You could see it in her eyes, she had finally found home.
She first caught my attention when she stood at the ticket booth of the circus entrance. She was handing the man what looked like all of her saved up allowance money. A few shiny quarters and a couple of crumpled up dollar bills. The man counted, his face screwed up as if the girl reeked of the sewer. He shook his head, un-scrunched his face and tilted his chin up. He stared down his long lumpy nose at her. He held out his hand for more. The little girl turned out her pockets and dug as deep as she could into the corners of the little purse she had hung over her shoulder. She looked up at the ticket man with sad sad eyes, but the heartless thing merely pointed a long finger away from the circus. I could read his harsh lips clearly from my booth a few feet away as he said the words “Get Lost.”
I reached down underneath the velvet draped table I sat behind and used the key up my sleeve to unlock the tin box tucked beneath the folds of my skirt. After hearing the short clip of the lock releasing I reached in blindly and pulled at a few of the bills that brushed against my fingertips.
Then just like it was fate, a small Indian boy being tailgated by a young lion cub came running by.
“Gantry!” The boy turned and waved. I motioned for him to come visit me in my tent.
“Come along Sambar!” He said to his lion cub. He gave the side of his leg a few pats then raced the cub over, a careless grin resting easily on his face. He wore purple satin shoes that matched the purple satin sash tied around his waist. The little lion cub, Sambar, tried to nip and claw at the tails of the sash that flew out behind his master.
The boy Gantry had just turned twelve about a month ago and his uncle Saidul (who I rather detest) had celebrated by having him debut his first show as the ring leader. His promised future was to someday become the one and only Gantry the Grand and to take over as proud owner of the circus. But I saw more for the boy than his grandest adventure being handed the deeds of the circus and a pen to sign them with. I had offered more than once to read the boy’s palm, but his uncle was always persistent in keeping his head away from any influence he could not understand.
He had said; “All illusions have their secrets Meetha, and until you tell me yours I will be watching you. Night and day, don’t think you can fool me.” But what Saidul never understood, was that being fooled and being foolish were two very different things. When it came to his case, one of the two was inevitable.
“What is it Meetha? Did you wish to tell me something?” His eyes were so alive. He was just a little breathless from his race to her tent but that didn’t keep him from smiling. The little black curl that lay against the top right corner of his forehead was plastered down by a thin layer of sweat from the humidity of the evening.
The energy, excitement and strong sense of wonder were all things that had lured me to work for the circus. The magic of it all had not quite worn off yet and I wasn’t going to let that little girl go running off without a taste of it too.
“Dear child. Would you be so kind as to do me a generous favor?” Gantry nodded.
“Of course, Madam. Whatever you wish.” He twirled his hand forward and tucked the other away behind his back. Sticking out his left toe he took a deep graceful bow. A true showman’s flourish. He stayed like that for a moment or two then look up with a perfect half moon grin. “Well, what task do you have for me to honor you with this fine evening?”
“There is a little girl outside the gates who I need you to find. When you do, give her this.” I handed over the small bundle of cash I had gathered, then folded my empty palms together interlacing my bony jeweled fingers.
“How will I know which girl to give it to? What does she look like? Does she have a name?”
I smiled wisely.
“You will know. Now go quickly before she is gone.”
Gantry took matters very seriously. He gripped the money in his hand and turned to his cub.
“Come Sambar, we have a mission and we must hurry!” He turned and ran off, kicking up dirt as he flew through the grounds. Sambar chased after him playfully nipping at his heels when he could.
It was then watching him go that I caught a glimpse of the rare trail of destiny ahead of him. It was a warm soft golden color. The rare trail leading to the most rarest thing of all, two soul mates about to meet for the very first time. It seemed to glow brighter as he got closer to the girl.
“Excuse me, Madam Meetha?”
I tore my eyes away Gantry’s destiny and looked up to find a customer had found their way to my booth. I stole one quick last glance but as quickly as the trail had appeared, it vanished.
“I wanted to hear my fortune.” The customer said to me. Over at the gates Gantry had returned. At the sight of the girl with the ring leader’s nephew the ticket holder waved them in and they set off together to explore the circus.
“Yes of course dearest stranger. Step inside and have a seat.” I stood up and pulled on the string that held back a silk curtain. It billowed down and enclosed us more privately inside. “I have been awaiting you. Let’s take a look into your past, find hidden meanings of your present and taste just enough of your future. For the Mysterious Madam Meetha knows all, but will she tell is the question.”
I had done rather well that evening. Perhaps the circus had not only been visited by the trail of destiny, but by a stroke of luck as well. I separated my share of the earnings and locked them up in a chest beneath the mattress of my bed. I slid the silver key onto a chain and clasped it around my neck. I could feel the cold metal against my heart and it gave me chills but comfort as well knowing it was safe. It was time to give the rest of my earnings to the ring leader, Saidul.
The grounds were mostly empty because all the tents had closed, but a few of the rides were still going, one of which was our famous double decker carousel. I always passed by this ride at the end of my evening, but this time I stopped. Sitting alone on the upper level was the girl I had seen from earlier.
I took a detour and made my way over to her. The sticky sweet air of kettle corn and funnel cakes had become more distinct while the thrills and excitement died down considerably. The circus could be a rather lonely place at this hour so I made it a point to sit by the girl for a while. I stepped onto the churning platform and maneuvered my way through the animals and benches that raced its course. A spiral staircase wrapped around an old mirror littered with black spots led me to the upper level.
The girl hadn’t chosen any of the magnificent beasts to ride, but a simple teal and gold painted bench. The seat was big enough for three, but her small little figure made it look even larger than that. I delicately swept my way to her and smiled generously as she looked up.
“Hello. My name is Madam Meetha. Would you grace me with your company a short while?”
The girl nodded shyly and nervously tucked the front of her hair behind her ears. I took note of the bruises that varied in purple and yellow hues along her forearms.
“What is your name young lady?”
“It’s Grace, Madam.”
“Grace.” I let the name whisper to me as it rested on my tongue. It pulled away the veil that shadowed her and I could see glimpses of her past that filled me with remorse. A lot of darkness, recent at that, surrounded her. “That is a very elegant and fitting name. You must be eight years old, or am I mistaken?”
Grace nodded carefully looking at her feet. She then peered up at me cautiously through her long doll like lashes.
“I just had my birthday last week.”
“Oh, well isn’t that marvelous? Here hold on a moment…” I felt around in the hidden pockets sewn into the folds of my skirt and entertained the child with a small gasp at having found what I was looking for.
“What is it?” Grace asked intrigued. Her nerves had began to fall away and she stopped picking at the hem of her dress. I bent down and beckoned her to lean in.
“I have something here in my pocket. It’s very little, but precious. May I give it to you as a present?” I raised an eyebrow and smiled mischievously. Grace grinned back and nodded.
I pulled my fist out of my pocket and held it out in front of her. She waited patiently and I watched her expression as I let my fingers unfold to reveal the glittering barrette. She inhaled sharply, little pink lips forming a perfect “O.” Her eyes softened with admiration.
“It’s lovely.” She breathed.
The barrette was simple, but enchanting. A trail of gold and silver crystals shaped into tiny stars trailed their way along until it reached a small crescent moon made of opal. The warm glow of the circus lights made it beam as if someone had simply reached into the sky and picked each jewel from the heavens to garnish the barrette.
“Do you want me to put it in your hair?” Grace bit her lip and nodded eagerly. She folded her hands in her lap as I gathered a few strands of her hair and pinned them back with the clip. She sat up a little taller when I finished, as if I had just crowned her with a tiara. It warmed my heart to see her wide doe eyes light up with confidence.
“Am I beautiful?” She whispered.
“Beautiful? No. You are dazzling.” Her cheeks reddened with delight and she wrapped her arms around me.
“You are very welcome.” We sat there embraced for a moment. “Now. I must get going. Are your parents here?” I asked already somehow knowing the answer.
“Um, well no. I… I ran away.” She hesitated and I knew she feared I would ask her why. I didn’t say anything, but reached for her hand which she tearfully accepted. “I made a friend. His name is Gantry. He told me that he will try to talk his Uncle into letting me stay here. He said I could work for the circus, but I have no special talents or really anything special about me at all. His Uncle will probably say no and I’ll have to go home.”
“Hmm.” I could tell from the bruising marks along her arms returning home was not going to bring this girl happiness. Making up my mind I let go of her hand and stood up. “Wait here. I am going to see what I can do.” Grace’s eyes looked fearfully hopeful.
“Really? Oh Madam Meetha, you are so kind! I… I don’t know what to say…”
“Say nothing. I will be back in a little while, but whether or not Gantry’s Uncle has work for you I will find you a home. I promise.”
I turned and just as I began to make my way to the staircase, Gantry himself had appeared. His lips pouted in worry and his eyebrows knit together into a distasteful loathing. Seeing me he burst into a frenzied explanation of what had happened.
“Madam Meetha you must help! I just tried to speak with my Uncle. I was trying to get Grace a place in the circus, so that she can work and live here, but he wouldn’t hear of it! He became angry and told me that if I begged him any longer he would ban her from the circus forever! I don’t know what to do.”
Behind me Grace had stood up and tears were threatening to spill from her eyes.
“Calm yourselves. Both of you. I will go and do what I can. Gantry keep Grace company and do not worry yourselves. I am sure we can find some way to make Saidul see reason.”
Gantry made his way to sit by Grace on the bench as I began to descend the winding stairs. I looked at them just before they’d be out of sight and was pleased to see Gantry had already began comforting her, putting an arm around her shoulders and speaking to her softly that things would be alright. I was determined to make them so.
I reached Saidul’s tent and took a deep breathe before entering. If Saidul had not listened to his nephew the chances of him liking what I had to say on the matter anymore than him were very slim. I knew I could be persuasive though and I planned to take that to my advantage.
I reached a hand between the dark green curtains and pushed aside the fold just enough so that I could peer my head into his room.
The theme of Moroccan grandeur never ceased to impress me. A blast of vibrant colors greeted my eyes and as they adjusted I was better able to make out the decor. A wall of intricately woven tapestries enclosed the space. Iron lamps were hung from the ceiling as well as dispersed randomly amid the gaudy cushions and rugs that blanketed the floor. Lounging on a richly fabricated mattress was Saidul and one of the acrobats, Marina.
“Pardon me, Saidul?”
He looked up smiling lustfully, but annoyance flickered across his face as he saw it was me lurking in the entry way.
“Leave your earnings on the counter.” He waved indifferently toward the ancient wood and brass table to his right. I made my way over and placed the money on top of the counter then turned to him. “What is it?” He asked seeing I had not left.
“I was hoping I could have a word with you.”
“Tomorrow. I am busy.” He nuzzled his face into Marina’s neck, who threw her head back giggling.
“I would prefer that we speak now.” Not bothering to hide his impatience, he let out a heavy sigh then leaned back against the pile of pillows and intertwined his hands behind his head. Marina began to play her fingers along the open seam of his shirt that dove threateningly close to his belly button.
“Alright, then speak quickly. This had better not be a waste of my time.”
“The girl Gantry has just spoken to you about, I want to take her in.”
“Impossible. Now get out.” I stood my ground and continued.
“She doesn’t have much to offer now, but she will with my training.”
“Psychics are a dime a dozen.”
“I wasn’t talking about fortune telling. I am talking about making her the circuses first ever ballerina.”
I was pleased to see the sudden perk of interest. He unlaced his hands from behind his neck and squinted at me.
“I was trained since a little girl where I grew up in Albania. I performed for many years before becoming a psychic. I will teach the girl all I know, and she will grow to be a beautiful ballet dancer. It is the one thing your circus lacks, you know this is true.”
Saidul’s face was readable as he weighed the opportunity in his head. I felt lucky that Marina was there. He was always in a much better mood with company who adored him.
“We don’t have spare tents and I am not interested in making this circus any larger than it already is. She is too young to take all of her things and pack her own tent as we travel.”
“That is a simple enough fix. She will stay with me. She doesn’t have much and she is still so little. Give me two years to train her. If she is not promising to you then, I will find her other arrangements. If she has done well though, you will offer her a job and she will earn her tent, old enough by then to take care of her things.”
Saidul looked long and hard as if trying to find some hidden scheme laying beneath my determination to take the girl in. He bit the inside of his cheek then shrugged.
“Fine. I don’t want any trouble from her. See that I don’t even know she exists until she brings something useful to my circus. Now go, I have wasted enough time with this.” He turned his attention back to Marina and grabbing her hips he pulled her up on his lap grinning lustfully. Not bothering to give him my thanks, I made my exit.
When I had made my way back to Gantry and Grace, they both looked up wildly at my presence.
“Has my Uncle found his heart? Please tell me Grace can stay.” Gantry blurted standing abruptly but keeping hold of Grace’s hand. She looked up at me worried, but hopeful. I spoke slowly.
“There are conditions.” I eyed the two carefully, making sure they took the time to measure what staying would entail. “Grace you will have to behave very well, which I do not doubt that you will. Both of you must stay out of trouble. Of any sort. Lastly, Grace. You will train with me before the circus opens everyday, and I expect you to practice diligently what I have taught you while the rest of us work. It will be very hard, but I will make you into a ballerina. If you succeed in two years, Saidul will give you your very own act in the circus. You will be responsible for yourself by then. Its a lot to ask and it won’t be easy. Do you understand this?”
Grace nodded gravely.
“You are going to make me into a ballerina?”
“I am going to teach you all that I know and more.”
“Where will I stay until then?”
“You will stay with me. It might be a little crowded, but this is the life you will have. This circus will become your family. Are you ready for this? You can always turn back.” Grace shook her head at this.
“I promise Madam Meetha I will work very hard, I won’t disappoint you. The place I called home was never truly home. Here I already feel I belong.”
“Then it is decided. We will start training tomorrow.” Both Gantry and Grace cried out in delight and ran to throw their arms around me in a tight hug. I laughed and bent down to hug them both as well.
“You two take care of each other, okay? That is the last promise I will ask of you.”
They looked at each other then back at me and nodded.
“I don’t think that will be a problem.” Gantry beamed.
“Now go off you two. The circus is still open for ten more minutes.”
They laughed and Gantry took Grace’s hand and pulled her along telling her of all the new friends she would have and all the fun things they would get to do together.
“Take care of each other…” I whispered faintly after them. Then I looked up to the heavens and frowned slightly. The twinkling of the planets each bade me their wishes and blessings but I questioned briefly if that was enough. Love this rare seemed to never end so kindly, but as the gleam of the barrette in Grace’s hair caught my eye all my worries slipped away. Standing like a guardian above the circus I knew I would do all that was in my power to protect the love that laughed and scampered across the deserted circus grounds.
Grace’s promise to me and I to her proved faithful. Over the next two years she succeeded even my expectations. Even Saidul couldn’t hide his satisfaction at the new addition she would make as the circuses first ever ballerina. He even went as far as advertising her in the flyers they posted around towns as they traveled from city to city.
There were only two instances that I ever worried about Grace’s future with the circus in that span of two years. One was when Gantry had skipped one of his acts. Grace and him had been having such a good time together it had slipped his mind. Saidul had been furious. A large audience had sat for twenty minutes before their frustration boiled over and they left the circus demanding their money back.
Saidul could never be angry with his nephew so he pinned all of the blame on Grace and yelled at her to leave and never come back. Gantry had somehow diffused his anger and convinced Saidul he wasn’t with Grace and that she had been too busy practicing her ballet to have distracted him. Though I am sure Saidul knew it was a lie he let it pass and within a week had forgotten of the incident completely.
The other instance that frightened me was when Grace has clumsily twisted her ankle running around playing with Gantry’s lion Sambar. I worried about permanent damage hindering her ability to perform ever again, damaging both her future with the circus and any career outside of it should Saidul cast her out. Gantry had gone as far as playing sick an entire week just to spend the painful moments by her side. Grace had thankfully healed quickly and was able to do enough to impress Saidul a week later earning her own act and tent to begin at the start of the season.
It was Gantry’s complete devotion to Grace that amazed me, but at the same time didn’t shock me in the least. Most children would grow restless and impatient with a person who spent as much time together as the two of them did, but I was not wrong in seeing their souls so intertwined. Every spare moment, night or day, I would find them at each others sides, Sambar usually never far off. The lion himself seemed to be an extension of Gantry and loved Grace just as much as he loved his master. He watched over them both extensively and with his watchful eyes I felt no need to worry myself with anything other than keeping Saidul happy with Grace’s progress.
Both Gantry and Grace exceeded in their talents measurably. While Grace grew more beautiful and lovely with her ballet, Gantry grew to be a strong and intriguing performer, surpassing his Uncle by the time he was eighteen. He still had a few years ahead until he would take over the circus, but I felt confident when he did, my work here would be done. Gantry would lead the circus to an even bigger success than his Uncle, carving the perfect future ahead for him and Grace to live happily ever after.
It seemed fate wouldn’t be so generous.
Gantry was nineteen and Grace almost seventeen when I found Gantry at my tent with something troubling that he insisted was urgent to speak with me about. A few hours had passed since sunrise and I was still sitting at my empty table sipping on my tea meditatively. I let him take a seat and closed the curtains between us and the circus beyond.
“I’m not sure how to begin this…” He said anxiously.
The boy who I had remembered just yesterday I now noticed for the first time had transformed into a man. The white shirt he wore pulled tightly across the muscles on his chest and he now had the stubble of a man on his chin and upper lip. I smiled in my heart at noticing the small curl that always sat in the corner of his forehead remained.
“Well what is that you wish to tell me concerning?”
“It’s my Uncle, Saidul. He is very pleased with Grace’s achievements. He’s confided in me that she is a very beautiful dancer. A very beautiful girl.” I watched Gantry’s expression closely.
“That is good is it not? That your Uncle is pleased?”
“Yes of course at first I was relieved. Then he kept going on though. The way he spoke about her discomforted me. I thought at first maybe I was just being overprotective, but reflecting on the things he has said I don’t think I am wrong to worry.”
“Hm. This is concerning. Especially if you feel the worry in your stomach. Are you afraid of your Uncle’s intentions with her?”
Gantry nodded looking quite disheveled.
“I trust Grace would come to me if he had tried to pursue her in anyway. He has a lustful heart and I do not doubt that he would or maybe has in subtle ways, but I fear Grace has too kind a soul to see it. Her goodness could be blinding her. I try to be with her always, but should Saidul find an opportunity I tremble to think he would not pause to think twice about taking it.”
“I understand your troubles with this. Pardon me for saying so, but I have never trusted your Uncle’s character. I believe the best I could do to ease your stress is assure you I will be keeping an eye on him as well. Grace may be kind, but I don’t think she would stand for him harming her in anyway. She went through enough of that in her childhood to know when someone is about to cross a line.”
“Yes of course. You know it was long before she even told me of her step Father. I was always too courteous to ask why she had run away then one day we were sitting at that same spot on the top of the carousel and she told me everything. Its hard to believe her own Mother wouldn’t believe that man had been abusing her, but to accept his proposal with the things he had so clearly done to her? I could never understand it, even now.”
“I am sure she struggles with understanding as well. What is important is that you have helped her move on. She has accepted her past and she has come to me many times expressing just how grateful she is to have stumbled upon you that night so many years ago.”
“I suppose I really owe that all to you.” Gantry smiled sheepishly. “You really know more than you let on.”
I just bowed my head humbly.
“I really love her.” I looked up to see Gantry staring at me fiercely. “There is this intense pounding that I feel in my heart whenever I look at her and I know nothing else but that I love her more than anything.”
“I find that amusing. She has told me almost word for word the same about you.”
“I am going to marry her. I will propose tomorrow night and together we will take over the circus and everything will be set in stone.”
I smiled warily.
“Gantry, may I read your palm?”
“Read my palm?” He repeated dumbfounded.
“Yes. Your Uncle has always forbid me to, but seeing as his reign is nearing his end I would love for you to end my curiosity.” Gantry laughed fully.
“He really is something isn’t he? Alright, have a look.” He reached his hand forward and let me turn it over in my own frail withered hands. What I saw made my bones rattle.
“Gantry! Where are you hiding?” Grace’s voice called out. Suddenly her face appeared peeking inside of the tent. “Ohhh,” She said in a low husky voice. “And what has the wise and mysterious Madam Meetha have to say about your fortune?” They threw each other playful grins and I forced myself to follow with a wide smile.
“Happiness of course. You two were written in the stars I tell you.” I lied through my teeth.
“Lovely. As we knew of course.” Gantry winked.
“Is it okay if I steal Gantry from you Madam Meetha? He’s promised me the evening to work on a duet act we have put together.”
“Of course dear child. Off you two go.” Grace did a small pirouette on the tips of her toes and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Taking Gantry’s hand she pulled him up out of his seat and dragged him along side her as she took off in the depths of the circus grounds.
I sat in my seat paralyzed with contemplation at the things I had seen. The dark, haunting, discomforting things I had seen…
Later that night it all came crashing to an end.
No one really paid much attention to the rain as it began to sprinkle around six that evening, but within an hour it had turned to a full on downpour. With no choice but to close the circus people fled to their cars. Everyone was either underneath their jackets or giant stuffed bears they had won at the games. Mud and dirt tried desperately to glue them down to the ground to make them stay. The battle was fought vigorously as shoes were stolen and left behind as a sacrifice to the suddenly vicious rain Gods’ above them.
I pulled my curtains shut as the wind had picked up and began to blow the cold rain into my booth. I cleaned up my table carefully stowing away the crystals in their pouches, tarot cards in their chest and lastly the glass sphere. Once that was safely stowed in the velvet lined container, I made my through another hanging of fabrics to where my living quarters were. Beginning to chill I threw a few logs into the small stove in the middle of the space and began a fire.
I wasn’t sure how long I had been sitting there for, gazing distantly into the glowing heat of the stove, but it must have been a while. The rain was still pouring fiercely and my ears were deaf to the world listening obediently to only the sound of the rain harshly falling against the Earth. The blanket I had wrapped myself in was so warm and I soon found myself dozed off into a deep slumber until I was awoken abruptly by a splitting crack of thunder.
I sat up wildly as Gantry came rushing into my tent.
“Is Grace not here with you?” He briefly scanned the room and upon seeing she was nowhere in sight looked to me wildly. “Do you know where she is?”
“I haven’t seen her all evening since you two went off earlier this morning. She isn’t in her tent?”
“No.” He gave me a dark look, “and Saidul isn’t in his.”
Together underneath heavy quilts we ventured out into the storm scanning the grounds for Grace, praying to the heavens Saidul wasn’t with her. We each called out her name, but our meager voices would not have been heard above the ample song of the thunder clouds above. It was dark as well and the dirt had us each slipping, but Gantry helped to hold up my old bones as we inched our way through the night. Generous flashes of lightning let us see briefly what direction we were heading, but it left us blinded for the short moments after.
Gantry’s faithful lion Sambar had found us. He trailed behind us more slowly not all too grateful for the involuntary shower that damped his golden coat. Then faintly, a sweet voice just hardly audible cried out.
“Grace.” Gantry identified the voice instantly, and I could see the pain he felt at the distress in her cry.
Saidul had to of fooled her into going to the storage tent to get blankets or food or some other excuse. Gantry let go of my arm and ran toward her plea’s, slinging thick globs of mud behind his heels. I ran as well, the pain in my joints too numb too protest. Gantry, who had beat me to the tent, let out a roar of anger. I caught up to him and threw my hand up to my mouth.
Saidul looked mad. His normally well oiled black hair was disarranged and stuck up all over the place. His skin was deep red beneath the surface as excitement was surging through him. He had Grace pinned against a pile of rice sacks, her summer dress torn so that part of her breast had been revealed. Saidul was grunting from the effort at making a reach for it, but Grace bit, kicked and scratched at anything to keep him at bay.
Gantry had started toward her the moment after he let out a scream, but the gesture was unnecessary. I looked up as my eyes were caught by the sudden shadow above me.
Sambar, evidently over the rain, had taken a great leap over our heads and landed violently between Gantry and Saidul. Saidul looked at the beast then let go as it let out a ground rumbling growl that frightened everyone. Wasting no time Sambar hoisted himself up onto his hind legs and placed his massive front paws on Saidul’s chest knocking him to the ground. Grace screamed and I turned away as the lion sunk its teeth into his neck. A strange morphed cry of agony started and ended quickly as Sambar tore at Saidul’s head and ripped it in one almighty motion from his shoulders.
Gantry who had not turned away stared at his beast in shock. Grace was shaking from head to toe and I gathered myself quickly and made my way to her. No one said a word.
“What in the devil…”
All heads turned with a snap toward the new voice that had entered the tent. It was Jezzabell the bearded lady. Just as soon as she made eye contact with us she burst back out of the tent screaming and waking the others.
“They’ve killed the ring master! They’ve murdered him!” Everyone looked at each other nervously as an uproar that wasn’t the thunder began to grow. Gantry went over and took Grace’s hands in his. Her shaking immediately began to calm.
“Take care of her Meetha. I need to stop this before all hell breaks lose.” I nodded and Gantry took off racing after Jezzabell.
We waited for a while there and listened as the the rumble of confusion grew and then blended into the rain outside. I went over and peered out the tent to see what looked like the entire circus mobbed together heading towards the largest performing tent. I waved Grace over.
“They are gathering over there. We are going to sneak back to my tent and wait there until Gantry tells us of what is happening.” Grace looked back mortified at Saidul’s decapitated body, then back at me. “Come on.” I grabbed her by the wrist and together we braced ourselves against the rain and thunder and found our way back to my tent led by the guidance of the lightning.
For a while we both just sat shivering huddled close to the fire. My joints had rediscovered feeling and began to scold me by shooting aching pain into every inch of my body they could find. I found myself more than once shooting nervous glances at the tent door. Sambar stood alert and walked around the perimeter of the room, prowling like a guard.
“This is the end.”
I looked at Grace who was focused on her feet. Both hands were gripped so tightly on the blanket around her that her knuckles had turned white.
“This is not the end.” I said to her. She looked up at me almost angry.
“They won’t understand. They won’t believe me. They’ve never accepted me as one of their own you know that. Aside from you and Gantry I’ve never been wanted as a part of this family. Of any family.”
“Are Gantry and I not enough?” I whispered a little hurt.
“You and Gantry and more than enough, but the rest of them will blame me for this and you know it is true”
“It was Sambar who killed him. The evidence in the wounds will make that clear.”
“Do you think it will matter!?” Grace shouted, tears spilling automatically from the corners of her eyes. “I have nowhere to go. Almost ten years this has been my home. I have nothing!”
We both jumped. Gantry had returned and by the look on his face he didn’t have good news.
He saw Grace and immediately went over and embraced her. Grace held back her tears and pushed him away so that she could look into his eyes.
“What will they do?”
Gantry shook his head and bit back his words.
“Gantry. Tell me what this madness has done.”
He looked at her gently then couldn’t stop himself from the tears that began to leak from his own eyes.
“They want to kill Sambar of course.” Grace put her hand on top of Gantry’s and he continued. “They have already begun plans to kill you too. They are talking too wildly. They’re beginning to construct these evil plans to sabotage your performance somehow. Let mice loose so that you will fall off in the middle of one of your elephant acts and… and be stomped to death. There are more and they only grow more insane. Grace we need to get you away from here. We will run. Anywhere but we need to leave tonight, I can’t trust that they won’t take you from me in the middle of the night.”
Grace laid a hand on Gantry’s cheek then pulled him close to her.
“I will go tonight,” She took a deep breathe. “But Gantry, you have to stay.”
“What? Grace! That is ridiculous I will come with you!” He pulled away abruptly. “How could you think that you would go alone.”
“Gantry they need you here. They can’t understand what has happened, but they are people and this is their home. No one knows how to take care of the circus like you. You were raised for it, no one else has been taught a thing.”
“Then let them learn. I won’t let you leave here without me.”
“Then I will die. If you came with me you would be putting everyone in this circus out into the street with nothing. You are risking all of their lives for mine and I know that you would do that for me in a heartbeat, but I can’t let you. The excitement will die down and things will be fine with time, but Gantry. I have to go.”
“Meetha, talk some sense into her.”
“She is right Gantry.” He threw a look of betrayal in my direction. “For Grace’s safety it will be better off that she goes. She will find a job with a ballet company somewhere where her talent will take her to another home.”
“I can’t let you go…”
“I may be able to do something to help.” Both Gantry and Grace gave me quizzical looks. “It’s not a solution, but it may comfort you.” They exchanged looks then waited for me to go on.
I reached behind the stove where I had hidden a small metal box. They watched me carefully as I opened it and pulled out a long golden string.
“This here is a binding thread. It’s an extremely rare and powerfully enchanted item, but I think this here is the best purpose I could ever hope to use it for.”
“What will it bind?” Grace asked, investigating as close as she could from her seat.
“Your souls. It will make sure that lifetime after lifetime your souls will find a way to each other. It can not tell you when and it can not tell you where, but it will continue to guide your hearts toward each other time and time again until fate has been kinder.”
Grace reached for Gantry’s hand again.
“What do you need us to do?”
“I need something from each of you. Something that symbolizes who you are, and it needs to be meaningful or the binding will not hold strong enough.”
Gantry’s brows furrowed as he thought. Grace had already begun to dig into her dress pocket and pulled something out in a fist.
“Will this do? You gave me this the very first time I met you. I remember when you put it in my hair it was the first time I had ever felt I was special.” She opened her hand to reveal the crystal star covered barrette garnished with the crescent moon shaped opal. Touched and unable to speak as the words caught in my throat I nodded. Grace understood.
“Gantry what have you?”
“I… I don’t have anything.”
“Nothing at all?” Gantry shook his head. I thought for a moment.
“I know something that might work.” I shuffled around until I found what I was looking for. A small pair of scissors. I made my way over to Gantry who gave me a reproachful look. “I’m going to cut a lock of your hair. If you are absolutely sure you don’t have anything, this should do the trick.” Proceeding on, I reached down with the end of my scissors and pinched the curl that had always sat on the right corner of his forehead. With one snip it was released to me and I went to sit down placing both their items on my lap.
I delicately clipped Gantry’s lock of hair between the teeth of Grace’s barrette, then looped the thread around them both. I began to tie a knot and as I pulled it tight I spoke out loud.
Gantry and Grace both gasped as the bundle in the golden string rose up out of my hands angelically, emitting a soft warm light. The glittering increased until the bundle became nothing but a snow like dust falling gently to the floor.
“It’s done.” I said. The sounds of angry voices had picked up again. The circus men were becoming anxious. “Grace you must get going now.” Grace nodded and stood up quickly to embrace me.
“I can’t thank you enough, Meetha. For everything.” She spoke quietly into my ear.
“Of course child. Now hurry you need to get going before they don’t allow you to leave.”
The three of us lifted the fabric at the bottom of the tent and made our way to the edge of a woods. Gantry couldn’t seem to take enough of Grace in and wouldn’t take his eyes off her for a moment.
“You should take Sambar along with you. He isn’t safe here.”
As if the lion could understand his master’s words, the beast made its way over to Grace looking fierce as he braved the rain. The storm that had subsided for at least a little while was beginning to pick up again. Gantry had taken a quilt with him and moved forward to wrap it snuggly around Grace. They held each other for the longest moment they could have pouring every ounce of their love into that last embrace.
“Until our next life.” Grace smiled, her tears blending in with the rain washing over her face. Gantry smiled. He bent down and kissed her briefly, then both of them using all of their strength pulled away from each other.
Gantry patted Sambar’s head then moved back to rejoin me, also in tears touched by the tragic beauty of the moment. The lion gave Grace a long look then tossed his head back, gesturing for Grace to hold on.
Straddling herself over Sambar’s back, he waited until he was sure she was settled then took off into the night sparing her the pain of looking back.
Gantry and I watched as they much too quickly began to disappear from our sight. They became nothing more than a shadow beneath the trees, another strike of lightning granting us one last look before they vanished completely. The rain continued on and with the absence of Grace and Sambar the cold seemed now much more bitter than before.
I looked to Gantry to see if he was ready to head back to the warmth of the stove, but he stood in the rain like a stone beneath a waterfall, hard and unmoving.
“Until our next life…” He echoed Grace’s last words and cried no more.