It was time for Aya to enter the forest, time for her to join the dance. Standing on the same spot at the treeline where so many children had stood before, her heart beat a dance of its own, a dance of nervous excitement.
Her mother gave her a backpack, filled with the tools and supplies she would need for the journey. “We will miss you, love.”
Her father smiled and handed her a mask. “We can’t wait to see who you become.”
She ran her fingers down the mask, following the grain of its smooth, wooden surface. Soon enough, she would make this new face her own, adorning it with the gifts of the forest.
A giggle escaped the trees. Looking up, she caught a glimpse of the other boys and girls. They stepped in the spaces between the trees, in the spaces between seeing and blinking. She tried counting the masks, but there were too many. The forest was a flurry of feathers and paint, of wild eyes and manic grins.
Aya began to suspect the forest itself was a mask, shaking with the joy of its giddy secret.
Hearing a rhythm her parents could not, Aya started to bounce with anticipation. With a final inhale, she ran into the forest, taking her first steps in the dance.