STORY The Ant
“Doctor, Doctor! I feel morbidly unwell!”
“What’s wrong there Son?”
“I’m terribly depressed. I hate my job, I hate the people I work for, I haven’t any happiness and I’m so miserable I want to die! Doctor! What should I do!”
“Well Son, Shalimar the Clown is in from the other town. Why not go and see him? It will cheer you up.”
“That’s the thing, Doctor…”
“What’s that Son?”
“I am Shalimar!”
Drumroll kicks in.
The laughter roars from the darkness.
The orchestra explodes into sound.
Such is the way of the circus.
Three of my colleagues rode their tiny tricycles, no more suited for a three-year old than a group of merrymakers, into the centre of the arena. We busied ourselves on with the skit, attempting to save a kitten from a burning building at roughly knee height. Hurriedly, we squabbled over the brick wall and continually kicked and tripped ourselves to delay the final act.
Howls of radiant amusement rang out through the tent; evidently, the sight of four grown men stumbling over a pile of bricks with no success in rescuing the kitten would have been a sight to behold. Children were in stitches, whilst adults looked on and muffled their grins and giggles. They were smart enough to pick up the act behind our feeble attempts to accomplish this task.
But that was our problem; we literally couldn’t rescue the kitten…
In our little straw-lined room the four of us – my three brothers and I – scratched and preened ourselves in undesirable filth. I peeled pie shavings and orange skin off the back of my neck and crooned over its smell, spoiled and rotten and all. Stephen, my eldest and most dejected brother, picked at the dirt that clung to his shoulder, pondering a moment as he bent down and sniffed the scrapings that came away. He reeled with disgust; it was the same hand he used to wipe himself with.
Georgie, my youngest and the stringiest of the four of us, bounced all over the metal cylinders that lined the room, flaying his dirty messy hair and crooning like a wild animal.
Or, at least looking a little bit less like a human and a bit more like an animal…
Then there were the two twins – Pluto, slightly older by a few seconds, then yours truly, Bobo. We were, naturally, the best hoppers in the circus. And by ‘best hoppers’ I meant cage hoppers. All over our little straw room we bounced and bounded and delighted in the simple pleasures of claustrophobia, completely ignorant of the world outside of our invisible chain.
Honestly, we preferred it that way.
To the outsider we were a group of slobbering freaks, desperately clinging to the confines of our prison and unable to accomplish the most basic tasks of living without the help of the Ringmaster.
Getting up in the morning? Agony – not without the Master’s whip and chain. Sure it ached and left scars that burned and bled throughout the day, but we would never be able to rise without the daily dose of pain to get us going.
Feeding? Only when we had to be fed did a bowl of gruel get pushed into our little room. Other times, they had to hold us down and drip it through our nose. Time after time Georgie choked on the porridge bits that clung to his nasal lining like wool on a carpet, almost being hospitalised at one point. But, food is food; without it we would be neglected by the world and starve.
Cleaning ourselves up? All we got was freezing-cold hose that made us dirtier, allowing hypothermia to flourish and cling to our tiny, worn bodies. Hell, Stephen had to be held down and scrubbed to get the filth off him, squealing and kicking like a dirty little piglet. Truly, a brutal and fiendish process.
But, as the Ringmaster puts it:
“A clean pig is a good pig!”
And so it continued, harbouring insanity the manic frenzy of the circus act. Every day, we were ushered into those awful costumes and out into the arena, confronting the madness of the audience. What a sight to behold; our over-sized shoes and shirts, the floppy hats adorned with dead frangipanis, and the overalls that hung low to one side. We were flat-out tramps in the circus, hired by the circus, owned by the circus.
Owned by our scummy Ringmaster…
Little Johnny tugged on his Mama’s skirt, making sure not to lose sight in the draft of the tent. Every corner was filled with the roar of human voices and the dreary smell of elephant poo and straw, vaguely resembling a zoo for humanity.
His Mother pulled him closer.
“Come on Johnny! We’re going in to see the Clowns!”
A grin lit up little Johnny’s face as he passed through the entrance, excited to see the delightful entertainers, enveloped in their cheeky oil makeup and ecstatic grin. As he took his seat, the main lights to the act lit up.
He was horrified by the experience that followed.
The orchestra lit up into a demonic outburst of brass and wind, bearing no rhythmic joints or sense of sound. The cavalcade, led by the Ringmaster, marched out on horses clad in black and red warpaint – the colour of death. On closer inspection, the riders bore horns and let of an ominous, dark aura from their glowing red eyes. He could vaguely make out the cries of the audience from the insanity: “Blood! Blood! Clowns! Blood!”
Even his own mother joined in, much to his visible discomfort.
The audience got what they wanted; a tiny, straw-lined cage was dragged out into the arena, displaying four poorly dressed clowns on tricycles half their size. They looked visibly disturbed, howling and groaning and pounding the bars in wild agony. The Ringmaster gloated and cracked his whip to the crowd’s delight.
And little Johnny looked in in horror…