The temperature is around 20 below zero. Outside, on this Friday afternoon after our last class of the week, the world is covered in white. But I haven't had ice cream for a very long time. Luckily, convincing my friends that they would love some too isn't that difficult. Nor is luring me into going to a phony “Scottish festival” with a scoop of ice cream.
“Come on Najmeh, you know you want to. It'll be fun.”
“Yeah Naj, it's gong to be great.”
“Didn't you say you like Scottish dancing?”
Well, not really. But I like bagpipes… sometimes. So I asked, “You guys are sure I don't have to actually participate in any of the actual … stuff, right?”
“Of course not.”
Well, I still don't know.
After ice cream, we are still starving and head out to dinner. As usual, we are an indecisive bunch. Surrounded by what seems like 200 restaurants, we just stand there, no one wanting to “impose” their taste on someone else… Not so easy when all the liquids in your nose is frozen solid. Finally, we decide to give up all glamour & class and head to Harvey's.
Walking back, I meet Darrin for the first time – Dave's roommate. Darrin from P.E.I. who seems particularly shy. We sit to eat and I watch from the corner of my eyes as Dave – like always – closes his eyes to say a silent prayer. It reminds me of being taught “Bismellah-e Rahman-e Rahim” as a child.
Once there at Wycliff College, we pay the $5 fee and step in where a cute 20-something year old girl with a Scottish accent is there to greet us.
It is a huge auditorium. It's a perfect setting for a “festival” – except for the fact that the stage is dark and empty. There are no bagpipes and no men with kilts like I had expected. Only about 40 or so students around a long buffet table. Some I recognize from school, others are probably artsies, as we like to call them in the faculty of engineering – along with some more provocative names. They retaliate with songs like this, based on the tune Oh my darling Clementine:
I'm an artsie, I'm an artsie I'm an artsie drinking beer I would rather be an artsie, then a f*&^%ing engineer…”
Where is the festival? What the heck is this? Where the hell am I?
“Ok, now that we all seem to be here, everyone grab your partners!”
I just want to leave my school bag, even my jacket… and run. I've been tricked!
By nature I can be extremely shy and quiet in certain places: when faced with a camera, or in the company of distant family members, and when asked to indulge in the impossible act of … dancing. The thought makes me cringe. But before I can plan a reasonable escape, Rick is standing in front of me, and the girl is shouting out instructions while the music is playing loud and clear. I feel as if any moment now my heart will stop beating… forever.
I am extremely clumsy and uncomfortable. I am sweating. I am once again a 6-year-old sitting on a dentist's chair. The palm of my hand feels sticky, and I feel sick to my stomach. This is no festival, but a one-night class organized by an exchange student from Scotland. Now I begin to get the picture.
Luckily Rick is almost as bad as I am. And so are a lot of other people. I bump into them, they bump into me. They smile, laugh, wink, and I would too if I simply could muster an ounce of strength.
“Now switch your partners, let someone else have their turn!” she, exchange student, screams. And I must sadly say goodbye to Rick. My next partner is a third-year industrial engineering student. I've seen him in the labs at lunchtime. He is one of the people who has been there since morning, quite good at what he's doing, and tries to convince me that I'm doing fine… liar.
Hours have passed. I am dancing with a senior who happens to be studying in my program. His grin makes me laugh. With the red goatee, wild red hair and those glasses he reminds me of a completely disoriented genius.
Last I checked it was 10, but I've lost track of time long ago. At some point as I was trying to follow instructions, keep rhythm with my partner and not bump into too many people, the shyness, the 1000 miles/h heartbeats and the sweaty hands disappeared.
There are no bagpipes or kilts. Just us, on the stage, on the ground, left and right. Sheltered by the fire, and the lights and the sound of our clattering feet, we are a group of 20-somethings (except for me, I'm 16) who have little to lose on this cold winter night by making a fool of ourselves.
Hey, it's like they always said… when you're tangled up, tango on.