Shasaa understood the language of the wind. She had understood it as long as she could remember. It whispered to her in the day, in the night; it whispered secrets to her. Sometimes it screamed or howled, but not at her, so she was never afraid. It was the voice of the earth, and it told her everything she needed to know. It told her that she was a part of the earth, that the earth was her mother, that she had come from it and would return to it, because that was the proper way of things.
On the day she was born, it told her she would be a dancer.
The wind came to her often. It taught her to dance. It even provided her music, whistling tunes fast or slow. Sometimes the rain joined in, tapping out rhythms she tried to match, and she discovered she understood its language too.
“I wonder,” she said to her sisters, “if you can understand the wind. It talks to me, and I can understand it. The rain can talk to me too. Is that natural?”
Brushonne laughed. “Of course it’s natural. We can all understand the wind.”
“Yes, we can. The wind told us we’re all dancers,” said Flutala.
“Did it really say that?” asked Shasaa. “All of us?”
“All of us. It must run in the family,” said Krichi, and she laughed until she shook.
“But did the wind tell you about the red dress yet?” Brushonne asked, and the others grew quiet, taking their cue from her almost reverent tone. “Ah, I see it didn’t,” she continued in the same small voice. “One day, when we’re ready, when we’ve learned all the dances the wind has to teach us, we’ll get to wear the red dress.” She blushed a little under the afternoon sun. “That’s a secret the wind told me. But maybe it will tell you about the red dress, if you ask it politely.”
The sisters rehearsed and performed for months. They moved effortlessly together now, in unison or in harmonic patterns. They knew many dances, so many that they all lost count. At times, Shasaa felt tired, even bored with dancing. She didn’t dare mention that to the wind, since it had told her she was born to be a dancer. Shasaa wondered, though, if the wind could teach them more, and she wondered about the red dress. At times, practicing with the wind, she almost worked up the courage to ask it, but then she remembered it was a secret the wind had told to Brushonne. Shasaa didn’t want to betray her sister, and so she danced and listened and did everything the wind told her, because she knew its power.
On a day in late summer the wind fluttered by her, rested beside her, and became very still. “Something is bothering you,” it said. “There is something you want to ask me.”
Shasaa trembled. She hoped the wind would not be angry. “You have taught me wonderful dances, but my dancing costumes all seem, well, subdued.”
The wind swirled around her. “You want something new?”
I should have guessed the wind would know, Shasaa thought. “I want you to tell me about the red dress.”
The wind stopped its swirling and was still for a long time. Shasaa worried that it would howl at her, but when it spoke again, its voice was not angry. “Every dance you have done all your life, every costume you have worn, has been in preparation for the red dress. You will wear it for your ultimate performance.”
Shasaa trembled more, but not from fear. “I’ll get a new costume and learn a new dance, then?”
“You will. Your red dress will dazzle you with its radiance, and you will finally be free to perform the dance for which you’ve prepared all your life.”
“Where will I get this dress? When will I get it? And when will you teach me the dance?” Shasaa jumped up and down, trying to touch the wind.
“So many questions!” The wind whistled a funny tune at her and laughed. Shasaa laughed too, until the wind said, “You will make the dress yourself. And I’ve taught you all I can. The dance is yours to create.”
“I’ll make it myself? What are you talking about? I don’t know how to make a dazzling, radiant red dress. And the dance—you’re my teacher. You have to teach me. You can’t leave me on my own to invent some ultimate performance.” Shasaa had feared the wind’s anger; now she showed it some of her own.
“You will know when the time is right. Start working on your performance. We’ll talk again when it’s done.” The wind floated away. She called questions after it. It didn’t listen, so Shasaa was left with nothing to do but dance.
She danced every day for hours. She woke, sometimes, in the middle of the night, and danced then too. She practiced with her sisters; she practiced alone. Shasaa grew bored with it, but only once or twice; she reminded herself that she and all her sisters were born to be dancers and that she had the most important performance of her life coming up. She dreamed of it every night.
The wind sped by her one day, not speaking, only carrying with it a chill that surrounded her. Shasaa shivered and longed for a new costume. She realized at that moment she had the knowledge she needed. She knew how to make the red dress.
During one of the sisters’ practices, Brushonne stopped dancing. “Shasaa, you asked the wind, didn’t you? You’ve been working on your red dress. I can see the corner of it peeking out right there.” The others stopped too, and stared.
“The wind said I could. It said I would know when to start, and I did.” Shasaa puffed out her chest.
“I wish it was time to start my red dress,” said Krichi, and Flutala said the same.
In time, all four started work on their new red costumes. Shasaa, who had started first, finished first. The wind came to visit her then. “Your dress is ready,” it said. “When the show starts, you will dance first.”
Her sisters crowded around her. “You’ll dance first,” they whispered.
“This ultimate performance,” said Shasaa, “how good does it have to be? Am I really good enough to go first?”
“It must be your best. You will go first because your dress is ready. Because you are ready.” The wind breezed around her softly, as if to reassure her.
Shasaa pulled away from it. “But why do we have to give such an amazing performance? Why can’t we go on dancing as we have? Why is this so important?”
“Because this performance will be your last,” said the wind.
“Our last?” the sisters said all together, quaking.
“Yes. This dance will be different from all your others. In this dance, you will know freedom as you never have.” The wind looked at Shasaa’s new dress, examining its handkerchief hem and hue like ripe cranberries. “Trust me. You were born for this. Don’t be afraid,” it said. It wrapped around them all once like a hug and left them.
The air held a crispness, a coolness, a strangeness, that Shasaa had never felt before. She wondered about it for half a day. She talked about it with her sisters as they all stood in their new red dresses, and they decided it was time for their ultimate performance. They shook in anticipation as they waited for the wind to arrive to play their music. Shasaa heard it coming, and drew herself up. She was first.
The wind sang a tune of joy and sorrow, of freedom and confinement, of beginning and ending, all at the same time. Shasaa danced, trembling and turning slowly at first, and then faster as the wind sang louder. She dipped and swayed until she thought she could dance no more. The wind whirled around her, louder, faster. Its voice rose to a howl, but it was not angry. Shasaa relaxed her exhausted body and twirled in the grip of the wind.
She heard a snap, and she was free.
Excitement filled her with renewed energy and she flew the way birds did, untethered, the wind cradling her in its arms and shrieking in ecstasy. She spun and twisted, somersaulting on nothing but air, and her fluttering dress glowed like a sunset. Twirling, pirouetting, Shasaa floated and dove and whirled and spun and floated again. In her soul rose joy and triumph and pride. High above her she saw her sisters flying, beginning their dances, and she knew they felt the same things.
Remembering the wind had said this would be her last performance did not decrease her joy. She had achieved her goal and completed the dance in the red dress. “Well done,” she heard the wind whisper, and the rain roared its applause. Shasaa settled on the forest floor to sleep, soon to be covered by a blanket of snow.
M.B. Wallace resides in Northern Virginia, USA, with her wonderful husband and two astonishingly loud schnauzers. She enjoys writing, doing voice over work, and praying the Washington Capitals will someday win the Stanley Cup.
© 2011, M. B. Wallace