Fiction – “Nadirah Sends Her Love” by Ada Milenkovic Brown
Date: 13 Jumada Al-Akhir, Hijiri Year 1432
Patient: Sarai wife-of-Boaz
Location: Pentecost encampment, Zebulon, North Carolina, South Britannia
Diagnosis: female age 49, menorrhagia, chronic reproductive tract infections, possible fibroids. Patient’s chastity belt last removed two years ago.
Prescription: 600 mg Prometrium once daily at bedtime.
Attending Physician: Dr. Nadirah Oyalan
27 Jumada Al-Akhir, Hijiri Year 1432
I write this in my medical record book, on a middle page below my notes, hoping my accusers will not notice and use it as further evidence of my “sinful nature”. I have run into some trouble here. May Allah be merciful.
I mentioned a patient, Sarai, when I last phoned. Of the Britannian women I treat, she was the worst off. One doesn’t see these disorders among my middle-class patients in Cairo. Because women here wear chastity belts except during pregnancy or relations with their husbands, I see boils, abrasions, and rashes wherever the belts chafe the skin. Reproductive tract and urinary tract infections are chronic and considered normal. Only women in such pain that they cannot function as wives and mothers are sent here. How could anyone in Hijiri Year 1432 bear to live this way? But how can I possibly make them understand? They have no concepts in common with us, not even time. To them, this is “the year of our Lord 2011”.
The other patients spend a few days, at most weeks living at Pentecost, but Sarai has been here for months. It’s a pleasant enough place to stay. The log dormitory has comfortable beds covered with colorful quilts made by former patients and matching rag carpets covering the dirt floor. A narrow river snakes through the trees and plunges into a waterfall beyond the grassy yard. I often find the gentle rushing sound and glistening water soothing as I peer out the clinic windows.
But it is a prison for Sarai. I see pained resignation in her face when I take her vital signs. I catch her in the dormitory weeping over letters from her sons.
Like many women in perimenopause, she has heavy menstrual bleeding and clotting which cannot pass through the opening in the belt. The stench is overpowering. I must stuff cotton soaked in clove oil in my nostrils to even examine her. Nobody else can bear to approach her. She sleeps in a closet in the clinic at night and eats at a wooden bench and table outside away from the buildings.
When she came down with a rash and fever, I suspected toxic shock syndrome and administered antibiotics.
After dressing myself as the Christians insist, in a bonnet and high-necked, floor-length dress with long sleeves, I was allowed to speak with her husband when he came to visit her at the encampment. It was hardly a visit. He stayed outside the rail fence, sitting under the black awning which covered his wagon, while his horse cropped bits of grass beside the dirt road. Sarai walked back and forth from the fence to the waterfall, the hem of her dress catching against stones and fallen twigs. She shouted questions to him about their children. I went up to him to explain that Sarai’s Armor-of-God was causing her suffering, and asked for permission to remove it. He could watch, confirming that nothing immoral happened. He sat silent, running his rough hands up and down his suspenders. When I finished speaking, one mumbled word passed over his beard. “No.”
Nor would he come near her. I knew he would never remove the Armor himself for intimacy with her. She would continue to suffer horribly in her foul condition, believing it God’s will.
After he left, I talked to her. I explained that the only way I could help her was to briefly remove her belt.
She begged me not to. She said, “I sometimes have sinful thoughts. The Armor keeps me from acting on my wrongful desires.”
I said, “Everyone has sinful thoughts. Azim and I certainly have them, and we constantly forgive each other for them. But we do not need armor. Our love and loyalty keeps us from betraying the other.”
She said, “The Armor keeps me safe from evil men who would molest me.”
“Yes,” I said, “but how often does that happen? Is it worth the cost you suffer?”
She closed her eyes and crossed her arms, rocking on her feet and chanting: “The Armor is God’s gift to deliver us from evil. It makes my love holy, as a gift to Boaz who has gifted me with love and children. It protects me from evildoers.”
I said, “Surely God would not want you to suffer or maybe die when the treatment is so simple.”
She walked away to the river and spent the rest of the day staring at the water.
The next day her son, James, came on horseback to see her. He was leaving for military duty and would not be home for four years. They stood with the fence between them. She reached her arms out to him but he would not come near to embrace her.
When he left, she came to me in tears and asked me to do the procedure. I picked the lock with a scalpel.
My gynecological exam found necrotic lesions, which no doubt led to the septicemia that caused the fever. I irrigated the area afterwards until she was clean.
When I locked the device back around her she began to tremble and could not stop.
Although I told her repeatedly that she had done nothing wrong, she kept lamenting that she was defiled.
As I washed my hands before supper, she came to me and told me she had sent her husband a letter confessing her “sin”. She was still trembling, but her face was calm.
She spent most of the next two days standing in the yard, staring at the waterfall. I came and stood with her when I was finished with my patients.
Just below the first cascade, because of a submerged stone, some of the water forms a semicircle of spray like hair tied in a chignon. Sarai’s eyes seemed glued to it, so I watched it with her. Over and over the little arc surged toward the sky. But only for a short distance, until gravity dragged it down and made it rejoin the rest of the water.
Toward sunset on the second day, two men came in an oxcart. Although they wore the same dark trousers, suspenders, and white shirts as all the other men, they had a crossed sword insignia on their broad-brimmed hats. After they showed me papers declaring them to be members of the National Guard, the men clamped their hands around Sarai’s arms and led her away. She left without a word.
I hitched up my skirt and ran after them with a bottle of her medication.
But they emptied it onto the road and ground the pills into the mud with their boots. They told me I had turned her to evil and she must have no contact with anything connected with me. Then they confiscated my phone and informed me that the Britannians had ordered Doctors without Borders to send a different female physician. I am under house arrest and will not be allowed to finish my three week assignment. I am not sure what they will do with me after that. I pray that they will send me home when the new physician comes.
I have little to do but wait. Only my longing to see you and the children distracts me from worrying.
Sustained only because our breaths will soon again intermingle,
Date: 20 Jumada Al-Akhir, Hijiri Year 1432
Patient: Sarai wife-of-Boaz
Location: Pentecost encampment, Town of Zebulon, North Carolina, South Britannia
Diagnosis: rash, headache, 104 degree fever, possible TSS.
Description: Intravenous Nafcillin (2 g q4h) 10 days
Attending Physician: Dr. Nadirah Oyalan
3 Rajab, Hijiri Year 1432
Allah grant that you find these letters.
They brought Sarai back to the encampment and I immediately put her to bed. She is listless and feverish. I restarted her on the antibiotics, but I fear it is too late.
I hope the children aren’t anxious about me.
Teenage boys hurled stones at the fence around the encampment. One shouted, “The Whore of Babylon drunk on the blood of the saints.”
Sarai explained that Boaz has accused me of practicing harlotry because I removed her Armor.
Nevertheless, her foul odor is gone, and several of the women have begun to sit with her by her bed. They bring her food, biscuits and gravy, cooked greens. She doesn’t even touch it even if I try to feed her myself. Her face and hands have grown bony and thin.
I keep telling her she has done nothing wrong and needs to build up her strength. But she still will not eat.
10 Rajab, Hijiri Year 1432
If you saw the broadcast they made me do: The TV crew came from a different Christian country, New England, since the South Britannians shun technology. You probably couldn’t even recognize me in the bonnet.
I spoke their lies believing this would allow me to go home.
And maybe it would have.
If Sarai hadn’t died.
Date: 11 Rajab, Hijiri Year 1432
Patient: Lydia daughter-of-Boaz
Location: Gehenna Prison, State of Carolina, South Britannia
Diagnosis: 14 year old female, carbuncle on left groin.
Prescription: oral flucloxacillin 250 mg 4 times daily
Attending Physician: Dr. Nadirah Oyalan
11 Rajab Hijiri Year 1432
I was accused of harlotry and murder. The Britannians brought me before a tribunal. Boaz came with his youngest son John.
They let me speak, but after the benediction, because women cannot speak during worship. I stood among twelve bristle-browed men. My bonnet had a visor like a tunnel, I had to raise my chin in the air to see. In the stifling hot room my cotton dress was soon soaked with sweat.
Their Imam, the Preacher, called me “wife-of-Azim, follower of the heretic Mohammad” and gave the date on their calendar, June 13, 2011.
I told them the Armor had sickened Sarai and if they had allowed her to continue treatment in prison, she might not have died. I reminded them their government let me treat their women. As an Arabian citizen I demanded a Red Crescent representative. I should have used their name, Red Cross.
They said, The Unified States of Arabia does not rule us. We follow the Lord God’s law, not any Godless nation’s.
I said, We worship God too.
I try to remember they are also human. And we ourselves have not always followed Allah’s teachings, as in the days when we enslaved our African brothers to build railroads. But we know better now.
Their Imam looked down his nose at me and said, Sarai’s death is a clear sign from God. You tempted her into sin.
He waved his hands over the heads of those near him. “Accept God’s teaching. We are ever tempted to ease our lives with the wares of the ungodly. At what cost?” The Imam pointed at me. Be wary of this false charity from the Moslem horde. And do not be seduced by the enticing machines of the Asian scourge. We Protestants are just four paltry nations surrounded by Papists and Pagan Amerindians. We must fight to survive, for we are the world’s only hope. If we are lost, there will be no righteous people left on earth and God’s anger will rage to destroy it.”
The Preacher bent his head down and closed his eyes, saying, “Lord God, preserve us and our Godly brethren in New England, our Huguenot brothers in Quebec and the Great Lakes Lutherans of Westereich.”
Then he looked around at the other men, and shook his head. Stay pure. Even now some of you think it does you no harm to fellowship with the Floridians across our border. But they are Catholics, with souls enslaved by false dogma.
Remember it was Papist Catholics who ruled Europe with iniquity and were punished by God when the Moslem Turks overthrew them. Moslems like this harlot who stands before us and awaits our judgement.
I could keep quiet no longer. I said, You think everyone else is wrong. But look at any Moslem nation — Egypt, Spain, Afghanistan, Yugoslavistan. We give our women respect, equality, education — because learning and tolerance have a long tradition among our people. Our economies thrive, unlike yours. Why don’t you see that as a “clear sign from God”? You harm your women by how you treat them and in that way you also harm yourselves.
I pointed to Sarai’s son. I said, His mother died because of your repressive policies.
I saw resentment spark in John’s eyes. May Allah blow it into flame.
The Imam said, The Armor is how we protect our women. It kept Sarai pure for her husband and shielded her from men who might otherwise be tempted to defile her. Without it did she not become like you from the immoral nations? You commit sexual sin, become diseased, and die.
I tried to explain that Sarai did not have a sexually transmitted disease and that it was the Armor which caused her death. And also that people get sick when they’ve done nothing wrong even by Britannian standards. But their smug smiles told me they did not believe me.
The Tribunal stood. They pronounced that I die.
They put me in a cell, and old women stripped me of my clothing and stuck me in a sackcloth shift that barely came to my thighs. They said it was God’s will, so I would feel shame and repent of my brazenness and not die in sin.
I am not ashamed.
Oh, Azim, did I do right to persuade Sarai to go against her people’s teachings? I have no answer, but right or wrong, I do not deserve death.
I can write to you because tonight Boaz brought my medical kit to my cell. He also brought his daughter for treatment. Skin chafed by her newly fitted Armor-of-God had become infected. I told him she needed antibiotics and to bring her to the doctor who would come in a few days. I gave him a prescription.
Boaz told me he mourns Sarai, he loved her, but he could not have her dishonored even if it meant her death. She repented of her sin and confessed and he is grateful that she is now in heaven at the feet of Jesus. Boaz cried. He said, “I will stay here and keep you safe. No man will touch you, though you are a harlot with no Armor. I will be your Armor.”
“Thank you,” I said.
He said, “We’re not monsters. We used to stone women like you, but that would be inhumane. We will shoot you. It will end quickly. You will not suffer.”
I asked him to give you my medical kit. He said he would.
I hope you can read this. The letters are ragged. I am shivering because the night is cold.
Tell Faisal I’m sorry to miss his wedding, Salma will make a lovely bride and I already think of her as a daughter. Allah send Badra and Khoury good fortune in their algebra competition and Khoury mustn’t sulk if his sister receives a higher score.
Goodbye, my darling.
The women told me what to expect. When the men stand me, my wrists tied, against the splintered boards of the prison-yard fence, I will hold my head high. I will ignore the glint of their shotguns and their glaring eyes. I will calm the wild palpitation of my heart. As the poet Rumi said, “Our death is our wedding with eternity.”
Kiss the children for me.
Allah give me courage. And you, Allah’s gift to me.
For in the explosion of bullets and pain I pray neither to tremble nor cry out, but to imagine you behind me–
Your arms pinioning my shoulders,
your hands across my breasts,
your kisses blessing the tops of my ears,
your breath whispering through my hair.
About the Author
Ada Milenkovic Brown is a semiprofessional lyric-coloratura soprano who used to teach microbiology to medical students and remains torn between art and science. A Clarion West and Taos Toolbox graduate, her work has appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show and PodCastle. Four of her stories have garnered Honorable Mentions from the Speculative Literature Foundation. Visit her at countesslovlace.livejournal.com.