It was Tuesday, and as happened every Tuesday my mother came round to “have a talk” as she so politely puts it. What it usually means is that she comes in, sits down in the rocking chair and starts to lecture me on how I should start to act my age, how I should be more mature, and... Well, you get the idea. How I should be more like her is what she really means, and I’ve had the same talk from her for virtually all my life.
As I say, it was Tuesday, and she had arrived as always and sat herself down, arranging her scarf around her shoulders as she did so. There she was, rocking slightly in the chair, and saying “Why can’t you dress more like me or your auntie?”
I really did not know what was wrong with the way I was dressed – it was very fashionable. Well, maybe the leather trousers were a little tight, but that “Sprayed on” look is just the thing nowadays. In the same vein, leopard print is back, as if is the off the shoulder look, so having an elbow length sleeved top in orange and black with one shoulder down should not be a problem, right?
But this was my mother, old fashioned and set in her ways. I set a coffee in front of her, and sat down at the other side of the table, nodding from time to time as she launched into her usual attack on me. She looked at me with her steel blue eyes as she picked her cup up, almost challenging me to defy her as I usually did. The thing is, I probably would have, if the front doorbell had not rung at that point.
I stood up and walked to the door, leaving mother to prepare herself for the next line of attack, and opened the front door, expecting it to be Jehovah’s Witnesses or something like that. I was almost right – there was a professional looking couple at the door, smartly dressed. The man had on a smart two piece suit, white shirt and dark tie, while the woman was wearing a well cut blazer and skirt, with a white blouse that had the top two buttons undone.
There were three strange things however. Both had tight fitting leather gloves on their hands. Both had what looked like ladies stockings pulled over their heads. Finally, the man had a small revolver in his hand, which he pointed at me as he held a briefcase in the other.
“Inside,” he said quietly as I backed off, the woman closing the door behind her before she went to remove the telephone connection from the wall. I could see his smile under the stocking mask, as he motioned with the pistol towards the door to the front room.
“Good morning,” he said to my mother as she stood up when we walked in. I could see fear in her face as she looked at him, then me, then back to him. The woman walked round and drew the curtains across the front windows, before taking up a position behind mother.
“Please,” the man said as he placed his briefcase on the coffee table, “both of you sit down, and put your hands on your head. Do not make any sudden movements, and do not scream. We have no wish to harm either of you, but we will if we have to.”
“What is the meaning of this,” mother finally said as she sat down, her voice filled with anger. “What right have you to interrupt me and my daughter as we talk?”
“The right that this gun gives me,” the masked man said as he looked at mother, and I saw her shrink back into the chair. “You,” he said as he turned to me, “Where is your safe?”
I pointed to a family portrait we had on the wall, and he smiled in return. “Very good – why don’t you have a look round the rest of the house, darling?” The woman smiled and nodded as she left the room, and as I and mother exchanged looks the man opened his briefcase, taking out a roll of silver duct tape.
“Here you go,” he said as he threw the roll at me. “What do you want me to do with this?” I said as I caught it, half knowing the answer but wanting to know I was wrong.
I wasn’t. “Take this and tape your mother’s arms to the arms of the chair – and make sure it is tight.”
I looked at mother, who was looking at the masked man. Slowly, she turned her head to me and nodded as she gripped the armrests with her hands. I could feel a tear coming to my eye as I knelt by her side and said “I’m sorry, mother.”
“You have nothing to apologise for,” she said as she looked at me. “You are been forced to do this, and I am been forced to accept it. It is not what you or I want, but we have no choice. Do it quickly.”
I touched her brown wrist with my hand, before finding the end of the roll and ripping it free from the tape. Pressing it against the back of her wrists, I started to tear the tape free and pass it around both her arm and the chair arm, pressing the former down onto the latter with each pass. As I moved up her arm, the dark skin disappearing more with each pass, I eventually stopped at her elbow, the sleeve of her green and gold silk tunic hanging just above the joint.
Walking round to the other side, I could see mother closing her eyes and controlling her breathing as I started to tape her other arm down. She sat there, calm as calm could be despite the armed intruder standing over us, and I started to admire how well she was coping with the situation. I could hear myself sobbing, even though I didn’t want to, and when she said to me “Hush child, hush – it will be all right,” it was actually strangely comforting, in a nice way.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” I said as I tore the tape free from the roll and smoothed it down as gently as possible on her arm. “I have seen worse, child,” she said as she looks at me. “Before we came to this country, some of the things that happened...”
“I do apologise for interrupting,” the masked man said, “but we have not finished yet. I want you to tape her ankles together next, so please, get started.” I looked at him before I moved round, the sound of my trousers squeaking a slight distraction to the tension, and folded the hem of her sari up to reveal her bare ankles and gold sandals.
I passed the tape around her ankles, taking care not to hurt her too much, and secured them together as the masked man had told me to. When he told me next to tape her legs together, however, I started to protest that it was wrong, that she should not be treated that way. “Anisha,” mother said gently, “I can always replace this garment, but I cannot replace you. Please, do as he says – I will be all right.”
“Your mother is a very beautiful and wise woman,” was all he said as I gathered the silk around her legs below her knees and wrapped the silver tape around both her limbs and the skirt. As I finished off, I let the material billow out below, looking like the tail of a fish as it swims through the water.
“One last thing,” the man said as I looked up at him. “Well, two actually. First, use the tape to secure her lap to the chair. I want to make sure she is as safe as possible in there.”
“Very nice of you, young man,” mother said with a slightly sarcastic tone – something I do not believe I had ever heard from her before. I moved to her side and stuck the end of the roll to the side of the chair, passing it round the seat several times as she felt her legs been pushed down against the wood.
AS I tore it off, smoothed it down and stood up, I looked again at mother while she sat there. The sari was still in place, going over her shoulder and around her waist, but she now had silver bands over the bottom half and her arms looked as if they were in grey silk elbow gloves. It was a strange sight, frightening and yet calming as well.
“Are you comfortable,” the man said as he crouched next to mother and used his gloved hand to move a stray hair away from her eyes. She looked at him, smiled and said “For a place I would rather not be, at least you have made me as comfortable as I could expect to be.”
“Good,” he said as he stood up and looked at me. “Now, my dear lady, I want you to open the safe for me, but before I do that I regret to say that I need to ensure your mother cannot interrupt us. Please, use the tape and take care of that.”
“She will be quiet, I promise,” I said as I looked at her sitting there. “Please, don’t ask me to do...” The way he looked at me and pulled back the hammer on his pistol made me stop.
I looked at my mother sitting there, a strange smile on her face.
“Anisha, just do as he says. I will cope, I promise.”
Slowly, I walked over to her and tore a long strip of tape away from the roll. She looked up at me with that smile on her face, and nodded as I gently smoothed the tape over her mouth and lips, covering even the lines that had appeared at the corners of her mouth as I did so. Handing the tape back to the man, he put it on the table before he picked up some velvet sacks and took my arm.
I had no choice, you see – I was not the one who was been held hostage, not at that point. At any rate, I moved the portrait out of the way and opened the safe for him. “Very good,” he said as he looked at the inside contents. Watching me the whole time, he stepped back to the table and picked up the roll of tape, and I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach as I realised what was going to happen next.
“Turn round and put your hands behind your back,” he said to me, and as I did so I heard that sound of the tape ripping free again. I didn’t want this to happen to me, so I started to try and plead with him, to get him not to do this, to not end up as mother had. I was too young for this to happen, I was far too young...
That was when the room to the door opened and the masked woman came in. With her was my daughter, her eyes wide over the silver tape that covered the lower half of her face. I could see that her hands had been taped together behind her back and her arms were held to her side with more bands, the silver contrasting with the black of her long sleeved top and the white short sleeved tunic she had on over it.
“I found her in the bedroom upstairs,” the woman said as she made her sit on the floor and knelt beside her, pulling the black ankle boots off her feet before she started to tape her ankles together over the cuffs of her pants. I looked at her, than at mother, whose eyes smiled at me from under the fringe of her greying hair.
I knew then what I had to – I had to follow her example so that my daughter would see me as the brave mother, as I had with her. Looking at them both, I said “be brave” as I felt the tape sticking my wrists together, and then watched as the roll went around my own arms and top.
Twenty minutes later, I was lying on the couch, my legs encircled in sliver as my daughter’s were, and my mouth covered in the tape as well. The man and woman were emptying the safe, but I wasn’t afraid. My mother had set the example for me, and I had to do the same.