It was a Monday morning rush hour in central London.
Too many people were in the same place at the same time. Too many vehicles were on the road and too many commuters were trying to get to work.
It was a recipe for gridlock and stress.
Which is why he was now standing on the tube station platform too close for comfort to people with whom he would rather not be rubbing shoulders. He had been stuck in traffic for hours and going nowhere against the clock so had been forced to abandon his car and try his luck on London Underground.
However, as was usual at this time of day on the tube, the pressure of numbers and clock-watching was building like a time-bomb and he was now caught up in a seething mass on the tube station platform.
It was a cold day but he was overheating in his suit and tie and raincoat and getting very hot under the collar about anything and everything.
He scanned the crowd.
Not only was the place full to capacity; it was full of bloody foreigners. Immigrants, to be precise.
Letting out a heavy sigh, he held on to his briefcase more firmly.
He checked both his watch and the station clock again.
It was a quarter past nine already.
“Damn!” he muttered.
His first meeting was scheduled for 9.30 am and he was clearly not going to make it.
A young woman next to him smiled. He smiled back politely. She smiled again; flirtatiously, he thought. He turned away. She really was not his type.
Bottle-blonde hair and a short tight dress, bare white legs and a tattoo on the ankle, were all perched on the ugliest pair of plastic shoes he had ever seen.
At long last he felt the tell-tale breeze of the train coming in through the underground tunnel and the herd of commuters surged forward. He concentrated his energies on maintaining his position at the platform edge but not going over the edge and in to the infamous gap.
The tube train door opened and there followed the usual pushing and shoving to get on and off. He just managed to squeeze in to a spot by the door and standing room only for the rush-hour game of sardines in a can.
He was penned in by bodies and the stale body odour, sour breath and bad manners that came with them.
Finally, the doors closed and he pressed his forehead to the cool glass of the door and tried to focus on the day ahead: the meeting with his solicitor, a business lunch, and finally a charity fundraising dinner.
It was going to be a long, hard day.
He was disturbed from his ruminations by the scraping of the pages of a newspaper against the back of his head and he turned to the bearer ready to politely but firmly ask him to desist when the flash of something beyond the newsprint, something at the row of seats to his right, caught his eye.
It was the solid silver tip of a high heel shoe that had reflected the harsh overhead light and dazzled him; seeming to emerge from blackness like a bullet aimed straight at his head.
The first shot was the spark of silver metal and then came the display of the animal skin; an exquisite reptilian leather in shades of brown and cream and moulded to a petite foot stockinged in sheer nude nylon that embraced a high arch.
The second shot was a burst of gold chain in an anklet crafted to a solid gold buckle encircling a most delicate ankle.
It was a breathtaking work of natural beauty and also of art and craft; like nothing he had ever seen before.
His mouth was dry and he swallowed hard, licking his lips as he perspired and panted, his heart racing suddenly. So vivid was the intensity and seduction of the vision across from him, he felt faint; intoxicated in an instant.
It was everything he could have dreamt of and more: the finest quality workmanship, the highest of stiletto heel, and the most delicate of foot.
He could almost caress its sleek contours, smell the musky scent of worn leather, taste her natural perfume, feel how it would be to caress her foot in that shoe.
The newspaper man started to turn another page and the fantasy was suddenly stolen away from him. He began to twitch with impatience and frustration at being denied the vision of beauty so tantalisingly close.
Finally, the page was turned and the tunnel of vision reopened but now he could see that the object of his desire was enveloped in the darkness of a very long, full, black dress.
He had to see her face! The bearer of the most exquisite erotic vision he had ever seen in his life.
Craning his neck to a painful degree, he stood on his tiptoes as his eyes travelled up to her lap.
Her hands were clad in black kid leather gloves and on each middle finger there was set an identical gold and ruby ring. The gold was uncommonly bright and of the highest carat and the ruby was a flawless crimson red.
And that was all she gave away for her face and hair were completely covered by a veil with only an eye-band slit to view and her dark eyes were cast down in her lap.
As his frustration and impatience mounted, the newspaper man slowly turned another page and obliterated the vision once more.
Blast this man and his bloody newspaper! he thought.
He could bear it no longer and he flicked hard at the newspaper.
“Do you mind moving that newspaper out of my face!” he demanded.
The newspaper man took one look at the hostile face bearing down upon him and immediately acquiesced. Not only did he do as he was told but he folded up the newspaper and put it well out of the way in his coat pocket before turning his back on the prospect of any further conflict.
His channel of vision was once again reopened and now broader and there she was again in her full glory.
In a burqa.
He shook his head in disbelief.
This goddess was in a state of purdah and it both confused and beguiled his senses to have this visage concealed behind a veil; especially as he had been given a glimpse, a painfully beautiful glimpse, of what treasures exist beneath the veil.
He felt ill. A sickness overtook him. He was awash with some type of fever: a hot, tingling, aching and gnawing hunger.
And she was the one who had done this to him. This woman sitting so modestly. This woman in a niqab and burqa.
The dress of oppression.
He smiled and laughed to himself.
This woman was not oppressed and she was certainly not powerless. She was, in fact, the most potent woman on or off that train and she had him under her spell, under her control, in the blink of an eye, with just a glimpse of her heel.
He was hers. She had made him hers.
He had to see more. He had to know more.
The train was pulling in to another station and he simply had to get to her.
The woman in black.
The Goddess in the Burqa.
Taking his chance as a throng pushed to get off; he squeezed around newspaper man and propelled himself in to a newly vacated seat on the row opposite her. He was oblivious to the tuts and frowns of those who had been standing closer and for longer than he and had more claim to the seat. Those left standing, did their best, it seemed, to obstruct his view of her but at least now from this vantage point the glimpses of her were in full from veil to heel and he could savour every second of her majestic presence.
How could it be, he thought, that she could be a silent, still figure, covered from head to toe in a black robe and veil and yet to him she was a bird-of-paradise.
He realised that he was not the only one staring at the woman in black and he could see other passengers examining the woman in her shroud, so out of place was she amongst the rush-hour commuters and their cheap chainstore fashions.
It was plain to see that many of the passengers were uneasy at her presence, indeed, at her difference and indifference to them.
They cast looks in her direction of disdain and ridicule but she did not acknowledge these, seeing only the wealth in her hands as she studied the fine jewels set upon her gloved fingers.
The next station was Holborn.
It was his stop yet he remained seated, his mind racing.
He had to get off. He was already late and it was a crucial meeting. But he could not tear himself away from her. His hand was on the rail trying to pull himself up but his body remained steadfastly seated. He bit his lip. His eyes darted to the door, to her, to the door, to her…
And there at Holborn as the doors opened, her eyes rose from her lap and her head turned in his direction as she looked directly at him.
She stared in to his pale blue eyes and acknowledged his desperation.
Deep brown eyes bore in to his mind and caught him like a deer in headlights to draw him further in to her world.
Her gaze still holding his, she stood and gradually made her way to the open doors, carefully weaving through the crowd. Then, with the lightest brush of her silken robe against his hand on the rail, she stepped off the train, and left him to inhale the sandalwood scent of her wake.
He suddenly gasped as he realised he had been holding his breath for a painfully long time, his mouth remaining open as the doors closed behind her.
Passengers looked at him with concern.
“Are you alright?”
“He looks faint.”
He heard voices talking at him from a faraway place but he paid no heed to them as the memory of her overwhelmed his senses and the images of her filled his mind like stills from a silent film.
The silver-tipped 6 inch heel of the snake-skin leather shoe.
The gold-buckled anklechain and sheer nylon enveloped foot.
The black leather gloves and the gold and ruby rings.
The black silken robe and the veiled face.
The exotic brown eyes that pierced his English reserve…
In a state of panic or passion, for he did not know himself now, he shot up from his seat and pulled the emergency cord.