Money For The Circus 8
It’s a ‘dilemma, with a short eye’, that’s what Gran always says, before taking out her glass eye and giving him the punchline, ‘as opposed to an eye short.’ Marcus has heard people say Die-lemma much more often. Some choices are just life or death, it’s a die-lemma when you don’t know which is which. Marcus’s short-eyed dilemma is whether to keep the watch or see what he can get for it at Cash Converters. Gran has taken stuff there, but she calls it ‘Uncle’s’, though anyone old enough to be her uncle should be retired by now. And it is a dilemma; it must be worth at least the price of a ticket to the circus. Maybe with some left over for that pink stuff that looks like the old ladies’ hair when they come out of Million Hairs on the old market square on Tuesdays between 10 and 3. But it’s got his name on it. Imagine that, a watch you could say had been bought just for you. You could pretend it was a present from your dad, that it had been your dad’s watch and he wanted you to have it, to remember him by. That way you could tell yourself you’d had a father once, like other people did.
The canal tow-path veers right. What to do? Come out behind Asda or keep going all the way to Bridgeholme? Marcus is just about to carry on to Bridgeholme and Cash Converters, when he catches a flash of bright yellow and red out of the corner of his eye. He takes the left-hand path. The trees hang over the mossy tarmacadam and it’s like a tunnel to another world. And, today, it really is. The red and yellow pretty much fills the tunnel exit. He can see the green of some grass below it, where the tarmac peters out. The travellers use this grassy area beside the supermarket for a couple of weeks a year. The grass always recovers, despite the pictures The Weatherfax Courier publishes every year, the day after The Travellers leave.
Marcus knows what the red and yellow is. He knows before he steps onto the daisy-speckled grass. The Big Top’s colours are bright put patchy. From this distance, he can see that the canvas has been repaired. The patches match much better than the ones on a clown’s trousers. The bearded giant Marcus met on the street the other day is swinging a sledghammer, driving a stake with a rope looped around it into the ground. He’s mumbling and grunting. The stake pierces the turf and is battling the rocky clay beneath. Marcus hopes for the Strongman’s sake that this stake is the last.
He goes closer. He’s not doing any harm. He can always run. Running’s sometimes the best solution. His Gran says ‘discretion is the better part of valour’, which she says ‘means run away and ambush them later when they’re not expectiing it’. And maybe it does.
The giant drops the hammer. ‘Ah! It is you!’ Then he lets out a stage laugh, like the villain in those stupid black-and-white movies they show on the tele when no-one’s watching. Gran says ‘fillums’ every time Marcus says movie. Marcus can see moisture in his beard. It might be sweat, it might be saliva. Whatever, it’s gross. The big man points to a canvas bag lying on the grass nearby. .
‘GET ME A DRINK, YOUNG FELLOW!’
It’s as though he’s practicing shouting to the back row under the big top.
Marcus opens the bag. It’s a haversack. Like something from that programme about the oldest soldiers he’s ever seen that Gran watches on UKTV. Marcus often wonders why it’s funny when someone’s incompetent in that programme, but not on the news. There is some beer but he cannot read the label. There’s a bottle of what looks like pop, but not like any he’s ever seen. It has a word he can read on its label but it doesn’t mean anything to Marcus. The writing looks foreign, it says ‘Amrita’. Marcus holds up the can,
‘This or beer, Mister?’
The laughing is deafening at close quarters,
‘No, I don’t need that. Just hand me a beer!’
The man is squatting, Marcus is still looking up at him. He thinks he should have green skin or a body made of bricks. The man opens the beer by flicking the cap with his thumb, as though it had just been resting on top of the bottle. He finishes it without it ever leaving his lips, then waggles the bottle at Marcus. The second bottle goes the way of the first. Marcus can’t believe the man is still hunkered down like a cowboy at a campfire. He extends a hand to Marcus
‘My name is Daitya. Pleased to meet you again, Marcus.’
Marcus shakes his hand, expecting to wince, though the giant’s grip is gentle. He wonders how the man knows his name.