Those two girls at a nearby table are chatting so loudly. And their clothes! She could never wear such fashions. Look at the shortness of the skirts. And their hair, not covered at all, every strand visible to everyone inside the air conditioned Starbucks.
Aminah’s tudung only left a slit wide enough for one to notice small brown eyes, and only if you happen to be close enough to see through her veil. She was also donning thin gloves and socks, so that practically every inch of her was covered up.
Aminah was absently stirring her coffee. Luckily I am covering my hair with a tudung. And she had tied it securely so that the knot did not unravel and display her heavy shock of hair to males outside of family. She cringed imagining them desiring her, as she could see right now how, with their eyes, some boys at the next table were following everything the girls were doing. Even though the boys were bending their heads over their coffees, she could still sense them stealing looks.
The girls were now screeching with laughter and falling over each other’s shoulders, not caring how their jerking knees display flashes of thighs to the boys, and to Aminah. She touched her tudung and adjusted it over her shoulders, clamping her legs together, even though nobody around was aware she was doing it under her floor-length dress.
The air condition was not cold enough. She was sweating under the heavy dress that permitted only her eyes to be seen in public. She peered at the girls with their skimpy dresses, who were probably enjoying the cool air.
She had to get out of the place before she swooned under her clothes. She left without finishing her expensive coffee, aware of the girls enjoying themselves and the boys enjoying watching them.
Today Aminah was taking the bus to a stop from where she could take a walk to the National Sports Complex, with its huge swimming pool built for the ’98 Commonwealth Games. This was a day on which she had taken leave, a day that she had made plans for and was looking forward to, because it was on such a day that she could be relaxed and not think about teaching little children or whiling away the time at home.
As usual in overcrowded Kuala Lumpur city, there was quite a bit of a crush, with some passengers having to stand and hold on to hoops dangling from the bus’s roof. Luckily she found a seat as soon as she got on the bus, at the back, where she felt less noticed. But she didn’t have to worry much on that score as everyone around her was busy chatting, with each other or on their phones, or looking out the window.
It was hot and dry outside the bus, travelling at speed, as usual, the driver with his hands turning the large wheel with the whole of his body leaning to one side whenever there was a corner. When that happened, she jostled sideways and had to be careful not to make contact with the person sitting or standing nearby.
It didn’t take her too long to walk to her destination when the bus reached her stop. She shuffled along, not quite seeing properly to her left and her right because of her veil, which left only a slit for the eyes to see through. Nor could she see ahead properly because she kept her eyes lowered as if ashamed or shy, seeing only her slippers over her dark woollen socks, looking up occasionally so that she didn’t bump against people. She was vaguely aware how some people walking in the same or opposite direction sometimes gave her more than a brief glance, taking in someone covered head to toe in a dark and heavy-looking dress.
Once she got into the sports complex building, she knew where to go next, as she had been here many times before today. She pushed the swing door, ignoring the naked and half-naked females inside, some getting ready with their swim costumes and others putting on their clothes after their swim.
She found an empty locker, and threw her holdall into it. She removed her gloves, socks, slippers and tudung, and lifted her dress up over her head. She shoved those in after.
She stood looking no different from the other occupants around her who were getting ready for a swim. She didn’t need to change; she had already put on her two-piece at home.
Leon Wing has a short story, The Outing, in the anthology PJ Confidential from Malaysian publisher Fixi, and another in the inaugural issue of Queer South East Asia. Besides fiction, he has written articles for local newspapers and magazines. He currently lives and works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Featured Image via Shutterstock