the dance

Anil moves in silence, the energy held back. Her body taut as an arm, the music brutal and loud in her head, while she waits for the rhythm to angle off so she can open her arms and leap. Which she does now, throwing her head back, her hair a black plume, back almost to the level of her waist. Throws her arms too, to hold the ground in her back flip, her loose skirt having no time to discover gravity and drop before she is on her feet again.
It is wondrous music to dance alongside—she has danced to it with others on occasions of joy and gregariousness, carousing through a party with, it seemed, all her energy on her skin, but this now is not a dance, does not contain even a remnant of the courtesy or sharing that is part of a dance. She is waking every muscle in herself, blindfolding every rule she lives by, giving every mental skill she has to the movement of her body. Only this will lift her backward into the air and pivot her hip to send her feet over her.
A scarf tied tight around her head holds the earphones to her. She needs music to push her into extremities and grace. She wants grace, and it happens here only on these mornings or after a late-afternoon downpour—when the air is light and cool, when there is also the danger of skidding on the wet leaves. It feels as if she could eject herself out of her body like an arrow.
Sarath sees her from the dining room window. He watches a person he has never seen. A girl insane, a druid in moonlight, a thief in oil. This is not the Anil he knows. Just as she, in this state, is invisible to herself, though it is the state she longs for. Not a moth in a man’s club. Not the carrier and weigher of bones—she needs that side of herself too, just as she likes herself as a lover. But now it is herself dancing to a furious love song that can drum out loss, “Coming In from the Cold,” dancing the rhetoric of a lover’s parting with all of herself. […] Her weeping comes easy. It is for her in this state no more than sweat, no more than a cut foot she earns during the dance, and she will not stop for any of these, just as she would not change herself for a lover’s howl or sweet grin, then or anymore.
She stops when she is exhausted and can hardly move. She will crouch and lean there, lie on the stone. A leaf will come down. Its click of applause. The music continues furious like blood moving for a few more minutes in a dead man. She lies under the sound and witnesses her brain coming back, lighting its candle in the dark. And breathes in and breathes out and breathes in and breathes out.

[Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost.]


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