Tourne au Rouge #5

Tourne au Rouge / © Jihane Mossalim
Tourne au Rouge / © Jihane Mossalim

“When you photograph a face . . .you photograph the soul behind it.” – Jean-Luc Godard

Bouncing along with the movement of the train, Anya followed Jester Thingrim down the aisle. The sound of laughter and whoops of joy behind each closed compartment were masked by the buzzing light bulbs and churning train wheels. Along the walls hung framed portraits of children with playful faces: a boy with a gap-tooth smile, another with his tongue stuck out, a girl holding up her long braids and another with her cheeks puffed out—all of them staring as though they were looking right at her.

Jester Thingrim came to a sudden halt. Up ahead a small mime appeared to be dozing against the wall. He wore an old duffle coat that came down to his ankles and a large bowler hat pulled down low over his eyes.

Jester Thingrim nudged him with his foot, but the boy only pulled his coat closer around him and mumbled something inaudible. He reached down and shook him, “Pierrot!”

The boy woke in alarm and stood up, nearly tripping over his outstretched legs. He had a pale white face and eyes like raisins, small and wrinkled on the edges.

Jester Thingrim asked: “Have you been eating our guests’ food again?”

Pierrot leaned back and shook his head as he wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He looked down at his old, cracked shoes, trying hard to avoid Jester Thingrim’s glare. Anya caught a glimpse of his eyes as he began to blush and surreptitiously brush crumbs off his chest. Jester Thingrim pursed his lips and then let out a deep, full, belly laugh. Pierrot silently chuckled in return, revealing chocolate cake crumbs in the crevices of his teeth.

“Please take little Miss Anya to her compartment,” said Jester Thingrim.

The mime nodded and started ushering Anya down the aisle.

Jester Thingrim mouthed the word, “Ta-ta” and swung his jacket round like a bull fighter. When Anya turned around again, he was gone.

Anya followed Pierrot. The skinny mime easily maneuvered around the various toys that littered the aisle of the train. It seemed that every child on this train had more toys than they needed. Anya scoffed and then winced. She had stepped on a toy soldier and broken his rifle. Just as she bent down to pick it up, a spluttering pop-bottle rocket whizzed over their heads and exploded in mid-air. Pierrot collided with Anya and they both went tumbling backwards.

A high-pitched voice above Anya laughed and said: “Are you alright? Ha! That must have hurt, eh?” Through glaring eyes, Anya sought out the face of her antagonizer. Her eyes alighted on a pudgy-faced girl standing next to a tall boy with matted hair. The boy smiled and gave a small wave, Anya noticed he had bits of candy stuck in his braces. He reached down and offered her his hand, but Anya was concentrated on the girl, still chortling beside them. Anya recognized the school insignia on her green jacket; it was from Chesterfield Elementary, the wealthy all-girls school two towns over.

Anya said: “Not funny,” and hauled herself to her feet while Pierrot scrambled up after her.

“You two,” said Anya, rounding on the other two. “Didn’t your parents ever buy you manners, fatty?” Anya watched as the smirk vanished off the girl’s face and her eyebrows furrowed. The boy grabbed a gumball from his pocket.

“My parents never buy me anything!” barked the girl. ”They’re too busy going out to parties with their friends—and I’m not even invited. That’s why I’m running away to join the circus. Same as Billy, here.”

She poked the thin boy in the ribs. He nodded and popped another gumball in his mouth.

“I’m Miranda,” the pudgy-faced girl continued. “Soon to be queen of the circus.”

Anya felt herself getting annoyed.

“I’m sorry I laughed at you,” said Miranda. “I was more laughing at him!” Miranda pointed to Pierrot, who again recoiled from her finger. “He is kind of a klutz, but that’s what clowns do, right?”

“I suppose,” she admitted. She watched as Billy filled his pockets with candy and asked, “Have either of you seen my brother? Little twit with red hair, his name is Todd.”

“That kid behind you?” asked Billy, pointing a lollipop over her shoulder. Anya spun around. There, sitting on the armchair, a crooked tiger mask covering his face, was Todd. She could tell from the ginger hair, curling around the strings. He seemed to have been fighting back the urge to laugh the entire time and let out a squeal when she saw him.

“Todd!” Anya screamed and lunged at her brother. Her fingers had just closed around the front of his shirt when a loud whistle sounded and the train lurched to a stop. Once again, Anya felt herself hit the ground along with Pierrot—this time Miranda and Billy joined in. Strangely, Todd did not fall or even notice the train had stopped. He hopped up and down on the armchair several times before fleeing from the compartment. Anya sighed in frustration. She hopped back to her feet to pursue Todd, but children were filling the aisle and she soon realized she was stuck in the crowd.

Single file, the children got off the train. As Anya stepped out she spotted Jester Thingrim marching at the head of the line. He was ushering everyone toward a brightly lit circus tent. It seemed almost too small for everyone to fit in, but the line kept moving.

Anya tried to catch Jester Thingrim’s attention but he kept his eyes straight ahead and refused to look down until she was right beside him.

“Please,” she cried, catching the sleeve of his red jacket. “I need to find my brother.”

“Now now,” he said, pushing her forward as if he hadn’t heard. “No time for tears, no time for sorrow. Come in and enjoy the show!”

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