The night is drunk on the wine and song of the carnival. Suspended above the silhouette of trees, a huge neon parrot preened in a rainbow of metallic feathers, is blinking on and off like a psychedelic eye in the sky. At the edge of the galaxy, the moon’s wild swan spills her brood of intoxicated stars to pop the darkness into a dazzle of light.
In the dizzy swirl of the fairground an octopus dips its armed fists tilting crazed passengers towards the Milky Way. Shrieks escape from the steel cars streaking through the stratosphere. A red-nosed clown on stilts levitates above the aroma of roasted nuts and hot dogs lathered in Ketchup. Excited children chase puffy pink balls of candy floss on sticks. The Ferris wheel waltzes in step to the tune of Ricky Martin belting out ‘Shake Your Bon-Bon’. Next to the House of Horrors and its gothic screams, children gallop in a giddy circle on a carousel of ponies. In the throng of the crowd, a crone, bejewelled in bling bling, calls from her caravan steps … ‘Your destiny revealed … Come, come … There’s no time like the present to know your future.’
He stops, the ball poised mid air, aimed towards the rotating jaw of a painted clown’s head. Her voice, evocative of some foreign country, tunnels down his ears. The little girl pulls at his sleeve. He steadies his hand and throws. The ball plops into the gaping mouth. The stall holder shouts ‘Bravo’ and takes the celluloid doll down from the shelf.
‘Thank you mister, thank you.’ The street child jumps up and down with joy.
As she stretches her arms towards the prize, the belly of the night splits open in a heart rending cry. The octopus flings one of its cars like a little metal bucket into the night, decapitating the gaudy parrot and falling through the trees before dive-bombing into the carnival crowd.
‘Come, come …. Let me tell you all from my crystal ball… come… come … No time like now …’
She draws her black shawl tight around her shoulders. Gold hula hoop earrings reflect dancing lights in her long auburn hair.
He pulls himself back into the moment.
Is he crazy or something …?
Reluctantly he climbs the steps.
The air inside, behind closed curtains, is cocooned in fragrant incense and pungent smelling herbs.
The gypsy waves him towards a chair.
Her long red nails are talons. She reminds him of an exotic bird peering into the secret depths of her crystal ball.
Their eyes meet … hers are smouldering coals. She wrings her hands together. Silver bangles clutter her wrists.
He presses two notes on the velvet cloth, backs out of the caravan and stumbles down the steps.
At the Purple Lizard he stops to steady his nerves over a double J&B, thankful to slip back into reality with the distraction of the sport on the overhead channel and Joe’s mundane gossip, ‘Saw Laura Phipps this morning … tells me she has another bun in the oven … there’s more to working in the Blue Monday Laundromat than meets the eye … I think she’s quite a girl, that one …!’
The barman winks and flattens a cockroach crawling across the counter with the ball of his thumb.
Through layers of nicotine they raise their glasses.
There’s always one more drink for the road.
In the morning, the alarm jerks him out of a fitful sleep. He showers, slaps margarine onto thick brown bread topped with marmite, makes a flask of coffee and heads for the door.
Reaching the Grand Parade he quickens his step, pulls the collar of his anorak up against the north wind, muscles his way amongst the crowd of daily commuters. A young Coloured boy selling the Cape Times shouts out the morning headlines. ‘Read about it …Death at the Fairground … Read about it … Death at the Fairground …’
He stops, immobilised.
It’s all there on the front page.
Mechanical problem with octopus last night at fairground sends car careening into the crowds. Both occupants killed instantly and fatal casualties on the ground. Among the dead are Amira Rashida the Fortune Teller and a little girl clutching a celluloid doll.
He drops the flask and lunch box and rushes blindly towards the railway track.