The major finally erupted. “Happy Birthday, Son.”
“Was that true? Possibly?” He thought. He had lost track of the days and there was no one to celebrate it with since his mother was not there.
“We have a gift for you.” The Major acknowledged Vadim’s participation as he spoke. Vadim offered him a wink. “Sir, you’ve bought me a new truck, a caravan and given me a new life. I don’t need a gift. I’m not even sure it’s my birthday.” The Major handed a long oblong box tied with brown packing twine to Nigel. “It’s your birthday son. It’s September the third. According to the army you’re officially twenty years-old.” They all laughed and Nigel took possession of the box which was quite weighty.
Slowly he untied it and took off the lid. Inside was a beautifully elk bone handled buck knife in a leather sheath with his initials, next to it a matching brown leather wallet with a crest and his initials stamped into it.
“Oh my. This is beautiful.” Nigel thought of the small pocket knife that was his Father’s. He rarely used it, yet kept it in his pocket always. He decided that would not change.
“You need someplace to keep all that money you are making.” The major smiled.
“And you need a nive.” Vadim chimed in. It was clear who had picked out which item.
“They are both engraved with my initials.” Nigel was struck by the fact this must have been purchased in London with great forethought. “That is so the gypsies don’t steal them.” Vadim stood and he said this very seriously poking the fire. Then he stood straight up with a long burning torch-like split of wood from the fire in one hand and broke into a laugh so wide and tilted his mouth open holding the fire straight into the air. His laugh was booming, so enormous it could certainly be heard in the Big Top just feet away.
Nigel looked in the direction of the tent and saw an image he’ll never forget. Cast by firelight a perfect shadow of him unsheathing his blade, the feeble Major sitting with one hand on his head and a drink in one hand and the massive Roma King with the burning scepter. An amazing crisp silhouette etched into his memory, never to be repeated.
He laughed realizing everyone in the Big Top could see it projected on the tent as well. He made a quick stabbing motion toward them both and they heard the crown inside the tent gasp and ladies screams. They laughed harder than ever.
In the next two stops, they made what they called the turn. This was the point they passed London’s suburbs and headed back north up the rail line to complete their last locations for the season finishing the near perfect circle. It was now October and it was chilly every day. The crowds got smaller and smaller.
The last Sunday in Doncaster was a flop. A storm blew in and the rain and wind made it so unbearable that they closed the show early after the matinee. About 30 people made the Big Top and nobody was in the Midway due to the bluster. They called it spiking the show. It had not been done in about 12 years.
Nigel sat in his caravan with Lilly. She had made tea.
A knock came on the door. He pushed the handle and the wind sucked the door open smashing against the exterior wall. The major, in his coat leaned in, hacking horribly. Nigel jumped down into the rain to help him up as Lilly pulled him into the shelter and onto the settee.
“Oh good, you have tea.” He coughed again.
He looked quite awful, like a drowned rat. He seemed so small now. He must have lost 30 pounds in the last months and he couldn’t afford to lose five.
Lilly poured him a cup of tea and he sipped it.
“Are you going to be alright?” Nigel asked, knowing that’s last thing a sick person wants to hear.
“What choice do I have?” He smirked as he sipped. “I’m going to London with Vadim in the morning.”
“Oh that’s nonsense, look at you. I’ll go.” Nigel postured.
“No. No I have to do this trip. But, you are going to meet me. We have a problem. I need your help.” The Major said seriously. “And Lilly you keep your trap shut.”
Lilly was not present or welcome at management meetings. This must have been very serious. “We’re wrapping the season. Not spiking. Wrapping. No more shows. There’s too much machinery broken. Ivan can’t keep up. He’s getting sloppy and his work is dangerous. He won’t admit it, but Vadim had to take a truck transmission apart to get the Whirl-a-Spin operating with a driveshaft gear. The weather is supposed to stay this way. We’re done for. Pick your battles win the war.”
“What can I do?” Nigel replied feeling the gravity.
“You get the place packed. Drive everyone to the Leeds train station. Our storage is behind it in a warehouse called Mills. They’ve all been there before.”
“Well won’t the troupe suspect something is up when they get there?” Nigel pressed.
“Of course, but I’ll send Vadim back with your to meet them there. We’ll pay them for the last stop even though they didn’t work. They’ll be happy to get the money and go home, and you’ll meet me in London.”
“I’m confused, I’m to take them and Vadim will meet them. I thought he would be in London? Now I’m going to be in London?”
Lilly got it. “No Nigel. They leaving now. Sunday tomorrow, we pack. Tuesday we go to Leeds. Vadim come back and meet in Leeds. Tuesday you go to London meet Major.”
The Major was a bit surprised that Lilly got that. “Yes, What she said… That. Good job, Lilly.”
Nigel confirmed. “We pack tomorrow, Leeds train station. Warehouse. Mills. I go from Leeds to London. Vadim from London to Leeds. Vadim pays everyone. Season over.”
“Precisely.” The Major confirmed and then started coughing again.
“ One question. Why am I going to London?” Nigel found the rub.
The Major answered. “Because I need you there, to pick up something I will not be able to carry.”
“Well, I’m not particularly strong.” Nigel argued.
“Well, it’s not particularly heavy. Meet me at the Joshua Hotel at noon Tuesday, Room 19.”
“Is that where we usually go? I didn’t know it had a name.” Nigel now realized he had no paper, no pen.
The Major clarified. “No, It’s around the corner. It’s next to the army recruiting office. I know you know where that is.” Having finished the tea and handing out his final orders he was up and headed back into the squall. “Be on time. 12 noon.”
Nigel finished. “Tuesday. Noon. Joshua Hotel Room 19.”
The Major slapped him on the shoulder to reassure him.
“We’ll have some fun…get fish and chips.”
Nigel had never heard him say that. “Fun?” He thought, odd.
Not once had he heard that word all summer. The irony cut through him. Here was a man who had seen the ravages of a North African Tank command who left that life to operate a circus, a place that everyone else came to have fun, except us. It wasn’t fun. It was war. From the outside it was Big Tops and food tents and rides and clowns and elephants and dancing acrobats and billiard ball throwing orangutans. On the inside it was an army. Feeble, broken wounded people painting their faces and accepting the mockery, sympathy and cruelty of the masses, for money.
Nigel smiled wide. “Yes. Yes Major. We’ll get fish & chips.” He slapped the Major on his back in return, softly.
The next day came and the weather still hellish. It rained sideways as they packed down the tents and gear and loaded. Crates were filling with water as fast as they were filling with gear. It was a mess. It took twice as long to pack as normal. It was 8 p.m. before the last crate was on the last truck. Nigel kept his eye on Ivan all day. He was a mess too. The right arm was absolutely dead-worthless. The fingers moved but the muscle and nerve damage was so severe Ivan had to pick up the right hand with the left hand to put it anywhere. So some time in the off-season would have to be devoted to finding a new machinist. It sounded cruel to Nigel but he had to be pragmatic. No machinist. No machinery. No business.
The weather forced Nigel to call everyone to an early call Tuesday morning for a 6.a.m roll away. Nigel’s new truck was an automatic so he put Ivan behind the wheel of that. Lilly took the tent trailer, a five foot tall girl in a 65 foot truck was a sight. Nigel drove the Major’s “tree on a tree”.
By 6:10 they were underway. The road to Leeds was all highway and despite the rain they found the warehouse named Miller by 8:30.
Nigel pulled in and bolted into the office. There was one train at 9:15 and the next was at 11:15. He needed to make that train. The warehouse manager walked him in and the warehouse was amazingly huge and vacuous. It had been used for transport craft and tanks during the war. No surprise there.
As the circus troupe assembled outside. Nigel stood on the loading dock and made some decisions.
“As you can tell we are packing up for the season.” He looked at a sea of angry faces. “Don’t worry you will be paid for the last stop.” People smiled. “But I need your help. To ensure we all have a place to work in the spring we need to unpack all of the gear. Everything that is wet. Tent’s Awnings. Anything made from canvas or cloth and hang it from the rafters in the warehouse to dry so they don’t rot. That means we may be here two days. Three days. All week. If the equipment rots. We have no jobs. Do you understand?”
One of the Roma’s sons spoke up. “We only have small tents. We will dry them at home.”
Nigel stood in his fresh white shirt looking all the man and spoke. “We are not a circus and a carnival. We are one, a family. We need you. You need us. I ask you to stay and help. We need you at every turn. You always help us pack.”
The Roma pushed back. “I don’t think so. You do not tell us vat to do.”
A booming voice came from behind him.
*61) Call your Mother.
*62) Have redundancy in talent. Ivan was a one man department with no back up. When they lost his right hand they lost their right hand man.
* 63) When it’s time to step up as a leader. Deliver a good speech. Someone will back you up.