The Clown: A Short Story by Felisa Daskeo
He stood in front of the kids and waved a gloved hand. He looked genuinely happy with eyes dilating and lips curving almost reaching his ears. He skipped, hopped, tumbled, stopping a few moments to shove jokes and make the people laugh. He could spark a dead party alive and sizzling. He is the spice of every gathering both for children and adults. That is his life.
The air was saturated with cheers and laughter that morning as the crowd watched the clown make faces and do tricks. The children shrieked and their mothers laughed and clapped.
Outside the big gate were two desolate figures crouching by the fence. They weren’t part of the party, but they stood there trying to view the funny clown.
They were badly clothed and they wore slippers that were unproportioned. Both the mother and child were a total mess, with faces that were badly scarred. And skin almost totally discolored.
The clown hopped, skipped and tumbled again, slowly moving farther, finally reaching the gate. He was glad that everyone was now engrossed with the foods and for a while, he was left unnoticed. For a quick moment, he stared at the pair outside the fence. He just wanted to say hello to them and share with them a moment of joy. He was sure they needed it.
The boy shouted with excitement as the clown got closer. The mother uttered a muffled cry of protest trying to stop her boy but to no avail, the boy had reached for the clown’s hand for a handshake.
“Hello, there,” said the clown in his high pitched voice. Unmindful of the growing tension behind him, he remained glued there. He could always make up for the crowd later. But he promised a precious moment for the duo. Just watching them smile was enough to fill his day.
The mother pulled his boy away and hurried away as the crowd panicked; leaving the clown to face the angry people.
The host was all red with rage. “Hey, clown. What are you trying to do? I hired you to attend to my guests and not to waste your time with those beggars. Next time I see them, I’ll have the dogs or the guards get them.”
The clown scratched his head. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to say hello to them.”
The clown’s heart ached for the unfortunate duo. They looked so helpless in their state, not the usual ones you see around who made begging their way of life.
The strangers left in haste avoiding the residents of the posh village or else they’ll be locked up in jail. They are always locked up in jail. Poor people like them are always locked up for crimes they don’t even understand. As if it was a serious crime to be destitute. As if it was morally sinful to pass by these wealthy places. Where in the world should they belong if they can’t even step on the ground of these moneyed people?
They stopped, at last, to rest under a big acacia tree. Maan wiped Junjun’s face with the hem of her tattered dress. They were both wet with sweat. There was still a long way to go. They hadn’t got enough coins to buy food for dinner. Junjun stretched his tired legs and rested his back on the big roots.
“Are you tired?” His mother lovingly combed his hair with her fingers.
He was silent and in deep thoughts. Maan felt her eyes watering. How she wished Junjun was there with the kids enjoying the moment with the funny clown.
Junjun looked up to his mother. He was a tall boy of nine. He used to be a healthy good looking boy. Smart, lively and happy but fate turned upside down and they became an outcast of society. Nobody cared about them and how they felt. They were shooed wherever they went. There was no place for them.
“Mother,” he said thoughtfully. “I thought clowns were happy people; born to make people laugh and make them happy?”
Maan nodded. “Why, of course, they are happy people. They’re the spice of parties and they’re paid to cheer up their hosts.”
“But mother the clown we just saw isn’t a happy one.”
“Why do you say so?”
“Because I saw tears in his eyes.”
“Tears? No, child, maybe you are wrong. Maybe it was the makeup.”
“But I swear I saw tears in his eyes. I looked closely and he had tears.”
Maan stopped arguing. She fell silent. Why would a clown shed tears in front of her boy? Unless something was wrong with his eyes or Junjun’s eyes made a mistake.
Lorenzo skipped dinner and rushed home. He was devastated. He almost broke down this morning when he saw those poor creatures standing so lonely outside that gate. Why did it have to open his wound again? Why did those people have to be there begging? He had almost forgotten the pain of the past. And now everything was refreshed anew.
Five years ago, Lorenzo had a family. He had a beautiful wife and a handsome boy. He considered himself a lucky man for having two very valuable people in his life. His son was only four when he decided to go overseas to find work. His wife put up a grocery store to attend to in his absence and they were doing quite well in life.
But tragedy struck. The whole house was burned including the grocery store. And everyone in the house except one maid was burned to ashes.
In an instant, Lorenzo had nothing left in his life. No family, no property and no money. Nothing, just nothing. His life was a total wreck. All his dreams for his family vanished with the death of his wife and son. He was inconsolable. Until one day as he was drowning himself in wine, his wife’s voice woke him up.
“Lorenzo, whatever happens, don’t give up. Hope should always be your guiding light. With hope, nothing is impossible.”
He tried to remember his wife’s beautiful face, full of hope even in times when things seemed impossible. She was always there at his side, reminding him of what life is all about, the trials that often cross one’s life, the good and the bad. And she believed that life is a cycle of the pros and cons, the good and the bad, the failures and successes and one would have to sort them out to her advantage.
He got up, totally sobered now and thought of his life ahead. Would he ruin his life and end up joining his wife and son in the grave? If his wife were still alive, would she be happy watching him slowly killing himself?
He finally stood up, took his shaver and cleaned his face then turned on the TV for news, the screen flashed a funny man being interviewed, a clown. He looked so cute and funny that Lorenzo finally smiled and almost laughed for the first time in seven months. The clown was saying, “I’d been a clown for thirty years and I feel young every minute of my life.”
“How old are you?” asked the interviewer.
“I’m almost fifty and I feel like twenty.”
Lorenzo’s heart skipped, then, without thinking, he took the mirror and viewed his thin face. Can I qualify for a clown, he asked himself.
A week later, Lorenzo was practicing to become a clown. He did pass and a good friend took him in and they shared his apartment. When he saved enough, he rented an apartment for himself.
Lorenzo sat down on the floor and cried like a little boy. If his child were alive, he would be as big as that little boy. And his wife? She would be as old as that woman. But who knows? Both were ruined with scars all over them? For a quick second, Lorenzo’s mind tried to sort out things, then it flashed in his mind; could it have been possible? He almost stopped breathing as the thought struck him that it could have been possible that his wife and son survived the fire?
Junjun’s words had been playing over and over in Maan’s mind the whole night. If only they saw that man in a different occasion, in his normal self and not a clown? Who could that clown be? The question in Maan’s mind rushed in succession. But she couldn’t think of the right answer for them. It would be impossible for him to have suddenly turned into a clown.
The clown had created a puzzle in Maan’s mind. But though she wanted it solved she had sound thoughts. She would prefer begging around rather than letting him know the truth and messing up his life. What use is if for him to know? Nobody even cares about them. Even the other beggars despised them. They’re often laughed at, stoned and cursed.
Maan and Junjun were walking hand in hand in the streets. They preferred to go out at night time. That way, their scarred faces would be shielded by the darkness. The streets were busy. Cars were rushing home and the pedestrians were either walking or queuing for a ride back home.
Their favorite place was the jeepney terminal. Here, they could sit down at the side and put a can beside them for the passersby to drop coins.
Maan couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw a one hundred peso bill dropped in the can. She looked up and saw a smiling face looking down at them. A look of shock registered in her face. And without second thoughts, she pulled Junjun’s hand and fled the place.
“Susan, please wait,” the man was shouting and running after them.
A man cursed as Lorenzo bumped on him. There was an exchange of harsh words between them that gave time for Maan and Junjun to escape him.
Junjun looked up to her mother. “Mother, why did we run away from him? He’s a kind man. He even gave us money.”
“I don’t trust him, Junjun. I’m afraid he’s one of the men from a syndicate who use beggars to make money for themselves.”
“But mother, he knows you. Why did he call you Susan? I don’t understand it.”
“He was only guessing. You know that my name isn’t Susan. Never mind that man. Just forget about him and stay away from him.”
Maan looked at the restaurant near them and looked at her son. How she wished she could bring Junjun inside but they couldn’t. The guard wouldn’t let them in. So, they ended up eating a piece of fried chicken and rice in a corner by the streets.
Lorenzo’s mind was swirling as he thought of the incident that night. If not because of the darkness, it would have been easy to have located them. But he wouldn’t give up on them. He went to the parks and walked the streets from morning ‘til night and found no trace of them. He even asked the other beggars but nothing good came out.
Sunday morning, Lorenzo went to church very early. His plan was to ask the beggars around about the pair. After mass, he stood outside the church planning what to do. All of a sudden he spotted the boy near the gate of the church. He walked slowly to him so as not to scare him away.
Junjun looked up to him and something flashed in his mind. He smiled and without thinking held the man’s hand that he was offering.
“You are the man we saw in the terminal?”
“Y-yes. I wanted to talk to your mother but she was scared. Where is your mother?”
“She’s at home. She isn’t feeling well today.”
Lorenzo’s heart raced. Oh my God, he thought. “What’s your mother’s name?”
“Everyone calls her Maan.”
Lorenzo wrinkled his forehead. “Are you sure it’s Maan?”
“Yes sir. And my name is Junjun.”
Lorenzo was almost discouraged with what he heard but he didn’t give up. His mind was telling him that he should try.
“Come on, Junjun, let’s go and visit your mother.
Junjun hesitated and covered his mouth.
Lorenzo held his hand. “Is something wrong? Why?”
Junjun stopped walking. “My mother always tells me to keep away from strangers.”
Lorenzo smiled and squatted and touched Junjun’s face. “You see, Junjun. You only avoid those bad men and women. I am not a bad man. I just want to help you and your mother.”
Junjun’s face lighted up. “You will help us?” He said and turned his back to lead the way to his home.
The home that the little boy led him to was a small space in the corner of a vacant lot. Here, they built a small dwelling made of boxes, plastic and scraps of cardboard and wood.
Maan almost choked when she saw who was with Junjun. Their future lay in her decision, either tell him the truth or let him live his own life by denying who they are. After all, she and Junjun would only make his life miserable.
Junjun ran to his mother. “Mother, mother. Come out. Look, who’s here.”
She hesitated but Junjun pulled her out.
Lorenzo stared at the woman for a long time. “Susan? Oh, my God,” he whispered.
Junjun looked from one to the other. “Do you know each other?” He asked.
“Yes, your mother’s name is Susan. And your name is Kevin.”
“Susan? But it’s Maan and I’m Junjun.”
“Listen,” said Maan. “He is right. We are not the people you are looking for. Please just leave us alone.”
Lorenzo wasn’t convinced. “Susan, please. All these years, I thought both of you were dead. But when I saw both of you outside that gate, I began to see light ahead. I started to believe that maybe things got mixed up and you are both alive. I felt from the start that something I didn’t know for five years happened.”
Maan turned her back to him and started crying.
Lorenzo hugged her tightly.
Junjun was confused. “Can you tell me what’s going on?” He asked.
Lorenzo was first to speak. “I left you when you were only four years old to work abroad. Our house burned and the news that reached me was a real shock. Only one maid was found alive, the rest of you were declared burned to ashes. I rushed home and buried your remains. Then left the place to erase any reminder of the tragic past. I almost ruined my life because of you but the words that your mother often told me were always there enlightening my mind. So, I thought becoming a clown was what I wanted. I wanted to make people happy and I wanted to forget what happened by being a clown.”
Maan finally talked. “I saved Junjun. I carried him out of the house and a kind couple took care of us. I told them not to bother you anymore. So, when we healed I thanked the couple and decided to leave. I wanted to go and find you but decided against it. Instead I taught Kevin to go begging in the streets. It was my only choice. Nobody wanted to accept me for a job.”
“Why did you change your names?” Lorenzo asked crying.
“It was an easier way to forget where we came from. And I wanted you to be totally out of our lives.”
“But why? Why did you do it?”
“Because I didn’t want to burden you.”
“But I suffered too much because of you being lost. Had I known you were alive, things would have been different.”
“Do you have a new family now?” Susan almost choked on her words.
“Oh, no, Susan. I’d never do that. You’re all I wanted in life. If I didn’t find you, I will never marry another woman.”
Kevin was listening and when he heard everything, he hugged both of his mother and father. He’s now the happiest boy ever. He knows now that he has a family. A family with the best father and an even better mother.
© 2018 Felisa Daskeo