Thursday, January 21, 2010

Friday Fiction for January 22, 2010

This week, I’ve been working on a rather serious piece of historical fiction, and the factual setting is one that is emotionally draining. Therefore, I wanted something fun and pleasant to post for Friday Fiction this week.

In “Eridanus Comes,” I had another of those cases where a secondary character really came into his own and took on much more life than I had originally intended for the story, and T’qa is one of those. When the Priestess S’Bu returns to Earth after her priestess training on Epsilon Eridanus, she finds that the decision to have sent her to her mother’s world has caused a long-festering rift between her parents and her siblings. Her nephew agrees to throw a party on his farm to welcome her home, and during this party, some of these grudges come to a head.

The Men’s Dance

From “Eridanus Comes,” Chapter 11

The mood in the barn was subdued as they came through the door. His mother was sitting next to Grandma B’Tra, and while both faces showed ample emotion, neither was speaking at that moment. S’Bu was standing with her face raised as if in prayer, with Aunt Kate standing next to her. Uncle John was nowhere in sight, but he couldn’t have gone too far since his wife and daughters still sat at the table, all three looking disinterested with anything that had gone on. The rest of the guests remained in awkward silence, apparently waiting to see what would happen next.

It sure wasn’t turning out to be the soiree of the year.

The uncomfortable quiet persisted for a couple of minutes before T’qa got up and moved to an open area of the floor. He sang a quick phrase in Eridani, and then began a rhythmic clapping of his hands. Every eye in the place turned to him, most with surprise and a little outrage at such a display during such a tense moment. He began dancing in time to his clapping, moving about the floor in what appeared to be a carefully choreographed step.

Grandma B’Tra was on her feet now, looking at the young man with tears pouring down her face and laughter escaping her lips. Both she and S’Bu were clapping in unison with the man, and it was clear that no matter what anyone else in attendance thought of the display, they were delighted with it.

Grandpa Cohen raised his voice above the percussive sound. “T’qa, husband of the priestess S’Bu, said that no gathering of the family of Re’Fa would be complete without the Re’Fa men’s dance.” He looked at the younger man. “T’qa, I have been a husband of the family Re’Fa for some fifty years, and there has never been another man of Re’Fa to teach me the dance. Will you teach it to me now?” He switched to Eridani, apparently repeating the question in the other language.

The Eridani man smiled and held out his hand, inviting the older man to join him. The steps started over; smooth and fluid for the young man, while tentative and clumsy for the old. It took several cycles of the routine for his grandfather to get the movements in order.

“David Junior and Jimmy; come on boys. If I can do this, so can you.” The laughter was back in his grandfather’s voice as he goaded the two men. Though reluctant, both men took their place on the floor, one on either side of the original duo.

More people in the audience had joined the clapping, and smiles were replacing the somber looks of earlier. T’qa demonstrated the steps again, moving in half-time so the two newcomers would be better able to see.

Uncle John stepped up beside him. “What the - ? Dad is dancing? What is this?”

“T’qa said it’s the Re’Fa men’s dance, and Grandpa asked’im to teach it to him.”

“Are they crazy?”

He chuckled. “Most likely they are, but they sure managed to put some life back in this party. Your brother and my pa ain’t doin’ too bad at it either, from what I can see.”

They didn’t escape notice. “John! Merrill David! Come on; you two are Re’Fa men; you need to learn this dance,” his grandpa called to them.

“We’re by the door,” Uncle John said. “We can beat a hasty retreat.”

“Y’know, I think there’s been a mite too much runnin’ away already this evenin’ for my taste. If Pa an’ Grandpa and Uncle David can do this, then I reckon I can too.” He took hold of his uncle’s arm. “Judgin’ from the way things is goin’, it’ll do this get-together good if’n you get out there an’ learn the dance, too.”

He all but dragged the man to the others, and before long they were joined by both his younger brother Victor and David Jr.’s son Jacob. The only one even remotely proficient at the dance was T’qa, and although the gathered family clapped and laughed, shouting encouragement, the line of men must have looked a sight bumbling their way through the steps.

It was fun, though. No one was arguing or acting angry towards anyone else during the dance. They were eight men joined by a bond of family, and all that mattered was just learning to move to the beat. Only he and T’qa seemed to handle the prolonged effort without getting winded; even Victor had lost much of his stamina with the administrative job he’d taken.

“Not that I’m complainin’, but just how long are we s’posed to do this, Grandpa?”

Answering between almost gasped breaths, his grandfather still managed to smile. “According to the traditions of Qi’le, once we have started to learn, we don’t stop until we get it.”

“So what’s the point of this dance?”

“Each family has a unique dance, taught by fathers to sons and by the male relatives of the bride to the groom at their wedding feast. When a family gathers, it is the responsibility of the husbands to help foster an atmosphere of harmony, and hence the tradition of the dance. It is also a form of identification. If a man is traveling without his wife and enters a village where members of his wife’s family reside, the dance confirms to them that he is truly a part of the family.”

“So if’n one of us was to travel to Eridanus?”

“You’d be expected to dance with any Re’Fa men in the village you went to.”

He started to laugh, finding the steps easier with each pass through the routine. Looking over at T’qa, the man met his eyes with a knowing smile. It took more than just some shared relatives to make someone family, he had told T’qa aboard the shuttle back to Earth.

His father had often said that words spoke in a hurry would spin around to bite you, and in the laughing, panting line of men his words did just that. It took more than just shared relatives to make someone family, and the Eridani man had known that even better than he did. On an evening filled with tension and stress, the quiet, unassuming young man had done more with a simple dance to reunite a family. Even Uncle John, who had needed to be dragged to the floor, was laughing and having more fun than David could remember ever seeing him have.

No comments: