Melanie Dunstan 1997 The Dance

Maresha danced. Arms wide open, face to the sun in that impossibly blue sky, she skipped, twirled and leaped.

The wide grassy sward was high, and climbing up had been a hardship, particularly when she had reached the stile, designed to stop the goats from climbing up and into the nearby wheatfields, just starting to turn golden from the blue-green of recent months. Idly, amidst the intricate steps of the dance, Maresha wondered why she had worn her best festival clothes, instead of the usual riding clothes that accompanied a trip up the cliffside. No matter.

The summer breeze blew black curls away from her face, as she turned towards the ocean. The seabirds called, and far below her, waves crashed their eternal rhythm, accompanied by..... Maresha stopped, disoriented. Nobody should be here. This was Konstantinovich land, hers to tread by rights. There the horse paddock, with Rovnya waiting for her to ride him. Not today. There the wheatfields, swaying in the breeze. There the huge gumtree, friend and sentinel for her visits - and good for shelter in the rains. No, there! A flash of red, and definitely, yes, sounds. Vibrant. Musical. Maresha walked closer.

The late November grasses tickled her feet, bare within her soft dancing pumps. As she neared the tree, the wind changed and she heard the haunting melodies of home, expertly played. Looking up, she saw a swarthy face, a moustache, a golden earring and a red headscarf, covering but not containing black ringlets blowing into blacker eyes.

"Rom!", she whispered in excitement. The music stopped, and the small man jumped down, careful of his balalaika. He bowed to her; a fluid, sensuous movement, and held out his hand. An invitation. She made a curtsey, her heavily embroidered skirts billowing and her colourful shawl flapping in the breeze. The sun caught the flat planes of her cheeks, proclaiming Mongol, as well as Russian, heritage. Heavily-lidded feminine eyes met the deeply shadowed gaze of the diminutive gypsy. Who promptly sat cross-legged, strummed a brief chord that vibrated yearningly in the suddenly still air, and extended his hand again towards her.

Maresha felt the sounds fill her soul and her feet responded. She danced her best, better than best, in response to this magical moment. Nothing less would do. The Romany was a master of his craft, filling the air with the wondrous sounds that her racial memory knew and loved. Maresha danced. She wished time be still, that today might last forever. She forgot family and friends, forever lost in dancing to the precious sounds around her. One beloved tune followed another, the Rom never pausing, never flagging. The sun was hot, but her movement cooled her. Nearby, the horses nickered to each other, watching Maresha dance.

Meanwhile, Nikolay looked anxiously towards the physician, checking off instrument readings on a chart. The hospital smelled of sickness and of death. He shivered.

"Doctor.... can you give us any hope - any hope at all?" Beside him, his wife of twenty years silently soaked yet another handkerchief, her face a frozen mask of grief. Slowly the doctor turned to face him, pity tempered with understanding and experience.

"Kolya," he said gently "you must understand.... it is a miracle that she still lives. The horse could have stepped on her ribcage instead of her pelvis. We are battling the fever, and we know that the foot must be amputated. Maybe even the whole leg. Kolya, Shaya," he moved forward, placing a hand on each of their shoulders "you must understand.... the spine is all broken. Even with many operations, I cannot promise she will ever use those arms and legs again...."

Nikolay reached towards his wife as something broke within her. She screamed to her feet, angrily brushing away the compassionate hand of the physician.

"Never again?" she shrieked. "My Maresha is a dancer! She wins competitions for her horseriding! Never walk? Never brush her own hair? Never? With all that you doctors can offer? Never? Never?" Nikolay leaped to his feet as she attacked the doctor with fists and words. The two of them struggled to contain the hysterical woman before life-supporting apparatus was dislodged.

"Grishana Yegvenia!" Thundered Nikolay, gripping her arms. Suddenly the room was quiet, except for the quiet sounds from the medical equipment.

"Shaya, they are doing their best...." whispered Nikolay, his cheeks running with tears.

"Best?" she cried, brokenly. "Kolya - look at her; look at our little Mishka - can you tell me this is Best?" Breaking her husband’s grip, she flung herself, sobbing, onto the still form lying under the hospital blanket. The physician looked at the quiet, calm face of Maresha Grishanova, and wondered at the tiny smile he saw there.

Meanwhile, arms wide open and face to the sun, high up on the windblown cliffs, to miraculous traditional music from a Romany master, untouched by anything, Maresha danced.