Like a celebration of peacocks, the musicians fanned their colourful chords, spreading them out into the garlanded street in whorls that contorted spines and shuffled gleaming shoes. The bass guitarist was a sub-dermal pulse, thumping in rhythm with the hearts that beat ecstatically as arms swam through the air, weaving hands that smoothed around shoulders and travelled down hips, stroking cheeks and beckoning lasciviously. The drums were tectonic plates, moving the earth under nimble feet each time the kicker crashed against the bass drum as the snare and hi-hat cymbals gave off thunder and lightning to complement the tom-tom’s rumbling earth. The pianist’s danced a glorious flamenco against the faux ivory, flirting with the dramatic vibrato of the Spanish guitars as they chased each other through octaves in a shamelessly competitive duet. The violin sighed despondently as it picked its way between the notes the guitars were too self-absorbed to notice, adding a sensual undercurrent to the urgency of the rhythm. Everything came together in a glorious wave, tiding and ebbing unexpectedly, throwing the revelers that filled the streets of Calabar into riotous abandon as they sang the songs the melodies teased.
He was part of the small, brightly coloured shoal that spearheaded the Brazilian float, toes scuttling across the black tar, waist twisting in an alternation of left, right, left that became second sight to every samba dancer. His shiny black pants poured over the curve of his buttocks and his powerful thighs before flaring out into twin fishtails that swirled around his powerful calves. The rainbow of frills that covered his arms of his cleavage baring blouse were buds that bloomed into iridescent spheres each time he raised his hands in time to the music. The shoal carried him along, a single groovy shape-shifting organism. It was liberating to not stand out in the crowd, to meld into the rhythm and be part of something infinitely larger.
They were doing a routine he had painstakingly put together, a collage of the hand dependent cha-cha-cha that let them use their frilly blouses and footwork-heavy samba that kept them in check and moving with the other floats that danced along the prearranged route through the city, a pivotal link carnival’s float parade. He beamed as he watched housewives and doctors, sports analysts and cosmetologists all shed their identity and lose themselves in the delirium of the music and the anonymity of their gold leaf headpieces and heavy makeup. And for once he didn’t need to be the always perfect, arms extended, feet-en-pointe Mfon Abasi, world respected ballroom dancer.
The shoal made the turn behind the float into the next street along the route and slowed as the drums grew ominous, dropping from the frenzied tapping of the samba into a drawn out rumble. A float held the parade to ransom, laying squat in their path, a waiting behemoth dancing in place on the street. Mfon began to shuffle to front of his shoal once he noticed the proud red and yellow emblazoned on the float before them, Spain’s national colours. He heard the sides of the street begin to fill as spectators perched on fences and sitting precariously atop roofs began to heckle loudly, clapping and cheering as the rival float’s red and yellow hued swarm began to heave in a complicated routine of belly coils and hands swept back and forth. It was obvious what the other float wanted, a dance battle between their best dancers.
“Duel formation!” Mfon yelled.
The call sounded, his shoal dropped to their haunches in a column of bodies. Each row in the column dropped to their knees as Mfon advanced, jumping over and pirouetting around the kneeling forms with the athleticism of a hunting leopard. His lithe feet danced around the rows with such grace, the spectators held their breaths, entranced by his dervishing arms. The musicians on his float quickened their rhythm in response to his frenzied twirling, the boisterous Spanish guitars guiding his footwork with their loquacious narrative. The last row of frilled torsos rose to full height as he slipped behind them and fell forward unexpectedly to unveil Mfon, whipping into the space between the two floats in a series of fanciful back flips. He turned to applause when he saw the opponent the opposing float had offered for the Spanish music float duel. Bronzed, heeled legs spread in a wide stance, the very skin on her thighs shimmered with glitter, a constellation of stars that led his eyes up to the jewel covered rouge thong that nestled in the confluence of her legs. The lip of her thong settled on the swell of her hips which thinned into a dancer’s waist adorned with a diamond belly ring. The cinched centre flared out into a raised torso that held up full cleavage cupped in a metal construct bra the ‘coleur’ of fresh mustard, sprinkled over with Swarovski crystals. Her full-lipped face was fringed by a feathered head-dress, and her eyes dark as sin, surveyed him with an unveiled curiosity.
He circled her, dragging his steel tipped soles against the sweltering tarmac like a rattlesnake, so she always knew where he was. She shifted her weight from her right leg to her left, doing it slowly and sinfully, and otherwise ignoring him. He took the last three steps in a series of grating scratches and invaded her space. With a flourish, he cupped her waist with a svelte hand, and the musicians exploded into delightful melody. She jutted out her hips into his groin and swivelled behind him, using the momentum of the move to push his hand off her and manoeuvre it into a painful vice behind his back. He kicked at her heeled foot, making her lose balance and undid her grip; pulling her up to him at the last moment. Chest to chest, he led her into a carnal tango; his hand caressing the small of her back, her long-fingered hand dipping under his shirt as he led her across the floor to the cheer of the crowd and delight of the bands who tried to seduce each other with small flourishes in their shared concerto.
The music changed swiftly from an enticing tango to a lurid flamenco and she pushed away from him, skipping across their arena with a clickety-click of heels that flowed up her in a spiral of hips and a naughty jiggle of breasts. He followed, a snatched synthetic fleur clenched between his teeth, dipping and angling to follow her thighs in their fêting of womanhood and the perpetual chase between man and his lover. He feinted and she made to flee, fell into his ruse and the coil of his arms and the music shifted again, this time an exultant salsa as the crowd took up impassioned chants of “If you marry Taxi driver, I don’t care…”
Her right hand ensconced in his, they began the discordant synchrony of the Salsa, her inverted movements perfectly complementing his, their fancy footwork taking the floor. Shoulder rolls turned into dips and lifts that elicited gasps from the crowd. They sped, urging the music faster as their once distinct steps began to blur into seamless gyration. He took her hand and began to spin her with dizzying speed as the drums rumbled. Unexpectedly he took her out of the spin and into his arms, switching her from right to left and pouring her out into a low dip as the drums thundered to a crescendo then fell away to silence and the street bursting into exultant hollering.
He raised her to her feet and looked into her eyes.
“Excellent dancing Mrs. Abasi.” He whispered with a satisfied grin, before closing his eyes and letting her part his lips.