We spend many months learning to hold our breaths, twirl and dance while keeping our hands above the water alone and in groups. When we are expert dancers, the carers enter the water with us. They never undress in front of us. Even when they sleep, they are covered neck to ankle in a garment. When they enter the lake, they wear the same long clothes. It’s the only time I feel uncomfortable with my carer.
We must get into the water naked, and the carers instruct us to stroke their arms and legs. Soon we are doing other things, and I learn why I must hold my breath underwater. They train us to take deep breaths, dive under the water, attach our mouths to where they pee, and pretend to eat them. After this activity, the carers are always in a great mood. I enjoy the water times as the atmosphere in the sleep room is so happy, with the carers being particularly gentle and caring.
My carer explained that this would be my work when I complete my training. I’m relieved as it isn’t too bad. I heard the carers whispering about “soldiers,” and I was afraid no matter how hard they tried to calm me. When the more robust girls are rebellious, the carers show them films of the other kinds of work available in the new world.
My carer assures me I’m far too pretty and delicate to do anything else. She consoles me, saying I will have a glamorous life with my looks and fragility, far better than those in the old world caring for farm animals. She said I would be wealthy and well cared for in my old age. But when I ask about the other jobs, they won’t tell me as they say it would only make me sick, and besides, my destiny is to be a Water Dancer.
It’s almost time for me to go to my first job. The head carer says we will receive a gift for completing our work. We can choose between jewellery or money. I said I would ask people to show one another a small act of kindness. Everyone laughs, saying I’m silly, but my carer said to ask for this as it demonstrates a gentle disposition.”
The Beginning of my New Life
“Today, we awake early. Preparations are hectic. We have all day to wash and buff our skin. My carer carefully applies the perfumed lotion over my body and sprinkles it with powder glittering in the light. Our hands and feet are meticulously cleaned, painted, and decorated. When they finish decorating my hands, I can hardly move them; they are heavy with jewels, paint, and feathers. My hair took the longest and is piled high on my head in an extraordinary style. Our faces are oiled and sprinkled with the same powder.
My skin is clear and pale, and I don’t need make-up. Some other girls have red cheeks and require a lot of face powder, but my carer says I’m lucky to have so little blood in my body that my face looks almost translucent. I became feverish and fainted after lunch feeding time and, with much anxiety and fussing, had to be given medicine and allowed to sleep. I’m awake now, and it’s almost time to leave.
The carers wrap us in white sheets like liquid; they’re light and delicate. We lie on the sheets in our beds with our hands crossed under our necks, framing our faces. My carer warns me not to move my hands or scratch my skin. She gently wraps the sheet around me, covering my face. I’m not afraid as I practised this many times over the months. She reminds me to breathe gently as a hard cover over the bed encases me completely. I pretend I’m underwater as I close my eyes. I’ve instructions not to open them until I arrive at my destination and get permission.
I feel the bed moving, and it continues until I’m lifted and placed in a tighter bed. This new bed moves gently, and I hear strange noises through the sheets. The bed is soft and moulds itself to my body. I can’t move and, indeed, am terrified to do so. I desperately want to open my eyes, but I will be sick if I do and see something frightening, so I keep my eyes shut.
The bed stops, and gentle hands lift the box. The air is cold as the lid opens. I gasp as I lurch sideways and, in a panic, open my eyes. The liquid sheet falls apart enough to uncover my face and hands. I look up to young men like those I grew up with. They’re frightened with eyes like hungry wild animals I saw around my father’s farm. One swiftly puts his hand under the box to steady it, covers my face with the sheet, replaces the lid, and puts me on a moving floor.
The floor stops moving, and I’m in a strange building. It’s gorgeous, and I’m stunned by the beauty around me. There are statues, paintings, and exquisite furniture. Carers helped me from the box and showed me a washroom to void my water. After a few moments of attending to my hair, they take me to a room. All the while, my hands remain in place, crossed just under my chin. Inside the room is a small lake akin to the one I trained in but much prettier and filled with lovely things I can’t describe as I’ve nothing to compare to them.
I’m relieved other girls like me are in the room with their hands beautifully decorated and naked except for a few trinkets. I don’t know any of them. We anxiously look at one another for confidence. On the other side of the lake are the invaders. I would be terrified and probably faint, but our carers dressed up like invaders for a few weeks before finishing our schooling. Because of that role play, I’m familiar with the strange ugly clothes that cover them. Their faces are even more hideous than our carers. I keep my eyes downcast to avoid being sick from fear and try not to look at their faces.
They signal us to gather at the edge of the lake, and, one by one, we’re asked what favour we like. The carers direct us to a large bowl containing beautiful jewels of every description. The other girls point to the jewel they prefer, but I ask for a small act of kindness when it’s my turn. There’s an immediate uproar in the lake. Most invaders roar with laughter and hit the water with their gross hands. Their mouths look big enough to eat us, stretching from ear to ear as they laugh. I imagine them biting my face off and swallowing me, but they mostly laugh, except the ugliest-looking one. His eyes are evil, with lumps of flesh growing on his skin like large pimples.
“Kindness! Kindness! I took Arugna alone with only a few soldiers. I decimated it, and you want me to show you KINDNESS.”
He slaps his leg and roars, laughing again, and the others join in.
I’m terrified and feel the sickness rising; I step back from the water. The others remonstrate, telling him to be quiet, and they would be more than happy to show me all their kindness, evoking more roars of laughter from them. One holds his hand and gently asks me to enter the water. Still terrified, I do as requested, and he motions for me to stroke his arms. Remembering my training, I automatically go through the massage technique. Then they ask us to dance in the water. My confidence returns, and I gladly dance.
They drink for a few hours, watching us dance. Eventually, they gesture for us to go underwater. Just before I dive, the ugly one marches into the water lifts me and takes me over to his side of the lake. Lifting a long tunic, he pushes my head underwater between his legs. I almost lose my breath but control it, nibble, and suck. He’s no different under the water than the carers, and it doesn’t take long for him to buck and trash until he pushes me away and I surface. But he nearly suffocates me, tearing at my hair and forcing my head deeper into him. I’m lucky I’m such a good Water Dancer, and my lungs are healthy.
The carers take us away to dry our hair and clean our hands. When ready, they tuck us back into our portable beds and send us home. They give me a jewel. I don’t care for it, but my carer back in the sleep room is delighted and says she will put it away safely. It was the beginning of my life as a Water Dancer.
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