My heart beats like a distant drum yet my body is the membrane. Sweat trickles down my face, its saltiness gathering beneath my eye lids then beading at the tip of my chin. I stare into my opponent’s eyes as he gathers the strength to attack me once more. Our knee boxing had quickly escalated numerous levels including strategic jumps and ducking. Knee boxing is a game of tact and using your stature to your advantage. You dare not underestimate your opponent simply because of height or weight differences. By the third minute I had established that I was faster and shortly after he made more use of his long limbs. Now in the eighth minute of the game, my body feels alive, a subtle hum is making its way from my toes to my tresses.
“One more minute,” coach yells. Her shoes a constant blur in my periphery.
I make an offensive play as I narrowly miss his outstretched hand. I slip my foot against his inner foot, causing him to stumble back. He uses the force provided by my body to catapult me over his body. A second later his body is over mine with his feet planted and legs bent into a bear crawl.
“Don’t slack on me Daka, no easy wins.” he whispers with a hint of humor.
Our eyes meet once more and the hum within me is louder.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” I answer.
I pull my knees up and plant my feet on either side of his pelvic bone. With a smirk I drive my legs and arms upwards. My mind takes a snapshot of the surprise that flooded his face as I thrust his body over my mine and into pairs of people nearby. The unexpected hit takes down three people alongside my opponent. One narrowly escaped the pile. I quickly get to my feet and walk to the pile as the reorient themselves. Stretching my hand out I tap my opponents’ knee; he fixes his gaze on my hand as I slowly retract it.
Coach blows the whistle to signal the end of the exercise.
“I asked you to knee box not showcase you WWE skills…” She continues to dish out orders for the next exercise.
“You must be the twin that doesn’t mind taking risks…” he mutters as he gets to his feet, dusting off the blades of grass stuck to his shirt. He lets out a huff of air, “…Even when the risks are unnecessary,” his brown eyes look down at me as I crouch to retie my shoelaces.
“Your observation has no foundation. Unless you crafted some?” I raise an eyebrow to intensify my gaze. He offers me a hand as I rise to my feet once again.
“Fifty sit ups each,” I say. My index pointing towards the ground. “You can complete your set whilst finding foundation for your argument.”
His tongue pokes at his cheek as he filters his next words, “Your outfit choices are the basis of my argument,” He retorts as he lowers himself into position. I plaster my feet over the toe of his trainers.
“One…Two…Three… Your sister is slightly, and I mean a very slightly more modest than you.” I keep a neutral face as he plays connect the dots with his assumptions. “You on the other hand aren’t afraid of stepping out of that realm… Ten…Eleven… Twelve.”
I cannot help but notice how sturdy his core is as he maintains a constant sit-up speed. “We both wear similar outfits.”
He utters a twenty beneath his breath before shaking his head. “I’m not denying that but, the difference is in the details… thirty-One… Thirty-Two…” I did not respond while he completed his set. We trade places shortly after and I dive into a steady pace. I am quick to finish my set. As we wait on coach’s next directions, he decides to pick up the conversation.
“You do not believe me, do you?” he asks as I glance over the poor athletic form splattering the field.
Without contest from me he continues, “Luckily today you provided me with the perfect evidence. What did you wear today?”
“I hope you do know that ‘modesty’ differs between people. Besides, you know what I wore because you saw it for yourself,” I spread my legs, shifting my weight between either to stretch my hamstring.
“Daka let me prove my point!” I shake my head and look over the pairs yet to complete their sets. I right my body and take two short steps towards my opponent. his shoulders tense up slightly and his lips close before they continue spewing his horrendous tangent.
“Listen up Sherlock, your point went right out the window when you decided to pin our fashion choices against each other. I know that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if you thought that you could deduce my personality based off my exterior, I pity your future mate! I just want to be under the radar. Attention is not my thing especially when it is unwanted.” I step away from him, my fists opening with ghost white palms. My eyes narrow at brown eyed boy when he emits a lowly chuckle. He pulls a hand over his mouth when he doubles over with actual laughter. His laugh still low, not drawing attention to himself.
Once his composure is restored, he speaks, “Miss Daka you and your sister are the definition of attention in this school.” My brain takes a few seconds to determine whether his use of my last name was sarcastic, or he cared to show some respect.
“My Father would give you a handshake for being the first dude to call me by my surname. It is not our fault that Zambezi was not invited to participate in this prestigious event. My pack did not ask to be here neither did I nor my sister. We don’t want the attention.” I walk away from him after our coach shouts out more directions. I walk calmly towards the sand pits for more combat training. For so many years I had pondered on why Zambezi was not called upon to participate in the Moon Dance. Some believe the moon had forsaken us, but it remained faithful even till this day. We have held our own version of the moon dance for many years. All the blessings one might receive here in Russia, one received in Zambezi. My pack’s appearance at this year’s ceremony has certainly tickled minds. And daily I am reminded of how little anyone not from this beautiful part of the world knows about Zambezi. Shannon last night had finally found the courage to ask about my home, and my experience growing up. She also had several preconceived ideas about what Zambezi was like which lit my blood on fire. No one taught her about life outside of the western world, save for what the continents are.
Brown eye boy pulls up beside me, the synchronicity in our pace and feet jarring. “I can’t address you as you wish without your name?”
“That’s a beautiful name. what does it mean?” he inquires. I do not respond to his question, closing the door for potential queries into my family.
“Zoya, you are not naïve. Your pack just joined the Moon Dance. You and your sister are the only twins in this school. You both have pretty good fashion sense…”
I cannot stifle my interjection, “My lack of modesty as you so eloquently put it!”
He takes a deep breath as people gather around the circular training ground. “I did not give the best example. And I apologize! My point is that it is not hard to miss the beautiful twins from the new pack.”
I walk away from brown eyed boy and into the ring when coach calls for people to demonstrate tactics. I wait patiently while coach randomly selects a partner for me. Shannon joins me in the ring, and we assume our fight stances. Once the whistle blows our bodies are covered in sand sprayed into the air by our feet and body impacts. I take my intensity down a few notches to avoid any actual damage. Gifting her opportunities to have the upper hand before dishing a few blows of my own.
We run through several fighting tactics and rotate partners for the next hour before we are let go. Picking myself up off the sand I gather the little piece of fabric that had been ripped off my back during one round. Coach had spoken against pulling hair ponytails as a way out, so my opponent chose to use my shirt as a restraint. That option was revoked shortly after the incident. I walked ahead of the crowd towards the changing room door. If I was hungry before training, I am famished now. Dinner is available in the food court from six to eight. According to the scoreboard I have thirty minutes until then.
“Zoya!” brown eyed boy’s shout cuts through the cool evening air. “If you didn’t believe me when I said that you do attract attention, I want you to take note of the dining hall when you walk in.” I continue my walk towards the changing room doors, not bothering to acknowledge his words. Walking off the track, my arm is tugged lightly backward. I ready my free hand to free myself from my assailant.
“Let go of my hand,” the words bleed from my lips.
His hand falls back to his side limply, “I’m not done talking.” The hairs on my body rise at the prospect of a challenge. “Oh. Really! I detest your tone!” The words are a low growl, my irritation growing with every millisecond.
’Sefya calm down!’ Subbi remarks through the link.
My mind is no longer fixed on rushing for the shower as people walk around us towards the changing rooms. My eyes are fixed on brown eye’s throat and the pulse of his heart at the base of his neck. I could do a lot of damage if need be.
“There is a gathering at the fire pit… music, snacks, games… dancing and the like. I will be going to hang out with some people. I wanted to know if you might drop by?” I stare at him curiously, “How sure are you that I actually dance? Moreover, care for your games?” I ask.
“the games and snacks are optional. But you are way to light on your feet and nimble not to be a dancer. If not, then a dancer then part time gymnast.” I stare blankly at him for a few more seconds
“My bet is you are a dancer! I saw you in the mirror room the other day,” he says. His admission is a shock to system given that only Subbi knows about my love for dancing. I shake out my arms, hoping that the shock might evade me. I rarely get caught off guard, but brown eyes has really blown me away.
“I am a dancer,” I openly admit. I put on a smirk to mask the tumultuous thoughts flying through my head, “You are not my favorite person at this moment. Plus, my father always said to stay away from strangers. Hence the fire pit…”
“Lucas is my name. Lucas Daniels. We are no longer strangers,” he says giving me an ear-splitting smile. Lucas catches me off by making his way towards the changing rooms without my response.
“That doesn’t mean that I will dance with you!” I exclaim, my voice bouncing off his back.
“I didn’t ask you for a dance. But now I look forward to it!” he counters.
I gaze at his back as he approaches the door. His shirt is tossed precariously over his shoulder. He tossed it aside after the fourth or fifth exercise. Several people had followed Lucas’ line of action and that started the peacock wars. Earning quite the glances and murmurs from people. So, few would survive training if this were Zambezi. Lucas had looked my way a few times, I had felt his gaze, but Subbi was equally very informative. Either way I would not be Thembiso’s daughter if I could not control myself. There are multiple occasions to engage in flirtatious activity, but the combat floor was not one of them. Now as the door shut behind his form my sister joined me at my side. Her bag heaved over one shoulder.
“I’d suggest you just grab your bag and you can shower in your room. Besides the showers are pitiful and there is no hope for a clean shower now,” Subbi’s gaze wanders to her to her wristwatch as she speaks. I absorb her words but do not respond to them. She pipes up again with a more curiosity, “What’s his name?”
“Lucas Daniels,” I whisper back to her as I make my way to the door. I turn slightly to my sister and pose a question. Insecurities I thought I had banished rise from the ashes, “Is my style really risqué?” Her brow furrows, “No. But compared to your average Zambezi citizen, yes we have a risqué look. Why do you ask?” I slide past bodies as I head towards the locker, I had thrown my belongings into. Shannon has already left the changing room. People are perched against lockers with limbs tossed across the benches. Lotions and perfume scents fill the air as everyone recaps the peacock war.
“Lucas said so,” I respond to Subbi as she waits behind me. My sister follows me and within minutes we are out in the school yard and walking over to my dorm.
“Do you like him?” Subbi asked.
“Zoya likes someone? Which one is he?” Tendo jogs up to us face eyes scanning the perimeter for him.
“You have never shown this much interest in anyone that I have liked.” Subbi shoots a glare across her shoulder at Tendo as she swats her statement away.
“You have Sizwe! That is a packaged deal! So, who is he? Where is he from? Let me guess… Cuba!” Subbi filled Tendo in as I took a quick shower.
The evening breeze has cooled my room significantly though warm air stills hovers beneath the ceiling. With no sign of my roommate, I lock our room behind us and walk besides the twittering pair down the hall to the elevator.
“You trained the entire time with Lucas?” Tendo asks hands stashed away in the pockets of her sweats.
“Of course, I already told you that,” Subbi replies.
I swipe away at the screen of my phone dreading Tendo’s conclusion to come.
“He could be your mate!”
“Here we go,” I mutter.
“I read up in the library that sometimes we can establish connections with people even before we learn that they are our mates.” My groan is an agitated cry for peace.
“Look what you’ve done now Tendo!” Subbi scolds her.
Tendo rushes to her defense, “What have I done? I was simply sharing information,” raising her chin with finality.
“INFORMATION THAT WOULD PUT HER OFF FROM ESTABLISHING FURTHER RELATIONS WITH HIM YOU PIG!”
Tendo jumps ahead of me arms stretched with hands pressed against my shoulders, “You are still dancing with him, aren’t you?”
I trace an oval around her and continue towards the dining hall. My lack of response entices Tendo to bug me further about the dance. I open the door to the dining hall, and the hairs on my arms rise. Eyes subtly glance over us as we scoot between tables and around chairs. Tendo is still very oblivious to the stares, but Subbi notices them as well. Taking a moment to read over the menu, I stall at the entrance to the line. Subbi’s arm brushes against mine as she takes the space beside me leaving room for Tendo to peak through between us. My skin prickles as the stares and whispers of the members of a table nearby reach me.
“Is that then… I have not seen them yet…. Is not that some village… I’ve heard they are mute…”
My gaze floats over the table as a girl leaves her seat to trash her scraps. People rush to disguise their interest once they realize they have been caught. Conversation shifting away from us to the sandwich on the menu.
“You have to dance Zoya!” Tendo announces. Her voice seems to be a hundred decibels louder or maybe the dining hall is quieter. We shuffle forward, and hand them a tray with cutlery.
“By whose law?”
“You don’t hang around the opposite gender Zoya!” I pause whilst reaching for a plate of carrot cake.
“Except Bukata,” she adds. My body is still extended as I turn to look over my friend. “And your father! You must dance. We are in Russia, no one will know. You will still be Stoic Sefya, and your reputation will still be intact.”
“Stoic Sefya?” I had not heard that one before. “I don’t want a mate, Tendo!”
“He could be a really close friend. If you wish, with benefits. I’m sure you guys could arrange something!”
“Firstly, you know I don’t subscribe to that friends with benefit nonsense. I am not about to have someone wash and hang me out to dry. Second… my father would murder me. Third… I am not desperate.”
“You are in Russia; your dad will never find out.” Subbi chuckled at Tendo’s naivety. Even though we grew up in the same area, around the same people, she never really bothered to understand how our family works. Nor how much of a pull our father has.
Subbi places a delicate hand on her shoulder while the other carries her loaded tray. “Our father would know as soon as he is within two kilometers of Sefya. Besides whatever is done in secret or beneath the moon’s gaze will always come out!”
“You are exaggerating,” Tendo said, eyes blinking rapidly.
“She isn’t Tendo,” I add drily, “He would probably know over the phone! And the guy would be dead by the next morning!” I hold my full tray firmly between my fingers. Eyeing a table near the courtyard I map the easiest route to it knowing the girls would follow suite.
I use a break in the clusters of tables our entry point, avoiding flying elbows and other diners. “Yangwe! I can’t deal with your parents… Yo!” My feet stop at the inflection in Tendo’s tone, turning my body just as a group severs the follow train we created. Two members- one in grey and another in black- push against Tendo’s tray causing her to stumble a few steps back, her drink sloshing in the process. They do not even bother to ensure that she is well, instead they continue with boisterous energy in their wake.
“Not on my watch, and most definitely not today.” My body ignites at their insolent behavior depositing my tray on free chair, I square my shoulders and bound for the culprits. Subbi attempts = to grab my hand but I dodge her reach and tug on one of their hooded jumpers. I plant my feet, inwardly grinning at my feet strapped in Dr Martens. I can finally kick someone’s arse.
With their attention in my palm I cut to the chase, “You two,” I point, “Shoved my friend. So, if you are not a self-absorbed person, you will do the right thing by apologizing to her.” The guy in the grey jumper breaks the air with a slow chuckle, causing a smirk to poke at the corners of black’s mouth.
“Who are you?” grey asks with a lazy hand, palm to the sky.
“Apologize,” I try to keep my voice tempered.
“To whom? You? Stop wasting our time curly,” black chimes in the chuckles of his friend’s only further inflating his ego.
I grab a hold of their jumpers before they can turn away from me.
“Apologize!” my tone is heavier now, but they only escalate the situation further.
“Listen bush rat, I don’t take orders from you,” grey’s voice is hushed, but the threat in his eyes looms. “Just crawl back into your little hole. If they did not teach you wherever the hell you came from, then take it from me. I have alpha blood in me, so keep your low class behind out of my sight.”
“APOLOGIZE,” a lowly growl punctuates my voice this time, the fight not to bash him in getting harder.
“You submit to me!”
Subbi pipes up after his remark, “My sister and I submit to no one!” She steps up beside me, fingers clenched at her sides, an eyebrow raised in defiance. This situation is getting worse by the minute. The dining hall is pin drop silent. The murmurs no more while eyes remain unblinking.
Black’s courage grows making his fall even more appetizing for me. “Your disobedience is probably the reason you and your mischief of rats were denied participation in the ceremony. The audacity to walk in here after years and challenge us is amazing. Listen pup… My pack runs these events. Go scrounge for another throne.”
“Oh, you just booked your ticket to despair!” Tendo speaks
The sirens in my head start to blare as the bubble that was absorbing all the insults finally bursts. The burning rage in my chest demands release. Subbi and I tilt our heads to the side and raising a brow in sync. A trick we learned from our mother.
“Oh, we will show you exactly what bush rats can do,” we speak at the same time.
The lights above turn into a distant glare as I lunge.