A distant cheer is heard. And following it were roars of people from all sides. The lights above brightened in waves around his eyes. Trying to take in the picture in front of him, he slowly let a smile ornament his face. The cheers grew louder as he stepped up, ready to amaze the crowd which was already excited looking at the setup. He marks his footboard and leaps into a run. Faster and more spirited, his sprint finally gave way into nothingness. The footboard vanished under his feet and he was flying in the air with the crowd going wild at his feet. Everyone looking up to him as their God.
Little Kapil was woken up by a loud thud outside his little tent that he shared with three other boys. He was grateful he hadn’t fallen to his death in his dream this time. The thin fabric of the tent gave way to a bright orange light, which was hitting Kapil hard on his face. He finally gave up and sat upright. With one eye still closed, he scanned his surroundings. Two of the boys, had already woken up and were nowhere to be seen. The other boy, equally lazy as Kapil himself, lay across the jute mat, with his legs sprewn in opposite directions.
Afraid of being the last one to wake up from his tent, he quickly got up and folded his half torn coverlet that his friend had left him before leaving the circus. Grazing his hand over the fabric of the thin blanket, Kapil thought of Rahim and his extravagant dreams. Rahim was a fresh wave of zest that had entered and gone too soon from Kapil’s life. He spoke about things outside the little world they lived in, the skyscrapers, the birds, the huge monuments, all the rivers and the lakes yet to be explored by mankind. One day he was telling Kapil how a meerkat was a social animal, and the other he left the circus alone, proving he wasn’t one.
The coverlet hung loose on one end of Kapil’s shoulder. He tried to search for the other end and realising the corner was torn, gave up and bundled the fabric. With one sniff of the thin blanket every day, he reminded himself of the world outside. He hurriedly shoved it under one of the prop tables and grabbed a small aluminium mug which was meant for brushing, bathing and drinking water. All circus people owned a mug. The only possession they were allowed to have except clothes.
He drew the curtain of the tent and stepped outside, adjusting his eyes to bright sunlight. His skin stretched under the warmth of the air around and involuntarily, Kapil let out a long yawn.
“Thats a big mouth.” The Circus owner, who was amused at Kapil’s nonchalant behaviour, dropped his half burnt cigarette and without bothering to stub it out, walked towards him.
“Where was your filthy big mouth when we asked you a million times about Rahim?” He threw the question with clenched teeth.
“Er, Umm..” Kapil didn’t know why he was being questioned about Rahim all of a sudden. It had been months he was missing with some of the Ringmaster’s money. Honestly, it was the Ringmaster’s fault. Keeping a thousand rupees in your shoe sole was one of the cliched tricks in Circus industry.
“What? Now you can’t even talk?” Mumbled the Circus owner. No one bothered to learn his name. All the performers knew, the Circus owner gets changed after every every year or two. That’s all the financial stability they could give to every owner. So there’s only one constant thing to call him: Saabji.
“Doesn’t matter now. We have got hold of him. That little brat won’t be running away with my money. I’ll get every paisa extracted from him.” Saabji hit Kapil on his head and walked away.
As if the hit had triggered it, Kapil started realising what his master had just said. All these years in the Circus, he was programmed to filter out all the complains and abuses that the masters gave him. This one sentence hit him hard. He tried hard to recollect what Rahim looked like, and how it would feel meeting him once again.
But then the reality sinked in. Rahim was not coming here by choice, he was being dragged to this hell and would be definitely punished.
Kapil ran after the Circus owner in his vest full of holes, courtesy of the termites, and his half-chaddi.
“Saabji, Saabji, please wait. You said you have found Rahim?” Panting, Kapil managed to get the words out. But it wasn’t the running that made it difficult, it was the anxiety.
The Circus owner turned around, spat his paan beside Kapil, barely missing him, and started smiling at the little boy in front of him. After seconds of awkwardness and anticipation, he finally spoke,
“Your little friend was found selling peanuts that he bought with MY money. He sells chappals in trains that he has probably stolen from holy Mandirs. He doesn’t have a home and is not guaranteed a day’s meal. Look what happens to you when you try living on your own.” He spat those words on Kapil as a warning to anyone who thinks they can escape the Circus.
Kapil looked as the Circus owner walked away, shaking his head in disapproval. Rahim was a perfect person in the eyes of Kapil. He had a plan for everything. His words were never proven wrong. If he said he would enjoy in the outside world, he must have. He should have. It was better than working in a circus.
Little did Rahim know, there was a bigger Circus of Life waiting ahead for him.