Fiction: The Clown

Rana Preet Gill

Rana Preet Gill

He had a head full of golden curls, a nose, swollen, red and shoes so ugly that I laughed in contempt. Was there any need for them to put up the clown in this supermarket? It was bustling with shoppers at every conceivable hour of the day.  I tried to buy things early in the morning before the start of my shift, late afternoon, early evening, late in the evening, in the dread of the night but it would be full of expatriates like me. The natives had an upper hand since they would have separate queues while we struggled to get our things together, looking at their shorter queues and envying that they had it so easy.

I hated the Agha supermarket and now this clown. Like an imposter towering over small frames of children looking for potential victims it seemed.

“They rape and mutilate the bodies of the little ones only to hide them in the giant bulk of their costume.” I babbled.

Athiya was hardly listening. She was aware of my contempt for the locals, for anything that seemed to differentiate us from them, for everything that brought a warm scent of sweet memories from home afar.

And this clown, this man in the garb of a clown was making me nostalgic, choking me sick with feelings like a marmalade spreading on the wafer-thin mint, buttering it up like a toast, full of sweetness so repulsive that I rushed to the nearest rest room to vomit. A meagre breakfast of an oily poori dipped in the spicy concoction of channa.

I stepped out to see Athiya grabbing the bulk of the clown in her hands as the impersonator hugged her in an embrace. But his arms, fluffed up in this giant mess of clothing made the gesture appear funny. The children giggled, laughed out loud, now pulled Athiya away from this embrace.

My turn, my turn! 

They shouted out loud.

The clown lets go of Athiya, turns towards them, points out to one lean girl, afflicted with polio walking tormented by one short leg in prosthetics and other normal leg. As she placed her normal foot in front of the artificial one she made a strange creaky noise. The clown proffered help extending a hand, but she walked straight into his bulk of a belly nestling her head deep, fitting it into a crevice as she brought her hands close to grasping the folds of the clownish clothes.

“And now he is going to feel her up?” I hissed while Athiya looked at me shocked by my derision.

“Let’s go on some other floor. Where there are no clowns and imperfect children. Did you see she had polio! I mean, how could she! We eradicated it from our country. And this place, look at them with developed infrastructure, but midget mentality.”

“It could have been something else. And why rebuke a child. She might, she will grow up to be an amazing personality.” Athiya, the eternal optimist always makes the endings beautiful. All well that ends well! She would often intone, conclude and rest her case.

Athiya and I were roommates in this alien land. She was not my sister, nor my lover, we had demarcated our boundaries in the room, we were confidants. Two Indians in a land so far away from home. We were in the same university, different classes, different courses, altogether different timings yet we found time to navigate the Agha supermarket once a while.

It was her generosity that she allowed me to co-habit with her. Before she came into the picture I was sharing a room with ten of my ilk. I had tried to fall in love with her in those initial days. I imagined what would happen if we slept together in one bed instead of two separate beds but it never happened. I had tried to peek into her life to find the traces of a boyfriend back home, but whatever she told me about her family it did not include a love interest. She might be hiding, I would think. But Athiya, the girl was so pure in her intentions that I had to let go of my wanderings. I returned her panties, her camisole and the brassiere, silken and soft, which I had sneaked up to work up my fantasies in the dead of the night. Athiya is a lesbian, I made my shitty mind mug up this line and deserted her longing in the desert, the barren land where when they found no nourishment, they died down. Athiya was, after all, only a roommate.

Why she offered me the luxury to live with her will always remain a mystery to me? She had financial stability. Her father was a stockbroker back home. He sent her enough. She did not work. She lived in this upscale locality on rent all alone, which was again a luxury. While I worked in shifts before and after classes in the grocery store she did not.  I wanted to share her moolah by making her my girlfriend.

“I don’t want to complicate my life with relationships right now. Too young!” She minced no words. I lugged the weight of this new realization, this clarity of purpose in her dictionary of life berating myself for the recklessness of having no purpose at all.

But all this happened a long time back. We never talked about the possibility of a relationship, I stopped thinking, she stopped explaining. I respected the boundaries, she did not define them again and again and we fell into this familiar rhythm of life.

That night when we switched off the lights Athiya spoke in a soft hum from the other corner of the room. Her voice travelling little distance sounded far removed from this world, coming from a distant land, a neighbour country with which the mind of my own country shared peaceful relationships. Two worlds squeezed into a room, two personalities jostling for space, two human beings making their own rituals in a land unclaimed, unchartered, undefined.

“Why were you so nasty to that clown? He might be someone like us. He did not seem like a local.”

I smirked. She must have sensed my indifference.

“What if he is someone from our country, doubling up as an artist only for money. Some extra money!”

I did not answer and her voice feeble with concern was soon blocked from the recesses of my mind.

I slept with an unease that night. Images of my home town, a mother and a village fair swam through the interstices of half-awake mind. A happy childhood, those figurines decorated with markings, the clown of the villages, making us children laugh. But all that was far removed from my life now.  The mother alone, father dead, I ended up studying in an alien country. The village metamorphosed into a suburb, no village fairs, where would those people who dressed up in crazy costumes and markings deep red on their face would have gone.

Early morning as I called back home, I asked mother if she ever went to that fair. Seen those people, clumsy, clownish, a treat for village children, waiting to entertain others, waiting for some scraps of money from their elders.

“I am all alone. Who will take me to the fair? It does take place, but at a different venue. Do you need money?”

I disconnected the call. She could always hitch up a ride with someone from the locality of the village, the quasi city. I do not know what that place was anymore. Not my home. This was my home. But this was not home either. I was an outsider here also.

I avoided the Agha supermarket for many days. But that day when Athiya had the shopping list ready I could not say no.

“I have classes. And you can pick these things up before your morning shift.”

I nodded and moved out. She was diligent as she calculated the expenditure in advance and paid me her half of the bill. So, calculative with her vast resources!  The stockbroker in making! I laughed at her stinginess some days and marveled it at other times.

Athiya, I do not want to see that damn clown! I left the words unsaid in my heart and moved out with heavy steps.

He might not be there this early morning. He might be in his home, his safe cocoon, I wondered. My mind still agitated with my mother’s concerns about my need for money, her inability to take charge of her life in my absence, those village fairs, the clowns, my denial to go home, to forsake everything and yet trying to find routes to associate with things back home.

No, I shouted to myself. I want to disconnect. Everything that reminds me of home.  It’s been three years and I have not gone back once.

Why? I question myself. Did I want mother to find a way out of her life, with the money and property, sell it, find a support, a help and carry on and not look forward to me coming back and take charge of everything?

Why should I complete my education and go back?

What for?

There was so much bitterness inside me, creeping into the corners of my mouth. This rootlessness. As if after the death of my father I uprooted myself from my nativity. But there was mother. I had ignored her pleas, forced her to sell a precious part of land cherished by my father and left. Left, right after my father’s death when I had so much to take care of! But mother, she had managed, without me, but then, why cannot she go to the village fair and see those smeared bodies with paints, laugh and giggle. Is she still waiting for me? For such a simple job when she had undertaken the task of managing bigger things by herself.

I switch on the music putting an end to painful thoughts that crowd my mind day in and out. I would love to play possum to dank these thoughts but it would not come easy. The letting go would not happen.

As I park the car in the basement of Agha market I notice the clown. But it’s a man, I rub my eyes. Hs is wearing the costume of a clown, the head full of golden curls rests next to him. He is sitting in the basement with the blob of a nose fixed atop. He smiles as he sees me getting into the lift. His shift must not have started yet. Athiya was right, he looked like us, our man, not a native, an expatriate, fooling the world into believing that he is one amongst them. Beneath the mask he is one amongst us, a foreign being, a non-native.

I do not smile, neither wave my hand. I see his smile die for the neglect of reciprocation. He will soon disguise it under the fake head full of golden curls.

In the university, I check out with my supervisor to find out if I can travel back home for a few days. He is gracious to allow me a break. I book a ticket, an empty slot for the night, as if waiting only for me. I pack my bag, write a note for Athiya.

 I am going home to bring back the lost cuddles.

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