Siena Hyland 2013

The Veil

Ally stared at the silk laid carefully across her the bed in front of her. It was, no doubt, beautiful. It had been dyed a deep purple but the silver thread within gave it an almost luminescent quality. She had never owned anything so exotic.

Yet despite the beauty of the fabric, Ally was filled with unease. The idea in her head was nothing short of mad. She had already convinced herself of this. 

~ ~ ~

Ally had been brought up in Vardᴓ, a small town in the north-East of Norway. The community consisted of just over 2000 people and was very close knit. Throughout her short life she had never left the area and had only dreamed of what lay beyond the never-ending fields of snow and icy ocean. She had never known a change to come over her town, certainly not one that seemed to have affected her whole community. But in the year of 1960, when thousands around the world were still struggling to cope with post-war economies in their own countries, many left their homes in search of better lives. For the people of Norway, this meant the arrival of hundreds of new citizens around the country.   As she walked through the square, she heard the townspeople muttering to each other about them, their strange ways, dark skin, veiled faces.

But try as she might, Ally could not understand why the newcomers had had this effect on the locals. It was not uncommon for strange boats to dock at Vardᴓ’s shores; the surrounding ocean was violent and unforgiving and many ships sought winter shelter to escape the storms. When she had questioned her mother about this, the reply she received surprised and confused her. ‘Oh Ally, perhaps you are still too young to understand. These people aren’t like you and I. They believe strange things that are not holy or good. They don’t see the world the way we do. You must promise me that you will never go near any of them, ok? You don’t know what they are capable of.”  

But despite the reactions that varied from wariness through to sheer hatred, Ally refused to believe what her family and friends said against them. She could not see it for herself; in fact, due to one small reason, she saw the opposite. That reason was Aleena. Aleena had come to Vardᴓ with her mother and father from Pakistan. Both of her parents were desperate for work and so they had decided to migrate to Norway in hope of better opportunities. What greeted them when they arrived was far from what they had hoped for. The cities were crowded and the Norwegian locals racist and distrustful. Work was practically non-existent. After hearing that there was more chance of work in the smaller northern communities, they had come to Vardᴓ. On their second day in Vardᴓ, Aleena had met Ally. They had instantly become friends, but not easily, as there were many things that made friendship difficult. The first was the language barrier; Aleena had learnt a small amount of Norwegian since arriving and both girls did their best to teach the other what they could and learning the other language. The second problem was that, with the unease growing in the town, they had soon realised that being children or not, they could not be seen together.

Ally thought that Aleena was extremely beautiful; she had never seen anybody with such olive skin, silky black hair and chocolate brown eyes. The other thing that intrigued Ally was Aleena’s clothes; she wore a beautifully coloured dress that fell in folds to the floor and a dark veil across her face that only showed her eyes. Sometimes when they were alone Aleena would take the veil off so they could speak more easily. Ally felt drab in comparison, with her pale blue eyes, light blonde hair. 

~ ~ ~

 When they had met at the warehouse that lay deserted at the docks earlier that day, Aleena had come with a small parcel that she held protectively and a sly smile that she could not seem to keep off her face.

“Here,” she said. “I’ve bought you something.”

Ally carefully took the parcel and began to unwrap it. She gasped as a deep purple dress of the finest material and a veil, just like the one that Aleena wore, fell into her hands.

“Aleena? Are. . Are you sure?” she stammered.

“Of course I’m sure! Now we can be seen together!” she exclaimed in reply. “I have to go now, but meet me back here tomorrow, and we can finally go out.”

“Oh thank you so much Aleena, this will be fantastic! I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Now though, actually faced with the prospect of leaving, she was having second thoughts. She had never been to what was now referred to as “the Muslim side” or “Their side” of town, and she was nervous.

Pushing the questioning voice in her head aside, Ally carefully changed from her plain dress and coat into the one that Aleena had given her. When she finally looked at herself in the mirror she could hardly believe she was the same person. She was certain she wouldn’t be recognised.

She quietly slipped out of the house and followed the path that led to the docks. As she passed people, many of whom she knew, she felt their eyes on her. She was careful not to return their gaze, as she knew there would be no warmth or recognition in them, just cold suspicion. She kept her head down and walked quickly.  She turned the corner and saw a bunch of teenagers sitting hanging around the outside of a shop. As she passed them they jeered at her and called out offensive names. Two of them threw their empty drink cans at her. Ally tried to ignore them and, even though nothing hit her, she felt embarrassed and nervous.

 

As she walked through Main Street she felt more and more alone. She watched as a lady and her two children started to cross the road. The woman was carrying a small baby and her three year old daughter trotted along behind her bouncing a ball. As the trio neared the far side, the little girl dropped the ball and it rolled back into the middle of the road. As the girl spun around and ran back to retrieve it Ally saw the disaster about to happen, the mother had not realised the girl had left her side and the child was obviously unaware of the danger of the fast moving traffic.

Ally sprinted into the path of the oncoming traffic, scooped the child into her arm sand pulled her aside. The girl screamed as a large van narrowly missed them. Hearing her daughters scream, the woman spun around and saw her daughter in Ally’s arms - or rather, the arms of a Muslim girl. A look of shock and horror spread across her face as the colour drained from it.

 “PUT HER DOWN!!!”  she screamed.

 Instantly the whole street was watching. Ally saw people gasp: a Muslim girl holding a white child. She had just saved this girls life and suddenly half the town was glaring at her as though she had just tried to kill someone!

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you, she was on the road. I didn’t want her to get hurt,” Ally said quietly.

“What? No she wasn’t, she was beside me,” the woman replied, although now looking slightly unsure of herself.

“She ran back when you weren’t looking.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Thank you then. I just didn’t realise, I thought . . . well. . .  “

“Don’t worry at all. I understand. Goodbye.”

As she hurried through the town she felt more and more unhappy. She was troubled by the way that the girl’s mother had looked at her in that first moment; she could see her true feelings, disgust, hatred and fear. It was almost as if she was no longer human.

She began to wish that she hadn’t decided to go along with this. Then she thought of Aleena. Aleena had to put up with this every time she went outside, just for being different. Ally’s mother had always told Ally that it was good to be different and individual, and yet she too hated the Muslims for being just that. Ally felt ashamed as she realised the depth of the hypocrisy in her town. She swore to herself that she would never hold the same views as those around her did now and that she would stand by Aleena. She understood now how terrible it was to have ones fellow human beings look down upon you for having what they believed were the wrong beliefs.

Ally suddenly thought of Aleena in a new light. She realised how strong she must have been to put up with years of this and still be able to act so normally and find respect for people of other races.  With this in mind Ally straightened her back, smiled faintly and continued on her way to meet Aleena.