His heart was delivering its own show. The music segment hadn’t even started, but the constant thumping coming from his chest could have fooled him. He was going to see her. It had been months since he’d seen this girl, and sitting there, surrounded by restless spectators at the talent show, he had discovered that she would be performing. Next. His hands were pale from all the wringing.
The lights dimmed slowly in the room, urging everyone back to the state of obedient observation. Her name was called out. The poor MC stumbled in trying to pronounce the syllables that did leaps and entangled each other. He remembered when he had first met her, and she told him her name—it sounded like poetry. Like her parents had wanted to arm her with the beauty behind the syllables, as a sweet introduction to strangers, as a helpful first step to life and living. When he said it, it never sounded so beautiful, and it had always made her evoke a pure, shameless laugh.
Right on cue, the curtains were pulled apart to reveal her. She was standing there, alone in the middle of the stage. The lights settled on her soft cocoa skin, exposing the muscles that were tensed in readiness. She looked the same as he had remembered. That was upsetting. Her curves always made him marvel—how it seemed like her hips were in a quarrel with the rest of her, so that they moved their own way as she walked. That in itself was rhythm. It was no wonder that rhythm was always thrown in concession at the door of her continent.
She wore a black top cropped at the midriff, and one of those short frilly skirts with powerful prints that she’d always bring back from home. She was barefoot, as though she had made a pact with the stage to hold her upright. The drummer started to play, introducing a steady solemn beat that made her wind softly from her core. He watched the tension move like waves across muscles in her body. She responded to the drums, as though they evoked a language that only she could understand. Her body throbbed like she was laughing at a private joke. That made him jealous. He was sure the whole audience was, except maybe because they wanted to move like her. But they had only adopted rhythm. She and her people, they owned it.
Just then, the drumming faded, and a song came on. He recognised it—her favourite—Angelique Kidjo’s “Tumba.” It had always intimidated him, how the song started so slowly, deceptively, and then suddenly grew loud and forceful. It was as though its power expected a response from its listeners, a response in dance as strong as it gave in beats. And he couldn’t deliver. So it intimidated him. But she, she lived up to the challenge every time. And this time was no different. Her braids, which had been tied firmly at the top of her head, fell unapologetically, dangling mercilessly around her frame as she moved like she had no core. He watched as her feet became her anchor, allowing her to dance relentlessly. Her pact—her pact with the earth—it was working. She spun around countless times, wrapping herself in those long black synthetic things. She was giving as much as the music sent out, jerking her hips constantly to Kidjo’s urgent cries of “tumba.” She moved so forcefully that she intimidated him, too; if she was transposed to the wild like in that Michael Jackson video, she would dance the elephants into a trance, kicking up sand violently and letting it fall around her like rain. She was connected so deeply with the music, as if Kidjo had birthed her. Her eyes were closed, and she let it move her without inhibition, sometimes making her arms contract in unfeminine ways. But she didn’t care, so no one else did.
Watching her made him angry. She had always been a tease. How she looked, how she moved daily, her hips whispering possibilities to him that she never delivered. She would touch his arm as she spoke, selfishly satisfying her need for contact, and leaving him devoid of his. He remembered how she had said to him, in a calm voice that she would hold out for a holy union. What could be more holy than the chanting they could do together in the glaring darkness? He hadn’t understood it because he had never met a girl like her before. A girl whose movements provoked something that she had the audacity to keep away. And he had to accept it. Because who could win against God? He was competing with the maker of the universe for her body. And God had succeeded in building yet another temple, leaving him without shelter. It was definitely a temple, too, because she knew how to worship with it. He’d watched her in church, how she went into a zone of prayer and peace, toning down the movements he now saw on stage for a more solemn, sensual offering. She was a paradox. He remembered how jealous he had felt that this God he knew little of got all her devotion, and he had jokingly asked her, “don’t you need practice before marriage?” With her voice, as unwavering as the feet that anchored her now, she replied, “Haven’t you seen me dance? I don’t need any practice.” She was definitely a natural.
As the song drew to an end, with Kidjo’s final Tumba cry, her hips returned to their centre, relieved to have worked with the rest of her body for once. Her eyelids rose finally, acknowledging the applause from the people she had charmed. He watched her walk off stage, hips back to their quarrel again, just how she had walked away the last time he’d seen her. She intimidated him. Because he would always have to fight God for her; because she could charm a whole crowd like this even with eyes closed and her face covered by braids; because she was a tease. Because she was right that time she had said to him, “I am strong, you know.” She was…Too strong… But he’d still always want her. And that was the beauty of her craft.
By Ehae Longe of Inktippeddreams
Photo Credit: Joy Banerjee via flickr