She saw her again,
The first time she saw her,
In the public hammam.
Early in the morning, there was no one in there, but her at first.
The damp air warmed her skin.
She started to scrub the dead skin away, and then it was time to shower.
She was looking for a free cubicle, when she opened a door.
Why did she do that?
The door was already closed!
why open the closed door?
There was something she wanted to see.
Then she saw the woman.
With very long red hair. The red hair was so rare in this part of the world that it terrified her.
The woman was completely naked, hairless and smooth, with a smile on her face. A smile that was unusually big, as if her mouth was stretching wide, it looked like it could hurt, but she was not bothered.
She was too terrified to look down, but when she finally did, they were there: two hooves.
She felt sick, like vomiting, and gasping for air, like her belly had completely emptied and dropped on the floor. She also felt wet, and not from the dampness of the wet room.
She felt faint.
Then it all went black, as she dropped onto the wet floor.
When she woke up, the hammam washer was holding her head in her lap, and splashing cold water on her face. In a flash she moved her self away from her, not knowing who it was at first. But she took comfort when she saw the familiar and round face of the elderly woman, who she had known since a young age, the same woman who had scrubbed her back, her mother’s back and maybe even her grandmother’s.
The washer said: You must have passed out from the heat.
She didn’t answer.
Then the washer gave her a glass of water.
The coldness of the water against the heath of the hammam had made the glass sweaty and slippery. She held it with two hands as she drank.
On her walk home, she couldn’t get the image out of her head, the red hair and the ...
She didn’t even want to say the words.
Her walk turned into running as if she was being chased.
She spent the next two weeks at home. Blaming any illness she could: her monthlies, headaches, even pretending to faint again.
Her mother had planned for the town doctor come to pay her a visit. An elderly man with a long salt and pepper beard. She hated his wrinkled and cold hands rubbing against her ribcage, a feeling all too familiar, it made her feel sick. Once he arrived she perked up and said she was fine, just to avoid his touch, the man looked disappointed.
He was famous for bleeding patients for minor causes. Some believed he made medicine from the blood, and fed it to the town’s land owners. That's why their faces were so red.
Now that she had admitted to feeling better, she was made to start contributing to the household. Her mother sent her to the bazaar to buy fresh herbs and naan.
The smell of the fresh basil and dill made her feel slightly better, like it
had all been a fever dream, and life was back to normal.
But, in the bakery queue she noticed a woman, who was hiding her face, as women often did, but this woman was doing so with more intent, as if she really didn't want to be seen. It felt like she was doing it to avoid her.
When it came the woman's turn to buy her bread, she just walked out without picking one.
She followed the woman out of the bakery,
The woman clearly knew she was being followed.
Once they reached a quiet ally, the woman finally stopped, and turned around to face her, she opened her chador slowly, first to show her face, then to reveal her naked body. It was her, the ginger hair, the overwhelming smile, but shoes where covering her feet.
Who are you?
She did not answer.
Why are you showing your self to me? please leave me alone.
her grin turned into confusion.
I don’t want to die.
Now she was speaking, but her lips weren’t moving. It was like she was speaking inside her head.
You don’t want to die?
That’s what you want isn’t it? to kill me?
She laughed (A loud squeaky sound)
Why are you so afraid of death?
Because I’m only 18 years old, and I don’t want to burn in hell.
“It’s not that bad!”
The smile was back.
You terrify me, please, don’t show yourself to me anymore.
She closed her eyes, hoping she would just disappear.
After a few seconds she opened her eye again. And now she was standing closer, observing her. She was close enough for her to feel her breath on her skin, but there was no breath.
She said, again through her mind, without her lips moving
That trick only works on ghosts, and I’m not a ghost. You can't get rid of me, but I have to go now.
And then, she disappeared as if she was only a fragment of her imagination.
After that day she could not stop thinking about her. The red hair, so red, like the fires of hell, or at least from what she had heard.
They say they hang you from your hair in hell, if you’ve shown it to men you weren’t supposed to show it to.
She couldn't get the image of her breasts out of her head. Even though she had seen many breasts before at the hammam, but hers were different, there was something unusual about them, as if they were made from completely different material, not skin, but something harder, and maybe more rough than normal skin.
That night, she woke up as she felt like she was being watched.
She lit the candle on the side of her bed, and there she was, wearing only a lace blouse, with her breasts on show.
You were thinking of me.
Is that why you’re here? What happened to your feet?
The woman took off her shoes, her feet were normal, only slightly larger than hers, toes red from henna. Then the transformation happened.
Her feet started to slowly change colour to grey, extending, and growing fur around the ankles, then turning round and rounder, and suddenly there they were, her hooves.
Her mouth was dry, she was terrified. couldn’t swallow. Maybe she did have a fever after all.
She was lost for words, it was as if everything she believed to be lies and superstition made up by old women were true, and her whole life had been a lie.
Now you, show me a trick!
I don’t have any tricks.
Are you sure?
Then she leaned in and kissed her.
Her mouth so warm, and slippery, slightly salty. Not like any kiss she had ever had before.
They both knew what they had to do next.
The next day was the eve of the new year. The day the whole world turns upside down.
They sought a love broker, who only agreed to see them because they pleaded, as she was fully booked for ceremonies.
That night they exchanged their 'vows of sisterhood'.
The broker gathered a tray of sweets, in the middle of the tray was a carefully placed wooden dildo with a leather base and offered it to her, she then took a sequinned lace scarf and placed it over the tray.
Then they said the following words:
"Look at Baghdad and you see all classes of women performing sex
with one another.
You will see silver mortars for sifting saffron,
When they place their plates on top of each other,
You will hear wild screams all the way to the skies."
That night, they made love at the woman’s house. Their sweaty bodies, rubbing and brushing against each other, the friction almost made her feel like she was on fire.
How many times have you done this before?
Why do you need to know that?
Because this is my first time
Is it really?
She didn't answer. How could this woman know everything about her?
You know what we have to do next, right?
She knew, and she was terrified.
Is this how you became...you?
No, I was born like this
How many women have you turned?
Many, I have lived for centuries, before this country was a country.
And how many of you are there?
More than I could count.
Why did you chose me?
I didn't, you chose me.
What will happen to me?
You will become powerful, you can breath under water, you do not need to feed, you won’t feel shame, only pleasure, you can travel between worlds, you can live for ever...
She could not possibly turn down this offer. But she was still
The pleasure of the sex, the attention and the touch made her feel certain, but there was still a part of her that remembered all the childhood stories, the women hanging by their breasts for eternity. Would that not apply to her anymore once she becomes like her? Maybe becoming like her is the only way to avoid that destiny. To be like them. To do the hanging and not be hung.
She fell asleep in her arms. Her face against her soft breasts, the smell of rue and soap all she could breath in. This would be the last time she sleeps.
When she woke up the bed was empty.
She had left a note, and a few strands of her red hair.
When you’re certain,
Copyright ©Katayoun Jalilipour, 2021 , UK. All Rights Reserved Special thanks to Coral Rose Kindred-Boothby, Corie McGowan, Paige Silverman and Milly Melbourne.