Jane sensed being stared at in the street and looking round she saw him - a local man, dressed in white trousers and long sleeved shirt, wearing a turban. There was no disputing the fact that he was trying to catch up with her. She felt her heart race and moved as though her life depended on it. Her blood raced and her pulse quickened. The sweat poured from every orifice in her body. The sidewalk made from shale and stone was uneven making running impossible. She could smell her body odour and taste the beads of sweat pouring down her face. The taste was salty and hot. She quickly turned and she saw him move fast, too fast.

It had been a foolish thing to do for she was only two hundred yards from her residence and it was not that she hadn't been warned - for she had, numerous times. Not only by all her friends but also by her husband's colleagues' wives.

"Don't walk on your own. If you have to, wear the burka for protection," Sharon, a new friend's voice rang in her head. "Who knows you? Who cares about you? It is a symbol of purity. If you wear it men think you humble and almost anonymous. You want to be invisible. I'm telling you for your own good."

"Ridiculous!" Jane, red in the face had cut Sharon off. She could not and would not believe that women were obliged to be so submissive. Secretly, she felt as though the warning was a statement of criticism for the way she was dressed and the way she carried herself.

She had come to the country on a whim with her new husband of six months for she did not want to be left alone in the British winter. He had been called by The British Government to undertake a specialised job in their Finance Department for six months. Little had she known that it would mean that she would be abandoned for hours in this foreign land, where few folk spoke English. The women around the city smiled at her, with their eyes only, for these were the only visible parts of their bodies. Mostly, they were shrouded in long, trailing black veiled robes, head to feet, with slits for the eyes.

Often whilst sharing an elevator, she would encounter a child stare at her in her shorts and t-shirt. Subsequently the child would glance at her mother garbed in black and whisper to her in an unpronounceable tongue asking the reason for the difference. The child would later nod when her mother replied, understanding the uniqueness of her culture.

Jane was in her denim shorts. Her long legs, brown through months of exposure to warm sunlight were a source of joy to her. Similarly, her arms, toned and muscled through hours at the gym and tanned to a shade of dark coffee, made her feel desirable.

She turned quickly around and saw him again. She carried neither handbag nor purse. All she did was walk out for a breath of air from the stifling apartment. The air conditioning did not work efficiently in this country. What crime could there in walking down a street?

It was three in the afternoon for goodness sake. No one was around. A stray dog sat panting in the shallow pool of water by the roadside. It was half-starved and thin and gave a low growl as she passed by. She loved dogs but dared not touch it for fear of rabies or worse.

She walked faster, breaking into a power walk. Shutters were closed and she passed the banyan tree. It was her favourite tree - for it was around twenty feet in diameter and sat in the middle of the pavement where a large hole had been dug for it alone. With its trailing branches and succulent trunks growing up from the earth in profusion it reminded her of the Pocahontas film. Her mind diverted for a few seconds and she liked to think that the local population had fought the council to preserve this ancient tree which had no doubt been there for over a hundred years or more.

Strange birds mocked her as she passed by them in the tree lined street. Their calls were from far away - a great height - where they hid in the deep green foliage. Habitually, they cried out a sound quite alien to the British birds she was accustomed to, sounding loud and raucous, "Treeeee!"

Further on, bougainvillea bushes of yellow, red and orange sprang out from the sides of the street as though to say, "We are the symbols of a long hot summer, admire our fire, poor mortals and burn."

He was catching up with her. She hastened. Her breathing was laboured. Water, water was needed. Her thirst was unbearable. A drink of water would save her. "I'll never eat that spicy food again," she said out loud. She needed help. She was about to trip.

Down she went like a stone falling to the earth. She fell heavily on her shoulder and knew she was bleeding, perhaps she had broken a bone. The pain, the pain .... the abductor caught up and crouched over her.

She smelled the garlic from his breath, he knelt so close to her but his face was not vicious at all but full of concern.

"Madam, you have dropped your key, I picked it up for you but you walk so fast in this terrible heat. I'll get help for you." The man's voice was kind.

He picked up his mobile and faintly ever so faintly, she heard him say,

"Jalan Conlay, yes, near the banyan tree. A lady has collapsed in the heat. She may have broken a bone. Ambulance please, immediately."


Fiona Mclean