Dôdi watched as Raya approached the monolith and paused before turning to face the crowd. She waited for the abundant applause to die down as she looked to her husband in resignation. She smiled knowingly at him as she grabbed her white sash and paused, awaiting his permission.
This propitious turn of events excited Dôdi. He knew she’d been given a new chemise that he’d been expecting to see for the first time tonight, though he’d been trying to catch a glimpse by peeking down her gown all day. Now, he was going to get a surprise preview. Raya probably thought he’d orchestrated this whole ordeal. He probably would have if he’d thought of it. He nodded his consent eagerly, happily letting her think him that clever.
Scowling playfully at Dôdi, she untied the white sash at her waist and draped it over a low hanging tree limb nearby. Then she pulled her arms into her dress gown, bent down, and began carefully lifting it by the hem from the inside. Slowly, the purple fabric moved higher, first revealing ankles, then calves, then a trace of diaphanous white fabric. She stood and pulled the gown over her head and began folding it with great care, honoring the gift her brothers had bought her even as she feared it too quaint. Dôdi was vaguely aware of her approaching him and placing the gown atop her read mantle piled beside him, but he was far too focused on her body to really take in anything else.
Her chemise was loose, whisper-thin linen, appearing like the gauzy film of ancient cobwebs fluttering in the mild breeze where it didn’t cling to her perspiration. The finest and whitest fabric made within a moon’s journey, it featured an almost-imperceptible chevron pattern, alternating tiny zigzags of totally sheer white and almost totally sheer white. At a distance, the pattern served to make her skin underneath seem to shimmer with iridescence, particularly in the areas already beaded with moisture.
The once-sharp tan lines she was so self-conscious about showed through the gossamer fabric, and so did everything else, from the rounded “flowers” on her chest to the broad patch of hair at her waist that glistened with sweat.
The chemise left her arms bare and reached just past her knees, ending with a delicate lace-fringed hem. The rich beauty of the rich fabric combined with all the gold she wore, including the gilded anklets, armlets, and bracelets on loan from a family friend in the city, to make her look like the holy gift she was. He knew the rings in her ears and nose were all that were truly her own, but she needed no jewelry to be beautiful. Several times now, he’d seen her in naught but a nose ring, and the small bit of gold had contributed little to her effect.
As she returned to the dancing area and he watched the smooth, plump shape of his wife’s posterior move, Dôdi noticed that the drummers had begun beating a slower version of the song they’d been playing moments before. Soon, the hand harpists began plucking sharp jolts at regular beats, and Raya’s hips began punctuating the rhythm with precise movements as she walked, her sandals kicking up small clouds of dust with each movement.
As she turned around, the drummers marginally increased the tempo and the harpists began filling in the empty spaces between beats with ghosts of the melody that everyone knew. The seated women, as if on cue, began quietly humming the melody along, sounding hauntingly deep at their reduced pace.
So accompanied, Raya began to dance.
She turned slowly, tracing fingers that slowly fluttered through the air around her body as it moved, emphasizing the broad, swaying shape of her hips, shoulders, and breasts as she limbered up with rhythmic stretches. After a few moments, her body seemed to solidify at the torso, leaving only her arms free to move, and they traced the same dancing fingertips across sensual elbows, forearms, and wrists, fleeing before whatever might was encasing her body in stone. Soon, her arms locked, and all that still moved were her fingers before her and the wispy trails of her chemise flowing in the warm breeze. The music quieted, the singers faded away, and soon all was silent but the breathy wind droning through the distant trees and whistling flirtatiously through her shimmering fabric and lace.
As if choreographed, the three harpists began quietly strumming chords of the melody in unison, and the women started whispering the lyrics to the wind as if trying to awaken the woman frozen before them.
The tempo picked up to full speed, the singers began lilting through the high notes, and the music began to rise up louder and louder. Soon, the percussion kicked in and the pressure mounted as Raya’s exquisite body seemed to remain stiff, though Dôdi could see her legs stiffening in anticipation for the upcoming moment.
When the music came to the right part, the whole crowd shouted on cue: “Leap!”
And she leapt.
Flying through the air like an angel, her chemise flowing behind her like wings, she began the familiar gyrations of the dance. Her fingers fluttered, her hips swayed, her arms twisted, her back bent, and her legs kicked. The crowd took up the beat with clapping, and Raya began spinning like a top, meeting Dôdi’s eyes with an exuberant smile at each turn.
As she spun, time seemed to slow down for Dôdi, and they shared something at each revolution when their eyes found each other. She spun so fast the pleats of her chemise exaggerated and flowed over itself in places, striping her body with opaque white like a wild animal’s patterns of fur. Dôdi reveled in the imagery as time began to speed back up for him and she prepared to stop her spin.
When she came out of the spin with another leap, the crowd shouted with glee. Thanks to a childhood of endless tree climbing, she landed nimbly and began dancing her way to a small outcropping next to the monolith. She disappeared from view for a moment as she climbed up onto it, but she soon resumed her dance, her feet now as high as Akka’s forehead would be.
From this angle, against the backdrop of the clear blue afternoon sky, she took on a new measure of heavenly beauty. Sweat from the effort glistened as it ran down her back and into the cleft of her buttocks, and Dôdi imagined chasing the droplets down her back with kisses. No longer sheltered by the monolith, the wind around her picked up, wicking away much of her perspiration as she moved and pressing the fine linen against her form, making her a whitened, sultry silhouette in the sky.
Even where he sat, Dôdi felt the wind accelerate, adding its howling tune to the music. She twisted, bent, and rolled her body even as the negligee flapped more and more violently, popping behind her with a soft thumping. She kept her poise and rhythm even when a series of gusts lifted the loose hem well past her waist, giving all a clear view of all she had. Dôdi found himself praying for more wind, and though it blew fitfully a few times more — giving him a few excellent sights as she bent over and once when she was squatting down to jump — it died back down all too soon for his tastes.
As the climax of the song approached, several of the women stood and danced their way up to the base of the outcropping, their moves composed by a lifetime of dancing to this song. The women mirrored Raya perfectly in her movements as they sang along. After a few moments, the final cadence kicked in and the dancers began clapping and shouting as they moved: “Leap! Leap! Leap!”
Eyes on his bride, his queen, Dôdi clapped along as if mesmerized. When the cue came, he shouted with the crowd a final “Leap!” and Raya launched herself high into the air and off the outcropping. Dôdi held his breath as she flew and landed with the chemise bunched up under her armpits and held aloft by the shelf of her bosom. The musicians continued into the final few phrases of the song as Raya danced among the other women, the clingy wet linen slowly detaching itself enough to fall past her breasts, her belly, her hips, her hair, her thighs, and finally coming to rest below her knees as the music concluded.