew that I must.

After topping up Claudia and Meena’s tea cups with more mint tea, I returned to my “place.” Once again, Claudia and Meena’s bare, brown feet rested and roamed on and over my face and body, as if I was some sort of soft, luxurious foot furniture for them to relax upon.

Then, and with a sudden shock, it occurred to me: ‘The Big Match’ was on TV tonight! And it was a big match, too – Liverpool v Manchester United. Their replay, in the Quarter Final of the FA Cup … And here I was, in my ‘place’. Lying on the floor of my own living room, at Claudia and Meena’s feet, and being used as their footrest as they gabbed and drank mint tea and watched the Al Jazeera channel.

And I gloomily realised, that my chances of watching the football – any football, from now on – were precisely nil. Zilch. Zero. Nada. My God! But it was just one thing after another.

A short time later, Claudia spoke to me again, and at some considerable length. “David. I want you to trade your car in, and part-exchange it for a people-carrier – one that is capable of carrying up to seven passengers. A new one. A good one, too – not some cheap rubbish. Start looking for one tomorrow,” ordered Claudia.

What? I thought, dismayed. Trade in my precious car! I’d been saving up for ages to buy it.

Claudia went on, and I could only listen to her, my mouth getting ever more slack, in shock. “You will be picking up five of my village sisters from Manchester Airport, next Sunday afternoon, when the Arabian Airways flight arrives from Wadi Ya Meen. Their visa’s will be valid for one month. Meena and I will be going along with you in our new people-carrier, to greet them. You will be buying their air tickets. Buy them tomorrow. I’ll write down their names and any other relevant details for you to take to the travel agent.” Claudia then paused briefly, to take a dainty sip of her mint tea.

Thus refreshed, Claudia continued. “When our five visitors are due to return home to Wadi Ya Noh, at the end of their month-long stay with us, they will stay overnight at an airport hotel on the Sunday preceding their flight home, early on the following Monday morning. You will drive them to their hotel, and you will book and pay for their hotel accommodation, including evening meal and breakfast. And leave nothing to chance, David. Make sure you book well in advance – in fact, book some rooms tomorrow,” instructed Claudia.

My God! She was on a frenzied, relentless roll, of pitilessly piling on my misery.

“Another five of my village sisters will then come and visit us for a month,” Claudia then informed me, dropping yet another of her bombshells. “And this will happen on a regular basis – in relays, as it were – every month. They will all be staying here, of course, as guests in our house. With three bedrooms, there is enough room to comfortably accommodate all of us. Buy any extra beds, pillows, sheets and blankets, as are necessary. Buy them the day after tomorrow – you will be too busy tomorrow, David. See that all of their beds are properly made up, and be sure to put fresh, clean sheets on them. Make their beds every day, and give their bedrooms a good vacuum cleaning after you have done so. And I want you to change all sheets, every Sunday … You needn’t concern yourself about your own sleeping arrangements, David. From now on, you will sleep with Meena and I, in your own double-bed. And, just as you did so, in Wadi Ya Noh, you will lie across the foot of the bed, at our feet … In your place.”

What, the …? My mind was in a topsy-turvey, panicky whirl, at trying to process Claudia’s seemingly endless stream of words and instructions; at trying to absorb, all of that terrible, horrible, hideously stressful information.

The funny thing was, though, that it wasn’t the terrible thought of the vast, insupportable cost of meeting Claudia’s incredible demands, that had made the biggest impression upon me. It wasn’t even the dreaded prospect of having to sleep at the foot of the bed, at Claudia and Meena’s feet – I had already been doing that, back in Wadi Ya Noh … No. It was Claudia’s very particular stipulation, that I must “be sure to put fresh, clean sheets” on the beds, and, that the beds are “properly made up” … the females of Wadi Ya Noh were accustomed to sleeping on a hard-baked mud floor, in huts that were made from mud. And their bedding consisted of straw mats, and thin, scratchy, holey blankets.

Funny, how I should think of that … Maybe it was some sort of defence mechanism: My mind, trying to divert my attention away from more traumatic thoughts; trying to deflect me towards safer musings, that were less likely to result in a nervous breakdown.

Claudia spoke beautiful, melodic, easy-on-the-ear, exotically accented English, and she was certainly an intelligent woman. But, when it came to money matters: finances, expenses, in comings and outgoings, staying in the black – balancing the books – Claudia seemed to have absolutely no grasp, at all, of such economical concepts. As far as my new ‘wife’ was concerned, it was simple: I earned money. She spent it. Simple as that.

Apart from the 25-year mortgage on my house, I was debt free. I didn’t believe in using credit cards. I said: Never! to the ‘Never-Never’. I believed in saving up the money that I needed, to buy the things I wanted. I believed in saving up for a rainy day, too, and I had been prudently feathering my nest, whilst earning a decent enough wage working for Jordan’s Climate Control. I did not want to get myself into any debt. Just the very idea, was unthinkable – it was anathema to me.

“Claudia,” I began tentatively, and with the utmost respect, that I had – in accordance with the Terms and Conditions of our Civil Partnership Contract – promised to accord her at all times, “I am very sorry, but – but I’m afraid that much of that will not be at all possible. You see—”

“David. Do you wish to return to Wadi Ya Noh … to Humility Hole? To serve out the remaining twenty-one months of your suspended sentence?”

“No! Not that! Please, Claudia … It’s just – it’s just that you simply don’t understand. I am not made of money, Claudia – forgive me, Claudia, I didn’t mean that, the way that it sounded. It’s just that … My finances, at the moment … I’m not even working, haven’t worked for three months, and—”

“You start your new job, David, next Monday. I have arranged everything,” Claudia stated matter-of-factly.

“Job? What job? I don’t understa—”

“I have been in touch with your former boss, Miss Susan Smith … or rather, she contacted me. She kindly offered to let you return to work at Jordan’s Climate Control – under certain conditions, that is. She said she is not willing to let you return to your old job, or to pay you your old wage, but that she would instead like to create a brand-new post, just for you. As her office boy. Miss Smith said that you would earn a lot less, in your new position, and she also mentioned something about a … “proviso,” I think she said, if I remember rightly. Still, I think it is very good of her to have you back at all – everything considered. She wants you to report to her office next Monday – nine a.m. sharp. And I told her that you would be there, David. And David, be warned: I have told Miss Smith to inform me immediately, if you are anything less than one hundred per cent satisfactory to her, in your duties.”

I was shocked, absolutely appalled. What? Go back working for Miss Susan Smith again, after all that she had put me through? After all that she had done to me? After she had ruined my life? Well, there was no way! Absolutely no way! She could forget it! And then there was the small matter of Miss Smith’s so-called “proviso.” Oh no. Oh, no! I knew, just exactly what Miss Susan Smith’s so-called proviso was. I remembered her telling me about it, aboard our flight to Arabia. I remembered all too well! How could I forget? I could still remember my sense of shocked disbelief, my shudders of revulsion – my actual distress – just at the very idea of it … Massaging Miss Susan Smith’s dark panty-hosed, stinky feet, for her. Urgh! And massaging her office girls’ feet, too! Yeeew! I couldn’t believe it. She actually seemed … preoccupied, fixated – obsessed – with the idea. It was as if Miss Smith was determined – hell-bent – on subjecting me to her damned so-called proviso … Thinking back, in fact, I also recalled her telling me that, one day, she would have me on my knees, at her feet … Well, it was quite unthinkable. I was simply, unequivocally, definitely not going to allow that to happen. Never in a million years!

“I’m very sorry, Claudia, but it’s quite out of the question. There is no way, absolutely no way in this world, that I am ever going back to work for that woman. I’ll find another job, Claudia … It was her fault, that—”

“David. Do you want to return to Wadi Ya Noh … to Humility Hole? To serve out your remaining—”

In a momentary flash of foolhardy and, potentially self-destructive, defiance, I rudely interrupted Claudia, blurting insolently: “Oh! That’s your answer to everything, isn’t it, Claudia? To threaten to have me sent back to Wadi Ya Noh. To put me back in Humility Hole.”

“Yes, David, it is. And don’t think I won’t … if you disobey me.”

“So, I start my new job at Jordan’s next Monday, then. Working for Miss Susan Smith, as her office boy,” I said, in total capitulation … as I knew that I must.

My God! But it was just one thing after another.

* * *

The following day, and following Claudia’s explicit and detailed instructions, I set about the first of the tasks on Claudia’s Things-to-do list: that, of part-exchanging my car – a 2-year-old Ford Focus – for a brand-new people-carrier. With Claudia’s stipulations still ringing in my ears, about the vehicle – “A new one. A good one, too – not some cheap rubbish.” – I went to the local Mercedes Dealership.

The car salesman ‘saw me coming’, as it were, as if I had ‘SUCKER’ emblazoned across my forehead. And he rolled me over good-style, greatly boosting his commissions for the month, and greatly depleting my bank balance, all in one slick move.

Still, having said all of that, I came away from the Mercedes Dealership with an absolute beaut of a vehicle. A brand-new, silver-coloured Mercedes people-carrier, that was capable of carrying up to 7 passengers (just as Claudia had stipulated).

The people-carrier was pretty much ready to go, too: It just needed plating up; a mechanic made a few last-minute checks and preparations; a couple of car valet’s busied themselves fussing over it; and a junior salesman nipped out in an amazing-looking Merc to the Post Office for my new vehicle’s tax disc. And, while all of this activity was going on, my new insurance details were sorted for me. And then I was ready to roll. “Any problems … bring her right back,” said Slick.

The Mercedes people-carrier had climate-control, black leather seats, tinted windows, DAB radio and CD player – the lot … Only the best, for my dear ‘wife’. The people-carrier went like a dream; it whispered along the road, and it was a real joy to drive. Hell, with its automatic transmission, The Merc damn near drove itself. And it was very pleasing to the eye, too, and I thought that even Claudia would be pleased with it, and coo her approval when she saw it.

All of this luxury-on-wheels, though, came at a price. Despite trading in my 2-year-old Ford Focus as a deposit, I was still going to be paying rather hefty monthly repayments on the new people-carrier, for the next 5 years.

That little job sorted, my next task on Claudia’s Things-to-do list was to go to the travel agent’s, in town. Of course, I went in ‘The Merc’ (as I was already thinking of it). I had some air tickets to buy – 5 of them.

I parked The Merc right outside Taylor’s Travel – ‘Taylored To Your Needs’ – was their rather naff, play-on-words claim, on the sign above their shop.

I got out of the vehicle and shut the driver’s door behind me. It didn’t clang shut (like “some cheap rubbish”), but closed with a soft, satisfying click, that spoke of quality. Then, when I pointed the key/remote at it, and pressed the button, my chest puffed up with pride, as if 2 of The Merc’s air-bags were inflating inside my lungs, at seeing the bright yellow flashing lights that signified the alarm being activated.

Fortunately, Taylor’s Travel weren’t very busy and, at seeing me enter the shop, one of the travel assistants behind the counter, whose name tag informed customers that she was Zoe, gestured for me to take the seat opposite her. “Good afternoon,” she greeted me when I had sat down, and with what I could see was a genuine smile. “How can I help you?” she asked brightly.

I put my hand in my pocket, and I retrieved the piece of paper upon which Claudia had written out her air ticket requirements. I handed over Claudia’s note to the attractive and rather pleasant-voiced (early 20′s, I guessed) travel assistant. I said to her, “Well, Miss. Can you sort me out with five air tickets, please? Return tickets, from Wadi Ya Meen, in Arabia, and valid for one month? All the necessary details are written down there,” I said to her, nodding at Claudia’s note that I had just handed to her.

After just a brief scan of Claudia’s note, Zoe tapped some keys on her keyboard, and the Arabian Airways website appeared on her computer screen. Zoe’s warm and welcoming smile then turned into a quite concerned-looking frown. “These five air tickets, that you want … they are dated for travel within a week – for this coming Sunday,” she said.

“Yes, Miss, I know … Is – is that a problem? Are there no tickets left available?” I asked worriedly, concerned about how Claudia would react to such news.

“It’s not that. There is still plenty of availability on that flight – there usually is. It’s just that … Must these five women travel so soon? Could they not travel in a month or two, instead? Is it an emergency?” she asked, almost plaintively. “I mean, it’s your money, but …”

“Well, it’s not an emergency – as such … But, yes, they must be on this Sunday’s flight,” I replied, my own voice now touched with even more concern.

“Oh,” Zoe said, almost forlornly. “Well, the thing is, you see, booking so – so last-minute, these air tickets are going to be terribly expensive. People usually book these sort of tickets well in advance – three, six, even twelve months ahead, if they possibly can. It’s just like with the trains, you see … the later you book your ticket, the more expensive it becomes,” explained Zoe. “Now; if it was a last-minute charter flight standby ticket to some Spanish or Greek or Turkish holiday resort, that you were after, well, you would be laughing. But it’s different, with these sort of scheduled flights, I’m afraid …”

To illustrate her point, Zoe swivelled her computer screen so that I could see, for myself, just what price I was going to have to pay for those Arabian Airways tickets, at such short notice.

My God! It doesn’t rain, but it pours. Talk about exorbitant! These last-minute Arabian Airways tickets were going to cost me an arm and a leg. And – my God! Claudia had told me that there were going to be “relays, as it were,” of 5 females of Wadi Ya Noh coming to stay with us, arriving every month. Every month!

I felt like crying – bawling. I was in deep, deep despair. Buying all of these air tickets – not to mention, endlessly forking out for all of my other Claudia-related expenditures – was going to ruin me. Ruin me! It could only be a matter of time. It was, I knew, going to be a constant struggle to keep my head above water; to stay afloat. But, eventually …

And I knew there was no point in pleading with Claudia. No point in trying to get through to her. No point in trying to talk some economic sense into her. No point in trying to convince her, that she was slowly strangling the goose that was laying all of her golden eggs.

And besides, I couldn’t afford to risk getting on Claudia’s nerves about it. She’d made her position quite clear to me, and I wasn’t about to go putting her to the test – she’d have me transported back to Wadi Ya Noh, quicker than I could say ‘Bankruptcy Court’. No. It was quite hopeless. I felt acutely dejected. The thought, of the sheer futility of it all. The thought, of all of my valiant efforts, ultimately counting for nought …

“Are you all right?” asked Zoe, concernedly. “What’s the matter? You look quite upset,” she said kindly.

And it was Zoe’s warmth, and friendly kindness, her genuine solicitude, that undid me. God knows, but I’d known precious little kindness, in the last 3 months. I couldn’t help it, but I was so overcome that I just unravelled. My tears of self-pity started to flow. I was actually weeping, right in front of Zoe.

“I’d like to book those five air tickets, please, Miss,” I blubbed.

“Oh,” was all that Zoe could bring herself to say.

Sensing that there was something amiss, the senior travel assistant – whose name tag informed customers that her name was ‘Sonia’ – suddenly materialised beside Zoe. Alternating her concerned gaze between Zoe and me, she tentatively asked, “Is – is there … a problem?”

Zoe said, “No, Sonia. Not – not exactly. It’s just – it’s just that … the gentleman, he …”

In terms of economic principles, I was the exact opposite of Claudia. Claudia would casually and carelessly pour money – my money! – down a bottomless pit. Whereas I practised thrift. I was a big believer in the wise old adage: ‘Spend a pound to save a pound’. And it was this deft, pecuniary savvy economic stratagem that I was going to deploy now.

I found that I could barely speak, such was my distress. But I had to get the words out. “Miss … in addition to those five air tickets, I’d like to book, in advance, another five similar air tickets, for each of the next six months. I’ll – I’ll bring all of the necessary details in for you, as soon as I have them.” I treated Zoe to a wan smile. “That should at least save me a bob or two, in the long-run. Thank you, for your kind advice, Miss,” I said to Zoe.

Ah! Bless Zoe. But she was actually wiping away a tear of her own, in sympathy … it was surely a heartfelt thing, for she could have had little idea of what she was actually sympathising with.

Neither of the 2 travel assistants said anything, for some moments; they just stared at me, perplexed. The senior travel assistant – Sonia – roused herself first. “At Taylor’s Travel, we pride ourselves upon always striving to procure the best possible deal for our clients, but … May – may I ask … why you want to book all of these air tickets?” she inquired of me, not unreasonably.

“It’s a long story, Miss,” I said. “Here’s my Debit Card.”

Shaking her head in obvious befuddlement, the senior travel assistant said, “Sort the gentleman out with his air ticket arrangements, please, Zoe.”

Which Zoe did. “That’s all sorted now, then,” she told me a few minutes later. “Their air tickets will be ready and waiting for them at the Arabian Airways Check-In Desk, when they arrive at Wadi Ya Meen airport to fly out to Manchester,” Zoe assured me with a kind, but sad-looking smile.

“Thank you, Miss,” I said. “I will be bringing all of the necessary details in for you, as and when Clau – as and when they are given to me.” And, with that, Zoe gave me a rather wan wave, as I walked out of the door of Taylor’s Travel.

Outside, I looked up at the legend on the sign above their shop: ‘Taylored To Your Needs’ … Well, they were certainly doing their level best: credit, where it was due – and Zoe was a real peach. But, I knew that there was no one who could tailor to my particular needs.

I still had one last task to do today, I glumly realised. But it was something that was not on Claudia’s Things-to-do list: I needed to visit my bank – urgently.

I needed to top up my Debit account – seriously, drastically top it up. There was soon going to be a real run on it – a lot of rather sizable chunks of money were going to be withdrawn from it. And, not only that, but it was now abundantly clear to me, that I was actually going to have to re-mortgage my house, too, to bring the monthly repayments down a bit.

And, not only that, either – and worst of all, by far – despite my not being a believer in credit cards; despite just the very thought of them, being anathema to me, nevertheless, dire necessity now plainly dictated that I apply for some immediately … And max them all out.

* * *

Well, at least I had been right about one thing: Claudia was absolutely over the moon, with our brand-new Mercedes people-carrier. Of course, I mostly intuited this, from reading her body language. By nature, Claudia was quite reserved, and she rarely broke out into a sweat of excitement about anything – except when she was threatening to send me back to Wadi Ya Noh, that is. Although all that Claudia had actually said, upon her first setting her dark, almond-shaped eyes upon our gleaming new vehicle, was: “I approve, David,” I knew that, inside, she was thrilled to bursting, and I was sure that she wanted to jump up and down with unrestrained joy … Claudia was coming up in the world.

Meena was positively awestruck, at the very sight of The Merc. As though she thought to herself: ‘I, Meena, fallen female of Wadi Ya Noh, am to be chauffeured like a princess, in that gleaming wonder … By my daughter’s very own house slave and foot slave.’

Meena was almost as amazed, by The Merc (or, rather, by the wondrous idea of herself actually riding in it, princess-like), as she had been at first setting her eyes upon my 50-inch, high definition plasma flat-screen TV. Almost a week later, and Meena was still enthralled. She still couldn’t get over the marvel; could hardly tear her eyes away from the big TV for a moment.

Of course, Claudia was a bit more worldly. She had worked part-time as an air hostess for Arabian Airways. She had routinely stayed overnight every Sunday at an airport hotel, and so she was quite used to seeing and using such wonders and gadgetry of the modern world. Meena, on the other hand (who had only ever lived in a remote and quite primitive – backward – part of the Arabian Interior), was another matter entirely. Although Claudia had told her of the existence of such things, Meena had no real grasp as to what Claudia described to her. Meena could not imagine; could not ‘get her head around’, the realities of such science-fiction like fantastical wizardry’s – which is why they came as such a tremendous shock to her, when she actually saw them for herself.

* * *

I was dreading the arrival of Sunday … Dreading the arrival, of another 5 females of Wadi Ya Noh.

The days leading up to Sunday were bad enough, even with just Claudia and Meena to … serve. I was their slave, in my own house. I served them endless cups of their damned mint tea and, after doing so, they would then command me to return to my ‘place’. To lie at their feet. To be used as their footrest, while they chit-chatted companionably and watched TV.

Claudia had told me the names of her 5 village sisters who would be arriving on Sunday, and coming to stay with us on their month-long visit. Kandi would be among them, as would Fatima.

I remembered them both. But I especially remembered Fatima. After all, I had good reason to …

Back in Wadi Ya Noh, Fatima had straddled me after I had been stripped naked by the furious, vengeful females of Wadi Ya Noh, immediately upon Claudia informing them that I was an Englishman.

(It was absconding English oil workers, who were predominantly responsible for the females’ hideous situation. By leaving them pregnant, and with no father for their child, the deserting Englishmen were, effectively, condemning their former concubines – many of whom, had been promised marriage, and a new life, living in England – to an ignominious and wretched exile, in some godforsaken desert village somewhere in the remoteness of the Arabian Interior. And Fatima was one such victim).

And, with Fatima’s black burka clad bottom hovering right in front of my face, and the soles of her filthy dirty bare feet positioned either side of my head, she had firmly grabbed hold of my penis with her left hand, yanked it out of the way and, with her right hand she had raised one of her black, extremely well-worn mules above her head. And I had stared at Fatima’s shoe, in abject terror, in my sensing – knowing – what was coming.

Fatima ululated with ominous, horrible portent, and then she viciously swung down her shoe. Wielding her shoe with controlled power and unerring accuracy, Fatima scored the most devastating direct hit with the chunky heel of her mule upon my so horribly exposed and vulnerable testicles – twice.

Oh! The pain! The agony! The anguish! I had never experienced anything even remotely like it. For long moments afterward, as I had moaned and groaned my terrible anguish, as I had squirmed and writhed in the throes of my frightful affliction, Fatima had continued to straddle me, keeping me helplessly pinned to the hard-baked ground. And Fatima had continued to hold onto my penis, keeping it tightly gripped in her left hand, while she ululated gleefully.

And now, Claudia had told me that Fatima was actually coming to stay in my own house – for a whole month! And I would be ‘obliged’ to extend every hospitality and service to her. Fatima had taken me straight to hell. And now I was actually going to be her slave – albeit, a shared slave, with the other visiting females of Wadi Ya Noh – in my own house. Making her bed every day. Vacuuming her bedroom every day. Changing her sheets every Sunday. Waiting on her, hand and foot … Being her foot slave.

Every night, as Claudia had decreed, I slept in my own, double-sized bed, with Claudia and Meena. Lying naked across the foot of the bed, at their feet – in my “place.” I didn’t sleep at all well. For, if it wasn’t enough, in itself, that such a sleeping arrangement was rather less than conducive to my getting any sort of restful sleep, Meena had the rather … disconcerting habit, of warming her feet on my genitals.

And Claudia loved nothing more, than having me drive her around in The Merc. She was becoming quite the snob: “Bring the Mercedes, David,” she was now in the habit of saying – and in an unnecessarily loud voice, so that as many people as possible might overhear her snooty command.

On Saturday, Claudia instructed me to drive herself and Meena to the Asian Market. And this would become a regular visit, every Saturday, buying in the greater bulk of her weekly shopping requirements. Whenever Claudia wanted something more during the week, she would send me off to the supermarket with a shopping list.

Our 5 visitors – the first, of many such “relays, as it were,” – would be arriving next day (Sunday), and so there was an awful lot of grocery shopping to do. Claudia and Meena fully intended to look after their visiting village sisters very well. Very well indeed. In fact, Claudia and Meena meant to ensure that all of them wanted for nothing – absolutely nothing. They meant to ensure, that they would be completely pampered and utterly spoiled. That their month-long stay in my house, would be as splendidly enjoyable to them all as was possible to make it. And, that no expense was spared, in providing this luxurious level of hospitality … After all – I was paying.

And, though I was completely at Claudia’s command, her … puppet, Claudia had instructed me to obey commands given to me by any of her visiting village sisters. To treat their orders, exactly as though they were being issued to me by Claudia herself – and so carried her all-powerful authority.

I had never been inside the Asian Market before, and I could hardly make head or tail (perhaps an ironic term) of most of the groceries that Claudia and Meena selected for their shopping trolleys.

By the time Claudia and Meena had finally finished their epic shopping expedition, they had accumulated and filled 12 large shopping bags, bulging to almost overflowing with – to me – mysterious-looking groceries. “Bring the Mercedes, David,” ordered Claudia, in a voice that was several decibels above what was really necessary.

But, before I hurried away to obey Claudia’s haughty command, once again, I was reaching my hand deep into my pocket.

* * *

At last, it was Sunday afternoon. I had phoned Manchester airport to confirm that the Arabian Airways flight from Wadi Ya Meen was arriving pretty much on time – which it was: at 4 p.m. – and now Claudia, Meena and I were preparing to leave the house to go and meet-and-greet our very first monthly batch – “relay, as it were” – of 5 visitors from Wadi Ya Noh. Claudia told me to go out to the people-carrier; she and Meena would follow me outside in a minute or two.

Outside, I saw that my next door neighbours, Tony and Jan, were both half-covered in soap suds. They must have been messing about (as usual) whilst giving their car its weekly foamy wash & wax … just as I used to do, with my cherished Ford Focus. Upon seeing me, Tony and Jan immediately chucked their sponges back into their wash buckets, and came over to talk to me – or rather, to question me. To get some long-awaited answers.

“Hey, Dave!” exclaimed Tony, nodding towards The Merc. “What’s with the new wheels?”

Exasperated beyond measure, Jan none too gently jabbed her not-getting-his-priorities-right husband in the ribs with her bony elbow. “Tony! Never mind about the stupid people-carrier!” she chided sternly.

Turning to me, Jan mercilessly harangued me, giving me a piece of her good-neighbourly mind. “David, would you mind telling me and Tony, just – just where the hell you have been hiding, for the last three months? You told us you would be back home from your business trip, in three days. Three days, David! In time for Christmas … In time for your flipping wedding! What happened to that? Sandra sent us a note, telling us it was all off, but giving us no explanation as to why. All off …? We didn’t know what to think. Did we, Tony? Tony …? Tony!” Tony’s eyes were once again appreciating The Merc.

Jan turned back to me again, furiously. She was getting warmed up – hot under the collar. “Oh! I could swing for you, David. I could throttle you, I really could! We’ve been sick with worry, Tony and me. Because of your bloody disappearing act! Just where the hell have you been, David? Couldn’t you have had the common decency to at least have sent us a card; a note or something, just to let us know you were okay? We phoned your workplace, and we were put through to a Miss Susan Smith. She told us that you didn’t work at Jordan’s Climate Control now. She said that you had left her Company in the lurch; that you had left without even working your notice. And we haven’t been able to contact Sandra …”

At hearing the sound of my front door closing, Tony and Jan redirected their gazes at the 2 black burka clad figures who had just come out – Claudia and Meena. Lowering his voice, Tony hissed: “And, Dave, just who the hell, might we ask … are they?”

I felt a sort of perverse thrill of glee, at what I was about to say to Tony and Jan. As if to say: Put this in your pipe, and smoke it!

As soon as Claudia and Meena had reached us, I said, “Claudia. Meena. Meet my next door neighbours and very good friends, Tony and Jan … Tony and Jan, I have the pleasure of introducing to you, my wife Claudia. And Meena, my mother-in-law.”

I wanted to laugh my head off, at the expressions on Tony and Jan’s incredulous faces – absolutely priceless! My God! But it felt good; the feeling of wanting to laugh again. I’d quite forgotten what it was like. God knows, I’d had precious little to laugh about, in the last 3 months.

Tony and Jan could only stare after us, stunned speechless. They simply just stood there, mouths agape, as they watched me slide open the passengers’ door of the people-carrier for Claudia and Meena. Watched, dumbfounded, as I politely and respectfully assisted them – my new ‘wife’ and my mother-in-law – into their seats, and then fastened their seat-belts for them.

I allowed myself a wan smile.

* * *

Upon our arrival at Manchester airport – Terminal 2 – I very carefully guided The Merc into a parking space on the first level of the multi-storey car park, that was, rather fortuitously, just being vacated by a maroon Volvo. I knew from experience just what it was like, sometimes, the frustration of trying to find a free space in that damned place.

I escorted Claudia and Meena to the Arrivals Hall. The time was now 4:55 p.m. According to the Flight Arrivals monitors, the 16:00 Arabian Airways flight from Wadi Ya Meen had arrived slightly early, at 15:55. And so it had landed exactly an hour ago … our 5 visitors might be through at any moment.

As usual, at Arrivals, there were many meeters-and-greeters: taxi drivers; friends; family, all waiting to meet someone off one of the flights that had landed within the last hour or so. At the behest of Claudia, as soon as there was room for us at the roped-off Arrivals corridor, Claudia, Meena and I took up places there. We watched intently, as passengers – mostly returning holiday-makers – poured en masse along the corridor. The 5 black burka clad females of Wadi Ya Noh should appear at any second.

I spotted them first.

Fatima appeared first and, as eldest, she led the other 4 members of the small, black burka clad group. They followed behind Fatima uncertainly, and in a very closely attending huddle, like chicks afraid of losing the reassuring sight of their mother hen. After all, it was a very strange world that they had just arrived in.

Although all that was visible of their features were their dark, almond-shaped eyes, still, I recognised them all immediately. Fatima, in particular. I was absolutely certain, that I would be able to instantly identify Fatima’s bulky but solid shape anywhere, anytime. Certain, that I would be able to effortlessly pick her anonymous, shrilly ululating figure out of the baying crowd in the punishment square at Wadi Ya Meen during a public caning … after all, I had good reason to.

Claudia had already told me that Fatima and Kandi were coming to stay with us. I had very good reason to remember Kandi, too … Kandi had trampled me half to death; mashing her bare feet into my stomach, as if she was treading grapes in the south of France. And it was Neesha, Shami, and Saida who made up the rest of the small party of shuffling black burka clad females.

Claudia and Meena then spotted their 5 visiting village sisters among the congested throng of the other air passengers – well, they did stand out a bit – and they ululated their greeting.

At hearing the shrill, primitive sound, the heads of meeters-and-greeters and of arriving air passengers alike turned and looked about, in trying to identify the source of that decidedly unsettling – profoundly disturbing – emanation. And Fatima, Kandi, Neesha, Shami, and Saida immediately and enthusiastically responded to their 2 village sisters’ primal-sounding call, ululating back their acknowledgement.

“What, the …?” I heard one taxi driver say. “What, in hell’s name …?” wondered another. “Muummmy!” wailed a frightened child.

And then it happened: one of the worst moments of my life.

For it was then that Claudia said, “David. You will now give Fatima the appropriate greeting – exactly as I instructed you earlier.”

“Claudia … please, please, Claudia … don’t make me do this … Not – not this! Claudia … please – I’m begging you! I’ll do anything – anything! But, please, Claudia … not—”

“Yes, David – you will do anything. Anything that I tell you to do. Now go, David! Give Fatima your welcome. Obey me … Or else!”

Upon hearing Claudia’s suddenly raised voice – or, more to the point: hearing what she had said, and the decidedly harsh, authoritative tone she had used in saying it – quite a number of people turned around to stare at us. The expressions upon their appraising faces were varied; interested, curious, intrigued – amused.

Well, I knew what “Or else!” meant …

But, there were times, when I seriously wondered whether I should actually defy – yes, actually disobey – Claudia. Times, when I wondered if I had come to the end of my tether; finally reached the point, where enough was enough. Times, when I thought I could take no more; that I must finally draw a line in the sand – make a stand. Times, when I wondered if it would actually be preferable, to break the diabolical Terms and Conditions of our Civil Partnership, as stipulated by Claudia, and thereby contravene the manacled, shackled, ball-and-chain rules and regulations of our legally binding Contract – and say to hell with the consequences … And this was one of those times.

But, I just simply could not bring myself to do it; could not make myself disobey my ‘wife’ Claudia. In short: I just couldn’t man-up enough. I couldn’t face being dragged back to Wadi Ya Noh. Back to Humility Hole. Back, to the mercilessly chastising feet, of the females of Wadi Ya Noh.

And so, I gave in again. And I complied with Claudia’s command. “Yes, Claudia,” I said obediently … as I knew that I must.

I ducked under the waist-high cordon rope and, going against the congested flow of the air passenger traffic, I approached our 5 visitors – approached Fatima. I got down on my knees at Fatima’s feet and, lowering my eyes, in showing my great respect and reverence, I stared down at the tops of her brown feet. “Fatima!” I cried loudly, in adulation. “Jewel of Wadi Ya Noh! Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!”

In response to my highly reverent welcome, Fatima glared down at me, in great, withering disdain. Fatima then turned her broad back on me, in preparing to summarily inflict, upon me, what was considered by her Culture to be the most gross, vile, obnoxious – humiliating – of all possible insults.

Fatima slipped her right foot from her extremely well-worn black mule, and she then raised her foot behind her, presenting her bare sole to my meekly, humbly attending face … to allow me to demonstrate the sincerity of my respect and humility, at her feet.

Which I then proceeded to do … as I knew that I must.

I started kissing Fatima’s grubby, fleshy, wrinkled, rough-skinned brown sole, all over: From the pads, and then the undersides of her toes; progressing to the firm flesh of the ball of her foot; onto to her wrinkly low arch; and then proceeding up to the bottom of her grimy, hammer-head hard heel. Where I then firmly pressed my respectful, reverent lips – and kept them there … Until Fatima, upon finally being satisfied that I had received her in the “appropriate” manner, then removed the sole of her right foot from my unmoving, passive face; returned her foot to her bin-worthy black mule, and then serenely proceeded on her way … Which was just as well, for we were starting to cause something of a logjam behind us.

“What’s up? Come on! Get a move on! We’re going to be here all ruddy day!” I heard one exasperated male air passenger say from somewhere further back in the queue, who had finally grown impatient with the inexplicable cessation of any forward movement.

“What’s the hold-up?” complained an annoyed woman peevishly. “For crying out loud! C’mon!” she shouted, voicing her growing displeasure.

Making a bee-line towards Claudia and Meena’s welcoming waves, Kandi, Neesha, Shami, and Saida diverted their luggage trolleys around me – as if they were motorists avoiding a large piece of debris littering the road. Fatima now followed them, and I respectfully followed at Fatima’s heels.

I tried to close my ears, to the terribly hurtful comments that I heard, from meeters-and-greeters and air passengers alike. I heard one taxi driver say to another: “Oi, Stan. Did you just see what I just saw, eh? … or have I finally lost my marbles; gone Loony Tunes?”

“Ha ha ha!” replied his friend. “I’m glad you asked first, Joe! I thought I must be seeing things! Well! It just goes to show, dunnit – just when you think you’ve seen everything …”

And I could hear literally dozens – seemingly hundreds – of other similar, sharply cutting comments. I heard hurtful and distressing observations. I heard a belittling badinage, of rollicking remarks; dry and droll denouncements. Juvenile jokes. Everyone was a comedian. And all the jokes were on me. No one, it seemed, was at a loss for an off-the-cuff cruel comical contribution; for an impromptu, belly-laugh inducing gag, at my expense. And there was a shaming, ridiculing background chorus of disbelieving, derisive male laughter; and of incredulous, exclamatory female tittering, coming from all around me. All directed at me.

It was incredibly, unspeakably humiliating.

At least, when I had ‘tended’ the dirty soles of the females of Wadi Ya Noh, whilst wretchedly incarcerated in Humility Hole, they (and other females of low station) were the only ones present to witness my diabolical degradations, at their chastising feet … Unlike here. Where Claudia had, in commanding me to “Give Fatima, the appropriate greeting,” forced me to debase myself so publicly. Effectively, to perform a character assassination upon myself, in the crowded Arrivals concourse at Manchester airport – Terminal 2.

And now an appalling wailing hullabaloo of ululating filled the Arrivals area with shrill, almost ear-perforating sound, as Claudia and Meena excitedly received our 5, equally excited visitors. Meeters-and-greeters and air passengers alike desperately covered their ears with their hands, in defensive response to being so intolerably assailed by that dreadful cacophony. And so did I.

And so it came as an immense relief, when Claudia – and, this time, she did have to speak loudly – ordered me to “Bring the Mercedes, David. Bring the Mercedes around to the pick-up area. We shall be waiting for you outside,” she instructed me.

“Yes, Claudia,” I replied obediently. And it didn’t take me long to pay the parking fee, exit the multi-storey car park, and bring The Merc around to the pick-up area outside Arrivals, where the 7 females of Wadi Ya Noh were waiting for me. I opened the passengers’ door for them and, while they got into the people-carrier and seat belted themselves up, I busied myself with loading their luggage – there wasn’t much – into the back of the vehicle. And then we were soon leaving Manchester airport behind us; joining the M56 motorway, and heading east, towards Manchester.

There was a very excited babble, coming from our 5 visitors, and Claudia (seated in the front passenger’s seat) translated to me that her village sisters were all absolutely amazed, and marvelling at seeing the incredible number and variety of cars and other types of vehicles on the road.

“Oh, this is nothing, Claudia,” I said blithely. “This is quiet, being a Sunday. You should see it during the rush hour!” I told her. And, a moment later, I was fervently wishing that I’d kept my stupid big mouth firmly shut.

“The ‘rush hour’, David? What’s that?” asked Claudia.

“It’s when people are in their cars in the mornings and in the evenings, when they are driving to and from their places of work. It’s when the roads are at their very busiest, and most congested – massive traffic jams, all over the place,” I explained.

When Claudia had translated what I had told her to her raptly listening village sisters, and listened to their excited replies, Claudia turned back to me and said, “So you must drive us around then, David. In the rush hour. We would all very much like to witness such an amazing spectacle.”

* * *

Within half an hour we had arrived back at my house, and I saw that my next door neighbours, Tony and Jan, were still outside, still lavishing their TLC upon their car. And now, I was chuckling inside – I could actually see the funny side – at seeing Tony and Jan’s wide-eyed, slack-mouthed, incredulously gawping faces, as they watched the 7 black burka clad females of Wadi Ya Noh shuffle to my front door, and let themselves into my house.

“Dave – what the hell …?” blurted Tony.

But, before I could enlighten Tony, at all, as regards to “what the hell …?” was actually going on, I was prevented from doing so, at hearing Claudia’s imperiously commanding, come-to-heel voice: “David!”

It was just one, single word, yes. But, just in saying that one, single word – my name – Claudia managed to convey, in her tone, so many things: power, control, dominance – authority. Unchallengeable authority. In short: the tone that Claudia conveyed whenever she spoke my name, could be summed up in one word. Rulership.

Claudia was beckoning me to come inside. And so, it was with a hapless, helpless, forlorn wave and melancholy smile, that I left Tony and Jan to mull over between themselves, just “what the hell …?” could possibly be going on, as I meekly obeyed Claudia … as I knew that I must.

Once inside the house, Claudia, sounding in exceedingly good humour, at playing hostess to her visiting village sisters, said, “Well, David. First things first: put the kettle on. I think we would all benefit from a nice, relaxing, refreshing cup of mint tea. And bring out a couple of plates of those rice cakes and maize biscuits, that Meena and I made this morning.”

“Yes, Claudia,” I replied, and I went to do her bidding.

When I returned to the living room, carrying a large tray heavily laden with said refreshments, the TV was on, and tuned in to the Al Jazeera channel. And I went around my own living room with the tray, as if I was a waiter in the lounge of some Eastern hotel, serving cups of mint tea and plates of rice cakes and maize biscuits, to ‘Ladies who lunch’.

Claudia and Meena were seated upon my 2 comfortable armchairs. While our 5 visitors were seated together right in front of the TV, on my large sofa, which could just about accommodate them all without cramping them. And they were (just like Meena) ooh-ing and ah-ing their amazement and wonder, at the vivid colour images upon my 50-inch, high definition plasma flat-screen TV.

When I eventually served Claudia – “Guests first, then my Mother, David,” she had instructed – she told me: “This just won’t do, David … Really, it won’t.”

What’s wrong now? I wondered, thinking that Claudia must be in some way dissatisfied with the quality of my services. But, it wasn’t that …

“I want all of my village sisters to start learning English, David,” Claudia now informed me. “So that they will all be better able to instruct you, of course – that goes without saying. But also so that they will then be able to enjoy, and to make the most of their time, each time they come to visit us in England. I shall begin teaching Meena, Kandi, Neesha, Shami, and Saida myself, here and now. Indeed, David, you will undoubtedly be of some assistance to them yourself; explaining the meaning of colloquial phrases, and things of that nature. But I want them all to have the benefits of professional tuition, too. Just as I had. And so, David, I want you to start sending money to the Educational College in Wadi Ya Meen, to pay for their English lessons. I shall write to the College today, enclosing your first cheque,” Claudia told me.

My God! But it was just one financial burden after another, that Claudia was relentlessly heaping upon my shoulders. It just simply was not supportable – not for any length of time, anyway. But Claudia simply didn’t seem to comprehend that. Either that, or she naively believed that I would somehow continue to keep on finding more and more ways of coming up with more and more money … Which was, actually, exactly what I was doing, at the moment. To get by. But of course, it couldn’t possibly last. We couldn’t keep going on like that indefinitely. Sooner or later …

After nearly a minute had passed, and I still hadn’t responded to what Claudia had just said to me, she said, “David. Have I made myself clear to you?”

“Yes, Claudia,” I numbly replied.

“Good,” said Claudia, satisfied. “Now, go and fetch me your cheque book … In fact, David, you might as well sign all of the cheques, and just leave the cheque book with me. That way, I won’t have to keep coming to you, cap-in-hand, all of the time, will I?”

I could almost laugh – almost – at Claudia’s use of the colloquial term, of coming to me ‘Cap-in-hand’. My God! The woman was milking me dry, and – as she knew perfectly well – there wasn’t a damn thing I was going to do to try and stop her.

“Yes, Claudia,” I replied resignedly.

“When you have done that for me, David, you can make some more mint tea for us. When you have served our tea, you will then do whatever is required of you, to keep our guests happy and comfortable,” instructed Claudia.

“Yes, Claudia,” I replied gloomily.

As soon as I had served our august visitors more mint tea, the 5 guests; for the purpose of my making them all “happy and comfortable,” promptly commanded me to lie down on my back, along the sofa, at their feet. So that they could all use me as their footrest.

I then I felt the soles of those 5 pairs of bare, brown feet; resting, roaming and roving all over my quiescent, submissive, supine body. And it was Fatima who, on this occasion, took ‘pride of place’ – claiming their foot slave’s face for herself.

As the 5 guests avidly watched TV, I was constantly aware of the various (mostly, absent-minded, taking-me-for-granted) activities of the bare brown soles of those 5 pairs of feet, upon me. But, it was Fatima – ensconced in ‘pride of place’ – who commanded most of my attention, in forcing me to slavishly ‘cater’ to her dominant and domineering, taunting and tormenting – bullying – feet.

For, as if life wasn’t already wretched enough for me, Fatima seemed to positively revel; seemed to take a gleeful, sadistic pleasure, in cruelly subjugating me at her every opportunity. She seemed to be hell-bent, upon doing her best – her worst – to make my life even more of a misery. As abjectly miserable, as she could possibly make it.

I realised that the (main) reason for Fatima’s malevolence, was because she was not able to vent her vengeful wrath upon the English oil worker who had abandoned her; who had so treacherously deserted her after getting her pregnant, and thereby condemning her to an unspeakable exile in Wadi Ya Noh … So Fatima would take it out on me, instead.

Heavy-footed, Fatima rested both of her broad, rough-skinned, hard-heeled soles upon my face. Fatima then played her soles over my face, irritatingly – maddeningly. Her taunting soles, relentlessly rubbing my captive face.

Her toes; curling around my jawline, and firmly holding my face, in their powerful – possessive – grip. The pads of her toes, playing with – pressing, poking, prodding – my lips, bruising them; fattening them. Her big and second toes, repeatedly trapping – painfully squeezing – my nose.

And – most distressingly – Fatima; frequently alternating her tormenting – torturing – feet, repeatedly curling and cupping her toes around my involuntarily flaring nostrils, causing a wafting, fetid draught. So that – if I wanted to breathe – I had no choice, but to inhale her in-between-the-toes foot stink. Which was exactly what she wanted me to do.

And then, Fatima was maliciously, sadistically humiliating me. Irritating me, maddening me, and distressing me, not being enough for her – Fatima was actually causing me pain.

Fatima placed the bottom of her right, hard as a hammer-head heel, right on my nose, and then she crossed her left ankle over her right ankle. Immediately, the pressure upon my nose was immense. Fatima then gradually let the whole weight of her legs and feet relax. The pressure of her increasingly relaxing weight became absolutely tremendous. She let the bottom of her right heel sink, lower and lower, causing it to press firmly down upon my nose; harder and harder, heavier and heavier – all-but crushing it, it seemed.

The stress was incredible; all-but intolerable – but fast becoming intolerable. Unsustainable. I almost cried out for compassion. I almost screamed for mercy. But I didn’t – I knew that was what Fatima wanted. I knew she would show me no compassion; grant me no mercy. I thought, hoped – prayed – that Fatima’s pitilessly pulverising heel would slip; would slide off my agonised nose. Even though I knew for a certain fact, that any resulting relief from such a dislodgement would be but momentary. But Fatima’s merciless, conquering heel didn’t slip.

And finally – and, I didn’t know which of the heinous, hideous, dreadful degradations that Fatima was subjecting me to, was actually the worst; the hardest to endure – Fatima brutally pushed her right, hard-skinned heel into my mouth. She forced her heel deeper, and deeper into my mouth, until my increasingly wide-open mouth was actually ‘accommodating’ the whole of the bottom of her heel.

Just above my eyes – slightly off to my right – I could see the undersides of Fatima’s toes. They were of a light brown, creamy-coffee colour, that was much paler than the tops of her feet. And, as if they were expressing her satisfaction, her contentment, her pleasure – her immeasurable gratification – Fatima’s toes were, seemingly, happily scrunching, delightedly splaying, gleefully wiggling – ecstatically cavorting … as if in triumphant celebration.

Fatima then shrewishly yelled something at me, in Arabic – an authoritative command. And, I understood what Fatima had said. For I had by now developed a rather rough and rudimentary – ‘working’ – vocabulary, during my 3 months’ incarceration in Wadi Ya Noh. And so I instantly obeyed Fatima’s harshly issued command: sucking on the bottom of her hard, dominant and domineering heel; playing my tongue all over it, without cessation … as I knew that I must.

And it was a long, long evening, that Sunday. I thought it was never going to end.

* * *

The following day was Monday. But not, just any old Monday. This was the Monday, that I had been absolutely dreading for all of the past week. Ever since Claudia gave me the bad news. I remembered The Boomtown Rats singer, Bob Geldhof, singing: “I don’t like Mondays.” Well, join the club, Bob, I thought miserably.

For this was the Monday, when I was returning to work at Jordan’s Climate Control. Not to my old job, though. But to work directly under my old boss, Miss Susan Smith. To work in “more of a Personal Assistant’s role,” as she had so euphemistically described what was to be my new position. To actually work for the woman who had ruined my life – laid waste to it. To work for Miss Smith, in the position that she had newly and especially created for me: that, of her so-called office boy – yes, that actually was now my official title, at the company. My designation. It would be printed on my weekly pay-slip – Position: Office Boy.

And so, as per Miss Smith’s instructions, I reported directly to her office, at 9 a.m. sharp.

Miss Susan Smith was already seated at her desk. And seated at their own desk’s, were Miss Smith’s 4 office girls, 3 of whom were Miss Smith’s permanent staff: Melissa, Valerie and Judy. The 3 were all in their early twenties, and they had all worked in Miss Smith’s office since leaving full-time education.

Melissa, Valerie and Judy were, I thought, all quite attractive in their own, different ways. They each had … ‘something’. I had to give them that. But, while I had no doubt that each of them were quite capable of lighting a flame in a man’s heart, I didn’t think that any of them would set the world on fire – unless they took up arson, that is.

And then there was Corrine – who seemed to be all platinum-blonde hair and blue eyes and exquisitely sun-tanned arms and legs – who was an 18-year-old exchange student from France. And who definitely was going to set the world on fire. She was so hot, I thought, that she was likely to ignite anything that she came within 5 feet of. Corrine, I was sure, was going to do a lot more than light flames in men’s hearts – she was going to light a bonfire.

Corrine was truly stunning: ‘Eye-opener’? ‘Head-turner’? A ‘Looker’? You could forget all of those terms – they didn’t even come close to doing her so much as an atom of justice. And, I perfectly understood now, just exactly what people meant, when they said that a woman was ‘stunning’, and ‘drop-dead gorgeous’. I knew now – from experience – that those unlikely-sounding phrases actually had their bases solidly grounded in fact. I knew, because my legs were threatening to give way, to collapse; to simply fold under me, just at the very sight of her. Corrine was Goddess-like: like some golden, glorious apparition – a dreamy vision, almost too beautiful to be real. And, when she turned her smouldering gaze upon you, well …

Of course, having worked in the same office for just over 2 years, I was already somewhat more than well acquainted with Miss Smith’s 3 permanent, straight-from-school office girls. We got on, I suppose … although they always did strike me as being rather – oh, I don’t know … stand-offish. Though I didn’t really pay their aloofness much mind, at the time.

For, although none of my 3 female co-workers had ever actually said anything explicit, as such, to me, I had nevertheless always got the distinct impression, from Melissa, Valerie and Judy, that they did not see me as their equal – saw me as rather less than that, in fact.

I got the distinct impression, from their … intimations, that they looked down on me; that they considered me inferior – that I was ‘beneath’ them.

It was not anything that I could put my finger on, exactly, but …

I always had the underlying feeling, that they tolerated my presence, in the office – tolerated me. The feeling, that they exercised a measure of restraint: kept such a tight rein on any overtures of animosity, of hostility, towards me, that any such of their actually overt words or gestures were always veiled and, so subtle, as to simply escape my notice – go ‘over my head’. Or, at least, tenuous enough to have me believing I was imagining things, when any of their comments or actions might seem a bit – oh, I don’t know … anti-David.

In fact, now that I came to think of it, I had got rather a lot of negative distinct impressions, from my 3 female co-workers, Melissa, Valerie and Judy …

I got the distinct impression, that as far as they were concerned, as the only male in the office, I was right at the bottom of the food-chain. I got the distinct impression, that they regarded me as their natural underling. I got the distinct impression, that they thought it would be only logical, sensible, and practical to relegate me – reduce me – to office factotum. To do all of the boring, menial work; to keep the office clean and tidy; to keep them all regularly supplied with coffee; to run to the bakery, the shop, the dry-cleaners, etc, as and when they required me to do so. In short: to be their drudge. While they, the capable ones, the competent ones – the multi-taskers – got on with the real work.

So, although I pretty much got along with Miss Smith’s 3 permanent office girls (Mel, Val and Jude, as Miss Smith, on very friendly terms, always called them – but I didn’t dare), I was careful to … keep my distance, as it were.

But it was the first time that I had laid my eyes upon the incredibly ravishing French exchange student, Corrine. She was, apparently, a new-comer to the company. And so I hadn’t yet had … the pleasure, as it were. Miss Susan Smith, however, was just about to do something about that.

“Er … when you can drag your eyes away from Corrine, David …” chided Miss Smith. “Well, David, it’s nice to have you back,” she began. “Corrine has recently arrived from France, on a student exchange programme. And, I’m very pleased to say, she will be with us for the next six months. Of course, you already know my other girls, don’t you, from when you used to work here … in your old job. You know the job I mean, David, don’t you? The job without my little … ‘proviso’, attached,” finished Miss Smith and, the office girls, at hearing the word ‘proviso’ – obviously pre-briefed, genned-up and fully in-the-know – giggled rather inanely. Including Corrine.

“Before we go any further, David, I want to make myself perfectly clear – so that you can’t go crying afterwards that you hadn’t been fairly warned. Your lovely … ‘wife’ Claudia, has told me to inform her immediately, in the event of your being – and, I quote: ‘Anything less than one hundred per cent satisfactory,’ to me, in your duties here. And you can rest assured, David, that I shall be only too delighted to do so. Now, have I made that quite clear, David?”

“Yes, Miss Smith,” I replied miserably.

“Well,” continued Miss Smith breezily, “that’s that little matter out of the way. Now, I think we would all like a nice cup of coffee, wouldn’t we, girls?” To which, the heads of all 4 office girls nodded affirmatively, in happy unison. “There you go then … office boy. Off you pop. You know where everything is … Snap-snap! Chop-chop!” adjured Miss Smith, when I didn’t move quickly enough (instantaneously), and setting the office girls off with their silly giggling again.

“Yes, Miss Smith,” I replied dejectedly. And I traipsed off to the kitchen to do her bidding … as I knew that I must.

When I returned with the coffee tray, upon her seeing me thus encumbered, Miss Smith let out a long, theatrical sigh, as though from an immeasurable, blissful sense of satisfaction.

Miss Smith then delved into the petty cash drawer. “Girls, I think this calls for a small celebration,” announced Miss Smith. “Here, David,” she said, handing me a couple of £20 notes. “Run down to the bakery for me, and bring back a couple of bags of Danish pastries and doughnuts – a variety … Well, go on then. Off you go … office boy. And don’t be long, either!” Again, came the amused sniggers of the office girls – and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

My God! The woman was insufferable. I had hardly been back at work for 5 minutes, and already I wanted to put my hands around her throat, and … But, what could I do? Nothing! That’s what. Absolutely nothing. And she knew it.

And, not only that, but the attitudes of the 3 office girls who I knew and used to get along with (well, pretty much) seemed to have changed dramatically – for the worse.

As if, they realised that there was suddenly no need, any more, for them to exercise any restraint, where I was concerned. No need, anymore, to hide their true feelings. No need, any more, to keep a lid on their animosity; to veil their hostility. No need, any more, for subtlety. No need, any more, to tolerate my presence in the office – to tolerate me.

It was as if, now that they were suddenly able (thanks to being thus empowered by the authority of Miss Susan Smith), they were only too glad, to have my humble services at their complete disposal. Only too glad, to be able to use me as their lowly servant; their underling; their minion – their office boy.

And, by the looks of things, they had actually got the French exchange student ‘on board’, as well. Though, having said that, I have to say that the awesomely gorgeous Corrine didn’t look as if she had taken much persuading in the matter. She certainly didn’t look … overly averse, to the idea, that was for sure.

When I returned to the office, I put the 2 large white paper bags of Danish pastries and doughnuts down upon Miss Smith’s desk. “Here you are, Miss Smith. I hope these are to your liking,” I said, trying to keep the resentful note of sarcasm out of my voice … but not quite succeeding.

For, my sarcastic tone was not lost, upon Miss Susan Smith. And it was is if, reading-between-the-lines, as it were, Miss Smith had (correctly!) interpreted what I’d ‘really’ said to her, as: ‘Here, bitch. I hope you choke on the bloody things!’

Miss Smith looked up at me, sharply. At first, the lines of her face became rigid, and her eyes blazed in anger; in sheer outrage, at my insolent tone. And I thought that she was going to fly off the handle big-time, really tear a strip off me – or even worse …

But then, slowly, her features started to soften again, and the corners of her lips curled upwards slightly, as if in a secret, satisfied smile. After all, this was Miss Susan Smith’s little ‘game’. I was her victim – and I was foolishly playing directly into her hands. “Well, then, office boy … don’t just stand there! What do you think you are here for? Why do you think I have employed you? Make yourself useful! Serve my girls. Hand the doughnuts around. And then come back here. To me.”

How incredibly belittling, it was! To see the smug, self-satisfied – gloating – looks upon the office girls’ faces, while I stood attentively before them as they casually took their time and fussily selected the Danish or doughnut of their choice.

For, their faces were all too easy to read! Their eyes spoke eloquently, so eloquently that they might just as well have spoken aloud: ‘Now, we have got you, haven’t we? Exactly where we want you … office boy. In your place.’

“David! I’m waiting …” said Miss Smith, just as soon as the last of the office girls – Corrine – had helped herself to one of the doughnuts; one that was dark-chocolate topped, and filled to overflowing with thick white cream and raspberry jam. I felt myself salivating … and it wasn’t just at the sight of the doughnut.

Before I could move, Corrine rolled back in her office chair, lifted up her amazing legs, casually (somehow stylishly) shook her sandals from her feet; simply letting them fall to the carpet, and then she propped her bare feet up on the corner of her desk, and crossed her ankles.

Immediately, Corrine started to scrunch her toes repeatedly. Her toenails, I then saw, were painted a lush and vibrant, sexy shade of pink – exactly the same shade, I thought, as was on her finger nails, her lipstick, and even her sandals. I saw the gleam of a gold anklet, and the soles of Corrine’s bare feet were just as golden.

(Unlike the rest of the office girls – including Miss Susan Smith – who all wore dark panty-hose, to the office, Corrine’s feet were bare. I assumed that, since Corrine was working here temporarily as an exchange student, Miss Smith had given her lots of leeway as regards to office dress code – why did that not surprise me …?)

Corrine almost voraciously sank her even, pearly-white teeth into the soft, unresisting dough, taking her first bite of her doughnut, and she scrunched her bare, pink-painted toes luxuriously, as she savoured the rich, sweet, oh-so-satisfying taste of it. “Mmmmm!” she murmured in appreciation.

Somehow, I was quite mesmerised by the sight. There was something … erotic, about seeing Corrine eat, like this. The sumptuous melange, of the vivid (siren) red smudges of the raspberry jam; the smears of thick white cream; the tinges of dark chocolate, upon her pink and pouty lips. So tantalisingly set, against the glorious bronze backdrop of her beautifully toned skin. And, watching her toes scrunching in pleasure, the whole time, completed the somehow captivating picture.

I finally managed to tear my eyes away from the somehow powerfully enthralling vision, and I reported back to the monstrous Miss Susan Smith, as instructed. “Yes, Miss Smith? What would you like me to do now,” I asked her … And, this time, I was careful to keep a civil tongue in my head.

“What I would like you to do now, David, is exactly what I brought you back here to do – and just exactly what I have been so looking forward to, for all of this time … especially so, ever since you had the temerity to get engaged to Sandra,” gloated Miss Smith. I was wondering when she would bring Sandra’s name into it.

The dreadful woman went on, in similar vein. “Remember my little ‘proviso’, David? Remember when I told you, that I would one day have you on your knees, before me – at my feet? And at the feet of all of my office girls, too? Well, David, that day has now arrived … Now, I want you to take off my pumps, and start massaging my feet for me. So, get to your knees – it’s the best angle for you to work from, enabling you to apply an upward pressure to my soles,” explained Miss Susan Smith matter-of-factly, as if that was the ‘real’ reason for her ordering me to my knees at her feet. “After all, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well, don’t you think? Now – office boy. Get on with it … begin your new career.”

“Yes, Miss Smith,” I replied, wretchedly but compliantly … as I knew that I must.

This was the moment that I had been absolutely dreading: having to massage Miss Susan Smith’s feet, for her. Not to mention, having to massage all of her office girls’ feet, too. But especially, for Miss Susan Smith, who was, after all, personally responsible for the unspeakable predicament that I was in – who was totally to blame, for my diabolical ‘A Thousand Suns’ sentence.

I got to my knees, at Miss Susan Smith’s feet. I took hold of Miss Smith’s right, black leather, well-worn office pump, and I carefully pulled it from her foot. I was sure that these office pumps were the same ones that she had been wearing when we were going away on our business trip to Arabia, 3 months or so ago – and they had looked very well-worn then.

I reflexively jerked my head away in revulsion, as my nostrils were overwhelmingly assailed. The rank, musty, strong-cheesy odour of the well-worn interior of Miss Smith’s office pump was bad enough. But, much worse, were the far more powerful; far more pungent and abhorrent fumes that emanated in almost palpable waves from the sole of her dark panty-hosed foot.

“Face front – office boy!” snapped Miss Susan Smith domineeringly – wickedly. “Start your massaging. Start at the bottom of my heel,” she instructed. “Use your thumbs. Rotate your thumbs, pressing firmly – but not too firmly. Use firm, circular motions with both of your thumbs, and gradually work your way up my sole – slowly, David! – right up to my toes, and rub them too. And then you can repeat the procedure all over again, with my other foot. Now, have you got that … office boy?” demanded Miss Smith tauntingly – goadingly, I thought … Oh! She would love me to give her the slightest of excuses, I knew, for her to be able to drop me right in it with Claudia (” … anything less than one hundred per cent satisfactory, in your duties, and …”)

“Yes, Miss Smith,” I said resignedly.

Just then, someone entered the office, and I heard a sweet, familiar voice say in a cheerful, happy-go-lucky, all’s-fine-and-dandy, sing-songy way: “Hi, everyone! What’s up!”

It was Sandra!

It was Sandra! Sandra, my former fiancee, who I had actually been just a week away from marrying … when my lesbian boss, Miss Susan Smith, had so cruelly prised us apart. Miss Smith had unerringly tuned in to Sandra’s latent lesbianism (“I can always tell.”)

Miss Smith had seduced Sandra; won her heart and won her over, and stolen my darling straight from out of my loving arms. And the rest, as they say, is history. Ever since then, the 2 of them had been an ‘item’.

I assumed now, that Sandra (who worked at another office nearby, that did business with Jordan’s) had just popped in to drop off some paperwork, and … to pay a quick visit to her ‘better half’ – her girlfriend, Miss Susan Smith!

Sandra came into the office, talking sunnily all the way – until she saw me … saw what I was doing. “David …? What – what are – what are you doing here?” spluttered the astounded Sandra, who obviously knew nothing whatsoever, about my appalling situation. Knew nothing, about Miss Susan Smith’s employing me, as her so-called office boy. Knew nothing, of her girlfriend’s so-called ‘proviso’.

My God! As if things weren’t bad enough already, but that Sandra had to be here to witness my unspeakable humiliation.

“Duh! Er … what does it look like he’s doing, Sandy?” asked Miss Smith, with a theatrical air of exasperation. “I mean … isn’t it perfectly obvious, sweetie-pie? He’s massaging my feet for me, isn’t he? David’s just started back at work this morning. He’s ever so glad to be back – to be back working for me – and he’s settling in quite nicely. But, he’s lucky to have a job here at all, really … after what he’s done – and with a criminal record, too!” exclaimed Miss Smith, in a manner that suggested she was generous to a fault, in allowing me to come back to work for her.

While Miss Smith spoke to Sandra, my boss looked down on me, on my knees at her feet. And there was an expression on Miss Smith’s face, of such unadulterated satisfaction as, in a manner of abject servitude, I obediently massaged her right, dark panty-hosed foot.

Miss Smith went on, conversationally. “I was actually kind enough, to create a brand-new position in the company, for David … as Office Boy. And, as you can see, Sandy … he is perfectly suited to his new duties, isn’t he? In fact, David’s actually being of more use to me now, than the useless oaf’s ever been. Of course, he’s a bit rough around the edges, yet – he’s still learning. But, don’t worry, Sandy, I’ll soon have him properly trained … And, when I’ve finished with him – for the moment, that is – he’s going to work his way around the office, massaging my girls’ feet for them, too. Just like a good little office boy should. Starting with Corrine … You haven’t met Corrine yet, have you, Sandy? Corrine is French. She’s … ever so chic. Such a darling. Corrine has a certain … je ne sais quoi. A certain: Ooh la la! Don’t you think so, Sandy?” inquired Miss Smith lasciviously, of her stunned and almost speechless girlfriend. Miss Susan Smith then confidently predicted, “Between us, my girls and I will soon bring David to heel … and keep him there.”

At suddenly seeing my former darling’s lovely, cherished face again, at hearing her sweet voice, I was totally overcome. I was overwhelmed, by the swift return of unbearable, grief-stricken emotions, that painfully opened up my partially-healed wounds, all over again. “I still love you, Sandra,” I told her passionately. “I always will!” I wailed forlornly. “Always!”

Miss Susan Smith pulled her right foot from my servilely ministering hands and, using the tops of her dark panty-hose covered toes to lift my chin, thereby elevating my eyes and obliging me to look directly at her gloating face, she admonished, “Er, I don’t think you are concentrating … one hundred per cent, David, upon what you are supposed to be doing, are you?”

Turning back to my former sweetheart, Miss Smith dryly observed, “Sandy, darling, I don’t think David likes the smell of my stinky dyke feet.”

And then I realised! I realised that something was off – besides Miss Susan Smith’s “stinky dyke feet,” that is. It finally dawned upon me, that Sandra hadn’t responded to what Miss Smith had said to her, a few moments ago: “But, he’s lucky to have a job here at all, really … after what he’s done – and with a criminal record, too!”

And suddenly, the penny dropped … Ting!

“My God!” I cried. “You don’t know! You don’t know, do you, Sandra? She hasn’t told you, has she?” I wailed, in my new, unbearable anguish. “She hasn’t told you!”

Sandra frowned, wondering what I was referring to; quite at a loss, as to what on earth I could possibly be talking about.

I then heard that unmistakable whooshing sound, as Miss Smith then eased her left foot from her other black leather pump and, before I had realised what she was up to, she had firmly planted the warm and moist sole of her left, dark panty-hosed foot slap-bang in the middle of my shocked face; her nylon enclosed toes, immediately cupping around my nostrils. “Speak out of turn, will you – office boy? Well, I’ll soon teach you to keep a still tongue in your head,” said Miss Smith maliciously.

The acrid, strong-cheesy, offensively pungent odour of Miss Smith’s freshly unshod dark panty-hosed left foot, nearly knocked me over. It was awful, terrible – a hideous torment. It was as if someone had just prised off the lid of some long-forgotten, mould-colonised blue cheese vat – and then immediately regretted it. It was rancid. I was reeling.

Miss Susan Smith, though, was in heaven. And so were her office girls, too – if their unsuppressed snickers of delighted amusement were anything to go by. Each of them, obviously enjoying a keenly felt vicarious pleasure, in seeing Miss Susan Smith’s cruel domination – her humiliating subjugation – of me.

“Keep still, David! This will help accustom you to my foot scent all the sooner. After all, you are going to have to get used to it, aren’t you? Go on, then … inhale deeply – office boy, fill your lungs with it. That’ll help. Nice and deeply. Take some nice, big sniffs for me … And why have you stopped massaging my other foot? You can keep on massaging my other foot, at the same time – you can do both: it’s called multi-tasking … Are you sure you are giving me one hundred per cent, David?”

“Yes, Miss Smith,” I replied wretchedly – helplessly, hopelessly – as I deeply inhaled Miss Susan Smith’s horrible, nylon-covered, in-between-the-toes foot stink.

“Susie? Haven’t told me what?” asked Sandra bemusedly, suddenly coming back to the point. Coming back to what I’d just said to her, after having taken a moment to mull over my blurted emotional statement; after trying to make some sense of it. “Susie …? What is it? What is David talking about? What haven’t you told me, Susie?”

“Oh! This is just so tiresome, Sandy. You shouldn’t take any notice of David. Must we really go there? After all, it’s all water under the bridge now, Sandy. I mean … So what? if I happened to forget to tell you, what … really happened. That – that – well, that it was me … all along, darling.”

“You … all along, Susie?” said the confused Sandra. “You’re not making any sense. What do you mean – what was you, all along?”

“It was all her fault, Sandra! She did it!” I interjected mumblingly from the dark panty-hosed sole of Miss Smith’s malodorous left foot; the ball of her foot, pressing against my lips; her foul-smelling toes, still cupping my nostrils. “I’m innocent, Sandra! She’s to blame! Miss Smith! She’s the guilty one! She did it!” I ranted, doing the best I could to get my words out – in the circumstances.

“I am warning you – office boy!” threatened Miss Susan Smith; an ominous hint of finality, in her tone. “Keep your insolent tongue still! Keep on sniffing! Keep on massaging! I want one hundred per cent effort and obedience from you, at all times. And I shall have it – or else!”

“Well, Susan …?” prompted Sandra, persistently – impatiently. (Ah! It wasn’t the lovey-dovey ‘Susie’, now. But the less affectionate – decidedly cooler – ‘Susan’). “I’m waiting for an explanation,” pressed Sandra. “What was you, all along? Well, Susan …? I am waiting … Tell me now! I want to know!”

“Oh! All right, all right. All this fuss! Okay, okay, I’ll fess up … It was me. Okay, Sandy? It was me, who pinched Claudia’s bottom. There, Sandy! Now you know. Are you happy now? It was me, all along … Anyway, babes – look! Everything has turned out for the best, hasn’t it? I mean, we are together, aren’t we? And—”

But, clearly upset, at suddenly and finally being acquainted with the true, sordid facts of the matter – the awful truth, of her girlfriend’s appalling deception, and of her other wicked machinations against me – Sandra was storming out of the office. Gone, was her sunny, all’s-well-with-the-world demeanour and, flapping a hand behind her as she made for the office door, Sandra wailed melodramatically, “I – I have to go, Susan … I can’t do this now!” Then Sandra glanced back at me. “Oh! Poor David!” she lamented, almost on the verge of tears. And, hurrying from the office, Sandra slammed the door shut behind her.

“Now, David. Do you see the trouble you’ve caused?” complained Miss Susan Smith peevishly. “Letting the cat out of the bag like that? Still, I suppose she was bound to find out sooner or later … Not to worry, though; she’ll soon come round – I’ll see to that. I’m just going to have to be … extra, extra, especially nice, to Sandy tonight. Still … that’s no hardship,” said Miss Smith, leering at me suggestively.

“Thank you, office boy,” said Miss Smith sardonically. “That will be all, for the moment. Now … I think Corrine is waiting for you.”

I looked over towards Corrine. She had finished her doughnut, but she still had her bare, sun-tanned feet propped up on the corner of her desk, ankles crossed. Corrine was still repeatedly scrunching her toes, too. One second, I could see the sun-kissed, lightly-tanned undersides of her medium-long toes. The next second, I could see her pink-painted, perfectly pedicured toenails. And their polished surfaces gleamed attractively as they caught reflexions from the overhead office lights.

Corrine was regarding me with her smouldering gaze, and she was beckoning me with her pink-painted forefinger. Corrine’s voice was husky, and laden with untold promise, when she said to me in her alluring, sexy French accent, “Come here. Come to Corrine … office boy.”

Suffice it to say, that Miss Susan Smith ensured that I earned every single penny of my (minimum wage) salary, as her so-called office boy.

Though, when it came to Corrine, during the period of her 6-months’ student exchange visit – to paraphrase Miss Susan Smith: “it was no hardship.” No hardship at all.

But alas, I could not say the same for Melissa, Valerie and Judy. For, just like their boss, the incomparable Miss Susan Smith, who they all looked up to and admired, they also took the greatest possible satisfaction in making my office life an unremitting hardship. Miss Smith’s 3 permanent office girls frequently – incessantly – took maximum advantage of their newly acquired power over me. They imposed their authority routinely, and as a matter of course. Why? Because they could. It was as simple as that … After all, I was their office boy.

* * *

The days turned into weeks. The weeks turned into months. The strictly enforced pattern of my life was set.

And I began to wish that I had listened to the British Consulate representative, Miss Withenshaw. Wished that I had listened to her sound advice. Wished that I had not ‘married’ Claudia. But it was too late for that. Way too late. Marry in haste … repent at leisure.

Every month, there was a turnover – a “relay, as it were” – of another 5 visiting females of Wadi Ya Noh. I hardly ever had a moment of free time to spend on myself – I was always far too busy. Working as Miss Susan Smith’s so-called office boy during the working week, and slaving away for the females of Wadi Ya Noh for the rest of the time, virtually all of my time was accounted for.

At home, I was dominated and controlled; used and abused, by the females of Wadi Ya Noh. They gave me no peace – no peace at all. I was their overworked house slave and their downtrodden foot slave.

During the evenings, they were usually happy enough to stay at home – since they were so splendidly entertained by sitting on my large sofa, and watching my 50-inch high definition plasma flat-screen TV. And, as they enjoyed their TV programmes, I lay on the floor along side my sofa; a comfortable footrest for our 5 visitors. Occasionally, they would let me get up off the floor – to go and make them some mint tea.

At the weekends, Claudia would have me take herself, Meena, and their 5 visiting village sisters, for day’s out – or ‘outings’ – as Claudia preferred to call them, in the people-carrier.

Each month, when the latest batch of visitors arrived to stay with us, Claudia would have me drive them all to the Trafford Centre the next day, shopping for shoes. When they had (finally!) made their selections, they would all throw their old, ratty, tatty, bin-worthy footwear straight into the bin … and I would be getting out my ever depleting wallet; my ever diminishing billfold – yet again.

* * *

And, all the while, money was getting tighter and tighter, my wallet, lighter and lighter.

I was amazed though, at the time, just how easy it was to borrow money from all of those banks. Ridiculously easy. The banks all seemed perfectly happy; were all-but falling over themselves, to just keep on throwing more and more money at me. Lots of money, pots of money, each and every time I asked them for it – no questions asked … or, at least, none that would have given the game away.

And so I kept on going back to the banks, for more and more credit cards: Gold cards; Platinum cards; However-much-you-want cards. I just simply kept on going back, again and again, for more and more money … I was laughing all the way to the bank.

But, however much money I borrowed, it was never enough. Claudia was spending it faster than I could borrow it. The females of Wadi Ya Noh had been milking me mercilessly. Now they were squeezing me dry. Pretty soon, they would be trying to get blood out of a stone.

And so I looked for more credit card companies, and I took out yet more credit cards. I took out as many as I could, while I still could … Before the penny dropped. Before they smelled trouble – with a capital ‘T’. Before they were onto me. Before the banks and the credit card companies eventually and inevitably cottoned-on to the glaringly obvious fact that I was having financial difficulties. Before they finally sussed out that I was no longer making any more monthly repayments on my credit cards – and then promptly blocked them. Pulled the plug on my plastic.

By then, though, I had maxed-out all of my credit cards. Every single one of them. And it was frightening – the money I owed.

Now though, it was – quite literally – payback time. The banks and the credit card companies wanted their money back. They wanted it now, and they weren’t shy about asking for it, either. And it wasn’t long before they started demanding – and in no uncertain terms – that I cough up. I started receiving a constant stream of letters from all of those banks and credit card companies; like a paper waterfall, they poured through my letter-box.

I just simply ignored them all; all of their letters of steadily increasing concern – of increasing threat. After all, what could I say to my highly disgruntled, out-of-pocket creditors? Tell it to the females of Wadi Ya Noh?

The letters from the banks and the credit card companies got more and more frequent. Each letter; redder, more menacing than the one before. Like hate mail. Threatening this; threatening that … The Bailiffs. Court proceedings.

I had also managed to get the bank to re-mortgage my house – again – so as to reduce the monthly repayments a bit more. Though this was harder to achieve; trickier …

I had succeeded in this quest, but only after undergoing a lengthy grilling by the bank manager who was, not unreasonably, more than a little concerned by a lender who was asking to re-mortgage his house – for the second time in the same year.

I had explained to the bank manager that I was a bit short of money these days, due to my being transferred to a less well-paid position at Jordan’s Climate Control. The bank manager was easily able to check this information, by making a simple phone call to my boss, Miss Susan Smith. And, upon Miss Smith’s duly verifying both my new, lower company status, as ‘Office Boy’, and my minimum wage pay grade, the bank manager finally accepted my explanation – albeit reluctantly, and with obvious reserve.

I did not, of course, tell the bank manager the real reasons for my pecuniary problems … That I was being slowly bled dry, by the females of Wadi Ya Noh.

So I had managed to get my house re-mortgaged – for the second time in the same year. But, by then … it was too little, too late.

* * *

Of all, of the day’s out – or, “outings” – that we went on, there is one in particular, that will live long in my memory. In fact, I don’t think I will ever forget it.

Just over a year had passed, and it was the same 5 visitors – who had visited us first, for the first, of their bi-annual, month-long visits – who were back with us again. And it was their third visit. They were: Fatima, Kandi, Neesha, Shami, and Saida.

One evening, Claudia and Meena and their visiting village sisters had been avidly watching a TV programme about the very popular English seaside resort, of Blackpool. They had ooh-ed and ah-ed, all the way through the hour-long programme. And Neesha, who, just like her village sisters was by now speaking quite good English, said excitedly, “Oh please, Claudia. Can we go to Blackpool? I’d love to go up Blackpool Tower. And on the Fairground!” she enthused. “Oh! Can we, Claudia? Can we?” she pleaded.

And Kandi, Shami, and Saida, who all wanted to go to Blackpool just as much as Neesha did, also tried, good-naturedly, to pester Claudia into submission.

Fatima simply looked on, indulgently. Fatima didn’t seem to mind, whatever they did; wherever they went. She was already content. She was back in England again, in my house, for another month-long stay. Visiting Claudia and Meena – for the third time. And, for Fatima, that was enough – that, and to be able to return my ‘hospitality’, by making my life a living hell.

“You have heard the wishes of your Mistresses; where they would like to go for their next outing, David. This Sunday, you will take us all to Blackpool, in the Mercedes,” decreed Claudia.

“Yes, Claudia,” I replied compliantly. Well, it could have been worse. I had always quite liked Blackpool, myself. It was usually a fun day out. Usually …

On Sunday morning, at about 9 a.m., I went outside to The Merc to check the oil and water levels, etc. After finding all in order, I slid open the side passengers’ door, and waited; my passengers would be out in a moment.

While waiting, I detected a slight movement in my peripheral vision, and I saw my next door neighbours, Tony and Jan, looking out through their front window. They watched, as the 7 black burka clad females of Wadi Ya Noh left my house, shuffled to the people-carrier, and then got inside and seated themselves. Then I slid the door shut after them.

Before climbing into the driver’s seat of The Merc, I gave Tony and Jan a sad salute; my familiar, signature, heart-just-not-in-it wave. But they didn’t wave back; they didn’t have the heart, either. They just glumly stared back at me. By now, of course, Tony and Jan knew all there was to know, about my wretched situation; understood all of the in’s and outs of my appalling predicament. For I had long since fully apprised them both of all of the diabolical facts of the matter.

The sense of pride that I felt whenever I climbed into the driver’s seat of The Merc, hadn’t diminished one jot, since the day I had first driven it away from the Mercedes Dealership. And, driving The Merc was pretty much the only pleasure that was left to me now. The Dealership’s salesman (‘Slick’, as I thought of him) had said: “Any problems … bring her right back.” But there had been no problems; never so much as a hint of one. I had ‘her’ routinely serviced, and ‘she’ never gave me any trouble. And I kept ‘her’ spotlessly clean (I would have done, anyway, but Claudia rigidly ensured that I did; often supervising my valeting of “The Mercedes,” herself).

I started the engine and, after checking the dash lights – a general check, but also to ensure that all of my 7 passengers were wearing their seat belts (a red warning light glowed, if any of them weren’t) – and finding all in order, I put The Merc in gear, and we were on our way to Blackpool.

Being a Sunday morning, the roads were quiet and we made good time, arriving at Blackpool at about 10:30 a.m. I parked The Merc in the North Shore car park, and I stuck the Pay and Display ticket in the windscreen. Now, the whole day lay ahead of us.

Small, raggedy clouds scurried across the sky, and there was a gusty wind blowing from offshore, that carried with it the salty tang of the sea. It was dry, and not too cold on that day in early Spring. But the females of Wadi Ya Noh hugged their black burkas to themselves tightly, as if afraid their burkas might blow away like kites snatched from complacent hands by the unpredictable wind, to reveal their ever-shrouded mysteries beneath.

I had suggested to Claudia that we visit Blackpool Tower first, while it was still relatively quiet, and so we wouldn’t need to queue up to visit the world famous attraction. And then go on to the Fairground afterwards, when it would be livelier. Claudia approved of my idea, and she instructed me to proceed accordingly. And so we boarded one of the trams that run along the sea-front, to take us there.

The females of Wadi Ya Noh had been excitable all week, to say the least, at the prospect of going up in Blackpool Tower. Even I was excited about it – I had not been up in the famous Tower before.

But now, just when they were standing at the foot of the Tower, just when the occasion was actually upon them; just when they were actually faced with the astounding reality of the Tower, a structure so impossibly high, as beggared their belief, they were almost having second thoughts. As they stood there, having to crane their necks to gaze up in awe to see up to the top of the Tower, their excitement became tinged with trepidation.

But the females of Wadi Ya Noh don’t scare easily, and they soon shrugged off their initial shock; soon cast aside their instinctive misgivings. And, once again I was getting my wallet out, to pay for our 8 tickets. We were going up in Blackpool Tower!

As we ascended, and were lifted ever higher and higher, the ululating of the females of Wadi Ya Noh became ever more excited – almost fearful – as they beheld the most fantastic, panoramic of views. We were able to see for miles and miles around. Out to sea, the shining sun was turning the choppy waves blue and sparkling. The females of Wadi Ya Noh had never before experienced anything even remotely like it. And, when they looked through the see-through floor, it frightened them half to death – and I thought that their high-pitched, ululating wailing could be heard in the Isle of Man, about 60 miles away across the Irish Sea.

Then came their eagerly-looked-forward-to visit to the Fairground. Neesha, Kandi, Shami, and Saida were so excited, they could hardly make their minds up about what to do first.

They all threw 3 badly-flighted and very blunt darts, at widely-spaced playing-cards that were pinned to a wall about a quarter of a mile away – hit 3 out of 3, and you win an exciting prize. They all shot 10 pellets, from ancient and very poorly-sighted air rifles, at violently bobbing little yellow plastic ducks – blow them all out of the water, and you win an exciting prize. And they all threw 3 almost-bald tennis balls, at extremely-difficult-to-dislodge, seemingly fixed-in-place coconuts – knock one over, and you win an exciting prize.

And, they all laughed with uninhibited merriment, and shrieked with unbridled glee and triumph at each and every accomplishment of their amazing – near miraculous – achievements. They all looked decidedly smug and extremely pleased with themselves, too. Not least, as the stall holders, with solemn ceremony (and obvious reluctance), awarded their fantastic prizes: Cuddly toys; strings of helium-inflated coloured balloons; T-shirts, with ‘I Love Blackpool’ emblazoned across the front … the usual sort of tat.

And then we went on some of the so-called ‘Fun’ rides – me included. I didn’t want to (I have no stomach for such things), but Claudia insisted. And once again, my wallet was out and being pitilessly ransacked, as I coughed up for a sackful of ride tokens.

What? ‘All the fun of the Fair’? My God! It was awful. Terrible. Absolute torture.

I moaned and groaned wretchedly, as I listened to the delighted laughs and shrieks and the exhilarated howls and screams of the females of Wadi Ya Noh – including Claudia, Meena and Fatima – as we were all duly subjected to the most tremendous (and most horrendous!) G-force. It was certainly not my idea of ‘Fun’!

What? Being violently flung and chucked about, this way, that way – every-which-way! – at warp factor speeds? Being horribly tipped and bucked and disoriented and discombobulated? Having such incredible stresses and strains inflicted, as tested both mind and body close to the very limits of their endurance? On the Big Dipper, the Cocks and Hens, the Roller Coaster – that, was supposed to be ‘Fun’? … Thank God I hadn’t felt like eating any breakfast that morning!

But, as far as the females of Wadi Ya Noh were concerned, all of those other rides were lame – compared to the Ghost Train.

The Ghost Train had four, 8-seater carriages, and the females of Wadi Ya Noh and I were just in time to board the last of them, filling it up, before the Ghost Train departed the ‘station’ platform, at the long shriek of the ‘guard’s whistle.

Small children who were seated in the foremost carriages, looked back at us and, upon them setting their eyes upon the black burka clad females of Wadi Ya Noh, they held onto their parents a bit tighter than they already were … Suddenly in need of even more comforting; even more reassurance, in facing the scary ride to come. Having said that, some of the parents didn’t look too happy, either; looked as if they wanted to hold someones hand.

The Ghost Train moved off, trundling noisily, and we slowly headed towards the black hole of the tunnel. Then, upon entering the tunnel, we were suddenly engulfed in an impenetrable, tar-black darkness, and the females of Wadi Ya Noh ululated their great unease; their dire misgivings – their sudden dread. And the children whimpered. Though their concerns, weren’t about the dark …

And then lights glowed – but not in a nice way. Dull, low-wattage bulbs dimly illuminated the motley assortment of skulls and skeletons, that were ‘laid to rest’ in deep and shadowy recesses in the walls, as though we were in the crypt of some long-forgotten, underground burial chamber.

And when the females of Wadi Ya Noh shrilly ululated their superstitious fears, their panic was contagious. And the children became infected. The children: their over-imaginative, malleable minds, malignantly engaged; their young, fertile imaginations, running in overdrive, began to cry and bawl in earnest.

Almost invisible at first, in the dim lighting, but slowly becoming more and more discernible, as the Ghost Train drew closer and closer to it, was a skeleton. It was suspended above the tracks, right in front of us. Waiting for us – seemingly expecting us. And when we were almost upon the skeleton, bright lights suddenly illuminated it, bringing it into sharp detail. For a brief moment, a shocked and fascinated silence fell over the females of Wadi Ya Noh – until the bones of the skeleton were noisily clattering their way through everyone aboard the Ghost Train.

Outright bedlam broke out among the females of Wadi Ya Noh, as they futilely strove to avoid contact with the rattling bones of the skeleton (plastic – but they weren’t to know that), and their hysterical ululations of fear and horror of the sinister spectre echoed back to them from the shadowy cavern walls – causing the hideously traumatised children to wail just as loudly and fearfully themselves.

And then the Ghost Train was suddenly emerging into the bright, ‘exorcising’ light of day, and finally jolting to a stop at the ‘station’ platform.

Thankfully, a semblance of calm was restored, as everyone was able to disembark from the Ghost Train; their harrowing ordeal, now thankfully behind them. Though, the parents; their nerves shredded, and looking almost as frightened and chalk-faced as their crying, whimpering, snot-nosed children, couldn’t get away from the females of Wadi Ya Noh fast enough.

And then – as if I hadn’t had enough excitement for one day – came the ‘incident’.

It was 2 p.m. We had just left a sea-front cafe, having enjoyed a tasty meal of fish and chips, and the females of Wadi Ya Noh wanted to have a leisurely walk around Blackpool town for a couple of hours, before returning home in the people-carrier. I had been walking my customary, respectful 3 paces behind them, when they all suddenly stopped in their tracks, upon hearing Meena’s gasp of sheer incredulity.

Meena was in a ferment of acute, uncontainable emotion as she animatedly pointed out to Claudia, a man who was just emerging from a pub.

It was with a sort of swaggering – almost staggering – arrogant insouciance, that he stood there. As though he had not a care in the world. Indeed, his self-assured, carefree demeanour seemed to suggest, to the world at large, that he took every care and precaution, to leave all of his troubles behind him – for, his carefree and careless ways suited him very nicely, thank you. Just his very stance, said all of these things about him; about the nature of his character. That he only cared about himself. That he only looked out for; looked after, Number One.

Meena, despite the elapse of 2 decades and more since she had last seen the man, nevertheless recognised both his face and his cocky, arrogant body language instantly, and with total conviction. “Vincent!” seethed Meena.

My God! I couldn’t believe it – if it was true. I mean … what were the chances of our running into Vincent, like this? On one of our “outings”. It could have been a billion-to-one co-incidence … Or it could have been destiny. Vincent’s destiny.

Another man emerged from the pub. “I’ll see you tonight then, Vinnie,” said the man jovially, full of bonhomie, with a few pints circulating through his bloodstream.

“Not if I see you first!” returned Vincent jocularly, obviously inebriated too.

So, Meena was right – it was Vincent!

At the conclusion of a short, but urgent conference with her village sisters, Claudia turned to me, in triumphant exultancy.

”David … the day that I live for, the day that I dream about, has finally arrived! That man, is my father! The faithless wretch, who spurned and abandoned my mother, as soon as she told him that she was carrying his child. Carrying me!” said Claudia hotly. “He is the mangy, flea-bitten cur that I have vowed to find. To make him pay for his crime – and pay dearly! Now … bear witness, David – and never forget! – what happens to those who do wrong, to the females of Wadi Ya Noh!”

Walking my customary, respectful 3 paces behind the females of Wadi Ya Noh, it was in the grip of a horrified fascination that I watched the ensuing spectacle.

First, 2 of the black burka clad females overtook their totally unsuspecting quarry. And Vincent, who had been nonchalantly ambling along the street, abruptly stopped in apparent puzzlement, when the 2 black burka clad females impeded him by walking directly in front of him, and then slowing their pace.

The remaining 5 black burka attired females then closed up to Vincent, and then they swiftly and completely surrounded him. Vincent’s initial exclamations, were of surprise, and query, followed by his beer-breathed expressions of mild annoyance … he still hadn’t realised that he had something to worry about.

But then Vincent’s alcoholic haze began to clear, and he suddenly perceived of something actually being amiss here. And then he knew for a fact, that something was wrong. Very wrong. For the black burka clad figures were closing in tighter; pressing in, all around him. And his next sentiments gave away his rather more concerned feelings. Feelings of disquiet; alarm, and then the beginnings of fear. And then he was completely stopped in his tracks. And engulfed.

Vincent then emitted a high-pitched, inarticulate cry, as the brown hands of the black burka clad figures seized him, and began to do their terrible work.

And then, at last, the penny finally dropped … This could only mean one thing. “Meena …? Is that you, Meena? No! It – it can’t be! It can’t! It can’t!” wailed a disbelieving, terror-struck Vincent.

“But, it is … Father,” said Claudia softly; her voice, dripping with pure malice, and instantly confirming Vincent’s worst-case-scenario fears. Claudia’s dark-toned voice was terrible to hear. For it was the voice of vengeance – of long-awaited retribution. “It is true: revenge is a dish that is best served cold. And now, Father, I shall feast. And you shall pay. At last, you will pay! For abandoning Meena! For abandoning me! Your daughter!”

I then heard the sounds that I will never forget. The blood-chilling sounds, of Vincent’s horrified, terrified, tortured shouts and howls. Followed by his muffled, agonised, strangled screams. And the blood-curdling sounds, of the shrilly ululating females of Wadi Ya Noh, as they mercilessly set upon their captured prey.

They were like a single-minded, dark organism. A seething, devouring black mass. Overwhelming, subduing, subsuming its helpless quarry, as Claudia finally fulfilled her solemn vow. As she achieved her long-cherished ambition. As she and Meena sated their lust for vengeance. As they slayed their dragon.

Upon hearing the dreadful commotion, pedestrians on the street stopped in mid-stride; or looked away from shop windows; or halted their conversations – whatever they had been doing, they had stopped doing it. For their attentions had been abruptly re-directed, and re-focused upon the incredible spectacle that was being played out before them. And, as the astounded pedestrians disbelievingly beheld the fantastical drama that was unfolding right in front of their eyes, the females of Wadi Ya Noh shrilly emitted their eerie, primitive-sounding, ululating wailing; a profoundly disturbing cacophony, that froze the blood just to hear it.

In the people-carrier, on our way home from Blackpool, I re-lived, over and over, the awful event of Vincent’s date with destiny (for, that’s what I believed it must have been). It was impossible, not to re-live the awful event, over and over – because of the almost incessant, triumphal ululating of the females of Wadi Ya Noh.

All in all, they’d had a very nice day out.

* * *

As the months passed, I got more and more into debt.

First to go, were my liquid assets – they had evaporated fast. And then, in trying to keep up with Claudia’s relentless spending, I had borrowed more and more money … until I was on borrowed time.

During the first year, whenever one of my debts finally became ‘Actionable’, by a bank or a credit card company, I simply paid it off – at the expense of my other debts. Until they became actionable, too. I had been robbing Peter to pay Paul. And Peter was none too happy about it.

But, eventually, and inevitably …

It was surely something of a miracle, that I had managed to stave off the inevitable – keep the wolves from our door – for as long as I did. For almost 2 years – 21 months, to be exact – I had managed to keep their snarling snouts at bay. Now, though …

May 2018
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