The Domino Theory - Setting the Pieces
Aatifa stood up and stretched her arms up, saving the document that she was working on and looking round the library. She had spent the last three hours working on her essay for her English Literature course, and the joys of examining the influences of Hemingway’s experiences on Arms and The Man had held her rapt attention for most of that time.
Now, however, she was looking forward to heading home, and a quiet evening doing virtually nothing. She started to shutdown her laptop and picked up her large satchel, carefully closing and putting her notebook away as she waited for the machine to complete the process.
For a young Muslim woman, Aatifa was casually dressed, but still held to the standards required by her family. A long sleeved white top was under a black and white patterned smock top, gathered around her waist with a thin black leather belt. A pair of light grey trousers covered her legs, with knee length black suede boots covering the lower portions.
Over her head and shoulders she wore a gold and white hijab, wrapped around her neck and shoulders and fastened at the side of her head with a large gold pin. She did not like the full face veil that her mother and older sister chose to wear - at eighteen she felt it was hiding too much, and besides she felt that she wanted to be seen. They had eventually agreed on this as a compromise, one they could all live with - even her grandmother, who ruled over the female side of the clan with a rod of iron.
Closing her laptop lid, she packed that into her satchel as well and pulled on the black leather jacket she had over the back of her chair, before hoisting the satchel over her shoulder and making her way to the exit, taking her iPhone from her pocket as she did so and looking at the messages she had missed. The one at the top caught her eye in particular.
Meet me at 6 at the mosque - ummi wishes to discuss the arrangements for tomorrow.
“Great,” Aatifa said to herself as she put her phone away, “Another hour or three spent discussing the pros and cons of the Eid celebration.” She knew in her heart of hearts that it was important, but that did not mean she wanted to be part of the organisation.
There was a sharp wind blowing outside, so Aatifa turned up the collar of her jacket and made her way along the precinct towards the bus stand. With any luck, the bus would be along in a minute, and she would be at the mosque in time to meet the rest of her family - cousins and all.
“Excuse me - I’m sorry to bother you, but can you tell me the way to the Admin building?”
She was surprised to be asked the question, especially as she looked at the person asking it. She was a young girl, about the same age as Aatifa, wearing a blue denim jacket and bib shorts, black leggings, some sort of t-shirt under the shorts and brown Ugg boots. She also had a satchel over her shoulder and a pair of brown woollen gloves on her hands.
“The Administration Building?” Aatifa looked around and pointed in the direction of a large tower block. “If you head towards the Claremont building, then turn left, up the stairs and acrooooowwww!”
She felt a pin prick in her side, and then started to feel woozy, as the young girl put Aatifa’s arm over her shoulder and started to walk her in the opposite direction. “You don’t look too well,” she said quietly as Aatifa turned to look at her through bleary eyes, “Let me take you somewhere to rest.”
“Wha’s happnnggg,” Aatifa mumbled as they walked towards a black van, the side open as she was half helped, half lifted inside. “Sit down,” the young girl said, “and I’m sure you will feel a lot better.”
Aatifa was unable to stop herself from being lowered onto a mat on the floor of the van, her head falling slightly to the side as she felt her hands being put together in front of her, and something soft been used to secure them palm to palm around her wrists.
“Whrudng,” she mumbled as she felt the same feeling around her legs, and as she looked down she saw a man was putting her legs together and wrapping something around them. It felt soft, and strong, and for some reason his face appeared to be blurred, as if something was covering it. She felt her ankles being drawn together, as the girl peeled something off a roll of tape and smoothed it over her mouth, silencing her questions.
“Just relax, Aatifa, and everything will be fine,” she heard the girl say as her eyes slowly closed, and she began to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep...
Nyasia was walking towards the mosque, her mouth covered with the deep crimson red hijab that she was wearing over her head. The colour matched the of the floor length skirt that she was wearing, while a black great coat covered her body to just above her knees. As she walked, the hem would lift from time to time, revealing the black leather ankle boots she was wearing.
Nyasia was two years older than her sister, and had recently given birth to her first child - a young boy, for which both she and her husband were grateful. Now her main concern was the upcoming festival - she had been forgiven the fasting time, but now wanted to celebrate in true style.
Her focus was purely on her meeting, so she did not even register the van that was parked by the side of the road, until she was stopped by a young man from the window of the cab.
“Forgive me, ukhti,” the man said, “but how do I get to the mosque from here?”
Nyasia looked at the man, and then said “Well, if you follow the road down to the corner, turn left, then right, you will see the building there.”
“Thank you,” he said with a smile, “May I offer you a lift there?”
“Thank you, but no, I prefer to walk.”
“I insist,” the young man said, and Nyasia was surprised to feel a cold circle pressing into her back. “Get in the back,” a female voice said “and do not make any scene as you do so.”
“What is going on,” Nyasia whispered, but she saw a brown gloved hand holding her arm and turning her, and she felt compelled to do as she was ordered. Stepping inside, she caught a gasp under her veil as she said “Aatifa?”
Her sister was sitting on a rug, her wrists tied in front of her and to her ankles with white rope, and a length of white tape covering her mouth. “What is the meaning of this,” she demanded as she turned to see a young girl looking at her, a small gun in her gloved hand pointing in her direction.
“Bind her wrists,” the girl said, and Nyasia felt her arms been pulled behind her back, and some rope been passed around them, pulling them firmly together.
“Just keep quiet and you won’t get hurt,” the girl said as she opened Nyasia’s satchel and removed her phone, turning it on and starting to send a message. As she was doing this, Nyasia felt some rope been passed around her waist, forcing her hands against her back, before the young man helped her to sit on the floor.
“There,” the girl said as the man used another length of rope to bind Nyasia’s ankles together, “two messages sent. One to your mother,” she said as she looked over at Aatifa, “to say you have both been delayed and to start the meeting without you.”
“And the second? What is happening here anyway?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the girl said as Nyasia watched her skirt been drawn around her legs, above her knees, with another length of rope to bind them together. “Gag her.”
“Gag mmmmmmggnnn,” Nyasia said as she felt her veil been drawn into her mouth. The young man had pulled a folded silk scarf into her mouth, filling it with the material of her veil and the scarf and showing the tip of her chin as he did so. She was unable to do more than say “wht’s gngn?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the girl said as she took a second phone out and dialled a number.
“It’s me - stage one complete. Collect Ghali and Shadi - we’ll meet you at the centre.” She nodded to the young man, who left the van and closed the door while she sat and watched both of the captives.
“Ghaliyah and Shadiyah?” Nyasia tried to move her hands as she felt the van starting. “Why do they want our cousins?”
“Shadi - get a move on or we’re going to be late!”
“Keep your boots on, Ghali, I won’t be too much longer.”
Ghali, or Ghaliyah to use her full first name, shook her head as she picked up her hairbrush and stood in front of a mirror, running the brush though her long black hair. The dinner party they had been invited to was a perfect opportunity, in her mind at least, to meet some eligible young man that her mother and father might approve of, and she did not want to waste her chance.
“No way aunt Aisha would allow her little ones to go out dressed like this,” she said with a smile, silently thanking Allah yet again for the fact her own parents were far more liberal towards their children. Faraza, their other aunt, was stricter still in her adherence to custom and code, having taken after their grandmother, but for her she dressed in a style that in her eyes mixed the required modesty with good fashion.
Their parents, Jalil and Nimra, were also out for the evening, leaving her and her twin sister in the house alone before they left. Ghali looked again at herself, and brushed some small pieces o flint away from her purple silk top before pulling up the cuff of her black leather boots to her knees.
She turned as she heard footsteps on the stairs, and watched as Shadiyah, or Shadi for short, came down. Her identical twin, she was wearing a grey cardigan over a white silk blouse, and grey trousers with the legs tucked into grey leather boots.
“I’m just going to get a drink,” she said as she headed to the kitchen, while Ghali took a dark purple coat with red lining from the coat stand and slipped it on. She paused again to look at herself in the mirror, the gold earrings flashing in the hall light.
“Come on Shadi or we will be late,” she called over her shoulder. There was no reply.
“Shadi? Are you all right?” Ghali turned slowly round, and as she looked at her sister she slowly raised her hands.
“Now where could those two girls have got to?”
Aisha was standing by the entrance to the mosque, tapping her foot impatiently as she once again checked her watch. The long camel coloured greatcoat she was wearing kept the chill out, and the legs of a well cut pair of fawn coloured trousers could be seen under the hem. A long white scarf was fastened around her head and shoulders, allowing only her face to be seen.
She was in her early forties, and some care lines were visible, but on the whole she looked younger than her age - a fact that gave her a little pride, even as she felt somewhat uncomfortable in feeling that.
“It’s nearly seven,” she said to herself, “and I told them to be here for six.” Taking out her mobile phone, she tried one again to call Aatifa and Nyassa, but neither seemed to have their phone on.
Aisha was about to turn and head home when her phone beeped, indicating she had a message. She looked at the screen for a moment, her face turning almost as pale as the scarf around her head, and then started to walk quickly in the opposite direction, as fast as she could.
“Who are you,” Ghali said to the masked man who had his hand around her sister’s waist. The black balaclava covered everything except his eyes and mouth, both looking grim as a second man passed him and Shadi, walking behind the young girl and pulling her hands behind her back as he did so.
Shadi stared back at her twin sister, eyes wide over the cloth that was protruding from her mouth. She had only opened the fridge when she had been grabbed from behind, and the napkin pushed in as she opened her mouth to scream. She knew she could spit it out, but the grip around her waist was strong and told its own message.
“Just behave,” the man holding Shadi finally said as Ghali felt her wrist been pulled together behind her back, “and you’ll both be just fine.”
“Is this a robbery,” Ghali quietly said. “If so, we will tell you where the valuables are, if you will leave us alone.”
“We are here for the most valuable thing in the house,” the man said as he released his grip on Shadi, and pulled her hands behind her back, “and we fully intend to leave with them.” The girls winced a little, Shadi letting out a muffled yelp as they felt their wrists been pulled together behind their backs with some sort of rope, holding them tightly as it went around and between their arms.
“Stop it - you’re hurting her,” Ghali said as she saw the tears starting to run down the cheeks of her sister. The man holding Shadi simply nodded, as the second man stuffed a white napkin into Ghali’s mouth, taking her by surprise.
“Plsddntdts,” she mumbled as she watched the man wrapping rope tightly around Shadi’s upper body, not realising until the last minute that the same thing was happening to her. The open sides of her coat were pulled down to the side as her arms were forced against her sides, the rope pinning them in place as it went round her midriff and shoulders.
“In here,” the man said as he pushed Shadi into the front room, Ghali following them in. The two girls were made to sit down on a recliner, and watch as one of the two men knelt in front of them and bound their legs tightly together below their knees, making sure the ropes were cinched tightly.
“Kppclmsdddee,” Ghali said as she nudged her sister, expecting that their ankles would be tied next. Instead, she watched as the man who had held her sister sat and watched them, while the other one left the room. She could hear clearly that sounds of him searching upstairs, as she tried to stare down their guard.
She tried to twist her wrists round, but the rope was holding them too firmly, and no matter she tried to use her fingers it was impossible to find any semblance of a knot. Sighing, she put her head instead in Shadi’s shoulder, waiting to see if they found what they were looking for.
Aisha closed the door to her home behind her, calling out “Aatifa? Nyassa? Where are you?” Hearing no reply, she put the door keys down and walked into the living room - only to be grabbed from behind as a sweet smelling cloth was clamped firmly over her nose and mouth.
Instinctively, she reached up to try and pull it away, but the person holding it was stronger, and as her eyes slowly started to close she wondered just what was going on.
“Did you get everything?”
The two girls looked up as the second man came back in, holding up a canvas bag and smiling.
“Right then - we need to be on our way,” the guard said as he stood up and walked over to them, taking from the other man a roll of silver duct tape. Stopping in front of Shadi, he pushed the cloth into her mouth, and then tore off a long strip of the tape.
“Plsdnt!” Ghali screamed as she watched her sister been gagged with the tape, two more strips been layered on top of it to keep the cloth inside her mouth. “Your turn now,” the man said as he pushed the cloth further into Ghali’s mouth, and she heard both the awful ripping sound, before the pulling on her skin as the tape was smoothed down over her own mouth.
“Up,” the man said as he took Ghali’s arm and made her stand, the other man doing the same for Shadi. A sickening feeling grew in the stomach of both girls as they realised just what the most precious thing in the house was, which they had come to take - it was them.
The ropes around their knees meant they could only take short, shuffling steps as they were taken out through the kitchen and down the now darkened back garden, to where the garden gate stood open. Outside, they were made to stand as the man opened the boot of a large dark car, and both girls were made to lie inside.
“Enjoy the trip,” the man said as the boot lid came down, plunging both girls into darkness before they felt the vehicle move off.
“Mscrd,” Shadi mumbled as they were bumped up and down. Ghali nodded and tried to find her sister’s hand, eventually gripping her fingers with her own as their journey continued.
After what seemed like an eternity, the car stopped, and both girls had to close their eyes as the boot opened and they were blinded by the bright lights. They offered no resistance as they were helped out of the car, and then walked a short distance towards a locked door.
Another man, dressed in casual clothes with dark glasses on, nodded as he unlocked and opened the door, and the twin sisters were walked in. They were greeted by another female voice saying “Who’s there?”
“Hnnn,” Ghali said as she saw the two young women sitting in the chairs, ropes holding them tightly to the seat and large golden silk scarves tied over their eyes, “nttut?”
The young man looked at the older woman as she lay on the floor, her scarf still lying over her head and shoulders.
“How did you know she would come back to the house when she could not find her daughters?”
He turned to look at his colleague. “How long have we been watching this family for? We know everything about them - their habits, their likes, their foibles, and the one thing we know more than anything is that the mothers love their girls very much.”
Kneeling down, he crossed Aisha’s wrists behind her back, and then secured them with a thin strip of plastic, the rasping sound as he pulled the end through the ratchet mercifully short. A second one went around her legs, trapping the cuffs of her trousers, before he stood back up.
“It’s simple really - knock down the first domino, and the others should follow soon after. We have their daughters, next their mothers - and then their aunt. After that, we can move on to the real prize.”
“Does it have to be so tight?”
Shadi grunted as she felt her waist been pulled against her chair back. She and her sister had been made to sit and wait as their legs were secured by the ankles and knees to the front legs, then bound tightly to the chair back. At least their gags had been removed, and the blindfolds taken off their cousin’s eyes as well.
“Do you know what’s going on,” Aatifa had said when she had seen her cousins for the first time.
“No idea,” Ghali said as she tried to twist her arms free, and was eventually able to speak. “How did they...”
“I was snatched at the campus - one minute I’m talking to some girl, the next I’m being carried in here by two masked men, and Nyasia here is behind me.”
Nyasia shook her head, her eyes burning with anger over her scarf, a large damp patch visible over her mouth. “They have not, they even have left my veil in place - but I suspect there is more planned than we realise. Why all four of us?”
Ghali shook her head. “Maybe we’re just going to be held for ransom.”
“You two possibly - but we have no money, and Jaddah is unlikely to give in to such demands. No, we must wait and see - after all, it appears we have no other choice.”
Nimra was walking amongst the small clusters of women, stopping to talk with and laugh at the jokes of some of them, while her husband met with the other husbands and partners in the back room. In many ways, she wished Jalil was here with her, but this was the way the party was to be, and she was content to play her part as well.
She had chosen to dress tonight in a contemporary style, with a black silk blouse under a light blue Armani trouser suit, and a pair of black leather shoes with small heels. Sometimes, for more formal occasions, she would don a more appropriate robe, but this was not the sort of gathering where that was welcomed or appreciated. Besides, she knew she looked sexy in this outfit, with the collar open just enough - and she knew Jalil thought so as well.
She also had a glass of wine in her hand - something she knew the leaders of the community tended to disapprove of, but she could not be a hypocrite - and the Koran spoke of moderation, rather than abstinence. As she took a small sip, one of the women who were serving drinks handed a slip of paper.
Nimra took a look, and then turned and looked round the room. Her long dark hair fell over her head and shoulders with an easy grace, but there was a look of real worry in her eyes as she glanced round. Placing her glass on a table, she walked quickly to the doorway, stopping only to collect her handbag and take out a mobile phone.
She switched it on, looking at the photo she had been sent, and then the text message, before dialling a number.
“You got our message,” a male voice said as the call was answered.
“I did - what do you want from me, you bas...”
“Such language is unbecoming of you, if understandable, my dear lady. Step outside - you will see a black car waiting at the front of the building. Get in the back.”
“What about my husband?”
“Leave him to the menfolk - you do as you are told, or it is your lovely girls who will pay the price for your insolence.”
The line went dead, as Nimra looked round, and then left the house, walking slowly to the car as the door at the back opened.
Aisha slowly moved her head as she started to come to. Her mouth felt as if she had eaten cotton wool, so dry and fuzzy was the sensation, and her arms and legs ached as if they had been held in place.
She tried to move them, but realised that something was preventing her doing that. There was something else as well - a tugging feeling at the skin around her mouth. She wanted so desperately to move her tongue, to wet her lips, but it was been held down by something else.
Slowly opening her eyes, she realised that she was lying on a bed in a dimly lit room. There were two other beds beside her, both empty, but there were also two television screens - and on one of them she could see four young girls sitting on chairs, unable to move because of the ropes that were holding them in place.
And she could recognise two of them as they talked to each other.
“Aatfa, neeshe?” she heard a muffled voice say, and it suddenly hit her that the voice was her own. Looking down her body, she saw that her coat had been removed, but she was still in the fawn coloured trousers and jumper she had been wearing. She could also see the bands of grey rope around her ankles and legs, especially the one that ran from her ankles to the heavy iron footstand.
“Oh no,” she said to herself as she felt with her fingers, to find the ropes that encircled her wrists behind her back, and realised the tugging on her skin was some sort of tape covering her mouth, the fuzzy feeling a cloth that had been pushed in. Moving her head, she saw the edge of her scarf in the corner of her eye, and gave praise that was still in place.
Other questions were filling her mind, however. Who had taken her and her daughters? Why were her nieces there in that room as well? And why were there two empty...
Her eyes flashed open as a sudden thought crept into her mind. Surely, surely someone would not...
“Does it have to be so tight?”
Nimra winced as she felt the rope cutting into her bare wrists, holding them together in front of her. The two men in the back of the car had already secured her ankles together, as well as her legs above her knees, and now one of them was tying her wrists together and to the rope around her legs.
“Yes it does,” the other man said a she watched her, the gun sitting on his lap. Both were smartly dressed, in well fitting suits, shirts and ties, but both also had black stockings over their heads, and it was clear what their intention was.
“You have my daughters, and now you have me,” Nimra said, her eyes cold as she looked at them, “Make what demands you wish of my husband, and then let us go.”
She was surprised as the two men laughed. “My dear lady,” the man said as he passed a large silk square, decorated with gold Arabic writing on the cream background, “What on earth makes you think this is about your husband?”
Nimra stared at him, her mouth open until it was filled with the knot the other man had tied after folding the scarf into a thick band, the end pulled tightly around her head to trap her dark hair against her neck.
She stopped to inspect herself in the full length mirror in the house, ensuring that the burqa covering all it was required to. The veil only showed her eyes, the piercing blue the most notable feature, while the loose fitting outer garment covered all save the very hem of her red skirt.
Fariza nodded - her mother would be pleased with her approach, even if she was unhappy with the fact she had not taken a man as a husband yet. There were reasons for this - reasons she did not feel she could discuss with her own family, and that she struggled with on a daily basis. Having said that, she was a follower, and she would obey the law as it was laid down, unlike her sisters who constantly tried to find ways to circumvent or mollify the strict demands made of them.
Collecting her handbag, she opened the front door of her house, locking it behind her as she then turned and started to walk down the street. She did not notice the two men who walked behind her, keeping a respectful distance as they talked together - and why should she? It was not her place to notice the people around, and no man would dare to approach her while she was dressed in this manner.
She did, however, notice the other two women walking towards her, their heads covered completely as a veil covered their eyes on their pale blue garments. Fariza often wished she had the courage to follow their example, but her need for glasses made it impractical to do so.
She was therefore surprised when, after she passed them, she found herself held by the arm by both women and frogmarched towards a black van, the rear doors opening as they approached it. She was lifted in, the two women following, and as the door closed she saw a folded shawl in front of her mouth - just before it was pulled over it, forcing her veil against her lips as the ends were taken round her head and knotted together over the hood.
She was powerless, too surprised and afraid to move as her arms were pulled tightly into her side with ropes, her leather gloved hands pressed against her hips, her legs pulled together and then her calves, the ropes encircling and enclosing her in the cocoon of her own burqa. As she was lifted and laid down on a rug, she only had one thought.
What was going on?
That thought continued to perplex her as the van drove, before it stopped and she was lifted by the two women. She was helpless to do more than look up and watch the ceiling lights, before she was taken into a room and laid on a bed.
The two women left her, and for a moment she paused to catch her breath.
Fariza turned her head, only to see two toher women on two other beds - one with her hands tied in front of her and to her legs, the other her hands behind her back. She nodded, and then saw the television screen with the four girls tied in chairs.
“Llfs?” she mumbled, speaking for the first time, and as the other two nodded Fariza realised two things. Firstly, she was not alone. Secondly, this was a much bigger affair than she had realised.