Glass Enclave
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They were quiet when he finished speaking. Sammar felt that she and Yasmin had been in his flat for a long time. The afternoon in the library seemed distant, another day. The last drops of tea in her mug looked like honey. Then Yasmin started to talk of people's intolerance and Sammar got up to wash the mugs in the kitchen. 'It will only take a minute', she said to Rae when he told her to leave them, not to bother. But she took her time and looked around. A bottle of Safeways olive oil stood on the kitchen counter, an open packet of soluble aspirins, more photographs of the daughter, younger and smiling, were stuck to the door of the fridge. On the wall, there was a print of the Uleg-Beg Mosque in Samarkand, its exterior designed with the interlacing, intricate patterns of Islamic art. It was built in 1418, the caption read, and was both a masjid and a school which taught not only religious sciences but astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. Sammar rolled the blind up over the kitchen window and she could see in the dark a garden shed, lights in the other buildings, the auras of people's lives. Warm water, lather that smelt of lemon, Rae's voice.

'...at times the courts here do show cultural sensitivity', he was saying, 'and each case sets a precedent for others to follow. In one case a High Court Judge awarded a divorced Asian woman damages, in thousands of pounds, against her husband. He had slandered her by suggesting she was not a virgin at the time of her marriage. The grounds for the case were that the insult was very serious in her community'.

'Yes, we prize virginity', Yasmin said, 'and chastity. It's hard to believe that a British judge and jury could understand that, let alone sympathize'.

'People understand it but in the context of its own place, its own part of the world. Here though, it's a different story. I would think that the consensus is, In Rome, do as the Romans do'.

'Typical imperialist thinking'.

'You're right', he said, 'but these things take time to change. Not in our lifetime, I don't think.'

'In your lifetime', said Yasmin. 'We're young aren't we Sammar?'.

Sammar turned around. Her hands were wet with soap and she held them above the sink. 'You're younger than me', she said to Yasmin.

'I'm going to be thirty next week', said Yasmin, 'my birthday, and Nazim will be away as usual.'

'He's still off-shore?' asked Rae.

'Off Shetland, freezing away, poor thing. But it is so peaceful without him'.

'You say things you don't mean, Yasmin', said Sammar. She turned off the taps and wiped the basin with the wash cloth. There were stains around the plug and in between the taps.

'Chekhov wrote', said Rae, 'that a woman pines when she is deprived of the company of a man and when deprived of the company of a woman, a man becomes stupid'.

'Rubbish', said Yasmin, 'I never pine.'

Sammar looked around for a towel to wipe her hands. The towel she found hanging on the back of a chair had a picture of a dolphin on it. The cat was nowhere in sight. It had gone outside and it was time for them to leave too. 'We should go, shouldn't we?', she said to Yasmin when she joined them, 'It's getting late'.

'I'm so tired I can't move', Yasmin said and Sammar had to hold both her hands and pull her up.

'What are you going to be like in a few months time?', she teased her and they were laughing when Rae opened the front door and walked with them down the steps.


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