form trudged along the hot road, head bent, eyes on the
I can’t breath. It must be 110 degrees in this desert. I
must stand the heat. I must conform. I must wear the veil.
It is evil for women to tempt men with the sight of flesh. I
am a thing, property of my father, brother, future husband.
They can do with me what they like. I am not a real person.
I am a woman.
don’t feel different from what it seems to me a man must
feel. I have wants and desires too, although they try to
train or beat them out of me. It’s that they don’t want to
know what I feel or want or need. Men are masters at evading
truth. They only want us to obey them like a dog.
lifted her eyes to glance at the tall man with blue eyes
walking toward her, then quickly returned her gaze to the
ground, for women were not permitted to look directly at a
man for more than a second. He is handsome. I wish he
could see me and not this shrouded hulk that I am shown to
be. She had seen this man several times before in the
market and had caught him staring at her often. He was not a
native of her country. A European working in the oil
business perhaps? He looks lonely. Being so far from home
and having nothing pleasing to look at in this desert, not
even beautiful women. They passed one another, each
thinking their separate thoughts.
my body is attractive. My hips are round and my face is
pretty to me. But I’m not sure; no one has ever told me that
I am pretty. According to those wonderful magazines,
American women are told such things by their boyfriends all
the time. Oh! I want to rip these rags off my body and feel
the sun kiss my skin and the wind whisper around my neck and
face. Why should I not feel these things? Even dogs are free
to feel them. Dogs have a better life than women, for are
they not loved and cuddled and talked to in loving terms?
arrived at the market and was assaulted by the pungent
aromas from the different foods offered for sale. Although
she was often sent on errands to purchase a spice or a
vegetable needed for the evening supper and was admonished
to return quickly, she never failed to stop at her favorite
stall. There, the old bearded man sold a little bit of
everything from outdated magazines to ancient manuscripts,
which seemed to hold the smells of bygone days. But most
wonderful of all were the old postcards sent by people in
foreign countries to loved ones abroad. How the old man had
them in his possession she could not imagine nor did he ever
explain. But every time she came to the market she examined
the box to see if there were any new additions. Most of them
were pictures of the countryside or lakes, but the ones she
loved the most were of those gleaming cities, cities she
longed to see.
quickly made the needed spice purchase, went to her favorite
stall and immediately discovered a postcard with a colorful
picture of tall buildings surrounding a rectangular, flat
surface with people apparently gliding on top of it.
Everyone wore heavy coats, hats, gloves and scarves. Men
were hand in hand with women and they were smiling at one
another. There was an atmosphere of gaiety. The tall
buildings sparkled under a winter sun. She stared at the
card, trying to connect herself with the happy scene as she
unbuttoned one side of her face veil to wipe sweat from her
brow and upper lip. Suddenly, she felt tingly and looked
about her, not knowing what to expect when she saw blue eyes
staring at her intently from about ten feet away. She stared
back with a defiant look on her unveiled face. Her lips were
shiny with the red colored lipstick she always put on
secretly before she went out alone. I will not cover my
face and I don’t care what happens to me. I want this
foreigner to see me. Me!
started walking toward her and as he passed behind her, he
glanced down at the postcard and smiled. I am always
running into him. Why? I like him, but I can’t speak to him
or I will be severely punished. I am going crazy here. I
cannot think because I cannot act. I can only follow
someone’s orders. Suddenly, she remembered her favorite
childhood haunt, a place she hadn’t visited in years.
the market, she took a winding dirt road that led down a
small hill at the foot of which a small river flowed with
precious clear water. She had frequently gone there after
school to bathe in the cool water as her mother watched.
Wistfully, she remembered her freer girlhood days when girls
and boys were treated somewhat equally. Although the banks
of the river were usually filled with women doing laundry or
collecting buckets of water, it was deserted now because the
hour was close to suppertime. She took off her dark socks
and sandals by the riverbank and slipped her feet into the
water, delighted to see the bright red of her painted
toenails shimmer through the ripples in the water. She
sighed as she realized that these small acts of defiance
against authority were pitiful in the vast wasteland of her
forlorn life. But painting her lips and toenails made her
feel like an individual free to express herself, so she
dangerously continued to perform her ritual. Ah, the
water is so refreshing. Looking about her and quickly
unwinding the long black cloth from around her body and
head, she threw it on the sandy ground and walked into the
river, still wearing her skirt and white blouse. When her
legs were submerged, she quietly slid her whole body into
the sparkling coolness. I had forgotten what this feels
like. This is the closest thing to freedom I’ll ever feel.
the hot breeze brush her face, and the water caress her
limbs as gently as she imagined a lover would caress his
girl for the first time, tentative yet full of anticipation.
Closing her eyes and losing herself in the sensual pleasure
of feeling her body liberated from the enveloping prison of
her attire, she floated for a few more seconds, lost in a
world of cool fingers stroking her skin. Then grudgingly,
she started for shore to gather up her prison and dry off
while she walked home before she was missed. As she
straightened up with the veil in her hand, she saw the blue
eyes. They were staring at her feet. She could see the beads
of sweat on his forehead. It was the same man who had stood
by the postcard stall looking at her. She gasped and covered
herself with the black veil. This man will rape me and
then I will be abandoned by my family and left to die with
blue eyes just traveled up to look into hers as if he were
trying to read them. His lips were set in a tightly closed
line, as when evaluating something of value and perhaps . .
. beauty? I must be brave and not tremble before his
look. Perhaps I should speak and try to appeal to his honor.
Yet I feel a strange heat running through my body. What is
it? Fear? I am not really afraid of him. All I have to do is
scream and people will rush here in a matter of seconds.
gaze had started to wander down along the lines of her body
now clearly defined through the wet, clinging clothing. She
was aware of her breasts rising and falling with the
quickened rhythm of her breathing. The black cloth fell from
her hand and lay like a lump of coal against the bright
sand. The man did not approach her, but he continued to
stare at her. Her knees trembled slightly with the
possibilities of the moment, from the unknown emotions
racing through her. Surely he must hear my heart
pounding! Then he walked toward her and extended his
hand, displaying a small thin package wrapped in brown
paper. Mesmerized, she accepted the package. Suddenly he
appeared hesitant, as if struggling with some action he
wanted to take or words he wanted to say, but finally, he
just turned and walked up the hill.
ever so slowly, she wrapped herself back into her prison,
her mind tumbling with thoughts. Why was he following
her? Would he talk? Probably not. Being a foreigner he ran a
high risk by merely having dared to follow a local woman let
alone see her without her veil. No, he had been there
because . . . he was interested in her. Her! A rush of
joy swept over her as she realized herself how bold he was,
how his eyes had seen through her wet shirt. She tried to
visualize him without his clothes on, but with so little
experience the image was rather vague. So she focused on
remembering his face. His eyes were deep set under heavy
brown eyebrows set off by a strong prominent nose—he was
probably French or Spanish.
walked quickly up the hill, staring at the sand, already
starting to perspire within her quickly drying garb. Then
she remembered the package, and, turning it over in her
hand, she found that there were no markings on the brown
paper. She tore off the wrapping without slowing her pace.
It was the postcard with the gliding people! She stared at
the card and tried to imagine herself in such a place,
gliding over that smooth surface. One bead of sweat dripped
onto the postcard and slithered off its shiny picture. The
heat was still scorching, and she imagined endless days of
sun and sand for the rest of her life. Finally, wearily, as
she was nearing her home, she wiped off the sign of
rebellion from her lips with an edge of black cloth and
opened the door only to hear exclamations and questions.
Hands grabbed for her, demanding to know why she had taken
so long on a simple errand. She brushed them all off,
suddenly knowing what she must do. It’s my life. I won’t
live like this anymore. She threw the package of spice
on the table and ran out the door in the direction of the
market, hoping for a miracle, the postcard clutched in her
hand. Once on the street, she slowed down, resisting the
urge to run so as not to arouse the suspicions of her
neighbors or passersby. At any moment she expected to hear
her family behind her. The punishment would be severe.
I do if I find blue eyes? What will he think? Why am I
chasing him? Because he is my lifeline to another life.
stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. I am crazy. They
will not let me go. Already I am in terrible danger for
having run out of the house without permission. I am a fool.
She felt a tap on her shoulder and shuddered at the thought
of one of her brothers behind her—turning slowly she looked
up at the face of the man she sought. Blue eyes. She felt
weak under the steady gaze of those two skies.
you be looking for me?”
Ah, he is
not look like an American.” She whispered, lowering her gaze
and casting them downward by habit. He gently but firmly
raised her chin until their eyes locked again. She slowly
undid one side of the veil covering her face. The small
square of cloth dropped to one side revealing her lips,
stained only slightly by the remnants of her forbidden red
lipstick. They stood staring at each other for what seemed
like forever even as the terror of being discovered by some
passerby nagged at her. She quickly took out the postcard
from deep within her black tent and held it up.
“Rockefeller Center in New York City. Do you like it? I saw
you holding it this afternoon at the old man’s stall, and I
figured you might like to have it. You see I’m leaving
tomorrow for that city. It’s my way of saying goodbye. About
my seeing you…”
mind about that. Please! Take me with you! I don’t have any
money but I will find work and pay you back.”
don’t take me, I will runaway some other way, some other
day. I can bear this place no longer! I don’t know what
Rockefeller Center is, but if that postcard is a reflection
of what it is like in America, then that is the life I want.
The only life I want. Please! I beg of you to!”
eyes darkened as if with worry or maybe with fear at the
possible consequences resulting from the unexpected demand.
The quiet between them lingered, as she was certain he was
trying to think of a way. Then the darkness lifted from his
eyes and was replaced with a look of determination made from
having arrived at a difficult decision.
take you on one condition,” he said quietly, his lips set in
a straight firm line, while his eyes now laughed. “You have
to tell me your name or else what will I call you when we go
to Rockefeller center?” He took her hand and led her into a
small alley. Holding her at arms length, he looked deeply
into her eyes and then let his gaze travel the length of her
body, now knowing its shape beneath the black tent that
blushed with a certain new pleasure, while her legs suddenly
felt weak. Then she remembered the last thing he had just
said and as if out of breath cried, “My name is Mishaal. And
yours is…?” Even as she uttered these simple words she
trembled at her own audacity. But her choice was made, her
course set. The man with the blue eyes—and the full
lips—laughed. She heard joy—and the ability to enjoy.
called Ray, Mishaal. I’ve been watching you for three
months, always stopping at the picture stall. You’re
different than the other women here. You don’t accept being
told how to live your life. You’re defiant and willful.” His
eyes danced as he said this to her. A thrill of adventure
rushed through her.
you know this about me?” Mishaal was stunned by his
observations and the fact that he had purposefully observed
her for such a long time.
First you hold your body and walk with pride. And now,
today, I learn that you paint your toe nails and use
lipstick, all of which goes against custom and decree.”
you’re right! I love lipstick, and some day I’ll have a
thousand different shades and when I go out my lips will
scream with color. Let us go quickly! We will go to this
Center and you will teach me how to glide.” They both
laughed. This is what it feels like to be free, to enjoy.
Art member Margaret S. Sanchez has a Masters
degree in Microbiology and works for a large pharmaceutical
company in the area of animal health in Michigan.
Escaping the Veil
was inspired by newspaper articles about Middle Eastern
women and the attempt by religious zealots to keep them in
© Margaret S. Sanchez, all rights reserved