A disembodied voice swung through the cadences of an unintelligible tongue. Syllables murmured around the ordered rows of figures, all facing the same way, and all shoeless on the patterned rugs. At the front of the room, the young men stood in their thick socks, facing the wall. They could have been any collection of boys, in jeans and jackets, skin like cocoa or like toast or like butter, dark hair on every head. A few yards behind them, the girls stood clustered into three rows, but they looked to me like simplified figures, not complete bodies. The body is a complex, intricate, fragile thing, but these figures were wrapped and draped. Despite the jeans, despite the stylish shoes left to the side, despite their youth, they did not seem girlish. With a headscarf, a female human is a woman, not a girl.
The scarves were every color--black, yes, and white, yes, but also embroidered in gold, and purple to match a coat, and checked yellow and pink over a gray outfit, and red, and every pattern. Coats were cut long, hiding legs. The figures stood, all facing forward, perfectly still.
The voice hummed along, dipping and swooping, and at a word, the boys bowed, the bend rippling across the group like the wind across grass. The girls bowed too, all together, like dancers.
More words I did not understand, like the song of an owl, like the singing of the waves on the shore, and the crowd knelt, stood, bowed again, sat, touched foreheads to the floor, rose again. Each time, the girls moved in perfect unison.
No hand rose to adjust a scarf. No head turned right or left. No whispers slithered across the room. Everyone listened, and rose and fell together, as the voice chanted.
And then the chant was at an end, and fingers twitched. Head scarves were straightened, smiles exchanged. Figures detached themselves from the crowd, became individual girls. (The boys were individuals all along, though.) They found their shoes--heels, sneakers, flats, sandals, dress shoes--and found their way out. Quietly.
The rugs lay on the polished floor, their patterns all that remained of the chant's fixedness.
I left, and broke my fast.