She sat with two long metal poles in her hands, knitting on the subway. As the emerald green yarn glided effortlessly through her fingers and the needles, she occasionally raised her eyes and surveyed the semi-full car. It was just past rush hour and there were enough orange plastic seats available for everyone, although a single man in a black leather jacket stood by the doors, waiting for the next stop. Sometimes she looked up at just the right moment and could see through the window another speeding train. It was illuminated in the dark underground, full of people like her, moving at the same velocity, though the same territory. They were so close in those moments, she could almost make out the title of a book that a young man was reading, she could feel the sadness with which a middle aged woman looked out the window into the tunneling darkness. They were so near, yet, they were on a slightly altered path, just a hair’s difference than her own at that moment, but within a matter of minutes, the trains would curve and they, all of them, would arrive at completely different destinations.
Her knitting needles moved quickly along, moving more out of habit than intellectual direction. Her mind wandered as her slender fingers moved… what neighborhood was she under at this moment? What moved in the night? She imagined a young black woman crying as her lover turned and walked in the other direction. She imaged a man holding onto the leash of a large white dog, walking slowly as the animal stopped every couple of feet to smell a bush or wall. Maybe there were couples walking arm and arm down the city streets, watching for the taxis that rounded corners without mercy. She imagined it all as her body was transported further by the second.
The high rents of the city prevented her from living there. Her destination, her home, was in the industrial wasteland that clung to the edges of the city like a lingering cough. The void, as it was called, stretched for miles. Warehouse after warehouse stood like lifeless block soldiers, one after the other in dutiful formation. Their shapes were the only remains of a once thriving port…that, and the air of ghosts that sometimes moved between the buildings on cold, quiet nights. She lived there, in a huge warehouse with thirty other people. They had come together like an army of grateful rats fleeing the city, happy to have a place to call home. There were other communities of squatters in the other buildings, little communities of young artists and travelers and hobos. All of them kept a low profile, keeping up the appearances of decay from the outside; they let the plaster fall, they let the weeds continue to grow, they let the scattered trash mount and add needed color to the land.
But once, she had defied the normal code and she had taken a midnight stroll. A mile from her home, she saw the white lettering of a banner flapping along the side of a warehouse and the constant thumping of drums. She remembered that travelling shows and groups would occasionally rent the warehouses from the city. She had her explanation, but she still walked towards the building. The resonant beat matched the time of her steps. There was a glimmer of yellow light coming from the huge sliding metal doors, someone had not shut it all the way, or perhaps had not known to close the latch. She came closer and curiosity compelled her to look, she approached soundlessly and put an eye to the slit with a faint tinge of guilt that excited her even further.
Inside, she saw a long line of drummers forty feet away. They were topless and sweating, each man’s firm chest glimmered like moonlight on a dark pond and she beheld them in awe. A dozen arms raised in unison, then came down, beating the taught skin of their drums with such delicate precision that it seemed as if the earth would open with the sound of their demand. A cold, icy wind brushed past her back. The night covered her in its dark wings, its hard kiss stayed firmly planted on her shoulders as it pressed in on her heart without mercy. She stood, barely breathing. Her hands were numb and her nose was stinging in the wind, her lips were nearly frozen in an inbreed expression of ecstasy, awe, and fear.
The women were naked, save for the black lines and dots that decorated their skin. There were at least twenty in a large circle. Their arms were free and they swung wildly with grace, creating long streams of golden light with the flaming poi. Their faces were alive with flickering shadows and their hips moved like spiraling snakes on an ecstatic journey though time. And although their arms moved unhindered through the air, their ankles were tightly bound in thick silver cuffs. There was three feet of thick metal chain that separated each leg and each woman was connected to the others at her sides by another six feet of chains. They moved in slowly together, closing the circle with each careful step, each foot moving in precise time with their men who watched attentively from behind. Each drummer seemed intimately connected with a dancer, each dancer was held firmly to the woman beside her. As a whole, they seemed bound beyond matter and the surrounding walls, held tightly beyond the flesh of their bodies or the fictitious borders of their minds. Their eyes were half-closed, almost droopy, but their bodies appeared fully alive, moving with a knowledge that seeped from a deeper brain, from the hidden consciousness that flowers while the machine clocks off. They moved with the force of moving planets aligned with many suns.
She watched through the crack, wondering what they would do if she was caught. Maybe she would be cuffed by the ankles and forced to serve them. Would she be kept in the lion’s cage, a mistress to all, licking the beads of sweat off their skin through the black of night? Would they paint her in stripes and teach her to move like a serpent with legs? Would this group become her village? Her tribe? Would she take on their scent and comb their black hair? Surely they came from a place of pure blackness, a world were sounds take the shape of colors and movements light the night with their brilliant vibration. She watched them, knowing that this was the dominant force in the world, that everything else was a shadow, a long distant relative that perhaps had a memory of where it had deviated, but had no idea how to retrace its steps, to find itself once more. She heard the clang of metal on asphalt and turned to see a single sardine can tumbling in the wind. Above her, the lights of the second-floor came on. There was a silhouette in the window, a slim man with a long head of black hair piled in a bun atop his head. The man looked out into the night, to the small group of stars that flickered softy though the sky. A rock came towards her, a small pebble landed at her feet. She looked up to find its source, the man in the window was watching her, the tables had been turned.