by Derek Buttress
We teased the girls we saw each morning on the way to work, their pale faces framed by a headscarf’s tails and pinched with cold on a bus that was so frozen we had to rub thick ice off the windows to see where we were. What patient magic, we wondered, transformed such pinched and shivering girls in time for the school hall dance on Saturday nights? Each week we followed as they strolled arm in arm to the grubby school building, sashayed in laughter across the slippery floor of a hall that smelled of furniture polish and the aftermath odour of boys’ P.E.
How subtle the girls’ magic with make-up! How enticing the scents that cast a spell when you approached a girl to ask if she would join you in the formal patterns of the dance! As darkness hid the dreary streets outside, and the saxophone and trumpet of the semi-pro band blared out the latest tunes, the memory of tedious work faded away. I would hold my partner with a delicate yet strategic touch, a language of desire that said much more than my tongue-tied words.
Between the foxtrots and the quicksteps, the Palais-Glides and the sambas we watched the girls as they watched us, laughing, mocking yet inviting, all of us pretending we didn’t really care, caught up in the laughter of friends but suffering the delicious ache of hoping we would find the special one, the girl who would transform our lives with the promise that lay in the mockery of her smile.