During the hours and hours of practice the steps had seemed crazy and disjointed. Her grandmother's cane often came swinging in to land with a painful crack on her calves and ankles when they landed too far off center of the painted circles scattered around the floor. Jahile had practiced until she was sobbing from exhaustion and pain. She had danced until she couldn't dance anymore, until she'd fallen down, her legs giving way beneath her to spill her in a heap on the dusty ground. Her tears were quickly absorbed by the hard packed dirt, not even leaving a dark spot to show they'd been there.
"Get up girl, do it again."
"I can't Honored Grandmother."
The cane whistled through the air, snake strike quick, stinging across her back. Jahile yelped, jumping to her feet. She didn't dare glare at her grandmother or she'd receive another painful reminder of how fast that cane could move. Instead she studied her toes as she flexed them into the dust.
Jahile sighed and stepped to first of the circles. She closed her eyes and remembered the drumbeats of the music. This was the only time her grandmother would allow her to take her time. Slowly she swayed from side to side, letting the remembered rhythm fill her. Her arms rose to either side and she began to move. With her eyes closed she lept, spun, and danced across the circles. Her hands fluttered around her and she threw her head back as the movements of the dance compelled her. The end of the dance arrived and she finished with the high jump, lightly landing on her feet. Her chest heaved as she tried to regain her breath. Her grandmother gazed at her, infinite sadness filling her eyes.
"There's nothing more for me to teach you, child." Grandmother turned and began to walk away. Jahile ran to her side.
"Did I do something wrong? Honored Grandmother, please tell me. I'll work harder, I'll do better."
"No child, we're done." Her grandmother waved her away. "Go see your grandfather, he's waiting for you."
Bereft and hurt Jahile went to visit her grandfather. His hut was just like all the others, dried grass bundled together for the walls and ceiling. It was only on the inside that life was vibrant. Bright feathers laid out in delicate designs covered the walls to create mosaics of a lush and living world. Her grandfather greeted her with a smile and a hug. He soon had her in his latest creation, a beautiful garment of feathers that made her feel like a prancing peacock. Jahile tried to smile and laugh with him but her heart just wasn't in it and soon he allowed her to change back to her drab clothing and return home.
Early the next morning Jahile's mother woke her. After a small breakfast of fruits her mother sent her to the falls. Jahile took her time, idly wandering through the withered crops. She began to wonder where everybody was; the village was quieter than it'd ever been. As she drew closer to the falls she began to hear sounds of life. Jahile rounded the last bend and found the whole village alongside the falls.
The falls had once been a roaring waterfall that fed the surrounding area with plenty of water. Over time they'd dried up to a trickle. Today the drummers were lined up along one side and the rest of the village turned expectantly toward Jahile as she emerged from the dead forest.
"Come child, it's time." Her grandfather extended his hand to her; her grandmother stood beside him, her head bowed. Jahile stood behind a small screen and dressed herself in the feathered finery he'd created for her. The skirt rustled as the feathers brushed against her knees; the feathers on her sleeves almost created wings. Her grandfather pinned her hair back with more feathers.
"Honored Grandfather, what's going on?" He only shook his head and gently pushed her toward her grandmother.
"Today you pray child, pray for all of us."
"I've never prayed before Honored Grandmother, I don't understand."
"Child, you've prayed a hundred times before. When you pray, you move your feet." Her grandmother led her to the side of the falls. She pointed to an outcropping of rock just a short hop from the side of the bank. "There's your first circle."
Suddenly the drummers began drumming and Jahile felt a shiver roll through her as she realized what grandmother meant for her to do. She felt her heart drop into her stomach as she looked up, up, up to the top of the falls. She swallowed hard and closed her eyes. She breathed deep and concentrated on the drumming, just like she had in practice. She let the watching people fall away, their expectations slipping off her.
Her dance took her higher and higher, each leap and jump landing on an outcropping further up the falls. She felt the exhilaration of the dance filling her, the power of prayer propelling her. Feathers brushed her face as she twirled and turned. The people below gasped in awe as the ground began to shake and small rivulets of water began springing from the face of the falls. Jahile danced higher still. The water came harder and faster from more and more cracks. As she reached the top and made her final jump into the center of the fall's origin a geyser of water shot forth and propelled her into the sky where her feathers suddenly became real. Jahile swooped down and around the people as the water flowed over the edge of the falls and once more fed the land around it.
The forest burst into lush growth and thick grass sprung up beneath their feet. Back in the village the crops were reviving and producing again. The people celebrated by dancing long into the night. They'd lost a child of the village but for the next 100 years they'd have an abundance of water. The beautiful blue bird that had once been Jahile was revered and honored with succulent fruits and nuts.
These days when she prayed it wasn't her feet that moved but her wings. Maybe she'd find the aerial dance that would return her form.