Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Chapter IV

This chapter from the short story follows Chapter IChapter II and Chapter III.

My eyes fell on my I-card that spelled out my name in big, bold, blue letters. That explained it! Had I really thought Tushhar needed help? I was in more need of it. I stared at the thick, white fumes that whistled out of the fire extinguisher, and pitied the poor volunteer who tottered about with the red, cylindrical apparatus. It looked like he was tap-dancing. And that reminded me – I had my first foxtrot session that day. I had realized I needed to get some fresh air and bring in some change in my life, so I had enrolled myself for a ballroom dance course on Monday.

*  *  *

At half past seven, I found myself at Ricardo’s Dance Studio. I admired the spacious room that had mirrors on all sides and a steel bar fixed horizontally on one. For stretching before the dance, I thought. I saw a dozen other people waiting on the benches that lay on one side of the hall. “Good evening, everyone! My name is Ricardo Terez” – a baritone broke the din. “I am the foxtrot instructor here.” I traced the voice to a tall, sturdy frame with a cheerful face. His smile calmed my tense nerves.

He started by making us count the four beats in every bar of the music he played. Then we did a round of introduction. We were a good mix of college-goers and working professionals. We learnt some basic footwork next. As we practised after Ricardo, he told us how foxtrot originated in the United States. It was a slow dance, quite similar to waltz. After six rounds of the basic footwork with and without music, he asked us to take partners. To everyone’s surprise, the men outnumbered the women in the room. But that wouldn’t be too much of a problem as all the ladies would have to dance with every gentleman in rotation.

Ricardo played I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra as he showed us how the dance partners were to hold each other. All the pairs on the dance floor clumsily held their positions and tried tuning their steps to Sinatra’s music. After every two minutes of dancing, Ricardo would holler – “Change!“, and the women would move clockwise to the next man. After several rounds of dancing, I felt elated and liberated from all the thoughts that had earlier disturbed me. It was only when we took a break that I realized it was 8:10.

We formed three rows to copy the new steps that our instructor would teach us. This is when Tushhar walked in and muttered a quick apology to Ricardo.

My legs turned into jelly. Two major coincidences in a day! This was more than my sensitive little self could take. The tranquil atmosphere that Sinatra’s song had managed to create did not even take a second to shatter under Tushhar’s presence. I listlessly repeated the steps after Ricardo and was terrified when he said, “Take your partners, everyone.”

We only had 10 minutes to go, and I prayed with all my strength for the class to be over before it was my turn to dance with Tushhar. And for once, my prayer was answered, I noted with some disappointment. I quickly made my escape before he’d have a chance to notice me. But how long would I keep up my game of hide-and-seek? He’d surely see me next Thursday!

*  *  *

It did not take very long for the next Thursday to arrive. Ricardo started the class by revising the previous week's footwork, then showing us some new steps. As each of us started taking partners, he told us to keep our chin up and look over our dance-partner's right shoulder. "In ballroom dancing", he said, "we do not stare at our partner." He played Colbie Caillat's Bubbly

One of my favourites, I smiled. Ricardo offered me his hand. He was quite obviously the best dancer in the room. "Man, remember to give your lead. Only then will the woman follow." This was met with giggles. "Change!" I glanced to my right to see who I'd next dance with. Tushhar!

We exchanged smiles and took our positions. Caillat's song flowed through the air like a river gushing through a valley. It filled all the empty space between Tushhar and me till we were drenched in its melody. I breathed the musk notes that betrayed a hint of cedar. He smelled of deep, dark woods that make one lose one's sense of direction. His hands were soft and he held me gently. I disregarded Ricardo's instructions and stole a few looks at my dance-partner. His skin was smooth and his nose, aquiline. I noticed his eyes were the colour of mahogany when his met mine. "Change!"

*  *  *

I leaped from one Thursday to another with the other days forgotten in office-work and evening-jogs. It always poured heavily at 7:15 in the eve, as if to deter me from attending my dance-lessons. But in the mirrored enclosure of the dance studio, foxtrot set me free, and I would look forward to my Thursdays with Tushhar.

It was September before I even realized we were about to finish our course. I was amazed at the progress we had all made. Most of us had started with two left feet and could now dance just as easily as we could walk. Ricardo had invited us all to a club the Saturday after the next, to celebrate the completion of our lessons in basic foxtrot.

The last session was the best of all for we danced for two straight hours to continuous music. When I fox-trotted with Tushhar, I noticed how much he had changed from the days I would see him in the office parking-lots and across my lift. Something seemed to have washed his sorrows away and he greeted me with open arms, if only to hold the fox-trot position. Ricardo played Can I Have This Dance by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.

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