The newly formed tribe settled in for their first night. They talked excitedly among themselves after deciding who was sleeping where. Bob cooked an exquisite vegan meal that night:[i] Black-eyed peas, cornbread, and a mess of turnip greens with caramelized garlic. There were pickled beets and a green salad on the side. Bob announced the menu in a professional tone all dressed in white his name embroidered on the spotless apron.
His desserts were also vegan: pumpkin tarts and almond cookies. There was a fine selection of wine and beer consumed in moderate quantity. After dinner Bob led them on a brisk walk into the dense national park.
The gang decided that they needed a tribal name and when they returned to the RV held a spirited discussion and in the pale light of a mid-summers eve became Tribe Oberon in honor of Shakespeare’s mid-summer play and all slept that night enchanted by trance music from Bob’s IPod.
The next morning after showers Bob served them a traditional Japanese breakfast. It had taken him a few months to get accustom to the non-western breakfast, that he ate in Japan. He served them:[ii] steamed rice, miso soup studded with tofu morsels, spinach salad with sesame sauce, umeboshi plums and for the more adventuresome, the strange fermented soybeans called natto.
Surprisingly, the newly formed tribe tried everything even if eating the natto required a dare and some monetary bets because of the foul smell and gelatinous texture of that traditional dish.
Before we set off I passed around a hat that contained four folded pieces of Origami paper. “Here’s how we will decide the order of our personal presentations. You will find numbers from one to four. A very simple solution n’est ce pas?” The hat was passed from right to left. “Ok, open them at the same time one-two-three.”
“I have number three,” said Elinore, dressed for today’s adventure in a brightly patterned Dashiki, her amber braids cascading down her back.
“Well, I am number one.” Penny chimed in. She was a very petite Asian woman with the body of a dancer or at least a dancers outfit, complete with leg warmers, her hair wound into a thick bum.
“I guess that’s great Penny because I’m not quite ready.” Aiden said. “ I have number four and that is fine with me.” Aiden a tall thin young man sat with his legs tucked under him. His fair hair was dyed silver. He was very flamboyantly dressed in a white suit and pink shirt. He looked like a refuge from Gatsby’s estate.
Everyone looked over at Steve. Penny said, “I guess you have number two Steve. You’ll be after me.” Steve was a bit of an enigma. He was quiet and looked like he could have been in a band, his black sleeveless tee shirt and black jeans framed his deeply tattooed arms.
“That’s fine with me.” Steve said shaking his head from side to side. “I just hope you won’t be bored out by my tale of woe.”
That statement made everyone quiet for a long moment, the first embarrassed pause of the trip but that soon dissipated like the ripple of the leaves along the tree lined old highway as they travelled merrily along.
Penny stood up and struck a dramatic pose, a dancers stance. “Here ye, here ye, I am happy to be the first one to tell all of you about me and my reasons for seeking The Gathering, but first I have to change.
The rest of the Oberon’s settled themselves comfortably in their cocoon like berths anticipating Penny’s show. Bob had brewed some [iii]Caffe Vita Queen City coffee and a pot of Green Dragon tea stored in stainless steel thermoses. There was a tray of tropical fruit and a stack of lovely tea sandwiches: watercress and butter, pimento cheese and avocado tofutti.
The music surprised them. It was a waltz. Bon recognized it immediately. “It’s Chopin, it’s the music Robbins used for the ballet ‘Dances At A Gathering,’ how profound!”
Penny emerged in a very sheer, pale lilac flowing gown. She wore dazzling silver ballroom dance shoes with four-inch heels. Her sleek black hair was piled on to of her head with realistic lilies of the valley cascading from the bun. She looked almost six feel tall. Everyone gasped and words like: “Oh my, my goodness, holy cow and beautiful, you look just like a princess.” Punctuated the bus.
“I’ve always loved to dance. Since I was very little. It seems like I was born to dance. My mom took me to all kinds of dance lessons, ballet, tap, lyrical, jazz and traditional. I wanted so much to be a professional ballet dancer and even studied in Chicago, but they said I was to small and too Asian to be a soloist or even a corps de ballet girl, you know one of those thirty-two girls all dancing and looking alike in Swan lake.
So I gave up for a while. I went to college and got a very good job in Hong Kong where I was born.”
“I figured that you were Asian,” said Elinore. “I was dying to ask you if you were Chinese or Korean, but I didn’t want to seem stupid and rude.”
“That’s ok, I understand. I have lived here for many years now since my exit from Hong Kong. This is what happened to me.”
The Oberon’s settled down and Bob kept his eyes on the slow country road.
“As I said, I was born in Hong Kong. After I gave up on becoming a professional western dancer I returned to my home country to take care of my parents. After my father died I was left with his huge fortune. I never married. I wanted to be married but none of my suitors were rich enough. I started taking ballroom dance classes and found that I loved this form of dance. The best thing about ballroom dancing is having a great partner.
I found my best partner when I started specializing in the waltz. I felt like Princess Grace Kelly or Cyd Charisse. My life was complete. His name was Alistar Chen. He was so tall and such a good dancer. He had also studied ballet in the west in San Francisco. We spoke the same language, the language of dance.”
Penny stopped and showed the onlookers how to do a simple waltz. “One-two-three, One-two-three. “ Aiden tried to join her but she was too quick, too light on her feet.
“I must admit, I fell deeply in love with him. He was so handsome. We fit together so well. I wanted him but in truth he was homosexual. That small aspect didn’t stop me from wanting him. I already paid him to teach me, to dance with me. I could afford it. My mother also passed away and my investments just made me more and more money. I could afford to travel anywhere to meet anyone but I just wanted my Alistar.”
The music and the vision of a fairy princess looking for her Prince Charming kept her audience’s attention.
“I offered him more and more money. I sent him elaborate gifts. I insisted that he have no other partners but me. He promised me he would give up teaching others and he even kept me hoping he would renounce men by kissing me secretly every once in a while keeping me on tether hooks.
I was more and more jealous and hired a detective to follow him. The video recordings were devastating for me. The detective had photos of Alistar kissing other men and even worse than that. There were photos of him dancing with other women. I confronted him with this evidence. He laughed in my face.”
“You bitch,” he shouted the last time I saw him. “You think you can just buy me, that you can just buy love. You are a pathetic excuse for a woman; you with all your dollars can’t buy me anymore. I am finished with you and I’ll make sure no one will ever dance with you again.”
The Oberon’s all sat with their mouths agape. Elinor had tears in her eyes. “That bastard. How could he say such mean things to a beautiful person like you Penny?”
Steve shook his head, ‘That’s so wrong Penny, what he said to you, but you were wrong you know.”
“Yeah, Even if he was gay he shouldn’t have led you on. Being gay and kissing a girl is ok if you are bi but leading you on and taking your money. Oh hells no.” Aiden said.
“I know the whole story is wrong but what was worse is how I got my revenge.”
The gang wasn’t prepared for this revelation and everyone turned toward Penny. Bob was so intrigued that he pulled the RV into a clearing and stopped. “I have to hear this,” he said. “In fact maybe we should find a place for the night and hear the end of this tale. They rode for another hour everyone reflecting on Penny’s story wondering and speculating how Penny got her revenge. She looked too fragile to actually physically do something to Alistar. She couldn’t break his legs, or crush his skull with some outrageous Kung Fu.
Finally (and it seemed like and eternity) Bob pulled off the road. “Should I cook dinner first and then hear the end of Penny’s story or should we get to the end of the story now and discuss after.”
A show of hands and an exciting murmur decided that Penny had to finish her story and then food.
“Alright, alright. I get it. Now people I am not proud of what I did to Alistar but at the time I was a broken woman. First I decided to get out of Hong Kong and that’s when I came to the Northwest. I was patient and reinvented myself as a widow from Vancouver BC. I became Penny Kwan. You don’t need to know my past name.
My patience was rewarded one day a couple of years later. I was able to fix his dancing career to make sure he wouldn’t dance again. I hired a man to infect him with the HIV virus, a particular heinous strain. It worked. He was stricken. At first it took away his looks and then his strength. He couldn’t stand much less dance ever again. It didn’t kill him. He is still in a nursing facility where he may eventually die.
I am going to The Gathering to burn my shoes and to burn my shame. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.”
[i] Recipe #2
[ii] Recipe #3
[iii] Recipe #4