The Dance by Shaurya
The dance was beautiful. Not because she had choreographed it herself, or that Ela Fitzgerald played on the stereo, her raspy yet melodious voice asking Louis Armstrong that he “dream a little dream of me.” Not even because she wore the red dress she’d bought a week before with the money she’d been saving for the last few months, or that the entire school was out in the gym to witness it.
It was because… of Him. He who had swept her off her feet ever since she’d seen him in the corridor as she was headed for her sixth period History. He, with his jock friends, them throwing the football between themselves, laughing over something those silly boys always found funny.
But even though He was among them, she could tell He wasn’t like them. He couldn’t be like them. Because boys were silly. They were downright stupid. They found pleasure in kicking each other in the crotch. They liked to compete with one another over who could spit the farthest from the top of the school terrace. They regularly raided other people’s lunch while the rest of the school was standing in the morning attendance each day.
But not Him. No, He was different.
Everyone, including her friends, had warned her. Warned her she was being silly to fall for Him. He was the principal’s son, which gave Him the status of royalty. You (by which they certainly didn’t mean her) didn’t choose to be with Him, they’d said. He chose to be with you. And you (this time they definitely meant her) aren’t someone He’d choose. Ha, how wrong they’d been. And they were here today; standing around her in a circle, envy in their eyes, resentment in their hearts. But she didn’t care, because, today, she had what she’d always wanted. Her hand in His. Her feet moving with His. Her head on His chest. The two moved slowly. From the stereo, Ela asked Louis to “hold me tight and tell me you’ll miss me.” The spotlight, along with everyone’s eyes, was on them. She was joyous, elated.
She was contended.
Such was her happiness that, in that moment, the humiliation she’d never been able to rid herself of caused by the two darlings of the high school (Bitches, she wanted to say, but her mother didn’t raise a foul-mouth), Alice and Anya, melted away. A few months earlier, the two had left a small puddle of red ink on her chair; so, when she got up after sitting on it all through the fifth period Math on Saturday (when the school ditched its usual navy blue uniform for white), the back of her skirt would be stained. How they’d all laughed at her as she stepped into the corridor. How they’d pointed at her as she was headed for her bus after school. How they’d called out “unplugged” to her.
Were they jeering now? Were they still making their pathetic little jokes, their laughable schemes to belittle her?
Her head still on His chest as they danced rhythmically to Louis Armstrong, who was telling Ela, “I’m longing to linger till dawn dear,” she saw Alice and Anya standing further away in the crowd. Of course they were jealous. She could see them seething. They were in pain, and how desperately they were trying to mask it with rage. After all, she’d proven them wrong; she’d bagged the ultimate prize, the trophy those two bitches (she realised she didn’t much care anymore about the kind of daughter her mother raised; such is the power – a wiser man would have said “toxicity” – of love) had tried to pocket for themselves.
She could only laugh at them.
As Ela serenaded Louis, telling him she is “still craving your kiss,” she revisited the dreaded evening when, right here, following the annual day celebrations at the school, she’d…
She’d been called up on stage to be handed the award for her meritorious performance in the two years of high school. She was beaming with pride, a moment both she and her mom (standing in the crowd in front of her) had been eagerly waiting for. There she was, all smiles and tears, having forgotten how earlier that day Alice and Anya (it was always those two) stole her bag from the locker room and poured red ink all over the contents – her books, a spare change of clothes, her shoes, and a red lipstick (for Him, of course) her mother knew nothing about. Standing proudly on the stage, with a medal around her neck and a plaque with her name embossed on it in her hands, she’d even thought of forgiving those two girls.
Then, just as she saw Him out there in the crowd, smiling at her (the first time she’d seen Him take notice of her), the lights went out. And along the walls of the gym, the word appeared, as if it had been hiding in plain sight, waiting patiently to emerge at the opportune moment.
The lights came on. From somewhere in the crowd, hurtled a skirt – white, their Saturday uniform – that hit her on her face. She knew even before she saw the red stain on its back. That filthy blot. And, fury rising in her eyes, she saw them. The two bitches. They were sniggering, their laughter like cacophony in her ears. The whole school erupted in laughter, pointing at her. She saw them calling out the word she’d grown to not just detest but become scared of. She saw them jeering, their faces excited.
She looked out for her mom in the crowd, but, before her eyes could fall on her, she saw Him. And He was… was He laughing? She shut her eyes and opened them again; hoping she was wrong. But, no… He was laughing. He was cheering with all of them. He was chanting that abominable word.
He was one of them.
It all came hurtling back to her. The shame, the mortification… The deceit. She felt disgraced and angry. Raw, pure, unadulterated fury coursed through her bloodstreams. She decided she would right the wrong. She would erase the humiliation and replace it with… with… with…
With the most beautiful dance ever. A dance where she’d be with Him. Not the version of Him that was an evil, vile serpent of a man she’d witnessed; He who was one of them. No, she’d dance with the man who’d made her fall head over heels, He who without saying a word to her had swooned her, slid the very earth under her feet.
Ela, now approaching the end of the song, was asking her partner to “make me a promise, promise to me, you’ll dream a little dream of me.” She smiled, a tear forming at the corner of her eye, growing in size and sliding down her cheek. Everyone around her – even Alice and Anya – were now smiling, swaying to the last tunes of the song she’d always wanted to dedicate to him.
Even now, ten years after the dreaded incident when she was dishonoured in front of the entire high school, she couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. In her one-room hole of her house – with its peeling walls, dirt-stained windows, and mould-ridden furniture – where she imagined being transported to the high school gym, dancing with Him to her (their) favourite song as the whole world watched them…
Shaurya authored his debut novella, End of the Rope (amzn.in/eZ0EUss), in 2019. He likes sports (cricket, mostly), eating out, and watching reruns of The Office and Everybody Loves Raymond. He can be found loitering around on social media at @shauryaticks (Twitter) and @main.hoon.ek.sharara (Instagram)