Viet Nam News
By Nguyên Hương
The three poles were planted in a triangular position. Leo started climbing the middle pole at a snail’s pace, and then he slipped down and caught himself near the foot of the right pole.
From there, he climbed at a progressively rapid speed and then dropped toward the foot of the left pole. He accelerated and then stopped with his head upside-down. His legs were thrown upwards, his two hands catching the tops of the two poles.
The audience joyfully clapped their hands; they thought it was over. But the applause turned to startled silence as he began to slip down head first, fast. Right before his head hit the ground, he flipped his body, landed light on his feet, and aroused an endless standing ovation.
The car transporting the circus was headed to the provincial capital city through a cloud of dust and dead leaves. Outside, they heard a loud snap. The driver said “shit” and slammed the break. There, below that broken kapok tree branch, cotton flew all over the place.
The driver lowered the window and stuck his head out to look at the broken branch. A group of kids appeared, their hair white with cotton.
“Hurrah, the circus from the capital city is coming!”
“Is there any elephant, sir?”
“Yes, there is” – The ringleader answered in a hoax voice. His nose was covered with a yellow paper elephant trunk.
The kids burst into laughter. The owner of the kapok tree also laughed.
“No problem, no problem!” he said, waving his hands.
The driver heaved a deep sigh and drove on.
“It’s going to rain!” – One person exclaimed looking at the clouds.
The head of the circus troupe knit his brows. The ringleader swung his fake elephant nose:
“Who is for the rain, who is not?”
“All are for the rain, except the head of the troupe”
The whole car burst into roaring laugh.
“I also bet it is not raining,” he blurted.
“No need to side with me,” the head of the troupe frowned and took a mobile phone out of the pocket, shouting: “Do move into the culture house in this rain, you know!”
The head of the troupe did not know it yet—and none of the members knew it either—that tonight’s outdoor show would be Leo’s last performance.
Wind was blowing hard and the downpour was yet to come. Everyone was tiptoeing with expectation. The shower would come in the middle of the performance, Leo thought. His last performance would end like this. The night before, he and his wife were still dreaming about his last outstanding performance taking place in the middle of a stadium or in the center of a large square…..
The car was running into the yard of the culture house. A cold feeling enveloped Leo. His wife had many times quarreled with him about these field performances. They will shorten the life of a mediocre performer like him, his wife often said. She told him that she had found him a job as a guard for a governmental office, and he should quit being a middle-tier pole climber. Doing such a job could not give him either fame or money, his wife stressed.
And this, his last performance, would make him feel even more like a mediocre artist. He trembled at the thought. Everyone was hopping off the car one by one. He stepped back and looked at them with crossed arms. Then, he turned and walked away.
It seemed as if every single remote, provincial capital lay around a high hill. He took photos of every field trip. All these photos looked the same.
He climbed a hill against strong winds slashing his face. He sat down to rest. He looked down on the panorama of the whole provincial capital city and then he heard a boy’s voice:
“Would you please sit further away from me?”
He turned. A brown-skinned boy was there with a sickle in the hand.
“You see, this patch of grass belongs to me!”
He burst out laughing. He moved a bit away from the boy. He watched the bony arms quickly cut the grass. Cotton flew everywhere, crackling like withered flowers. Then the boy dropped the sickle and tied to cut grass. He looked at Leo, explaining:
“We are raising rabbits, you know! It’d be easier to tend goats, because I’d only have to leave them there on the hill and then take them home. Not so much effort, you see! But the restaurant down there only asks us to buy rabbits, because there are so many restaurants serving the special goat dish”
“The more restaurants, the more goats are needed, I think”
“But it is not profitable in that way”
Leo burst out laughing: “But what if many restaurants decide to serve rabbit?”
“Yes, my mother is afraid of that situation. She said in the future if she could do business in dinosaur eggs, she would not be afraid anymore”
“Do you believe that there are dinosaur eggs?”
“Television says dinosaur eggs have been found, you know! But….”
“But I’m afraid that nobody dares to be the one chef to cook dinosaur,” the boy said, laughing.
Leo laughed too.
“Are you from the circus troupe?”
“How’d you know?”
“Do you like the circus?”
Leo pulled out a two-seat invitation card. The boy will jump for joy, he thought.
“No, thank you!” The boy stood up with one arm embracing the cut grass and the other hand taking the sickle.
“All the circus troupes to visit here have given false performances. I think the circus on television is truer to life,” he said, walking away.
Leo was still standing there in great surprise when the boy continued:
“You know, the other day, people from the delta came up here, raising a ruckus about their quality goods. They even cooked food on the sport and gave us free samples. My mother bought one box of sausages. Yet, we had to throw it away because the date was expired”
He looked at the boy and felt deeply hurt in his heart.
The preparation for the outdoor performance was in full swing when sheets of rain began to fall.
“Good thing we haven’t sold any tickets,” the ringmaster said.
“No problem. Please take respite and enjoy another performance. We are having a xòe dance performance here,” the owner of the guest house said.
For the sake of curiosity, the crowd went through a suspension bridge to see the show. It was already crowded there. This was easy to understand, because the performance of the dance was free with complimentary cần alcohol. Leo drank the alcohol and joined the sạp dance with the locals. Suddenly, he saw the boy wearing brocades over his shoulders. Quickly, Leo began his act. He sent two hands on the ground and two legs toward the sky. The crowd stepped back to make space for him. There, he continued to dance with his two hands in between two sticks, shaking harmoniously to the tune of music. The crowd went wild.
His arms, his legs, his whole body danced and sang. The audience yelled for joy to encourage him. Tears were running up his upside-down face, wetting his forehead.
Leo’s fingers began to ache. He knew he should stop now. He flipped his body, stood on the ground, and saw the boy selling his brocades.
Translated by Mạnh Chương