A Girl in Every Bayt
When A’Ishah heard the knock on her door of her house on the outskirts of Penang, she had no idea of the ordeal that was about to unfold. She had returned a short time before from taking her young son to his grandmother for the morning, and her husband had returned from the mosque a few moments later. She takes up the story...
“I was wearing a brown floor length robe, with long sleeves, and a scarf over my head and shoulder sin a lighter shade of brown with a white trim. I know my husband appreciates the way I dress, and was smiling as I busied myself in the kitchen when the front door was knocked upon.
“I heard him say he would see who it was, so continued with the preparation of the midday meal, although I could hear him talking to someone in the doorway. Not even the loud thump I heard distracted me - I merely presumed that the main door had blown shut had as the visitor was leaving. So you can imagine my chock and surprise when I turned and saw her standing there.
“She was about six foot tall, and wore the full burka, so that only her clear brown eyes were visible - as was the very real pistol she held in her leather gloved hand. ‘Do not make a sound,’ she said to me in a very deep feminine voice. ‘And do not think of calling for your husband - he is unconscious in the hallway.’
“’Who are you,’ I asked, but she did not reply, instead drawing from somewhere in her robes a length of cord and saying ‘”turn round, and put your hands behind your back, and I will not harm you. I merely wish to secure you while I take your fine things.’
“Well, I was in no position to argue with an armed intruder, not even a woman, so I slowly turned and did as she had commanded me. I felt her cross my wrists behind my back, and then felt them been drawn together as he wound the cord around them, pulling them together. It cut a little into my skin, but I bit my lip and said nothing, listening only to her voice as she asked me where I kept my jewellery and other finery.
“When she had tied the cord off, she sat me on the floor, with my back against the wall as I rested against some hangings, and then lifted the hem of my robe up. I was wearing flat shoes, and watched as she crossed my ankles and tied them together, the cord going round and between my legs so that they were held firmly together.
“By now I was in a cold sweat, unsure of what was going to happen next as she knelt and looked at me. ‘Do not fear,’ she said quietly, ‘I need to make sure you are quiet, and then I will be quick.’ I watched as she reached into her robe, and pulled out large red ball, which had leather straps attached to it.
“’Open wide’ was her command, and as I did so she gently eased the ball into my mouth, before taking the straps around my head and fastening them with a buckle at the base of my neck, pinion my scarf to my head as I looked up at her.
“She stood up, looked at me and walked off. I sat still, too scared to move until she returned a few minutes later, carrying a small canvas bag. She checked the ropes and straps, and then I saw her as she dragged my husband into the front room. As she passed one last time, she looked at me and waved before leaving the house.
“I watched the clock on the wall pass two hours before I heard my mother call my name out, and my young son walked in, wearing his deep red robes and white cap. He looked at me, and then called to my mother who came in and released me. I give thanks to Allah we were unharmed, but still wonder who the woman who did this to us was...”
Barbara Hunt stretched and yawned as she saw the young, round face of the woman talking on the screen. It had been a long few days at the station, and she was using her well earned day off to relax and do nothing in particular. She had stumbled across this documentary on Al Jazeera, and thought very little about it, but it had distracted her for a moment. Standing up, she was about to head to the kitchen when she heard the reporter say “At first, A’Ishah thought she had been unlucky - but she did not know about an incident in the Diplomatic quarter of Riyadh some weeks before...
My husband has left for the Embassy and I was in our apartment with the manservant. We were alone in the house, and he was under strict orders not to disturb me without calling him first, so I felt comfortable in dressing in a more casual manner. Also, I needed a workout, so I was in a black swimsuit with a little red decal on the side and was barefoot - a rare privilege in our restrictive life.
The sound was turned up, so I heard nothing until the female said “Please, turn round slowly and raise your hands in the air.’
“I turned to see a tall woman standing there, in a loose fitting black robe over a pair of pantaloons, and a gun pointing at me. She had a scarf wrapped over her head and mouth, made of black chiffon with gold trim, but I could see the fringe of her black hair, her brown eyes gleaming as she looked at me.
“’Nice outfit,’ she said in that deep voice. ‘Allow me to assist with your workout - lie face down on the ground, and put your hands behind your back.’
“I looked at her, and toyed with the idea of rushing her, but there was something in her eye that made me stop and simply lie on the floor. I heard a tearing sound, and then my wrist were tied together with cloth - I later realised she had cut a towel I had in the room into three strips, and she had used one of them to tie my wrists together.
“She said nothing, but used the second strip to tie my ankles together. I had my brown hair in two pigtails, so when she used the third strip to blindfold me it took me completely by surprise. I felt myself being rolled over and then some sort of tape was stuck firmly down over my mouth.
“’Don’t move’, I heard her say, and I was too scared to do so. I stayed on that cold floor until my husband returned hours later and found me. The manservant was unconscious by the front door, and all he remembered was answering the door to collect a package - then nothing.’
“The incident was hushed up, but it was just the first step in a story that led from there to Penang, and still further. Join us after this short break as we look at a linked case...”
Barbara went to the kitchen and put the kettle on. There was something about this set of stories that sounded naggingly familiar, but right now she could not put her finger on what it was. It took a few moments of her making a coffee, staring at the wall, before she said to herself “it can’t be,” and walked back into the room as the program continued. On screen was a woman, dressed in a flowing green and white robe with a matching scarf over her hair.
“I was living in Phnom Penh with my family, and on the day it happened I was at home with my father - the rest of the family were away visiting relatives. I had just finished our main meal and was clearing up when there was a knock at the door.
“I was dressed fairly casually - a long sleeved blue top and floor length skirt which was made of blue material. I had a gold scarf tied over my hair, and over that was a grey scarf over my head and shoulders. My father insisted on this at home, in case the imam ever called.
“He thought it was him, but as we opened the door we saw a tall, thin woman dressed in a black coat and long skirt, with a scarf over her head. ‘Forgive the intrusion,’ she said, ‘but I have been asked to deliver a message to your daughter. May I speak with her?’
“My father looked at her, and then said to me ‘Go inside - I do not know this woman, and would talk to her first.’ I bowed my head and returned to the front room, but then I heard my father groan and a heavy sound as he hit the floor. I was about to turn and see what had happened, when I was grabbed from behind with a leather gloved hand over my mouth.
“’ I said I had a message for you’, the woman said quietly, ‘and it is to tell me where you keep your valuables. But first, put your hands behind your back and look straight ahead.
“I did as she said, too petrified to do more than mutter “Who are you” as I felt her pull my arms behind my back, and the rope forcing my wrists together behind my back. She was strong, and I could smell the perfume on her as I found myself unable to move my arms apart.
“’You are a brave girl, and need not fear me,’ she said again as she tightened the rope around my wrists. ‘I merely need to keep you out of my way for a while.’ She then took a longer length of rope and wrapped it around my stomach, just below my chest, and then around my arms so that it felt as if they were locked in place against my back. I could see the rope also passing above my chest, and I feared my modesty would be compromised.
“That fear only increased when she took the rope over my left shoulder, fed it through one of the bands of rope below my chest, between my breasts, and then took it back up. When she had finished, it felt - well, strange. Comfortable, but it was impossible for me to move my arms.
“Then she turned me round and looked at me, her eyes shining over the scarf covering her mouth. ‘I need to silence you and prevent you seeing,’ she said in that deep voice, ‘but first, where are your valuables?’ I saw the gun in her hand, so I told her of our hiding places.
“’Thank you,’ she said, and then she tied a light blue scarf, which she had folded into a thick band, over my mouth, and one of my green scarves over my eyes. I felt her guiding me by the arm, and then she sat me on a wooden seat. I later found out it was a small wooden stool in the room. I felt her lifting my skirt and my ankles being held together, before they were pulled under the chair. I soon found I could not move them, as she said ‘Sit still and relax.’
“I could hear her in the other rooms, and then her hand on my shoulder as she said ‘Thank you.’ After that - well, I thought I had sat there for hours, but my father released me when he came to, a short while later. My jewellery and some money had gone, and - well, the rest you know...”
“Sir? It’s DCI Hunt. Are you at home at the moment?
Barbara was sitting, watching as the reporter talked of discovering other similar cases over a wide area of south East Asia.
“Yeah - put on Al Jazeera, watch it for a few minutes, and then call me back.” She ended the call as the reporter said “It was clear there was a pattern emerging - whoever this woman was would overpower the man who answered the door in some way, then force any female present to say where the family jewels and money were kept, before binding and gagging them. On occasion, there would be more than one woman involved. Nida, a resident of Chana in south east Thailand, tells her tale.
“I was returning home from college, and there was nothing to warn me of what was to come as I walked into my house. It was quiet, but I expected it to be - Father would be at work, while Mother would be at the market at this time of day.
“So you can imagine my surprise as I walked into the front room, and saw her lying on her side on the couch. She was dressed in a long white robe, with her scarf over her head and round her shoulders, but that was not the unusual thing. What was were the bands of red rope around her legs, waist and arms, and the band of tape that was wrapped round her head, covering her mouth and preventing her from saying anything.
“As I said, I had been at college, so was wearing a pair of jeans, a white and blue striped long sleeved top, and a purple and blue scarf over my head and neck. I know it is not traditional dress, but my parents are liberal in allowing me to dress in a more western style so long as my head is covered. Having said that, I knew something was wrong - what I did not know was who was responsible.
“However, as I turned with every intention of getting help, I was stopped by a tall woman, dressed in a pair of black jeans and a hooded top. The hood was over her head, and her eyes were covered by a pair of dark glasses, but I could see her thin mouth and the gun in her hand.
“’How unfortunate,’ she said in American English. ‘I had hoped to get away before anyone else returned.’ I could see a small bag in her other hand - one of mine. ‘Very well - put your hands in front of you, little girl, and say nothing.’
“I did as she commanded, my mother crying behind me, as she produced some red rope and tied my wrist tightly together, passing the rope around and between them until they were locked together as if they were in a pair of handcuffs. She then made me sit down in front of the place my mother was lying, and tied my ankles and legs tightly together.
“I then watched as she went to the cupboard, and took out a brightly coloured headscarf. She folded it into a band, tied a knot in the middle, and then made me open my mouth, pulling the knot between my teeth before she wrapped the band round my head and made sure it stayed in place. ‘Now, sit still - you don’t want to be sick and choke,’ she said as she left me there, my hands raised as I and my mother struggled to get free...”
She picked up the handset and spoke to her boss.
“Yeah - I think so too. It has to be Lady Black - but if it is, she is playing a very dangerous game now. It must make the thrill greater, knowing how much more...
“Oh dear god, don’t tell me he went there,” she said as the report flashed up the caption of Islambad, Pakistan. A thin, dark haired woman spoke.
“My name is Hajira, and yes, I was accosted at home by the woman you described. In fact, it was a very difficult time to talk about, but I will do so.
“The afternoon was unremarkable - I was preparing the evening meal for myself and my husband. Although we are Muslim, he allows me to dress in a more traditional style for our heritage. This day, I had on a pink floral patterned shalwar kamees, which had a lace border on the bottom of my tunic. The scarf over my head was a dusky pink.
“As I say, I was working in the kitchen, my husband doing some reading in the front room when we heard a knock on our door. I heard him walk to the front door, and talk to someone - and then there was a bang.
“I came out of the kitchen to see him slumped on the floor, and a woman in western dress standing over him. She wore a long coat, belted round her waist, dark trousers and shoes, with a dark headscarf tied over her hair. She looked at me, a smile on her face as she pointed a small gun at me, and said ‘Not a word dear - hands up, and into your front room.’
“’What have you done to my husband,’ I said as she closed the door. ‘A mild sedative, nothing more - it is always the woman of the house I talk to,’ she replied as she waved her gun to the open doorway. I did as she asked, and as we walked in she dropped her shoulder bag on a chair, opening it to take out several coils of orange rope.
“’Please, do not harm me,’ I said, my voice trembling as I did so. She smiled, and said ‘I will not harm you if you co-operate. Where is your safe and what is the combination?’
“I looked to the cabinet it sat in, and as she opened it and looked at it she said ‘Key?’ I told her where that was, and then she made me turn my back to her as I remained seated, and she began to tie me up.”
“Yeah, I know - I’ll get on to Interpol as soon as I finish watching. Can you get the IT group to obtain a copy of this from the station?” Barbara continued to watch as Hajira continued her story.
“She put the rope round my neck and took it under my arms, then wound it down as she pulled my hands behind my back. I could feel my arms as they rested in my hands, as they were pulled tightly together, and then taken round my waist so that they were fixed tightly in place.
“She then knelt in front of me, and used more rope to tie my legs together, above and below my knees, taking the rope between my legs as she did so. All the time I was too scared to talk, or even move, even when she tied my ankles tightly together and then picked out of her bag a small piece of cloth and a brightly patterned scarf.
“’Open wide,’ she said, and as I did so she pushed the small cloth in, then rolled the second blue, red and white scarf into a band, tied a knot in it and pulled the knot into my mouth. She had pulled my scarf off my head as she did this, but then she put the scarf neatly over my head again, smiling as I looked at her. I remember her perfume, and the red lipstick on her thin lips as she said ‘Now, be a good girl and stay there.’
“Well, I was too scared to do anything, so I stayed perfectly still, watching as she opened and emptied our safe. When she had deposited everything into the bag, she checked the ropes on me, smiled - and left without another word. It was hours later when my husband finally woke up and freed me...”
“Good - I’ll get right onto them. Thank you, Sir,” Barbara said as she watched the reporter continuing her tale. She was a small woman with a fringe of brown hair visible under her black headdress, the gold and red robe she was wearing complementing her body. Her brown eyes were behind a pair of steel framed spectacles.
“It is this reporter’s belief that this thief has been targeting his victims across the Indian and South Asia region for some months now, but because of the issues with lack of co-operation and mistrust, these incidents have not been linked.”
Barbara nodded, realising how long it had taken for her and her colleagues across Europe to realise that attacks of the lady in black were one and the same person, never mind the previous reports in the US.
“Having said that, my own investigations have uncovered some interesting facts and information - facts that, if proven, may show that this mysterious female is more than she seems. Join us next week to see if these facts are true - and if wanita hitam is much more than she says.”
The end credits played, revealing the reporter’s name as Rimba Alatas. As the program ended, Barbara thought of her closing comments, and then suddenly got up.
“Sir? My apologies - the reporter you watched just said she had found something out, and I think she may be in very real danger. We need to alert the appropriate authorities - fast!”
Several thousand miles east, Rimba Alatas was lying on a bed, looking over her shoulder at the tall, thin man who was tying her wrists together with rope. The sleeves of her pink and white rope had been pulled up, so that the rope dug slightly into her bare wrists, but as he did so she said “I was unsure, but now I see I was right. You do know the penalties for impersonating a female in these countries?”
“I do,” he said quietly, “but you made a grave error in coming to confront me alone. I also think you were so confident you told nobody, correct?”
Rimba was forced to nod as she felt him removing her shoes, and then the rope pulling her ankles together. “I would have allowed you time to escape, however,” she grunted as her legs were pulled back, and rope passed between them and her wrists, “In a way, I admire your courage and your kindness to those ladies.”
“I thank you,” he said as he tied off the ropes, “but I think it is time to move on again. Perhaps Australia? Or China - although I may be a little conspicuous there. Still, why don’t you lie there while I slip into something more comfortable?”
Rimba watched the man as he walked into the bathroom, before trying to find a way to untie the ropes with her fingers. The knots, however, were well out of reach of her probing fingers, and she found herself rolling on the bed. She steadied herself, the pink headdress staying in place as a woman dressed in a black and gold gown with a yellow scarf around her head and shoulders walked back in.
“Well, I must be going,” she said in a deep voice. “I may have a few days before you get the story out - enough time to hide again. Before I go, however, I have a present for you.”
“What would that be,” Rimba said as she watched Lady Black roll a large scarf, patterned in green, black, red and white into a band and then tie a knot in the middle.
“My thanks,” she said as the silk knot was forced between Rimba’s teeth and she tied the band around her head, over the scarf and keeping the knot firmly in her mouth. She looked at the woman through her glasses as she picked up her travel bags, blew her a kiss and left her face down on the hotel bed, hoping a maid would come sooner rather than later.
“Damn,” Barbara said as she put the phone down.
She looked up to see the DAC standing in her doorway. “That was the police in Indonesia - he got away. Again. The reporter tracked him down, but she was overpowered before he went. Apparently, he’s heading for Australia.”
“Do you believe that?”
Barbara shook her head. “Not for one second. For all I know, he could be back in this country...”