Friday, January 15, 2016

Henna Night

t was a hot humid August night as she stepped out of her car and headed towards the hotel's main entrance. As she walked the short distance, she could feel trickles of sweat snaking down her back. Her long sleeved dark blue suit felt more like a sauna outfit, making her sweat profusely.  She had wanted to wear one of her light silk dresses, but had thought otherwise.  This was her first time to attend a Henna Night. Her travels and busy academic career had left her little time for socializing or attending weddings or what not. But the youngest daughter of her beloved Aunt was finally getting married and she promised to be there, even on her Henna Night, a fun and joyous all female event prior to the wedding itself. She knew that the family of her young cousin's groom was deeply religious, most of its women wearing full-face veils.  She didn't want to cause her aunt or her young cousin any undue embarrassment. So it had to be the formal long sleeved blue suit.

She thanked God for her decision as she entered the small ballroom. Her eyes were met by a sea of black on the groom's family side, with most of the women not only wearing full-face veils, but also donning the ultra-conservative black colours. She went to sit on her family's relatively more colourful side, although the majority wore the veil and dressed conservatively. She could not help feeling somewhat uncomfortable with her conspicuous curly long hair, like a bushy palm tree in the midst of a black desert. She could almost swear that she sensed the piercing eyes of those who stared at her with disapproval from behind their black veils.  Maybe she should have brought a scarf along she thought to herself. However, she brushed her worries aside. She was intent on enjoying the night regardless of anything. And indeed, a sense of warmth filled the ballroom as quiet conversations picked up and the smell of delicious food enticed appetites as the waiters brought in plates of food and pastries into the buffet.

Not long after she arrived however, she noted how the ballroom doors had been closed shut and all the male waiters had gone leaving only female waiters. Many of the guests had disappeared, while a female DJ appeared on the scene. Feeling a bit curious, she asked a relative where everybody had gone.  "Well…to change of course" came the matter-of-fact answer.  Just as she was going to ask a perplexed "Why?" she realized what was happening.  Young women and girls began to reappear, starkly transformed. They were wearing silk, satin and chiffon dresses, some short and strapless with embroidered bodices, others in sexy one shoulder long ones, and still others in tight black lace dresses.  The ballroom suddenly blossomed into a sea of colours, with a bewildering variety of hairstyles, heavy makeup and a strong scent of perfume.

She sat at her table, open mouthed and aghast at this sudden metamorphosis. Music blared loudly as the female DJ went into action. Bodies, who just a while ago had sat discreetly at their tables, now swayed seductively to its deafening beat.  Beautiful girls moved from one table to another some in low cut dresses revealing their cleavages. Bare ivory-white shoulders, necks, and arms, untanned or unblemished by the sun, dotted the ballroom like a string of pearls that had broken loose from the confines of their necklace and rolled out onto the ball room floor.

The veils of older women seated at the tables had all disappeared and instead were rows of mostly bare pale shoulders and dyed blond hair of all styles and lengths, like a field of golden mushrooms that had suddenly sprouted up from the ground.

Loud voices and pitched laughter filled the air as inhibitions were shed away and bodies liberated. She could sense the excitement, the wild merriment that swept throughout the ballroom and reverberated in its walls.  Young and older women began to assemble on the dance floor, the bride in their middle, singing, shaking and dancing along with the DJ's music.

She sat there for a moment contemplating the scene, her overly academic and scientific mind observing, registering and analyzing. But before she could arrive at any profound observations or grand theories, a young cousin grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the dance floor. "Come on…join the fun!” she screamed at her.

 And so there she was, feeling somewhat awkward in her long sleeved formal suit among the lightly clad writhing bodies, standing out like a stiff blue mast in a wild sea of pink, olive and white flesh. She joined in the clapping, keeping rhythm with the beat of the music. However, it wasn't long before she too began moving her body, getting caught up in the fervor and ecstasy of the crowd, shedding any sign of her usually reserved demeanor. Hands swayed in the air, hips moved up and down, and legs stomped to the music. It was intoxicating, exhilarating, liberating. For some reason, fleeting images of ancient women's rituals and fertility dances that she had often researched and studied crossed her mind.

However, she began feeling somewhat dizzy and unfocused. Her heavy blue suit was suffocating her, trapping her, heating up her body.  Sweat trickled down her forehead into her eyes, clouding her vision, while her head throbbed with the pounding of the music, feeling like a pressure cooker waiting to burst. She thought for a moment of taking off her jacket but she had nothing underneath but her bras…what a scandal that would be …or would it?

Screaming laughter pierced her ears as she felt herself pressed against bodies moving and turning in ecstatic motion. She tried to stumble her way back to her table, but her limp body could hardly move through the crowds as she bumped into voluptuous breasts and bobbing buttocks. She began panicking, gasping for breath and feeling her legs giving way underneath her. She tried to call out, but could hardly hear her own voice.

Suddenly the music seemed to fade away, the laughter and voices drowning out, the strong lights and writhing bodies disappearing, giving way to a calm and silent darkness as she slowly slipped, stumbled and fell to the ground…all in the heat of the Henna Night.