He sat in front of his dressing room mirror overwhelmed with a tornado of strong emotions. For the past 15 years he had been a juggler with the circus and was a veteran of over 900 shows. The grandfather of the circus. Tonight was his last show.
His whole life had been spent in and around the big tents. It was the only reality he knew. He briefly relived the shock of the others when he unceremoniously announced that he was choosing to walk away. The face he saw as he looked into the mirror looked weathered and old. He was old.
It was two hours until the show - his big send off - and he took out his dinner. His wife had made him a succulently baked chicken leg with all of his favourite sides. He closed his eyes and inhaled the wonderful aroma that reminded him of his cozy home and his amazing wife who had stood beside him all these years. It had not been easy for her. He would not have blamed her for leaving. This was not what she signed up for.
He removed his knife and fork slowly and deliberately, savouring every one of his last moments and experiences as each represented years upon years of similar times. He ripped into the flesh of the once proud bird and aggressively stuffed his mouth full of the juicy meat. His tongue darted out attempting to catch every drop of the cooking liquid as if he were parched, alone in the desert.
Again and again he returned for more only to occasionally pause to keep his imagined attackers at bay. Over the years he too had felt the pain of his flesh being metaphorically ripped from his bones by dictator-like owners, vindictive managers and back-stabbing colleagues each trying to get ahead by squashing the vulnerable around them. He had been vulnerable. He had felt pain.
Outside the wind blew and rattled the poles and the thin layer of protective canvas surrounding him. The wind was always there, blowing in and around the circus; popping in and out of crevasses, playfully rousing hair dos and reminding all that it was barely skimming into its huge arsenal of power. He loved the wind and longed for its cold touch and sometimes he wished it would lift him up off his feet and blow him away from this place.
After tossing his scraps for the dogs, he began carefully applying his make-up, the many layers that combined to create his facade, his prison. He smiled ear-to-ear for the imaginary photographers and frowned for the audience members whose gaze lingered after the spotlight had quickly found the trapeze artists or clowns or whatever the crowd yearned for.
Many times he had prayed for the spotlight to remain and for a chance to wow the people. He had a dream where he had boundless energy and pulled off incredible stunt after stunt and was greeted with a stunning and overwhelming standing ovation. He would sign autographs, give interviews, receive bonuses and smile until his cheeks hurt. He would feel wanted and loved and his tears would be for joy for a change.
"Thirty minutes!" the voice barked out snapping him out of his reverie. The harsh return to reality slapped him in the face. The eyes in the mirror stared back at him with the hallowed look of a beaten man. He rose slowly, cracked his knuckles and took a long, knowing look around his mess of a dressing-room. His sanctuary, his safe place, the house for his tormented soul.
He wanted to paint a black and gray portrait of a man full of sorrow and neglect using his face as the canvas. He wanted to juggle with his tormentors egos high upon a stack of carefully balanced furniture pieces only to slip and drop the egos and see them crash into a million little pieces as if they were but porcelain dolls. His cackle would be heard for miles. For years he had bit his tongue and closed his eyes and turned his cheek. The light at the end of the tunnel was finally in sight.
It was ten minutes until show time and his mind drifted, as it often did, to the night of the tragedy. It was so many years ago and yet it felt like yesterday. He felt trapped inside the prison of his own making, wishing he could forgive himself. Others uncaringly comforted him, he saw shrinks, talked to police, and fell, shaking, into his wife's arms each evening. "It wasn't your fault. He wasn't being careful. You are only a juggler." As the final opening curtain approached he stood outside his dressing room; a lone man awash with moonlight, longing for his release.