I woke up to the sickening odor of a camel spitting.
Almost immediately I was aware of a swaying, jogging motion, which nauseated me. To my befuddled mind, it seemed impossible that our station wagon could possibly have been so rickety.
I tried to brush the strands of hair which hung down my face, tickling my nose. I willed my hand to move. However, I found that it remained firmly behind my back. Slow recognition came to me. My wrists rubbed together and were chafed by some foreign element wrapped around them. I opened my eyes and found myself staring at white sand which moved slowly past my eyes. I tried to move my body to ease my cramped position. Then it all came upon me at once.
My ankles were bound together, my wrists tied tightly behind my back, a long rope had been fashioned into a noose at one end and dropped over my neck. The other end had been run under the camel’s belly and then tied to my legs.
I screamed. The hot desert air burned my throat. The camel driver who rode impassively behind me flicked his whip across my hips. The pain was a maddening thing. The twill of my jeans parted under the force of the blow.
A second camel jogged along behind us. I managed to twist my head just far enough to see Grace tied to its body in the very same fashion that I was.
Terror gripped my heart. The camel driver patted my hip with of his hand. He laughed. The lash slapped across me again. The sand turned red before my eyes. The pain was worse than anything I had experienced.
“White women do well at the market place once they are trained properly,” the Arab giggled. “But they must be trained properly. Mohammed Haseim will see to that.”
I stared up at my tormentor who now reached out and fondled my shoulder. I tried to squirm away from his evil touch. The broken yellow stumps of his teeth showed through his black gums as he laughed again.
Behind me I heard Grace shriek. I didn't have to look to know she was being subjected to the same treatment. I cursed myself for having been every kind of a fool in not heeding the advice to stay away from the desert.
But two school teachers on holiday in Saudi Arabia are not likely to pay much attention to the tales of slavery which fascinate the tourists of Hotuf. We had listened to the stories of raids by the Al Manasis and the Al Nabit Tribes at inland oasis. We had been told how the girls had been invited to attend huge feasts in the deserts. The tribesmen had swept down on them and carted them off bound hand and foot to the slave marts of Al Hassa and Riyadh.
''But the native girls do not command the large prices,” Jonathan Winton, a guest at our hotel had said. “If the slave traders can come up with a European girl - perhaps a blonde with milk white skin, they can command a fee which wilt pay their entire family's expenses to Mecca. One as lovely as you, Miss Reynolds, could fetch a king's ransom. You and your friend cannot be too careful traveling alone.''
Grace Cummings and I had looked at each other and laughed. Yet a little trickle of fear had swept up our spines.
Mrs. Winton had noticed our discomfort and had chided her husband for spinning his tales of kidnapping and slave trading. He had grown very insistent. “This country is not for unescorted women from home,” he argued. “You'd be best advised to return to London where a girl like you can walk the streets in safety."
The very next morning, we had loaded our station and taken off for the interior. Our destination was Riyadh where the real Arab world was said to begin. We'd driven over the endless stretch of sand, our eyes burning with the reflected heat rays. The scorching climate had taken its toll and the radiator had boiled over.
I remembered getting out of the vehicle and walking around to raise the hood of the engine. Then I had felt the crunching blow to the nape of my neck. Before everything had disappeared in a black swirl of velvet, I had heard Grace cry out once.
Now we jogged along, tethered to the filthy beasts who rolled and spat and sickened up.
The remainder of the journey was one of unbelievable discomfort. Every so often the camel driver would reach out with his lash and I would scream with the force of the blow. My cries would bring responses of glee from the evil man.
At nightfall we passed a caravan. I screamed and begged for help. I would have been well advised not to. I merely succeeded in attracting a group of Arabs who stood around our camel, making obscene gestures. One of them touched my thigh. His nails dug through my jeans. They hooked in a small tear which had been caused by my whipping. Viciously he ripped the cloth. The others moved in, tugging at what remained of my clothing. In a matter of seconds I hung before them clad only in my nylon panties and bra. They pinched my exposed flesh, bruising and dealing me. My mouth was constantly open in a continuous shriek of horror. I fainted once again.
When I awoke a second time, I found myself in a huge room whose walls were made of gypsum. I was lying on the hard floor. My weight rested on my bound arms, bringing new pain to my already tormented body. It was Grace Cummings' ear piercing cry which cleared the last remnants of fog from me.
My gaze swung around to a far wall. Grace stood bound to a beam while a huge man worked her slacks down over her hips. I could see his bloated face wrinkle in appreciation at the sight of my friend's lithe body exposed to his lascivious stare. His filthy fingers caught her bra straps and with one savage wrench denuded her breasts. Grace hurled herself against the ropes which held her thighs and waist to the pole. They didn't give an inch. She strained her arms trying to pull them free of their bindings. The man stood back, watching.
The man smirked at her efforts. He cast his gaze at me. His watery eyes narrowed as he swaggered towards me. I shrank from his obscene hands as they explored the intimacies of my body.
Finally he stood spraddle legged staring down at me. “I am Mohammed Hasein,'' he said in good English. “You will come to know that name well in the days and nights to come. I have furnished slaves for the kings of Arabia. But first I have taught them the delights of the East and the means of serving their master with a sense of discipline. This is the education you are about to begin.”
He touched my naked thigh with his shoe, rolling me over on my back. I looked up at him in such a rage that for the moment I forgot my terror.
“You filthy heathen!'' I shouted. “You can't get away with this. We're subjects of the crown.”
“You are nothing but female slaves '' he answered evenly. “You have no status other than that. You will serve well once your European arrogance has been smashed. We dally too long with conversation. The time has come to begin.”
As I watched in growing disbelief, two burnoosed Arabs strode into the room carrying rolls of cloth strips with them. On silent, padded feet they marched up to the pole which held Grace. My friend's mouth was bowed in fearful anticipation of their next move. Silently they worked her frothy little black panties down over her legs. Then as her body glistened nakedly in the dim light, they unwound a roll of the cloth and began twisting it around her feet.
The process seemed to take hours. Coil on coil of the muslin like material swaddled around her calves, thighs, hips, belly and breast. Grace's lovely figure was garishly outlined by the girdling cloth. Her breasts heaved with her screams. Somehow the sounds which issued from her throat became rasping and constricted. I had no idea of knowing what the application of the strips had as its purpose. However, I shrieked along with Grace, combining my horror with hers.
Mohammed Haseim never took his eyes from my face. For some reason he appeared to have a greater interest in me than in my friend. Perhaps this was because I was slightly younger and slightly more attractive. I could tell the slave dealer was thinking in terms of what kind of a price we would bring in the market place. I closed my eyes, trying to clear my head. This couldn't be happening to me, I kept repeating. This was 1955. People didn't just disappear into mosques and have Arabs torture them. I wondered what my friends back home would say to this. Back home was thousands of miles away. Nobody in all of Saudi Arabia cared about our plight. lf only I had listened to Jonathan Winton and not ventured into the interior. Thinking of the mistake I had made would do no good. I wondered why Winton had been so insistent on being given our itinerary. In my befuddled state, I suspected that he might have tipped off the slave traders to our route.
At the moment none of that mattered. The only thing which counted was Mohammed Haseim who now approached me with his arms laden with the cloth strips. I felt the cloth begin covering my feet. I was surprised that it was sopping wet. When Mohammed Haseim had covered my ankles with the wrappings, he cut the cords which bound my legs. They were no longer necessary. The cloth would hold me fast.
Pain lanced through my muscles as they were constricted under the tight bindings. It blasted into my brain. Sweat rolled off that portion of me which still remained naked. Like Grace before me, I began thrashing wildly. My body heaved from side to side. However, there was no escaping the fearful constriction. At last the looping layers covered my throat and face. All that remained open were slits for my eyes and mouth. Although I could breathe, I could not cry out.
As I lay completely helpless before my captors, a new sensation moved through my imprisoned body. It was as if a giant snake had me in its coils and was slowly crushing the life from me. With absolute sickening clarity I realized that the strips were shrinking as they dried.
“The infidel women's lessons have begun,'' Mohammed Haseim intoned. “Several hours in their eastern style garments will convince them of the folly of remaining arrogant . However, they might enjoy a specimen of what awaits them should they offend their masters.”
Mohammed Haseim turned his back and clapped his hands. Seconds later a dazed white girl, still damnably beautiful even though her face was tear streaked and her eyes swollen, was dragged in. Without ceremony she was strung up from the ceiling and heavy weights were attached to her legs. I could see the white tendrils running along her over-stretched skin.
With utmost care, Mohammed Haseim picked up a heavily braided whip. The elongated girl looked over her shoulder at the torturing slave master. She jerked her knees upward, trying to roll her body into a protective ball. The dragging weights cut into her ankles. She was still fighting them as the lash curled around her hips and dug into the flatness of her belly.
The lashing was the most brutal thing I had ever watched. It lasted for over a half an hour. Despite my own tortures I could not help but weep silently for the dangling, twitching girl. Horror was mounting on horror. There seemed to be no decency left anywhere in the world.
All the time the girl's whipping went on, the strips which bound me became tighter and tighter. At last I knew that I must be crushed alive by them. At the last possible instant, after the girl had been cut down and carried to some other apartment in the mosque, I was released from my bondage and taken to a dank cell.
There I remained throughout the following day. Once a guard came and placed a pail of food on the floor. I heard nothing nor saw nothing of Grace. Mohammed Haseim had added to our terror by separating us. Held in solitary confinement, not knowing what was about to happen to us in the next instant, even our rest was an instrument of torture.
The following night I heard the prayers being chanted throughout the city. Then the guards came and again I was taken to the large chamber. Once again I was subjected to the same kind of binding. Once again another girl was brought to the room.
This one was placed upon a rack. While Grace and I were forced to watch, she was put through the most brutal stretching imaginable.
Thus the pattern was set. Each night we saw a progressive demonstration of Mohammed Haseim's cruelty. No western mind can conjure up the inherent cruelty of the Moslem culture. Suffice it to say that the Koran specifically says that no matter how small the theft, a culprit's hand is to be cut of with a dull saw. If he repeats his crime, he loses a second hand. A third offender faces the amputation of both of his feet as well.
The punishment for adultery is whipping of the man and the stoning to death of the woman. The adulteress is dragged through the village by a rope and then placed up to her neck in sand. Only her head remains above ground as a target for the sports of the tribe.
For five nights the ordeal went on as the tortures to the offending slaves became more unspeakable.
On the sixth day, Grace and I were taken from our cells, allowed to bathe and change our clothes. Then we were roped together and dragged into the twisting narrow alleyways of Riyadh. The babble of merchants and the pressing crowds beat around us. Nobody paid the scantest heed to our situation.
In the center of the city are the raised stalls of the slave auction. Grace and I were forced to stand on them. We were fully clothed. Passersby stopped and touched us and nodded to each other and moved on. One man expressed an interest in Grace and she was led into a tent. When she came back we risked a few terrified words.
“They made me undress and then he examined me,” she said, shuddering with revulsion. “Heaven help me, I didn't have the courage to fight him off.”
Several hours later the bidding began. It was spirited at first. Then the less affluent Arabs fell by the wayside. Finally two remained in contention. Mohammed Haseim insisted that Grace and I be sold as a pair. The fatter of the Arabs argued long and loud about that. Finally the thinner one outlasted him. He motioned us to a waiting black limousine which looked incongruous in the ancient setting. Grace and I clung weakly to each other as we entered the car. We are afraid to even think of what the future held. We took one last look at the raised platforms. The Arab who had purchased us was striding from them towards us. The door of the car swung open, A hand reached out and pulled us in. The gears gnashed as we fell back among the cushions.
A deep voice in surprisingly clipped British tones said, “Well, now, you young ladies cost us a pretty penny. Damn me if I can see why we didn't let you rot in that slave mart.”
I couldn't believe my ears. I was afraid to open my eyes for fear I would find that it was all a dream. But when I really did, I saw the Englishman sitting very prim and proper against the cushions. He kept the expression of severity for a moment. But his eyes really crinkled and he favored us with a warm smile.
Later I was to learn how our rescue had come about. I had Jonathan Winton to thank for having alerted the Anti-Slavery Society that two unescorted girls were about to cross the desert. Their agents had spotted us on the trading block and had immediately stepped in to buy our freedom. Mohammed Haseim had known who he was selling us to. It didn't matter to him just so long as he got his price.
Undercover agents of the anti-slave trade movement know that they cannot eradicate the centuries old practice overnight. They are willing to do what they can. What they did in this case was buy the lives back of two very thankful English girls.