The valley vibrated to the rhythm of the drum. The festival was about to begin. The girls squealed in delight.Huddling together, they touched-up their hair and make-up. I stood outside the hut, not letting out the excitement that was within. My body hummed to the beat of the drums, itching to move to it.
It was the first time I was allowed to go for the annual dance, having just become of age. My sister had been going for years but every year, it was the same thing. Desi and her 5 friends would come home in the morning and they would ‘prepare’ for the dance that began in the evening.
I had never known what they did in there, but it sure was not dancing. It did involve a whole lot of giggling, though. I sighed into the night as another fit of giggling erupted from inside. The night sky was delicately dusted with the night lights, the moon, eerily looming over the hills, a huge ball of light. It was the perfect night.
Voices drifted in the air as people made their way to the open ground. I grew all the more impatient. I had been waiting for this day for as long as I could remember. Mama said even when in her stomach I would dance. I would dance to a beat that I could not hear but one that I felt within. When helping Mama in the house, I would move to my heart’s content and to her delight. Desi would always look at me and smirk. “It is not like that! You had better learn or else you will disgrace this family!”
Desi could dance. In fact, she was the best in the whole community. It was only a matter of time before she would be wed as most of the boys had indeed set their sights on her. Or so she said. She had tried to teach me how to dance but every time I tried to move as she does, my body moved with its own mind. I could not tame it. But today, I had to ensure that it did. No matter what.
The girls finally emerged, having ‘prepared’ adequately. Their hair in similar fashion with a flower at the ear, their necks and ears adorned. They barely looked at me as they carried on animatedly in their conversation. As Desi’s younger sister, no one seemed to see me. I was used to that.
“I hear Sawe is playing the drum today,” one of Desi’s friends squealed. This in turn led to a peal of shreaks as all the girls started talking at once. Sawe was the boy every girl wanted to bag. Tall, well-built, a face carved to perfection and most importantly, he was the chief’s son.
The road was empty as we made our way to the open ground. I was thankful that no one else would witness the girls’ blatant expressions. That had to be illegal somehow.I slugged behind not wanting to taint myself with the pointless chatter that was Sawe. The man already had a whole village of giddy wide-eyed girls in his wake. No need to turn myself into a statistic.
The drums grew louder with every step we took. Soon, the camp fire was in sight. Everyone was there. The elderly sat, bathed in the golden orange light from the bonfire, talking as they drunk of the local brew from the pot in their midst. The women of the older generation sat next to the only hut that stood. Loud talk, vibrant laughter and occasional bursts into song…
I smiled despite myself to see even Hongo, the most surly of men, relax to the point of cracking a smile. Toothless and gummy, but a welcome change to the scowl he normally donned.
The young crowded in the middle of them all moving to the beats played by the musicians, who were to the side. Those who were not dancing, grouped together. The girls, waiting for a boy to come and ask them to dance, the boys, awkwardly waiting for God to nudge them into doing so.
Desi and her friends’ mumble of appreciation was enough for me to know that indeed Sawe was playing the drums. They resorted to brief surreptitious glances in his direction, an attempt at being coy.
I could not deny that Sawe was quite the specimen. But it was simply pointless to jump into his growing bevy of admirers.
A call from the song leader was let out. It was time for the girls to dance. Conversation simmered down to a low mumble as we made our way to the middle ground. The girls smiled in anticipation. This was their chance to catch the eye of their future husband. I just wanted to get through this.
We waited anxiously for the music to play. I glanced towards the musicians, mentally recounting what I had practised with Desi. I encountered a pair of eyes staring blankly at me. Sawe. I scowled slightly in confusion, drawing a smile from his composed visage.
My breath caught in my throat. “Why is he smiling like that?!”. His smile grew even broader as I was still scowling in his direction. I looked away wondering what indeed was the matter with me? I would concentrate on the dance and the dance alone.
The music began and I began to move with the other girls. Not quite in uniform for quite frankly, Geta had two left feet. At first, I struggled to remember the steps but soon, I forgot them as the music took over.
Everything faded into a blur. All I could hear was the music, all i could feel… My heart soared with the beat, the music and I became one. I was the music.
I realised all of a sudden that I alone remained. The others had made their way to the sidelines. Silence had befallen as all watched this girl who moved in a way none had ever seen before. Even as the doubt creeped in, I moved.
I glanced at Sawe. He smiled. In his eyes bespoke encouragement. Slowly, someone began to clap in time, encouraging me on. Then another, then another…even Desi clapped.
I gloried in the moment, dancing like I had never done before. When the music died down, there was a moment of silence. Dread filled my gut as I know that people would never look at me as just Desi’s sister anymore. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad.
Sawe was the first to start clapping. Then everyone else joined in. I smiled sheepishly, not knowing what to do.
I moved into the crowd, towards the edge of the throng. I was not accustomed to the attention. I sat down on a log, pleasantly tired. People had resumed their idle chatter, music picking up where it had left off.
I did not hear him approach but there he was; Sawe.
“Yes?” My foolish heart beat profusely in its cavity.
He was silent, an unsure smile playing on his face.
“I am Sawe.”
I smiled back.
We smiled into the darkness silently as though words could break the magic of that moment.