The drums thud in time to her heart. She feels loud some days, her mouth as wide as the sticks she plays with. She runs and runs and runs and is always behind the other girls running to school. She can’t catch up. Her legs don’t let her. The girls don’t know what she does in secret. They don’t know she runs at night too. She runs and runs and runs at night to the valley. Her head thrums with rhythms and she falls asleep in lessons and there are no two ways about it, she won’t be going to school next year. She knows she is wasting her time and her father’s money. Her mother’s care. Her sister’s sacrifice. But the books in tatters at the school and the walls dripping with sweat and Teacher shouting when they forget their lessons – there is no reality to it. There is no tradition.
The rhythms. There is tradition in the rhythms. In the footsteps on the ground and the dances and the songs. She sees the way the women look at the elders. Even the elders who have forgotten how to eat by themselves and who don’t go far enough away from the river to do their business, even they get looked at with respect. Even the smallest elders with the biggest ears that the little children laugh at, even they remember the drumbeats when everything else is gone. It is soul, the rhythm. It is heart. It is mind and body and memory.
Everyone’s history is in that beat. She thrums to the story of them all and practices far from anyone who can hear, and waits until one day she will be able to show them, show them all, that she has learned their family names in the language of sticks on stretched leather.