A HEAVILY muscled man with a raised scar on his right cheek, perhaps an old hunting wound, his loincloth arranged with a tail hanging down at the back, propped himself on the edge of a log some ten yards in front of us; between his knees he held a small drum, a tapered cylinder with skin both ends, lines of rolled twine stretched tight from one roundel of skin to the other.
The drummer shut his eyes, shook his head, opened his eyes, blew on his hands and began to play.
The women formed a circle, moving slowly one behind the other, picking up the drummer's fast, insistent rhythm only with the complex small steps of their bare feet, a dance that swayed their raffia and leaf skirts from side to side, a rippling undulation that matched the rise and dip of their high melodic song. The children set up a contrapunctual clapping, the men, over by the bachelors' lean-to, a low chant; it was both sophisticated and anarchic: an old woman, a band of cloth running tight beneath her armpits to hold her long breasts flat against her chest and stomach, wearing a cast-off wrap-around as a skirt, shuffled into the centre of the circle and begin a private dance, her arms stretched out straight and down in front of her, her hands shaped to the head of an imaginary child.
There was a shout, the screams of running children, over by the far side of the clearing; from the darkness, from a hut set back behind the others, a tall grey figure entered the open space, and in front of it Bakolo walked warily, shaking a gourd rattle, directing its movements. The figure began to whirl, coming closer - by the light of the fire we could see that its feet were bound in barkcloth, that it wore red trousers beneath a skirt of leaves, that the top half of its body was wrapped in barkcloth, that it had no arms, that its eyes were big black empty sockets, that its face was a gorilla skull.
Literally lost: 7
Last week's extract came from Robert Byron's 'The Road to Oxiana'. The action took place in Afghanistan. The winner was S Bailey, Oxford.