Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dancing the Makaya (Part 2)

[Update 1/7: I added a page of text to end this section in a more logical place.]

Outside of performing, I like just talking to Makaya too. Off the floor and outside the studio, she's a shy kid, even serious, and maybe that's the reason no one else pays much attention to her. But still, I don't understand it--she never stops being pretty, and even walking she's got a great snakey body awareness.

And like I said, she's nice to talk to. Nice, but not easy. Talking with Makaya is in some ways like dancing with her, but with a completely different set of rules. She's a quiet girl, but a good listener. If you're someone like me, you need to be careful with the flow of conversation, be smart enough to not let yourself get carried away on yourself, if you know what I mean. With a lot of girls you can fake it, but if you talk to Makaya, you really have to pay attention to her. And the coy way that she has of listening, looking up through those long lashes, that's almost as big a rush as trying to follow her footwork.

After a dance performance, she's usually in an odd state--we all are in our own worlds for a few minutes after--and even I'm wise enough in those circumstances to keep conversation to a minimum until she's her full self again. But the look in her eye after that samba, she looked like she needed someone just then. No woman should be left alone with that look on her face, but there she was, and there was only me. So that's how I asked her: what happened out there?

"I don't know," she said. (She has a great accent, like French almost, but with all the gravelly parts filtered out. I tell her sometimes that she should show it off, and she will usually smile through those long lashes at me. It's worth asking.) "I was gonna ask you why Gary was on the floor." ("On dee floa.")

Now, I don't usually joke with a woman who is needing a calm reassuring hand, but I was coming down from my own performance high. I sensed a little room in any case. Just being there was half the battle. I nudged her. "He's just not a samba guy, I guess."

"I'm serious, Fred!" Big brown eyes and a "zeerious" too. That's why you sometimes have to push a little.

I stepped closer and put my arm on her shoulder. "Don't you remember," I asked quietly, "you grabbed his shirt and pitched him. During the drum intro. Where did that come from, anyway?"

I looked at the pit, but the band had already halfway packed up. The improvisational drummer was nowhere to be seen. I turned back to Makaya, who'd covered her mouth with a slim hand.

"Don't you remember?" I said.

She shook her head in tight little jerks. Her hair, which had been tamed to a small tail behind her neck, wriggled as she did.

"It was a hell of an intro. You were on fire."

She grabbed my arm when I said that, as if I reminded her of something.

"I remember the start of the dance," she said, "and then Gary was on the floor, in the wrong place. He did not dance very well tonight."

She was holding my arm still, but her face had relaxed. She no longer looked alarmed.

"He said...he told me it might happen. With the right rhythm, he said, with my right mind, he would come." She tilted her head at me. "This is a strange spot, though."

"Who said? What?"

She slithered out from beneath my arm, smiling. "Maybe I tell you later."


She certainly didn't tell me anytime soon. Eventually I would meet old Ish, hopping along on his cane, the most unlikely dance instructor you could imagine. But no other man has ever come to me.

It took weeks for Makaya and I to get to the point of talking about it again. The dance company had had light practices for a few, since a lot of us were in high school, and finals were approaching. (There is no "jock's B" for anyone in the company.) I did my best to study with the most distracting partners I could find.

Does that sound horrible? I don't know if Makaya would take me as a boyfriend even if I'd ask. I won't lie to you and say that I think of her as just a friend either, but we have a lot to figure out about each other just yet. In any case, the studying was platonic. Mostly. These girls had been doing most of my homework for a semester, and at this point, I actually needed to learn something in time for the tests.

I got by, passed everything, even if I didn't do it gloriously. I'll spare you the details.

Makaya did much better. She's in a lot of the A.P. classes (I still have no idea how she finds the time), and we didn't see each other too much during finals. Now and then we'd pass each other in the halls, and usually I'd wink, which always bought a smile. One time, I picked her up, books and all, and swung her in a full circle before continuing on my way. I didn't look back, but I could feel that smile.

Dance practice hung around in limbo even as exams wore down. There were no dates for exhibitions anytime soon, and they were throwing around ideas for a possible recital, I think to keep some goals alive for us over the holidays. These recitals are always a drag, attended exclusively by the parents of the younger kids and a handful of creepy enthusiasts. our instructors tell us how we're lucky that dance is coming back, how great it is that we have an audience for ballroom and swing, how horrible it was back when they could still move around and a yearly review was all they worked toward.

I should remember to ask Ish about that. He's three times the age of any of them, and I can't imagine him attending a recital in his life.

So you can imagine then, the level of enthusiasm in the studio at year's end--with the long, dull holidays looming their heads, and only the ghosts of plans for the spring. You could see distraction on every face but Makaya's. And mine, I suppose.

With no schoolwork for a few weeks, and no practice worth a damn to fill the time, it was welcome, after a session of drills and stretches and little else, to see her sashay in my direction.

Now, sometimes we talk in practice, and sometimes we don't, but when we do, it's not usually Makaya that initiates. I could see that she was needing me to supply the opening. I did my best.

"Hello, Makaya."

She didn't reply to me, but her look was inquisitive. I felt that I was on the right track.

"It's going to be pretty dull here, for a few weeks, isn't it?"

I should point out that I still have no idea what Makaya's family is like. I think she lives with a bunch of cousins or something, but I've never heard her talk about any of them. I suppose I'm not much better. My mother and I are amicably biding our time till the moment I graduate and move out. I felt it would be a long holiday for the both of us.

"Do you have plans," I asked.

"Shhh." Makaya raised a finger to her lips. "I have something for you, Fred. Maybe we see how it fits first."

She was holding something in her other hand. I came in behind her shoulder, and followed her gaze as she opened it up. Brown fingers bloomed to reveal a necklace, a piece ot twisted wire on a soft blue string. She held it up and turned to me, dipping her head. Her hair was loose and full, and smelled cleanly of violets.

I let the wire charm settle into my palm, and brought it close to my face to study it. Most of it was twisted into a heart, which was filled in a crosshatch pattern, maybe with a piece of window screen. There were some curlicues that floated off of it like wings, and it rested in a little diamond-shaped frame. I like jewelry pretty well, but this peasant craftsman thing is not my usual style. It was simple, but beautiful. It was small, but it felt like it filled my hand. I slipped it on over my neck, and lifted the charm again to look at it. I'm wearing it now.

"It looks a little like yours," I said.

Makaya pressed her hand to her chest, hiding the small stylized cross that hung there. "It is not the same," she said. She looked scandalized, but also a little pleased.

I chose to accept the pleasure. "Thank you. It's lovely."

She put her arm on my shoulder and stepped back to regard me, the gray twist of wire and its blue cord standing out against my white shirt.

"So? Does it fit," I asked.

Makaya didn't answer. I tried to continue the conversation. Even though I did know my dance well enough, I took the tack I'd been using throughout finals.

"I don’t know how I'm going to get through these next few weeks," I said, looking at her meaningfully. "I'm afraid I'm going to fall out of practice. What I really need is some extra training outside of..."

Internally, I winced--this sounded pretty amateur to my ears, but Makaya cocked her head at me with interest. Foolishly or brilliantly, I went on.

"...outside of the usual program. I was thinking that maybe you and I could..."

"Maybe it does," Makaya said.


"I think Ish may be right." Long lashes. "It looks good on you."

"It does? Who's Ish?"

Makaya's eyes flashed red. "Do you really want to practice more, or just want to see me more?"

Both, I thought. I faked my best innocent smile. "I can't think of anyone I'd rather practice with."

"Can you be here tomorrow to pick me up?"


- Part two of three or four.
- I took the excellent suggestion for a title change.


LentenStuffe said...


Makaya is a captivating piece of work, and I like how you weave dialogue and dance in the narrator's mind. "She never stops being pretty" accounts for the conflation, which you proceed to elaborate with sensitivity and charm. You capture beautifully, for example, that state of nervous abandon that follows in the wake of any kind of performance -- performers are not available until they descend from their own highs. you catch that very well.

Which brings me to my observation that you are much better at representation/narration -- at least in this piece -- than you are at dialogue. I feel the dialogue is a trifle stunted and unnatural, for example, you lose your dialect in parts, not that that should overbear the flow but it ought to be consistent.

The second part here transitions smoothly into the psyches of your characters, though they exist in an age bracket, and realm, I cannot even begin to comprehend. Maybe that's a cultural difference. Anyway, you're keeping it moving, and there will come a moment in this (I hope) when the writing will take over and then you'll be a voyeur to your own processes. Then you'll be hooked for better or for worse.

Great reading, again.

Keifus said...

That is always a pleasure to hear. I agree with you about the dialogue. Not exactly my strength. Part of the problem here was that I couldn't decide whether I wanted the characters to talk in dialect, but that only accounts for the part of the sucking sound.

Heh, in anything I write, there are times when it pops Athena-like, fully-formed out of my brow. (When things really get going, I find myself shifting to present tense. Crazy, huh?) Other times it feels like I have to yank every word forcibly from my brain. Most often, it just takes a little work to get in the groove, and it comes down to a matter of energy. I feel it will be a good thing to learn how to effectively navigate that barrier, because it exists for pretty much everything.

(I don't pretend that's particularly insightful mind you, I'm just babbling as I wait for my guy to show up here at work.)

rundeep said...

Love it. One continuity question: in the middle the narrator talks about asking Ish, who's 3 times the age of any of them, yet at the end, it seems he's asking Makaya who Ish is. Have I misread? (I see where this is going by the way. Love it. Ever read "The Tropic of Night"? You'd like it.)

Keifus said...

thanks so much rundeep. The narrator makes some remarks in the present tense looking back, but probably I just munged up the flow of it.

Never even heard of that one--now it's on the list.


Artemesia said...


Am watching 'Fred's' character! So, he gets girls to do his schoolwork for him, a smooth operator, very likable..He knows how to manipulate, get what he does Makaya.

The plot is thickening here..Am enjoying the interplay.

Is that cross (homunculus)on your refrigerator the one Makaya gave to Fred? I love the little 'cross.' A true picture of some aspects of parenthood.

Keifus said...

Bless you, my child.