“I want to be a clown,” I told my mother when I was very small. The fontanel in my head had only just closed and my tiny pearl teeth glimmered with newness as I spoke.
“A clown?” she snorted with a contempt that shot out at me like venom. “No one will look at you. No one will laugh at you, girl.”
I learnt early not to eat anything she offered me. Even the shiniest apple turned to vinegar in her hands. With time, her nose—always prominent—met her chin, warts sprouted with wiry facial hair, and her destiny was complete. By that time, I was far away, out of reach of spluttering hyoscine, out in the oyster-world, wearing yellow garlands in my hair.
“I want to be a clown,” I said to my teacher on that first-cage day of school. I smiled at her stony face. “Clown begins with C,” I boasted. She clucked her teeth at me and waved my small, eager face away. “Will you help me to be a clown?” I asked in my naivety.
“I’ll give you clown.” She smiled grimly and made me stand, facing away, in the corner of the room until my knees ached and the other children forgot me.
“I want to be a clown,” I told my boss in the office where I wasted day upon day—a treadmill of contemptible tapping at a keyboard, throat numb from talking, unlistened to, on the phone. She eyed me merrily, squinting with a feigned surprise.
“Then be free,” she said. “I won’t stand in your way,” she laughed and took away my keyboard and my telephone and my monthly paycheque.
I spiraled down in a flurry and London became a hellish place. Crowds jostled me aggressively; rich ladies snatched their bags away as I came close; the pavement became my bed, doorways my home.
One night, as rain spattered the bare streets, shoppers fleeing for fear of melting, a shadow loomed, dark and magical against my covered doorjamb.
“You want to be a clown?” he asked. I looked up, but there was no good light by which to see his face.
“Yes,” I said, amazed he could tell my thoughts just by looking at me. Too eagerly, I followed him to a boarded-up shop filled with costumes.
“A clown,” he said, eyeing me from the secret vantage point below his wide-brimmed hat. I saw only the effect of his words upon the situation of his pointed, black beard. In a whirl of hands and fabric he had me dressed, white-faced, in a ruffle—a sort of harlequin.
“Sleep here,” he ordered, opening a back room and indicating a mattress on the floor. “Be a clown here.”
When he was gone, the darkness enveloped me uncomfortably, constraining my movements as though I was captured by shackles. The almost-silence of the shop terrified. I shivered in the cold, thinking longingly of my abandoned doorjamb, paralyzed by fear.
In the morning, when no one came, I added a tutu, flourish of tulle, and struggled to open the door to outside. Once in the street, shocked crowds jeered, pointing, nudging, laughing. My tears streaked pink jagged lines down my white face. Terrified fingers knotted my hair, making it stand – wig-like—on end.
The shoppers laughed. The workers, commuting, laughed. The hobo man and his yappy dog laughed to see me. The whole world was made merry at the sight of me. My fresh tears ignited the fires of their mirth.
Image Credit: © ~ Bitter ~ / Dollar Photo Club