Disclaimer: This article is not for the faint of heart. Should you have issues with sexual violence, then I advise that you skip this piece.
This is taken from my book, The Colors of Sand, and will be available for purchase in January 2019 on Amazon.
Standing in front of the mirror, I looked at myself for the first time in over twenty-four hours. Turning my head from side to side, I examined my face. Lines of worry creased my forehead. Blazing, azure eyes stood out against pale cheeks and lips, all signs that I was overtired.
“Ah,” I sighed and with it came all the intensity of the day.
My shoulders slumped. Hours ago, I had been impatiently pacing around my condo in upscale Phrom Phong, waiting for an acquaintance to escort me to Suvarnabhumi Airport outside of Bangkok. Much had happened in those hours leading up to this point.
Letting my mind wander, I thought about how Nalina, a good friend and former colleague, had kept me company while I packed up my life. She begged me to stay, promising to use her contacts to help me find a job at a reputable university.
For a moment, I considered what it would be like to stay in Bangkok. Lunches at Dean and Deluca, afternoon tea at Chan & Yupa Tearoom, followed by dinner and live music at Rainhill in Thong Lo or drinks and jazz at the Mandarin, a ritzy hotel on the other side of the The Chao Phraya River.
My life would continue as it always had been: meeting friends, socializing, and teaching, in that order. And during school breaks I’d travel to Malaysia, Singapore, or perhaps New Guinea. Sighing, I inhaled damp air and was pulled back into my current predicament.
I was no longer among the safety of friends. Staring into the mirror, I shuddered and looked away. My test tightened.
“I’m having a heart attack,” I whispered, my words barely audible.
Gripping the edges of the porcelain sink, I looked into the mirror. Sweat creased my forehead while my breathing became ragged. Eyes glassy, I bit my lip, hard. A single tear slid down my cheek, taking with it the sandy grit of the desert. Shame gripped my heart. I didn’t look into my eyes again.
Taking measured breaths, my pulse slowed and I wiped my face with the tapered sleeve of my abaya, a loose black robe worn by women, over clothing. My abaya however, failed to meet the standards of The Kingdom. Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, I had scoured the whole of Thailand, only to end up at the one store that sold abayas, hijabs and niqabs.
Hijabs are the scarf that covers a woman’s hair and neck, and the niqab drapes across a woman’s nose and cheekbones, leaving only her eyes exposed. There are many styles and colors, and different ways to wear them. In Saudi Arabia however, the color is black. A hijab is a must for all women, while a niqab is mandatory for Saudis and a suggestion for non-Saudis.
Proper attire included a length that either touched or draped on the ground, was baggy enough to hide the feminine shape, and included equally loose arms, not unlike a western graduation gown.
My getup was anything but. I was three-inches too tall and hundred and twenty pounds over the maximum size of a Thai woman, traveling to a country that did not favor the colors of princess pink or sky blue. Therefore, my black gown stopped at my calves, while the arms tapered down to just above my wrists, and my staticky rayon robe clung to my body in odd places.
Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a clear quart-sized plastic bag and rested it on the edge of the sink. Straightening up, I felt a push on my bladder and clenched my thighs. With one hand on the sink, I slowly waddled over to the porcelain hole in the floor and placed my feet on the ridged footprints. Lifting up my gown, I undid my pants and squatted, flat-footed from years of living in Asia.
A glance at the closed red door, I opened my mouth and quietly sighed. Release spread throughout my body.
“Ah, finally,” I thought.
The white-tiled room was cramped and windowless. Opposite the porcelain hole in the floor, stood almost a dozen basins in various sizes; a metal drying rack leaned on the stack. To my left stood a square shower stall but without a curtain or any bar for one. It was clear however, that it had recently been used. An icy cold shudder ran through my body.
Standing, I pulled up my pants and let my abaya fall over my clothes. Turning to the right, were two industrial-sized, heavy duty barrels; one for bathing, and one for cleaning. I picked up a red child’s cup and filled it with water. Dumping the contents into the hole, I flushed away the dark golden fluid, a sign that I was dehydrated.
I looked longingly at the shower platform. Then, lifting a corner of my abaya, I sniffed. Sour mixed with airplane travel caused me to gag and drop the gauzy fabric. I swallowed the rising bile. Careful to avoid my eyes, I proceeded to brush my teeth, wash my face with shampoo, and dab moisturizer onto my skin. Hardly content that this would have to do, I gathered up my things and opened the door.
“Hi,” I said shocked.
He stood against the door jamb. His eyes showed surprise, and indecision. “Oh God,” I whispered inside my head.
“I have to go out at three o’clock for job. I come back at six and will take you back to airport,” he said, his eyes never leaving mine.
“Okay,” I said flatly.
His eyes traveled the length of my body. I swallowed and stepped around him. Walking into the bedroom, I turned to close the door when I inhaled peppermint. He stared deep into my eyes, his nose, centimeters from mine. His expressionless look, a common one, that reached into the depths of my soul, would haunt me for months after I departed the country.
“Goodnight,” I said.
“Turn off lights when you go sleep,” he said. I nodded.
I closed the door. Standing still, I listened, straining my ears. I could feel his presence. I remained frozen in place. Then I heard footsteps. They were moving away. My shoulders slumped. I exhaled.
I prayed, “Dear God, protect me. Keep him away from the door.”
As I hurriedly changed, my eyes remained fixed on the doorknob. I pulled on fresh underwear, loose-fitting black yoga pants, a blue tank, and a loose fitting red top. I expertly rolled my dirty clothes into neat piles and shoved them into my small carry on suitcase.
Picking up my abaya I slid it over my head. Next, I picked up my blue scarf and draped it loosely over my hair. Walking back to the door, I flipped off one light and then the other. The darkness was palpable. My heartbeat quickened. My breaths started coming in short gasps. I swallowed. My breathing became ragged.
I flipped on one light. The fluorescent bulbs flickered and choked to life before illuminating the large, windowless cramped room filled with linens, towels, and blankets, all piled on top of one another from floor to ceiling. I turned, ready to walk towards the mattress-less bedframe when I heard it.
The doorknob jiggled. My heart thudded in my chest. A cold sweat drenched my body. White stars clouded my vision.
The doorknob jiggled again. Focusing my energy on my mantra-like prayer, I said, “Dear God, change his mind.”
Blinking, a single tear slipped down my left cheek. Then I heard it: heavy breathing. I bit my lip until I tasted the red saltiness. The breathing quickened. Then it stopped. Footsteps were moving away from the door. I didn’t move for a long time.
Rolling to my left, I felt stuck, unable to move. A heavy weight constricted my chest. Peppermint filled my nostrils. My eyes flew open. A tongue sloppily pushed its’ way between my teeth. I gagged.
“Th-no,” I tried to speak. “Get off me!” I yelled and turned my head away.
“Shh, shh,” I heard a male voice say. His tongue licked my cheek, nose, and lips.
“Ugh,” I gagged. I tried to lift my arms and realized they were pinned by my sides.
“Shh, shh,” I heard again. I turned my head and bit down hard.
“Argh,” he yelled and pulled away. I tasted blood and spat it out. I began kicking and punching into the darkness. Suddenly there was stillness. I inhaled slowly when the weight of a man came bearing down on top of me.
“Don’t move. If you wake my neighbors, you will die,” he whispered spit dripping down the side of my face. “Don’t bite me again,” he hissed, his tongue sliding between my teeth.
I whimpered. Then I bit down. My head flew to the right as my left cheek seared with pain. Eyes watering, I turned my head getting.
Hands roughly groped my breasts and slid down my abaya. Using one hand, he shoved the fabric up around my waist. I struggled as he pinned his knee between my legs. I felt a hardness against my right thigh. Suddenly, I was flipped onto my stomach. The rayon fabric twisted around my frame. I left my body and floated above myself.
I saw a man slamming himself back and forth against a woman lying limply beneath him. She didn’t move. I cried for her. No tears came. Her pain was my pain. He was speaking to her. She didn’t understand. It wasn’t her language. He finished, rolled off her, and walked out of the room. The woman didn’t move. Her pale white skin, the only color in the darkness.
Comments are encouraged. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings. I survived my ordeal so I can take just about anything.
Any grammar and mechanical issues are the responsibility of the author, and even though she’s an English teacher and does proofread, there may be some errors.
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