Even in my dreams I planned how I would dig out the ground around the tent, slice the canvas, or in some other way enter the circus and see the big show. I was ready to seduce the guard’s daughter, even his wife, turn into a clown, steal, lie, commit crimes. In vain: the seemingly flimsy, soft canvas fortress was unconquerable.
The tent was at the edge of the city, where the old wooden houses disappeared and the field overgrown with wild poppies started. Stretched and as erect as an elephant’s tusk, it shone in the sun. It flashed colors like the fire of a dragon. It breathed with its enormous chest like a child’s toy, swaying this way and that in the wind – a giant ship on the wide sea.
Strange thing: around the tent there was an empty meadow. No sleeping cars, no people, no children, no animals. God knows where the circus people slept. Next to the entrance to the tent was a cabin where the guard, his wife, and daughter lived.
Late in the night, when the audience arrived, the circus and the area around it was bathed in a waterfall of light that fell from all sides. In this full, magical illumination you could not recognize your own brother, not to mention seeing where the clowns came from, the playthings, the tamer of the wild beasts.
The audience was chosen. The key to the selection was free: it had to do with masks and clothes. The visitors, who came masked as bandits, pigs, or sharks, also had to wear authentic costumes of nobles and rulers of the past. Those who dressed as children of the modern age needed authentic masks. Of course, the formal clothes could easily be bought. But that was not the case with the masks. There were not for sale, and nobody alive – I mean those with whom I spoke – knew how the guests found them. The transformation into persons from past centuries also entailed great difficulties. Indeed, one could buy a mask of a prophet, a harlequin, or a fox; but where could you find the expensive clothes of a ruler, embroidered with gold and sterling silver, and lined with jewels?
For the common mortal, a simple solution was to get away from the glittering stage, erase from one’s mind the magic, gleaming cupola and the thought of the big show that took place under it. But that didn’t suit my egotistical, inflammatory nature. So, even when I lost every hope that I would get into the tent, I persisted in my futile attempts, trusting more in providence than in common sense.
I cannot tell how much time I wasted in these efforts. But one day I got lucky. The guard’s dog helped me. I’d noticed that animal a long time ago, but I couldn’t imagine what use it could be. That day, watching the dog wandering through the field, far from the tent, I happened to notice that the animal went into a hole from which it didn’t come out. I waited all day. In the evening – filled with a strange feeling – I placed a stone on the hole and ran to the tent. The dog was sleeping near its owner. How did it get to the tent? It didn’t take much sense to conclude that the dog used an underground tunnel that connected the outside world and the circus. It was only a matter of whether the secret route ended outside the tent, in the guardhouse, or…?
The area around the tent looked clean, untouched. I had surreptitiously entered the guard’s house several times and looked it over carefully: I never noticed the slightest sign that a tunnel came out there. So?
I returned to the place in the field where I had seen the dog and the hole. The rock still covered it. I removed it. The hole was narrow; a dog could fit, but not a man. Still, wasting no time, without stopping to think or arrive at a decision, I took off my coat, and after I enlarged the opening with a knife, I dug underground clenching a flashlight in my teeth. I crawled, advancing a centimeter at a time. My head was spinning because the show was about to start, and that awareness gave me new strength: the very thought of my reaching the tent too late, when the circus magic would be over, was awful.
Pressed by rocks and mud on all sides, without air, in the kingdom of worms and roots, powerless, I believed I was finished. I was losing consciousness. I was losing strength. For a moment I wanted to go back; but there was nowhere for me to go, much less turn around, and it was impossible to crawl backwards. I continued digging earth with my mouth, swallowing it like a worm.
I was half dead when I realized that the tunnel was expanding. At first it was almost unnoticeable. I continued with the gloomy work of a field mouse. After a while I could move left and right; then the hole became a chamber in which I could crawl more freely; finally it turned into a hall. I stood up and stepped into the darkness of the earth within.
I immediately noticed a detail: from the corridor along which I walked, at right angles, other halls branched, narrower ones: from there something like a reflection of a fire burning within earth came to me, from a great distance was a kind of gurgling; and I could hear a very clear, intelligible human whisper. Curious, I wanted to see where this mysterious light in the bowels of the earth was and what these creatures were who lived so far from the sun, green meadows, and wavy seas. But it was clear that both the light and the hiding places of the mysterious creatures were quite far from me, and I had no time to lose: in the final analysis, I had gone underground because of the show, not because of mad curiosity. I decided to check the mysterious light and the origin of the voices on my way back. Now I had to move on, along the main corridor lighted with the fiery flames – because I had no doubt I was going along the main road, mainly because the corridor along which I walked was wider than the others.
When I reached the end, I started carefully checking the walls. Desperately, because at first glance, the corridor looked like a dead end. I encountered a hard, smooth rock without a single fissure. But to my surprise, after a while my hand touched something soft. I started examining the rock, shining my flashlight on it. The place looked like everything around it, but this rock – about one meter in diameter – was soft as a feather. I realized I was standing in front of a spongy curtain through which one could pass and I stretched out my hand. It sank into the stone. Slowly, carefully, I poked in my head and my shoulders – I felt as if I were passing through a thick, muddy stew. When the strange liquid – if I can call it that – got thinner, above me instead of a starry sky, I saw (for the first time from inside) the shiny dome of the big tent. I swam out of the jellylike membrane and, unnoticed, hid behind the first curtain.
I noticed immediately that it served as a decoration. There was no great danger to be revealed. And when the show was over, I would get out myself – that was my intention – and I would say to the guard to his face: See how I fooled you?
I took a position between two heavy curtains, so I could see both the stage and the audience clearly, and I peered out carefully, to see what supported the big dome, which – oddly – was without posts, supports, pillars, ropes, and from the inside looked like a perfect, hermetically sealed, half-ball of glass.
I noticed something else: in that great hemisphere, the audience sat across from me, while the stage was almost in front of my nose. So, the audience did not sit in an amphitheater, nor was the stage round and in the center, but it was rectangular and at one end of the tent. For me that was better: I could see what was happening under the roof without much trouble.
The visitors, all in masks, were at their seats.
The masks and formal clothes were familiar from before. So I had no trouble recognizing each character.
The audience was mixed together. Old people did not sit with old people, young with young; they were not separated into small groups, but were all lumped together: believers and non-believers, sceptered and mantled, bearded and shaven, fat and thin, the language of the Galapagos and the language of Molière’s precisosas.

2018-08-21T17:23:30+00:00 August 1st, 2003|Categories: Prose, Literature, Blesok no. 33|0 Comments