Mehdi tried every ruse to date her. He proposed marriage. She could not trust him. On the gala night he requested for a dance and she excused for a toilet.
She staggered away from the crowd and music. Picked her high-heels and scuffled in the sand towards the ferry gate. Wrapped in an orange sari she paused for a moment behind the lights to catch a breath. Thinking and waiting impatiently for a boat. One thought came to her mind; to get out of here fast. She checked the time, almost eleven and seemed like several hours. The night was only premature. She jumped on a second-class ferry and soon the lights were fading as the boat moved into the darkness of the ocean. For a moment it was quiet and calm. Ibthisham reached Gan, hopped on a bus and arrived at Hithadu where she spent the night at her little lodge.
Mehdi was angered and called her off from Fua Mulak trip the very next day. Catalina Veloso who joined Estado Mello crowd overheard his fury. She fabricated a face, dropped the specs to nose-tip and asked about his crush.
“Kafaru!” he uttered using eccentric vocabulary that could mean horny in the native tongue. “You know, when it comes to sex a Maldivian grows an infidel and to breach faith to have sex. That’s the grim reality.”
Five days later, Ibthisham did what any single girl would do before shower and in her lodge which was a tiny shed separate from the landlord’s house, located behind the bushes in the backyard.
She was dispirited to hear from Nalin Mendis. Those words still ringing in her ears, she looked around the neat little room. “You will be transferred to Faruman Riyal head office in Hulumalé.” Nine months she worked hard to learn a thing and only just begun to identify a chemical. Now she had to start it all over again and in a different field; administration – sitting next to Mehdi’s brown suite wearing a tight white uniform that barely covered the bums. She thought of resignation but her pay was US$900 per month, on top medical, fuel, phone bills and rent all paid. Not likely another company could pay her so much for holding an Indian BA certificate – it got to be a UK something no matter what.
She stood stark naked biting fingernails, a tall fair girl, thick pubic hair covering the area, sharp tits and incredibly thin. She reached to the television and switched on, tuned to a local channel that she habitually never did. As the screen appeared she lowered gradually to the white sofa and uttering to herself, “Oh! Oh!” She reached for the towel and wrapped partially to cover her nude warily.
The interviewer asked, “How would you explain Blue Waters as a philosophy, Mr Mehdi?”
“I don’t argue with issues in the media,” Mehdi replied, “My vision is clearly stated in the book. MUM, as its name dictates, will be the strength of the community inclined to this movement but I agree a political party comprises different elements of professionals, thinkers, doctors, communists, clerics...so the destiny lies in their hands how to steer.”
“You have not campaigned in general public. I find you avoid media and society. Why have you agreed to this interview in particular?”
“Straight in your eyes, it’s because of you, I feel pretty comfortable here. I’m not afraid to discuss issues but media brings sensitive subjects I always hate to talk about. And all those narrow-minded people continue to believe their stories. Media brings big news, bad news, disturbing stories only helpful for their journalism.
“The moment a western reporter shows up, the Matadors feed propaganda and basically they arrive on Matador request.
“Regrettably, irresponsibility come known too late after severe harm is done, typical snitch in media to create the wrong image for whatever purpose. Terrible! I call it criminal mind behind reporting, it does hurt the whole truth and ultimate peace.”
“How strong is MUM, the Maldives Un-republic Movement, as a political organisation?”
“Relatively small and it ought to be. It’s simply an ideology for the new generation, I should say. Only 3611 members signed up so far. However, people from all walks of life who believe in Blue Waters may join this movement. Website polls show increasing support and interest, not quite significant though, I admit. Surveys show some 70 percent are against. It’s a huge figure. So they say ‘Serendib is the teardrop of motherland India’. Ask who are we? Pissed off droplets...”
Ibthisham could barely understand but hinting his sarcasm a smirk touched her lips. She turned up the volume with interest.
“We are but a unique, ethnic minority and an independent nation, apart from brief interventions from the Portuguese or the British. Blue Waters calls to give up our autonomy. Britain has seen she can’t stand alone without the support of the United States while several European countries disagree that the rise of new powers like India or China can bring any harm. Britain was once a superpower to hold the wide world that they branded it ‘Great’. It is a small country. Why can’t Maldives stand great to hold independence? We’ve been a small oceanic nation independent for thousands of years. Unification can happen once only, we will never be free again.”
“No nation recognises Maldives as a free and independent country because we cannot survive alone. All embassies commissioned to the Maldives are based in Sri Lanka. Our people are mixed, language is diverse, we customarily do not call a Divehi name to a Maldivian child but we are a unique people, as you said, a unique ethnicity. And I do not want to see this breed go extinct like the aborigines of Australia. Our ethnicity, religion, language, race, tribe, culture and autonomy…must not be the barriers of cause why we must die of uniqueness. Instead this breed must expand and breathe in the four corners of the world. Maldivian blood must live and not pour. The islanders must be free to go anywhere, anytime, in any name, choose any life, religion and pain.”
“Maldivian people have followed Islam for 800 years. While we are a 100 percent Moslem society, do we not have a democratic right to remain in chosen faith?”
“I don’t call a good Moslem Maldivian to change his faith. I’m a believer too and a follower of the Moslem faith. I believe we must show good example of a Moslem society. In 800 years we have not used a mosque for any purpose other than praying. For 800 years we have not done prayers in public places other than the mosque. I hate to see our good norms being destroyed by outside interests penetrating into our beautiful way of life we lived for 800 years. I don’t agree Christian missionaries to do the same. But when we are a Moslem society we are most vulnerable to the evil ideology of Wahabism that’s been imported to the islands and nobody seemed to worry how much they have turned our good reasons why we’ve been simply Moslem for so long. Things will change, I know, but I don’t support a Moslem to convert to Wahabism or any fact. Some even tell me we do not know Islam until the Wahabis came here to talk about the Islamic way of life. It’s a ridiculous lie and they are utterly wrong. Why should I support changing religion when I do not support sectarian change? I strictly don’t. Blue Waters talks about unification with a motherland that already has to go with all those features of a multi-ethnic society. For this reason I do concur to face the practicality of discovering a greater scope of civilisation and share all our interests in a multi-faced society.”
“Such societies hence create a complex nature of concatenations from issues like marriage?”
“Religion or race should not be the reason why marriages are formed or withheld. Marriage is a bond and a fact of life that you can’t avoid. It has its own laws and chemistry. In harmony you reach an understanding how to raise your children or share your wealth. When a child grows, freedom of choice is his or her own right.”
Ibthisham heard enough – nothing he says is true. She switched off the television. He even proposed marriage. How freaking mad was that? She belonged to another religion. She remembered him talk about honeymoon on Innafushi, the island that tied the knot. How romantic! Promptly she realised she was still naked. She hurriedly stepped in the bathe.
Moment later, she got dressed in white. Picked her cell phone and pressed his number while combing her hair.
“Good morning, sir! I’m Ibthisham...”
“Good morning! When are you coming here?”
“I called to apologise for the other night.” She wanted to make it very polite but uncertain about what she had to say, “I want to keep my current job.”
“Of course, you can go back. Now I’m short of a staff. I need you right here.”
“No sir, please don’t take me there. I’ll be very, very thankful if you allow me to stay here.”
“What’s the deal? Have you found a boyfriend in the south?”
“Don’t make excuses.”
“No,” she determined to say, “But the uniform, I can’t wear that uniform.”
“Why?” he asked to put words in her mouth.
“It’s too short. I don’t wear short dresses.”
“You’ll be alright once you start wearing short dresses. There’s a first time for everything. You’ll look great in them.”
“Ibthisham, you are not a child. You have to do what I say when you work here. You can’t just disappear even if you don’t like to dance with me.”
“No sir, I will not do such a thing. I’m sorry.”
“So jump on a flight and come.”
“Promise me I don’t have to wear a uniform!”
“That’s not an excuse to stop you from coming here. I’m short of an assistant. I’m not calling you here to watch your legs. Everyone wears a uniform. I’m going to introduce one in every branch soon.”
“Then I quit.”
Mehdi laughed, “Well, Ibthisham, if that’s what you like, stay there. I will tell Nalin to keep you. I know you are doing a good job.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Mehdi placed his phone and turned to a couple of beefy visitors in his company, “A girl doesn’t want to transfer here because she has to wear a short uniform.” They laughed, stifle shy, trembling bellies. All the rich businessmen designed kinky uniforms to their staff to go with lavishly furnished office rooms.
In March 2010, Ibthisham saw Indian Air Force jetfighters landing at Gan International Airport. She was up there most of the day at the construction site of the Equator Cross. She observed the flights touchdown and take-off with some curiosity because nothing appeared in the news. Sometimes she noticed five or six flights on the tarmac. She drove a second-hand Honda Wave 125 hired from a dealer. She passed the coastal road around the runway and jets flew low over head. Ibthisham wore a yellow coloured helmet from the work site and a pair of goggles. Her dress usually stained and skin toned.
Flight crews and civilians attached to the Indian Air Force (IAF) mission stayed at Estado Mello Gan. She learnt they were doing a survey on cartography. A 16 ft chart hangs on the wall at Faruman Riyal Company; a British Admiralty Chart of the Maldives mapped in the early half of the 19th century. To her knowledge there was not any other chart plotted of the several Maldives. She wondered why not plot the droplets from the space via satellite. Ibthisham thought that Maldivian think big and do things big, obviously, they talk big – small island nation of gossipers.
Through the Indian builders and contractors of Suresh Brothers working at the project she had access to know some of the IAF guys. One of them was a young pilot officer of her choice, the highest caste of Brahmin, she liked in particular. She spoke the Hindi Language. Lieutenant Feroz Daksh of the 14th Airborne Division summarised the nature of work involved. The research was centred between Addu Atoll and the Suvadives. The aircrafts were surveillance flights and one even carried a laboratory, a couple of jetfighters keep watch. An Indian Navy was around doing an oceanographic survey. None of them required a passport to come and go.
In a couple of weeks she observed researchers digging Fen Muli creep picking samples of water, weeds, plants, algae, soil and microscopic planktons. This kind of picking and collecting biological substances was what she did back in Gujarat as a biotech analyst. She could tell it revealed lot for a land survey; abundant research into industrial medicine or archaeology.
She fell in love with Feroz. A secret relationship evolved in an intimacy. There was indeed a first time for everything. One night she spent on a shopping spree in Hithadu and on a late night call dropped in at her work place with Feroz. Shortly, news hit Mehdi’s big ears and called Nalin Mendis to fix the girl with counselling.
Nalin was Sri Lankan and in her attitude treated matters lightly. She tried to elucidate the girl with some informal procedures at work. “Nobody knows nothing,” she explained, “how it goes, earn good money, save your earnings, then go home, tell nobody, forget the past, get married and return to work at another place.”
Ibthisham was glued to her seat. She met Feroz few times after that. He flew home job done. Her little lodge haunted those moments she spent with him. They continued to exchange mails and according to Feroz she expected him to return pretty soon and perhaps spend a holiday in a paradise island.
Ibthisham felt concerned because she annoyed Mehdi again. For the moment he was abroad.
It turned out to be low season and hotel prices fallen. New market attracted the Equator Zone from the Southern Hemisphere. Chinese arrivals increased from the East. European markets were then into the gamble of acquiring new allotments for the upcoming winter season.
Mehdi arrived to spend few days in the south. He set conference with Divehi Uduhun as they recently purchased a new Embraer to bring his fleet to three. DU was leading the private services in aviation to operate domestic flights. Talks continued whether to increase the number of floating planes in the region. It seemed other seaplane companies did better in tourist transfers. It was mid June.
Ibthisham got a call from Nalin one afternoon. She was expected to go to Kào and meet Mehdi at once, as Nalin put it, “to spend the evening with him”.
She kick started the engine despite its self start system. Drove in the drizzle to her lodge and parked right outside the door. She knew he would never forget malice. She concentrated on how to face her boss. In no time she got under shower. She wrapped in brown sari for dinner, swallowed two Tran-X pills and dropped the card into her bag. Picked the mackintosh and returned to her bike.
She stopped at a filling station on Gazi Magu and topped up, in case if she wanted to escape in the dead of the night she could do without calling a cab and wait. The hotel was located far from town. She turned into the slippery road full of puddles. The rain carried on thinly. She slowed down through the narrow passage cautiously to avoid dirt spoiling her sari. Reaching the tall fence she ditched the bike in the bushes outside the steel gate. She was confident that any minute she could reach her bike through the brushwood without even the gatekeeper seeing her. At Estado Mello Kào she checked into a changing room and cleaned up. She was satisfied the Tran-X working effectively. She then climbed to the eleventh floor and knocked at the Devil’s door.
Mehdi was wearing a pair of boxer shorts. He grabbed her arm and kissed her. She was hanging on his shoulders and pulling her face away as he picked her to bed. He lowered on her top trying to kiss her again. He got up towing at her sari.
“No sir,” Ibthisham cried, “I’m not removing my sari.” Shoulder plait came undone, she held to it and he tugged on.
“You’ve got so much wrap on you.”
“I’m ready to dine with you.”
He pulled so hard she was thrown back on the bed. He drew the wrap from under her and she let it go. “All-India sari...this is too much.” He coiled the fleece in his fist. It came undone with a swish. She wore a full length underskirt and tight-fitting lingerie, all silk. “Do you want a drink?” Mehdi poured two Sherries from the mini-bar and shove her glass. She lay down face buried in her palms.
A little while later, she lay on her back, heels touching the carpet floor, her head rotating with spirit and drug. He removed her blouse and skirt. She couldn’t tell how. She wore another pair of skin-tight underwear and black bras. He removed them. Picked her legs apart and looked down at her thin form.
“Gosh! Look at you!” She placed a hand on her front. “Do you think boys like hairy legs?” He seized her hand off.
“I don’t know boys...” she mumbled placing the other hand on her forehead.
“Fuck you! Brahmin bitch!” his outrageous cry brought tears to her eyes. He dropped flat on top of her. She remained submissive for the next half hour. She was not moving or talking. She was knocked out.
Dinner time approached. Mehdi climbed down from bed, picked her lingerie and stepped into the bath. He cut her undergarme