Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dancing the Makaya (part 3)

When you meet Ish, the first thing you notice is how small he is. The second thing you think is that this man can't possibly be a dance instructor. Ish--I don't know his last name--is a wrinkled little black man, with only a few scraggly white hairs whispering their way from the edge of his beaten straw hat. His clothes are patched but not shabby, and all different colors. He's got deep creases in his mouth from smiles, and eyes that look like even though he's seen it all, it still amuses him. He's like the cuddly little grandfather I never had.

Makaya loves him. When we picked him up, she burst out of the car and ran to give him a hug. Even though he can't walk a foot without hunching over the knobby stick that he uses for a cane, when Makaya ran to him, he leapt up and seemed to unhunch himself to grab hold of her. I admit I clenched my teeth at this, but on the other hand, Makaya never looks more like a girl than when we practice with the old man.

There are a lot of moments like that with Ish. Sometimes he takes his shirt off at our practices, and he's got muscles all over him like piano wire, a ropey little guy. He seems to be held together a lot like one of our necklaces. When we practice, he usually just tells us what to do--that is, he drips out a few words to Makaya in that barely intelligible language that they share and then she tells me. But if he really wants to make a point, Ish moves sometimes too. It makes an impression.

So I got out of the car, and he hobbled his way over and looked at me, screwed his old man's eyes right at my chest, looked at the wire heart that Makaya gave me. He pursed his lips and nodded. "Yeah," he said, stretching it out to two syllables. His voice is deep and raspy, but it is also kind. "Breed deep."

I looked at Makaya. "Breathe," she whispered, and I did. Ish put his hand over the charm while I sucked as much air as I could hold. "Yeah," he said.

He looked up at me and smiled, and then, without another word, he turned and hobbled around to my rusty Civic. It must have taken him five minutes to open the door and climb in, but I just stood there and watched him lift the latch and pull his little into the seat. I got in too. What else could I do?

Makaya gave me directions as we drove. She'd been training with Ish on the side for a year, she said. I asked how she knew him, and she muttered something noncommittal about family--maybe she'll tell me more about that some time. Our route took us some twenty minutes out of town, past the new condo construction but not deep into the quiet old farmland. About a three quarters of a mile past the last backhoe, Makaya guided me down a small side street, and to an small, battered barn. As we got out, I had the presence of my mind to offer Ish an elbow (which he refused) as he scrabbled down from the back seat.

The old farms have a lot of buildings like this. I think the football players throw parties in them sometimes. This one looked like it was falling over on itself and the door was cockeyed, but when we walked in, it still felt warm from the low sun on the southwestern wall. The floor was a big concrete slab, and the whole place had been cleared out from floor to roof. Well, almost cleared out. There were rows of wooden boxes on opposite walls, and in the middle, there was a campfire prepared maybe ten feet from the central support beam, and when Ish walked in, he hobbled over and lit it. We don't always practice in the same barn-- we have done it in a self-storage unit in town, and now that it's starting to get warmer, we even do it outside sometimes--but there is always a fire. I love the atmosphere it creates. It makes Makaya's eyes glitter.

Ish muttered something that sounded like "radar," and Makaya ran to one of the boxes to get a drum. I opened my eyes wide at that.

"He can' play all three," Makaya told me, and I had no idea what she meant. Or even quite what she said. Her accent had become thick. "He just play one for now, and see how it goes."

Ish took the drum from Makaya with a beatific smile, and set it behind him, next to the column. From his patched coat, he took out a small flask, and sprinkled it on the fire a couple of times as he walked around it, slowly muttering his O-something-somethings. It was the first time I saw the blessing, and it felt so much like a prayer that I reached for Makaya's hand and bowed my head solemnly.

When he was done, he limped to the pole and lowered himself to the ground, putting the tall drum between his knees. He looked at the floor in front of him and frowned. I walked to the space he indicated, and he started tapping out a pattern on the drum, as if testing it.

The feeling of ceremony and the relative silence of the people who were familiar with it was finally making me uneasy. I half expected snakes to start crawling out of the woodwork (little did I know). "Is this a dance lesson or what?"

Ish looked up at me, "Good," he drawled, apropos of nothing. He pointed me to a different spot on the floor, a little to my left. I could see some footprints in old, scattered white dust, presumably from other students. I looked back at teh old man.

"Good," he said again, "today, we jus' feel," and he started tapping on the drum, a fast little pattern with his palms and fingers.

I looked at Makaya, and I'm sure my disappointment was plain on my face. "You lissen," she said, "and den do what feels right." "Like de zamba," she added and gave her hips an exagerrated shimmy. Well then.

I closed my eyes, and tried to feel the place. The fire was at my back, warming me nearly to the point of discomfort. I could sense Ish in front of me, and behind my closed eyes, he felt old beyond his years, like there were centuries on his shoulders, as if fifty forgotten generations were stepping to the beat he was creating, and the weight of his back against the pole was keeping them all from spilling out. Shocked, I opened my eyes, and though it had become a little darker, it was just an old man in a deserted barn with a drum.

Makaya hissed from behind me. Listen. Right. I focused on Ish's hand flicking shadows on the drum head, and let the sound enter my body and brain. I tapped my hand on my thigh, counting beats. There were too many taps and thuds--more than Ish could possibly be producing, but I was pretty sure it was a six-beat rhythm. As the barn got darker, it felt bigger too, and before long I could sense the a mystery crowd again, behind Ish, and also around us. A barnful of shadows often does that, I've found.

Slapping my hand felt wrong, felt like it was impeding whatever I was meant to hear, so I let it go and it floated away. I listened with my feet too, and there was a wind under them. I knew I was there, but I was whirling above it, buoyed by the drums. I felt wind rushing in my ears, as though someone was shouting, (singing?) trying to get my attention. It--no, she--just needed the break in the beat to get through. I waited for it, I could feel it coming...

And suddenly it stopped. The fire was still warm at my back, and there was Ish, hands paused over the drum head, and a huge grin plastered across his little raisin of a face. "Verry gooood."

"Beginners luck," said Makaya behind me, but when I looked at her, she was smiling too.

"Das' all today," said Ish.

I had to ask them for gas money on the way home.


- Part 3 of 4 (evidently). Obviously, they still need to dance together real soon.
- This was dashed off without edits, and I will clean it when I've got time.
- Need to go back and fix older dialogue and a couple other little inconstencies.


Artemesia said...

It's getting hot Keifus! A magic door opening..Pan and Terpsichore are initiating Fred..(by way of Haiti and Brazil).

Are masks coming off here? Won't speculate, but I like the territory 'Dance' has moved into. Out of the gym, into unclaimed territory re the barns..the outfields of the town. This is no studio drummer.

Am again looking forward to more.

Keifus said...

Yes, indeed. But more riding, less masquerade. They still have to dance together though, which will be the finale. (Hope I'm up for it.) And I won't be able to keep myself from explaining the joke when I'm done.

Did you know that the samba is an originally Caribbean dance that migrated to South America? Something I learned while googling for a good ballroom thing for the characters to do. Evidently, it's seen as a mulatto dance, one half black and one half white, which worked out great for my purposes. It's called "zamba" in creole.


Keifus said...

testing feed...

LentenStuffe said...

This is definitely my favorite piece. Ish adds an air of mystique to the proceedings and brings out the feral dimensions so well. Plus the writing here is so much more fluid: your short, snappy sentences, juxtaposed with precise descriptions, keep the pace going at a steady and captivating rate.

I'm curious to see how this dances out.

Keifus said...

I've been slacking this week. Motivation has not coincided well with free time. Anyway, maybe I can finish it tonight.

Thanks for the kind words. Still working at it.


Artemesia said...


I like 'the lost time' in the finale. Where were they, what did they do before they came out of it...I like Fred and Makaya not knowing what happened before they saw the daylight! (A UFO Voudon experience).

You have a way with hiding mystery in the mundane. I think you accomplished what you set out to write and the techniques you used to convey the movements in the story. ..Music, rhythm & the drumming.

Thanks for the fun and the suspense!'

Keifus said...

I really appreciate you taking the time to read it. (I know it's a lot to get through.) Very glad that I mostly did what I tried to do.

One of the things I'd read about Voudun possession, is that anyone who claims to remember being "ridden" is surely a charlatan. So that was an attempt to keep it authentic-ish.

K (never mind that they're all charlatans...)