Dancing in the Dark
Hiding from IT, he crouches, eyes withdrawn, dun of his back turned up, blending with the sand. Making small. IT stops overhead.
Hole’s too far away. He crouches lower yet.
The crab hangs limp, reflexly feigning death.
"Amazing!" Narada shouts. "Eyes on stalks!" He’d seen a picture in school, but here they actually are!
Patak, hovering nervously behind his big brother, peers around Narada’s waist, shrills, "Oh, his pincers look sharp!"
Narada, laughing, teasing, advances the crab toward Patak’s nose. Patak shrieks, ducks, and runs off.
Narada scoops a pit in the ground, puts the crab in its center, and dribbles wet sand on it. The crab digs out. Narada dribbles more sand. The crab digs out again. Narada pours a mountain of sand over the crab. The crab tunnels in the dark with all ten feet. A pincer pierces the sand. The pincer waves to and fro—opening, arcing, closing—opening, arcing, closing—a dancer’s extension, creating a visual surround.
A flurry of legs, an avalanche, and the crab emerges from the dark. Eyes bend east—scurries that way—stops at Narada’s hand. Eyes bend west—scurries that way—stops at Narada’s hand.
"Sideways!" Narada squeals, "It runs sideways!"
Narada carries the crab down shore to where Mumtaz—his promised, a delicate beauty of eleven—lies reading beneath a parasol. He stops on the way and scans the trees that limit the beach. He bows in the direction of Mumtaz’s mother, who sits in the shade of a palm. She smiles, nods, and discreetly turns back to her book.
Narada sits next to Mumtaz and puts the crab down on the edge of her blanket.
Narada, displaying for Mumtaz, pushes down on the crab. Its legs rise high, its carapace cleaves the sand. Mumtaz grimaces. Narada lets the crab go. It springs up and spreads its limbs in bluff.
"Watch!" Narada shouts, as he pushes the crab down more gently and releases it. The crab springs up and bluffs again. Another push and release, and the dance is enjoined: push, release, spring, bluff; push, release, spring, bluff; push, release, spring, bluff, until finally the crab slides flat to the ground.
Patak, excited, jumps forward, stick in hand, ready to strike. Narada raises a hand. Patak stops, advances slowly, and gently pokes the crab. It does not respond. The children exchange looks of concern.
Narada, reaching for the crab, is distracted by a splash from behind. A cormorant, having crashed into the surf, is struggling to swallow a fish that is much too large for its beak. The boys run seaward to watch.
Mumtaz goes to the surf, fills the bowl of her hands with water, and pours the water over the crab.
The crab stirs, extends its legs in sequence and stands high. It scuttles left, right, backward, forward, and dives into the hole.
Mumtaz claps her hands in joy and begins to dance in delight.