(Please accept the formal language here. There are places even I do not fully understand nor know how to rewrite to make them easier. This is, like the others, a dictated story, transcribed while entranced.)
I sway in these movements, trying to find being. But I know how our trainer never goes to another class, but hides each day behind the veil to assess us. My sister had whispered the countless secrets to me. As I stretch, I feel the truth and lies flow from my head to my toes, the crown touching the floor unlike it had done before. My arms move ever so slightly. I yearn for the protein of meat. My sister says they deprive us of it for the first year, to weed out the weaklings.
How could I have ever committed myself to this torture? This life? Patience, my sister has told me. Life is not a thing that goes quickly. Slow it down with your movements. Let the music enter your muscles and you will move heaven and earth.
I look up from my bed, my sister cradling my head in her lap, childless, adopting me. Her husband was a scribe. Her older sister had adopted her as she does me. We children and cousins were sent within the country by strange means, whispers and loud arguments. Who shall go, who shall not go. I struggled to stay at this home. Love is only alive at this home. I have seen with my own eyes what the name of love does outside and I have been stricken with a plague from the gods. I cannot love. I will not love.
The music tortures me now with its sadness. Why do these tear fall from me? I shall be awash in tears and sweat and more thirsty for the River Nile’s sweet drink. The music, the incense, the movement – where and who am I now as I float in some cloud of love and sorrow, some peaceful place where I must just move a millimeter and sparklers fly from my hands. I turn my head slowly, but it feels like a whip of tears have lashed my inner thigh. Rainbows skirt about me, begetting one and than another and another.
Far, far away, someone has clapped and others are still, but something within moves me forward, towards the light and I am crying and rainbows flash about me. I open my palms to the Sun God Ra, and lightning flashes from me into the high dome of this, our practice room, the Hall of the Greatest Pharaoh, empty in the early mornings for this morning dance ritual. In search of the gods, I stand still. I am not who I was. I am, have become the rainbow itself. My legs fold and I crumble to the earth again, but a bit of human being amidst the light of Ra’s golden haze.
I unfold, slowly, as taught, let my legs align with my spine, my head flat, the reed mat greedily licking my sweat. I hear the quick legs of insects coming to drink. Then I feel the holy beetle upon my brow.
She is bending over me, her fingers releasing the legs. This is forbidden. This is not real. This is only for those who serve the Greatest Pharaoh. The punctures the beetle makes upon my brow ignite a fire within, and, like a geyser, the beetle shoots up to the dome, but does not return.
I cannot move. Have I been poisoned? I wonder. Now I feel the warmth of the thinnest veil cover me. Every pore of my body is alight, and even these thin veils feel heavy upon my skin. I am being lifted, onto a brier? A bed, lifted and balanced on the shoulders of other slaves of the Greatest Pharaoh. And I thought I was already free!
My mother, and her grandmother before her, lied. They told me only of the freedom of the spirit, and not of the body. Now I am to be burned for my sacrilegious failure to please the trainer. I have lied. I am not free. There is no freedom in this Greatest Pharaoh’s court when one is a woman, a girl, born of a Nubian slave.
The brier-bed sways gently. Voices are singing. The rich, deep masculine voices of rejoicing. Soon I shall be anointed and given to the Greatest Pharaoh. As a gift to be burned in the morrow’s light. No, this seems a different song. This is the song of initiation! I shall live! I shall be given the chance to learn to dance. I shall, if my body, muscles and mind stay pure, dance before the Greatest Pharaoh!
Now the class is small. We still dance naked. Clothes are forbidden. Each and every crevice is seen and digested by the royals who, in their leisure, sit while others wander about, to watch the morning dance.
These are still exercises. The musicians are more melodious than last year’s. The incense more mixed with resplendent oils that mask our sweat. Rich, thick rugs beneath our naked feet have replaced the scratchy reeds. But still, it is a class.
This small group has been removed from our homes. Although my brother-in-law is a scribe who overseas the nearby fields, I no longer touch his face in greeting, nor rest my oiled hair in my sister’s sweet lap.
She is with child now. Something that has been a blessing to her. She thanks me for freeing the knots within. I did not like leaving them. Always, I am leaving people I love. My heart has broken a million times. Only this music, this rich smell and movements merge me into something else that comforts my heart.
Even now I can see Laila. Her fingertips, but never her eyes, invite one behind the veil. Her heart pulls him to her. I am old enough now to realize what a foolish young woman she is, although we are the same age. She will die before she flowers if she continues, but she continues, day after day, month after month. She cries at night and tells me it is he that makes her movements the desire of all. It is he that fills her spirit.
I place my finger to her lips ever so gently. She knows not that we have no private moments. Slaves may be bribed, entertained, and sometimes touched, but just with a fingertip or tongue, but what god does a slave honor more: the god of his own pleasure or the god Greatest Pharaoh?
The veils will be gone next moonlight. Their sheerness placed upon our nakedness. The first selection will be for the royal homes. Unlike the other dancers, I do not care. I have traveled and moved in the outside world. I know what it is like. It is harsh. Cruel. Thirsty. Had we been out there, many of us would already have died, either in body or spirit. Only within the temples are we allowed to blossom.
The music commences. Laila hopes she shall be chosen now. I? I hope for nothing. I dream of nothing. Everything is but a movement, a being with the music and fragrant smells of jasmine, hyacinth and other precious oils brought from afar. Shall I not have one or the other, I can will my mind to create them, and then I am free. Laila does not know, but the wife of her beloved has guaranteed that if he brings her home, her virginity will be ruined. By first the wife and every male in the house. The question becomes, how much does the husband desire Laila? Shall he take her, knowing Laila’s price? Or shall he save her, and allow her to go to a temple, as she should. Why have I not told Laila this? Because she must dance so superbly, that the man will be ashamed to lay claim to her when it is obvious only the gods can own her.
The cruelty of men does not surprise me. He has already taken two dancers under these same conditions. If I interfere now, my own price may plummet. There is but this one dance, this one moment, this one new enthralling music as my small, naked, well-sculptured feet face outward and the music lures us hundred girls into its web.
Being is what snakes between us and lingers in our breath but……
A surprise! A damning surprise to unbalance the most graceful of us. Many girls fall and are removed from the dancing arena. The surprise of one hundred equally matched male dancers, clothed with linen skirts and a golden veil upon their backs, entering the room has made them falter. They will never dance again in this Hall. Perhaps in taverns and inns. The others of us, were it not the discipline and knowledge of our muscles of the correct way to turn, to move, to extend and strength, we too would have fallen before the glorious excitement of male energy and dancers as they come closer and closer, then touch us like lightning. Yet, again, many young women and young men falter at this union.
My head falls back. I gaze into the dome, and I see the beetle, thickened in place by sweet honey. Everyone has awaited for me to call it back. I know, although the secrets are never spoken. There are ways of knowing things near the presence of the Greatest Pharaoh’s breath that others cannot even understand. But I do. My elder sisters, my elder brothers, my cousins and aunts and uncles have all served Pharaohs and their knowledge flows in my blood, in my dreams, in their hands that moved ever so gently across my baby eyes and told me everything.
The language of the eyes is more powerful than that of the tongue. Only certain people know this, and we must keep it secret. One time I revealed too much, lost and unknown, not knowing how the light had come from my eyes and hands. I was nearly branded a witch and killed, but for the intersession of one of the Pharaoh’s guard. They brought me here. I know better now, as death comes closer this moment of choice.
Laila’s man is ready to bid for her as he sees her flush before the male partners that touch her skin, wakening every pore and inner light. They do the same to me, but the intoxication is steadied by the knowledge from my married sisters. I know what to expect, although the knowing leaves no place for protection.
The double snake appears before my eyes, the female and male energies flowing among us, reaching out to the audience, alighting every person with its passion and powers. He shall not have her. Laila shall not be desecrated. My palm is so slow in its opening, my knee bent, touching the inner thigh of my male palm in its new embrace of love and completion. I feel Laila’s mind reach for her beloved. From my extended fingers, and their strong, milk-fed nails, the energy flows directly at his eyes. For a moment he cannot phantom what has entered his brain. I am slow in bringing my palm to my partner’s shoulder. My partner, and Leila’s too, as many of the male dancers do now, fasten a sheer golden veil around us. We remaining couples are in bliss, but Laila’s man screeches loudly. The audience rustles. We dancers, trained into this haze of hypnotic passion, can do nothing but continue until
It is not the completion that Laila would expect. As every mature woman in the Hall knows, her man prefers the virgin exercise, the virgin – the near, almost, penetrate, the tease and the success of future conquest. Each of our veils fall and with the natural knowledge of women, we remove the golden cincture that lines the males linen skirt. Still the man who wants Laila is screeching and turning in circles. Laila does not hear, but some of the other dancers cannot block out his burning sounds. They too are removed from the dance area. Not my partner. Never my partner. I have enveloped him within the bewitching smile of love, yet he understands who I am. There are no secrets here, although there be surprises. The music ends.
We dancers lay upon the rugs in silence. The man’s howls have been stilled. Perhaps he has been lead from the Hall as well as the failed dancers. I claim victory. Laila weeps, knowing blood falls from her lover’s eyes.
No longer will he see a woman dance. No longer will his wife’s face, or her aging body in the years to come, fulfill his lust. It will be his mind that will not raise his manhood. His blood now falls upon his testicles and his shivered penis. No, I must not smile in triumph. To watch his new conquest dance, while certain very specific herbs raced through his lust-filled blood – has blinded him forever. Leila is now freed from her foolish dreams.
A religious silence sweeps over all those in this Hall. The Greatest Pharaoh is revealed, high above us. His men have been instructed. We remaining dancers are separated. The failed dancers are first offered in bidding to the royals. The rest of us are raised upon the bedding briers, covered in softer veils, and returned to our rooms, to be laid in water that rushes over us, to be covered in oil, to be massaged into bliss again. I do not know if these slaves understand the bliss they give us, rubbing our muscles into a higher god’s vision. We are saved. Within another full moon, we shall dance again. I am certain another surprise shall be brought to us. For testing. This second dance will be held in the Great Temple in Luxor.
The last dance usually leaves merely 20 or 30 dancers. The Great Pharaoh cares not – for he takes the best for himself. Exercise, dance again, amid the music and smells, every morning, now for the royals, for the masses, for those who have come to the River Nile to revel in this yearly ritual of pleasure and passion. Each builder, each brick layer, each artisan and his wife and children are allowed to see us dance, but through veils. The throng is loud with their sweat and voices, the music and incense unable to overcome that which is life beyond the Temples. This is how it should be. We who are of the people must return to the people. It is a test, to see how well we dance.
Seven veils now surround our nakedness from the dawn audience. One each of a rainbow color. Each day, one veil less separates us. It is nothing. These mornings. It is everything. I no longer have a brain to connive, to plot, to twist and turn among the Greatest Pharaoh’s gilded halls and temples of the gods that beckon. I know I shall dance, forever, upon the roofs and between the walls, under beds and around the filters of the gods’ births and deaths, even the embalming of the present Pharaoh, although my body shall never gain such a reprise, a vessel into the next world. I have no need of the next world. I am now all being. The colors and flames that issue from my palms – I have been told not to release them before these audiences. I have been instructed, as if from the voice of the Greatest Pharaoh within, to still these powers until the moment is clear. Am I a slave if I can hear the voice of the Pharaoh within? Or is that part of slavery? How could my grandmother have danced and won her freedom, and I have become reduced to slavery again? I turn upon my heel.
A collective shock reverberates among us. Yes, we are slaves, easily killed for amusement of the Greatest Pharaoh, should our movement anger the elephants. I sniff quickly, as do some of the other dancers. We smell the danger and move ever so quietly towards the front. Fear makes the others move towards the back or sides.
Human sweat sweetens my legs and arms as they realign into this being, and I am no longer a person, but a movement aligning the early morning sun rays with the finest softest music. A last veil is before me. My fingers flutter in the dawn’s soothing rays, as it does all of us dancers. Just as I feel the light lift the final veil, a round of monkeys, riding upon elephants approach us dancers.
Elephants and monkeys, herded now by the deep resounding love calls of herded elephants locked behind the stage, their smells now stronger than any human fear laden sweat. They advance. I sniff quickly, find the elephant that has not eaten any of the ripened grapes, and touch its long snout. With the agility of a long-trained dancer, the elephant wraps its nose about my form and brings me above the crowd, lets me then slide slowly down to rest upon its crown. The monkey is angered to be dislodged. I stand and dance and somersault upon this wonderful animal of god, who prances himself before the crowd, ignoring the calls of the females in heat, awaiting the bull elephants for their passion.
A scream! Laila has chosen the wrong one amid her grief. The wine filled elephant wraps his trunk about her and squeezes hard. He dumps her like rotten fruit, and rushes back to the steaming heat of his females cohorts, ready to mount.
My somersault completes itself and unbeckoned by me, rainbows flow towards Laila and she stands, uncertain for a moment, then touches another elephant who slowly brings her high above his head. Shamed by her error, rather than let this elephant bring her to its back, she floats towards me and we are waltzing upon our elephants, in the embrace of women who have lived twin-ed.
The Temple gods have chosen. Laila now rests peacefully among the oils and jasmine flowers in our tub of warm oil. “I did not think there could be something better than a man,” she says. As a temple goddess, she shall have her pick of men. Should she choose only one, that too will be accepted. As a temple dancer, she is a god within herself. Even the high priest has need of her abilities to quench any disturbances, which are quite popular although the Greatest Pharaoh forbids that they be recorded into the histories.
I am lifted, without forewarning, but as with everything in the Greatest Pharaoh’s House of Dance, with care and gentleness. “Bid farewell,” I am told.
The thickened oil, reserved only for the highest and purest, flows gently, slowly down my thighs. Even my woman’s site feels its sensuality. My fingers reach out to share the gift that Laila has yearned for all her life, but has not attained today. Our shared hours of dancing, nights of secrets, strolls among the foreign souks when we lay in bed, veiled and forbidden are now over.
I had entrusted to her alone the stories of my mother and father, grandparents and their grandparents. She had wept, not knowing any such family line. Now I send her a rainbow that will protect her whole life, and make her blossom and choose what is right for her, whatever it will be. We shall never see each other again, but all know my own spies shall send me news of her living. The rainbow comes. The slave who has lifted me from the bath nearly lets me slip. Oh, how lacking is the discipline of those who do not dance! But I give it anyway. It is my last free choice for a full month. For slavery will again cover me as I dance.
I am the River Nile, flowing with the gentleness of the early morning, growing now more passionate, thrashing my power into the fields, and slowly soaking into earth, flowing into a seed that flowers, and the Greatest Pharaoh smiles. But I see nothing but the sun. I feel nothing but the Nile flow with my blood, my ears hearing the caressing lap of water, of oil baths enriched with jasmine and foreign flowers from far afield.
The music too is new and the smells are more exotic and refined, as foretold by my grandmother. But it is the secret of my grandfather that now makes my arms and legs stop.
The acrid smell of men in heat. Not of any man, but of the Greatest Pharaoh. The smell is strong, stronger than the very oils that perfume the Greatest Pharaoh’s body. I turn now, away from him, towards his wife, and beckon her to join my mind. She comes, although her body rests on the throne. We dance a duet, merging spirit and flesh, and still the Greatest Pharaoh’s smell is strong, stronger now that I smell it with her nose, stronger now that my nostrils no longer respond to any perfume but that of the Greatest Pharaoh’s aching longing.
The Greatest Pharaoh’s wife is too surprised to hear of my story as we dance to feel any jealously. Usually this moment is one that makes her cry out to die, but now it is I who throws my head back and just as the Greatest Pharaoh’s wife’s spirit returns to her body, I call upon the beetle to loosen itself from the overhead honeyed dome.
It does. But to my surprise, it is alive and not dead. It falls, along with a thousand other beetles. The other dancers, three within my circle, now glide among the dead beetles under their feet, their pores open to the stink of the beetles upon their sweat. I let the live beetles rest upon my face. I feel the honey upon my face, I feel their teeth attempt to cut into the thin folds of my eye lids. Rather, I open my mouth and they crawl down my esophagus and I turn and twist in the dancer’s delight and they crunch and die within my body.
Other dancers follow my lead, while some break from the circle and are gently lead away. Some of them will be enshrined to lie with the remains of the latest royal dead wife who still lingers for one last fornication with a man who knows how to move.
From within, the beetles have given my blood something new. Now the knowledge of the eternal beetles’ god has entered my flesh. Their very essence now strips me of skin, bone and muscles, tendon and hamstring, fingers and brains. I am pure light, vibrating in a gentle wind, no longer the River Nile, but the breezes from the air, the very sun rays from Ra!
Upon my stomach, my hand flutters, my legs move about and slowly, ever so slowly, even as I hear the slaves brush away dead beetles. Now the other dancers are my slaves as they follow my example.
‘”What is it you want?” the Greatest Pharaoh’s voice speaks, within and above my head. My chin is firmly tucked into my breast bone. My tears are emitting rainbows as usual. As they shall now always do when I dance. The Greatest Pharaoh wishes to claim me, but since I have shown the ultimate in dance – the gift of the gods of light and knowledge of how to join in the beetles’ power – He can do nothing without my consent.
This is how my grandmother earned her freedom. But I already have my freedom because I was allowed to dance before the Greatest Pharaoh. There is only one thing that will guarantee my freedom forever. Even the Greatest Pharaoh must grant it. They will laugh, think I am a childish girl, that I have forever bade goodbye to the joys of the flesh that are the gods’ delight. But those are the voices of those who have never danced.
I raise my bright, clear eyes to the Greatest Pharaoh. And to his wife. She leans forward in anticipation. She knows I have a surprise. A surprise that will delight her, but she knows not what it will be. The Greatest Pharaoh Himself is now blinded with passion and lust. He is just a man although he reigns with all the gods and goddesses. Even Isis spreads her green wings about the couple, smiling upon me.
“Speak!” He commands. He who is most patient wonders what my mind will say, although He has lifted the veil. He knows even the mind can falter when it stands before Him.
I do as ordered. I raise myself and stand. A collective gasp shouts that I be seized and killed but he raises His hand. “I have commanded. She has obeyed.”
I raise my hands above my head in prayer, and slowly, every so slowly, impossibly human slowly, I lower my body, speaking the words that even He must obey, and when I am done, I am laying flat against the marble floor that sucks at my heat, but can never take from me that which is enclosed and forbidden to be removed.
My words follow the flow of my supplication, “Oh, Greatest Pharaoh, and Great Consort of the Greatest Pharaoh,” my honeyed voice fills the dome and circles like my dance about the audience. “I wish only to remain the Greatest Pharaoh’s virgin dancer.”
No sweat, no tears, no rainbows, no nothing fills my brain. Perhaps it is the power of the digesting beetles within me, their protein interfering with the very proteins of my blood and water. How I long to excrete the poisons from my body that the sweat cannot, but I must stay, head bowed, eyes closed, pores and ears, nostrils and vagina, open to hear if the Greatest Pharaoh acquiesces to my request.
It is His wife now who wishes to still her husband’s hand. For some reason, she wishes to claim me, but knows she cannot.
“Your request is unusual,” He speaks, his mind amused, but also wary. He knows we dancers are the best lovers in the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. He knows how we value the mating of male with female, for hasn’t he mated with his – both male and female – and knows the secrets held within our trained thighs. He even feels the desire of his wife.
“I cannot grant such a request to one so young and unknowing as yourself,” He says and stops. He feels my mind interrupt him – another reason for death.
“Come,” I instruct Him, already wrapped in being of the future and past of who I am and will be.
He leaves his throne, His acrid smell unholy to my virgin nose. He awakens a juice within me. If He reaches out his hand and touches the secret heart of my legs, perhaps all will change. My smell mingles now with His. His eyes are level with mine. We are equal in size, as is every member of his Kingdom.
He, his forefathers and his forefathers before Him have slain those much taller than His linage. Our male-female energy cocoons us. I whisper, and despite the acoustics of the hall, not one person’s ear hears but His.
“I belong to the gods. I live, and breathe only dance. Should my spirit mingle with
a man, no longer will I be able to dance.”
I raise my hands above my head, and bring them slowly over His. From my palms come the lights, the rainbows of not seven, or seventy, but seventy times seventy colors never seen before embrace Him. “If you mate me with Yourself or mate me to another – never shall You have this again.”
My arms encircle Him as I beg onto my knees, my hands caressing His inner being with the beetles’ rainbows, and my head barely a centimeter from His golden toes. I know He wishes to place His foot upon my head, to bring me up and mate right there, in godly fashion, with me.
He is stilled. Only once has He heard of this enchantment, but never before had even He, the Greatest Pharaoh, experienced its bliss.
My palms open, releasing Him from the tower of light that has turned white. He backs away to his throne.
“It shall be as you have begged. The Greatest Pharaoh grants your wish. You shall be the Greatest Pharaoh and His wife’s virgin dancer. Forever.”
He is clasping his wife’s hand. They will mate now, in the privacy – of which there is little – upon the lion’s bed. Although my body will not be there, I know my spirit shall encircle them. And within that, my virginity will become the virginity of the gods.
Even now, as I die, I dance in spirit. No man has touched me. Many think this is a sorrow, but they have not seen the rainbows I gave the Greatest Pharaoh and His Queen. They think I was silenced by Him. His wife instructed me it would be better to only perform such dances in their sacred presence, or when commanded by Him.
Still, I feel human pity about me, especially from my own family members whom the Greatest Pharaoh invited to this, my last dance. Some are jealous. Some envy how my form looks young and unmarred compared to theirs. Some wish I were merely an old maid, deformed and embittered like them. But I am still fresh on this day of my last dance.
And thus I have danced, like one of the newly- brought slaves from the lands further East. We all have danced amid these temples at the full moon, and under the stars, in the sand and deserts, before the battlefields and war parties of the Greatest Pharaoh. And when commanded, I have evoked the rainbows – with the help of the beetle thrashed and crushed within my esophagus. I tell no one my secret.
The Greatest Pharaoh’s first wife aged, as do all women. But I did not. My Greek grandmother knew the power of massage, oil and water, the great gift of oxygen such dancing brought to my skin. Even the Greatest Pharaoh has aged, no longer akin to the monuments He builds marking his reign. I am dancing now, my last dance. Elephants come, beckoned by the smell of my death. They remember. I have called them, to the surprise of the royals on this usual, so common holy day of the River Nile’s great flooding.
The Greatest Pharaoh and now all his nine wives are alerted. They think a spy is among them. Then the Greatest Pharaoh’s wife sees my family, grown and growing, scribes and architects. I dance now, all eyes centered upon me, as the lute players play and my arms extend brilliant colors toward the masses, the peasants who toil to create the pyramid that will make Ramses great. Me? I will be unknown for centuries because what am I but a slip of girl, dancing within the music of those who have taught me grace, power and beauty.
My name shall be erased. No tomb. No holy place to rest my body. No one will know of these dances.
I feel a long, long future descendant shall come to this island of Philae and shall feel my presence and hear the dancers and the lights, the trumpets and music played from the hidden rooms constructed to mystify the peasants who do not know that the gods are manufactured stagery for them.
I have been fed well. The beetles’ protein has aided my brain. That is why the beetle is holy food and forbidden to all but those closely associated with the Greatest Pharaoh.
Even Leila has passed from this earth.
Now the elephants come and one raises it trunk to me and lifts me high above the crowd. I am freed. I float towards the Pharaoh, but further beyond, to the alabaster top of His pyramid.
My body shall be plunged upon its top and the birds shall eat me with relish, while
those below will mourn the death of a dancer who was a god, and even the Greatest Pharaoh shall now and then wish to honor me, but I have forbidden this!
I am thinned by the crushed beetles that have nourished me this last morning. My blood is like water as it falls about the alabaster, red upon white, the veils of life falling slowly.
The Greatest Pharaoh raises his wife’s arms along with His and to the surprise of all about them. He bows – not to me, but to my death. A death that desires no embalming for my life has been one end of ceaseless joy that no promise of an afterlife could ever equal.