From Captive Spirit by Liz Fichera
We danced until our chests ached from breathing so hard, until the sky fell completely silent again, freezing us in place. The drummers stopped. The circle of men who danced around our circle stopped, too, so that there was one man standing before each girl. I blinked, staring back at the man before me. Like the others, he wore a red clay mask painted with yellow and green lines and bright white circles around the eyes. His bare chest glistened in the firelight from the sweat of the dance. It was covered with purple bruises and bright red cuts.
I bit the inside of my lower lip to stop a smile.
They were the boys from the White Ant Clan. Had to be.
Of course! I thought.
This was a special dance to celebrate their ball court
victory! I scanned their chests, trying to discern the faces behind the masks. Honovi? Sinopa? Who? My eyes danced trying to solve the puzzle but my cheeks stayed frozen. Mostly.
Yuma approached the circle, along with Miakoda. Miakoda stood behind the boy who stood before me. My eyes lowered instinctively when Miakoda rested his eyes on mine. I was only brave enough to look at him directly when he wasn’t looking back at me. I’d rather stare into the eyes of a charging javalina than meet Miakoda’s empty eyes. He grunted and then jabbed his walking stick into the ground, once.
I flinched at the sound.
Then Yuma ordered the boys to remove their masks and my eyes lifted again, hoping for Honovi’s face, or even Sinopa, wanting them to know that I was in on their ruse. They might have fooled some of the girls but they didn’t fool me. No wonder Honovi had been acting strangely across the fire.
Quickly, he removed his mask, lifting it upwards with one hand.
I swallowed back a breath. My eyes widened.
The boy who stood before me was neither Honovi nor any of the boys from the White Ant Clan.
It was Pakuna.
Without a word, he took a deliberate step forward, stomping one foot into the ground like he owned the circle. Then he grabbed my wrist.
My body froze. I was too startled to say anything. Too stunned to move.
That’s because I realized I was no longer a girl. I was a prize.
Oblivious to my confusion, Pakuna turned to Honovi, his face gloating and triumphant. But then, slowly, even reluctantly, he turned his steely gaze on me. The reflection from the fire filled his dark eyes and sent a shudder through my body. They were the same empty eyes of his father.
And that’s when I knew.
This wasn’t a Dance of Womanhood.
This was a wedding ceremony—mine. Chitsa had tried to warn me.