On Belonging (part two)

About two sentences past saying hello, I already found myself wrinkling my nose, confused about a word.

“Apa bahasa inggris, ya?” my friend said, trying to think of a translation for me.

“What’s it like?” I asked.

He described it: fasting, feeling tired, falling over.

“Oh!” I said. “Faint. Fainting.”

“Yeah,” he said.

We went back to talking about fasting, but our conversation was stilted. He said things and I didn’t understand them. I kept trailing off, unable to describe the differences between Catholicism and Christianity succinctly, unable to talk about communion without bumbling around saying things about bread and juice.

I sighed and looked down at the floor, letting my cellphone drop through my fingers over and over again, catching it just before it hit the ground.

Two days before, I’d been speaking Javanese in dance class, not because I’d wanted to practice but because the Javanese had come to mind before the Indonesian. I’d felt good then, felt like I was slipping back into my routine.

My friend and I lapsed back into silence, that being easier than trying to talk.

Eventually, the girls in the group picked ourselves up off the floor to start working on the Ramayana. We’re performing again in October, and this time I’m really trying to learn the harder dance, the one with the slow music and the singing that’s meaningless to me, both because it’s in Javanese and because I can never hear the beat. It’s just all these sounds, flowing over each other, pretty, familiar even, but with no substance behind them.

I stood in the back line, flicking my scarf, tapping my foot and bringing it behind me, trying to imprint the sequence of movements in my head but afraid to close my eyes and stop following.

We ran the dance over and over, adding another step at the end each time.

Shinta,” my teacher said. “You need to wait until Shinta.”

I listened to the music, waited for Shinta before shifting my weight, turned back to face the mirrors, and realized that something strange was happening: the music, the meaningless music, was starting to couple with movements. A slight change in pitch and my muscles moved on their own, my foot stepping forward in time with everyone else.

I blinked and looked away and tried not to think too hard about music or about Javanese or about what would happen when the dance ended.

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