East of Mecca

East of Mecca

by Sheila Flaherty

ISBN: 9781490315232

Publisher CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Published in Literature & Fiction/Literary, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

A story of love and betrayal, the power of sisterhood, and the ultimate price of oppression. Sarah and Max, seduced by promises of a glamorous expatriate lifestyle in Saudi Arabia, relocate their family to the shores of the Persian Gulf. Locked inside the heavily guarded compound, Sarah becomes invisible within the fundamentalist, Islamic Kingdom. Gradually, she is drawn into a clandestine friendship with Yasmeen, a Saudi woman. Together they find freedom beneath the veils and behind the walls of the women’s quarters until inconceivable events force Sarah to make life-or-death decisions.

Sample Chapter


It was the last box. Wrapped tightly in packing tape with “Saudi” written on the side in black marker, it sat alone in the middle of the living room floor. Everything else was gone. It was a time of moving on and letting go. I’d sold the battered Victorian house and closed on the new minimalist condo. I could have chosen to cart the box with me, settled it into the far corner of the storage area, and left it unopened. But the move would have made that a deliberate act. Not that forgetting isn’t sometimes a deliberate act.

For the past eighteen years I’d known where the box was. On some level I was always aware of it, shoved deep into the recesses of the hall closet—lying in wait like a repressed memory. I couldn’t open it, but I couldn’t throw it away. For the past few years, it had been getting harder to ignore. I couldn’t turn on the news or open the paper without a nudge, a reminder. Fleeting glimpses of a black shadow. Dark eyes above a mask. The box lived on the periphery of my mind like the forgotten words of a song, or the remnants of a disturbing dream. And then the news coverage of the Girl of Qatif, a young Saudi rape victim sentenced to jail and 200 lashes, made the memories too loud to ignore.

When I dragged the box out of the closet, I was surprised by how light it was. I set it on the floor and walked around it for a week. It waited in silent reproach. Now, all else was gone except an old boom-box that kept me company while I cleaned. Finally, it was time. All other distractions and demands had been silenced or met.

Even then, I circled, restless and reluctant. I poured myself a glass of red wine. On bare feet I padded quietly into the living room, bringing the bottle with me, just in case. The house was still and slightly chilly. It was early evening and the windows held the diminishing glow of daylight. I dimmed the overhead light and lit several candles.

I sat cross-legged on the ancient hardwood floor and took a sip of wine. Using a serrated knife, I sawed through the tape and opened the box. Immediately I was hit with the lingering smells of smoke and desperation. Underneath, and more subtle, I caught the sweet scent of henna, sandalwood, frankincense, and myrrh—the perfume of the Middle East. Wadded pieces of newspaper, covered with Arabic calligraphy, formed a protective layer. I tossed the paper into the empty fireplace. Now, everything in the box was dark, swaddled in black cloth.

Reaching in, I pulled out the first thing I touched, immediately recognizing the dense familiar weight. Wrapped in a scarf was my Nikon EM. I examined the camera and took off the lens cap. Peering through the viewfinder, I looked out the windows into the darkening night. After setting the Nikon on the floor, I took a swallow of wine and picked up the scarf.

The scarf was long and black, scalloped edges embroidered with red and gold silk thread. Green and red sequins formed the shapes of flowers. I smoothed the scarf across my lap and traced the flowers with my fingertips. The gauzy fabric was ripped in several places. I wound the scarf around my neck.

Digging deeper, my fingers closed on black silk. I gathered my abaya into my arms and buried my face in the soft cloth, breathing in the odors of incense, blood, freedom, and fear. Suddenly I saw blood billowing through water—a maroon river swirling down a drain. In that moment I felt the first sting of tears. Awash with emotions and memories, I sat on the cold hard floor, rocking gently, keening. When I finally lowered the cloth, the sky was black. I slipped my abaya over my T-shirt and jeans, finding comfort in the warm damp silk. I finished my glass of wine and poured another.

The only thing left in the box was a small, light blue backpack. I lifted it onto my lap, unzipped it, and looked in. On top was an audiotape labeled with one word handwritten in black ink: “Belly.” I smiled and set the tape on the floor. Next up was a crumpled burgundy and gold box of Dunhill cigarettes. As I lifted it to my nose, I smelled the faint, sweet scent of tobacco. I set the cigarettes beside the tape.

Rummaging deep in the bag, I found a cowry shell with minute pink speckles scattered across the rounded top. The opening on the flat white bottom had tiny tooth-like edges. Touching it to the tip of my tongue, I tasted the sea.

I pulled a blue airmail envelope out of the backpack. On the front, SHUKRAN was printed in red ink. I took a swallow of wine and a deep breath. As if tucked hastily into the envelope, a small photograph crookedly faced away. I knew what it was without looking. I turned the picture over and saw a woman’s face, bruises and torn skin barely visible beneath a thick layer of makeup. Her solemn dark eyes stared straight into the camera—straight into mine. I stared back for a long time.

With trembling fingers, I picked up the Dunhills and pulled out a crumbling cigarette. Specks of tobacco scattered like confetti. I lifted a candle and put the tip of the cigarette into the flame. The brittle paper flared quickly. I inhaled, choked, and exhaled. Holding the cigarette loosely between my fingers, I watched the curling smoke. I took another drag, gagged, then threw the cigarette into the fireplace and watched as it smoldered. The wads of newspaper caught, smoked, began to burn. The flames quickly consumed the paper and the fire was out.

I put the picture back into the envelope and as I slid the envelope into the backpack, I heard a faint jingle. Reaching in, I felt along the bottom of the bag and pulled out an ankle-bracelet. Intricately hammered from dull silver, it was lined with dozens of tiny bells. Khalakhil, I heard her say. Holding both, ends I shook it. The bells made a sweet soft music. Be brave. I fastened the bracelet on my ankle.

After putting the camera, shell, and cigarettes into the backpack, I stood and stretched. I tossed the empty box into the corner and finished the glass of wine. Then I put the tape into the stereo, pushed play, and stood in the center of the room, waiting. Soon, Middle Eastern music filled the air, the rhythm slow, faster, slow again. Eyes closed, I stood in my abaya and scarf, swaying until muscle-memory took over—the placement of a foot, the undulation of the belly, the shimmy of a hip.

As my body moved to the beat, I felt the weight of the khalakhil and heard the chime of bells. I surrendered to the music and the memories. When I smelled the sweet and bitter scent of Clementines, I opened my eyes. The candles flickered and threw long shadows against the bare walls. The windows cast back my reflection. And, as if she had been conjured, we moved in unison—together again.


Excerpted from "East of Mecca" by Sheila Flaherty. Copyright © 2013 by Sheila Flaherty. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Sheila Flaherty

Sheila Flaherty

SHEILA FLAHERTY is a writer and clinical psychologist who specializes in helping people navigate through life changes with grace and ease. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's in Behavioral Sciences from the University of Houston. Flaherty earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.

View full Profile of Sheila Flaherty

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