In England, a minor may leave the family home at age 17. My mother and I had such a poor relationship that no tears were shed on either side at my departure at that age. My mother had at least canvassed her friends and found me lodgings in the outer suburbs of London from where I could commute daily to the City by bus or train to work. The house was owned by Middle Eastern overseas residents who had installed their own housekeeper. To obtain the room I had to be interviewed by this lady.
Azra al Huqq was a beautiful widow of Arab blood aged thirty-eight. She was 5'7" tall, of slender build and walked erect with a light glide. Her luxuriant dark hair sprang away from her face in soft waves to breast level. Her skin was light coffee, her eyes very dark with wrinkles at the corners where she smiled so much. She always wore blue eye-shadow. Her face was wide across the cheekbones, tapering to a heart shape, and her full lips always seemed ready to break into a smile. When she was happy, her whole face seemed to shine. Probably because she originated from a land of eternal sand, her passion was the garden, where she grew many varieties of flowers. She was of a neighbourly disposition and would always pitch in if help were needed.
One may discern from these passages that Azra impressed me greatly. At age thirty-eight she was that perfect mother-figure which I had so sadly lacked hitherto. Within a few days of moving in I was hopelessly in love with her, totally and irremediably.
On my eighteenth birthday I declared to her what she must have guessed long before: "I've never met a woman who could hold a candle to you. A man should search for a girl of his own age or younger for his wife, but in you I have already found her." I allowed this to sink into Azra's rather slow mind with wicked pleasure, and finally she replied, "I'd give a year's income to know if that is really true, my darling."
It was true, and Azra, who by no means had the "slow mind" of which I suspected her, was soon making her own plans to introduce into her own life the fulfillment of fantasies she dared not even commit to paper on pain of death in her own country.
The house was a three-bedroomed affair on a privately-owned estate. The long back garden abutted the Southern Railway. My room was at the rear of the house, and from there I could watch the trains pass. There was a television in the lounge, but I needed an invitation to use it.
Azra was very strict about my keeping to her house rules, a set of which were typed and posted on my door. In essence I had to call her "Miss" or "Madam". I was at her beck and call for shopping and errands at night and weekends. Disrespect and disobedience were very serious matters. "Disrespect" might include not retreating all the way back downstairs to allow her free passage of the staircase or corridor, and entering any room downstairs, or her bedroom upstairs, without seeking permission. "Disobedience" meant just that. At first infringements attracted warnings and reminders, but later I had to agree to accept punishments.
Azra originated from a society whose rules we in the West still do not fully understand. Although women play the secondary role to men in Moslem society, in the house they tend to rule the younger members with the rod. Azra wanted a respectful and obedient boy - and I was twenty years her junior - to dominate and control.
At heart she was still a young, high-spirited and beautiful woman. Against that her marriage had been a bitter disappointment, and now she was away from her native land to look after a house in a northern country with a grim climate. Before my arrival it must have been a very lonely existence for her. So far as I know there were never any gentlemen callers, and she slept alone.
Although Moslem, Azra came from a Sufi sect and so paid the Koran only lip service. Sufi doctrine is encapsulated in the tradition of Laylá ("night"), the Feminine Principle, whose koan "Why seekest thou Laylá when She is within thee?" if perhaps the best known of all Sufi sayings.
Ibn al Arabi's collection of Sufi love poems is filled with images pointing to the Divine Feminine. The contemplation of Allah in woman is the highest form of meditation possible. It was through my interest in Sufism that I found the way to understand Azra. In return for conversations on this theme, she wanted to dominate me totally and introduce a system of punishments.
Now that I had mentioned the word "dominate" she became objectively interested in this question of her power in the house. "I do not think it is a question of domination, my dear Jeffrey," she said, "I think it is a question of allegiance willingly given to someone whose judgment is trusted. Whatever I decide is best for you, you must trust me. OK?"
End of CHAPTER TWO