The terrified crowd sat frozen as the bear reached the girl and passed her in full stride. The massive animal leaped onto the see-saw. This cantilevered the plank, launching the girl into the oblivion of the air above. Every pair of eyes followed her meteoric arc like a shooting star. The crowd’s isolated screams turned into one collective awe. As the girl reached a height of forty feet, she executed two somersaults with precision then land with the ease of a dove in the rafters, perched at the pinnacle of the family spire.
They took their applause and within seconds disassembled themselves and scooted out of the back of the ring with bear and carts in tow.
At that moment, a jalopy taxicab entered stage right and the door opened as one by one, seventeen clowns emerged. The laughter and interaction with the audience gave some well-timed comic relief.
This moment of comedy was followed by an act which would change Nigel’s life forever.
A large cage, containing a massive Orangutan, was rolled by two attendants into the center of the left ring. A long green painted wooden table was set-up about twenty feet from the cage parallel to the audience. The crowd laughed as the human-like animal, laying on its back with his head to one side, stared at the audience with sad eyes. There was a commotion in the back of the crowded bleachers as a man came down through the laughing spectators.
He was a rather small yet, clean-cut, looking man. He didn’t stand like an Englishman. Perhaps he was Dutch or German? He appeared to be in his sixties, wearing wire glasses, a tweed jacket and a pith hat as if he had just walked out of the jungle. He looked a Professor. In his hand he held a rectangular briefcase. He approached the table and set to open his case. He produced two halves of a billiard cue stick. After threading them together; he lifted three red billiard balls from the case. The orangutan watched his motions with curiosity.
Placing the case on the ground, he carefully aligned the balls in a row. The table edge was maybe a foot from the cage. The orangutan was fifteen feet further away at the far end of the cage, seemingly unaware of the impending stunt or its executor.
Carefully, the Professor lined up his first shot. He lifted his head as if to check his potential aim and trajectory. He drew back the cue. Snap! Snap! Snap! As fast as three clicks he hit the first ball, then the second and then the third. The balls flew into the cage at the orangutans’ head. As fast as each the ball was hit, and without looking, the ape caught each one with the skill of a Major league catcher.
Before the audience could process what they had witnessed, the orangutan had sat up in the cage. The ape was now juggling the three red billiard balls, effortlessly. “Was it possible that this was one of the clowns dressed up like an ape?” Nigel pondered. One look deep into the face of the creature and the truth sank in. This was a ball-catching, juggling orangutan.
The Professor approached the cage with the cue stick and used the butt end of the stick to point at the ape through the bars. The crowd erupted with applause and joy. The Professor smiled and drunk in the praise. The orangutan had another opinion.
The primate attempted to rip the cue stick out of the Professor’s hand and pulled him half through the bars.
They were face to face, noses an inch apart. The great ape let out a scream that far eclipsed the resonance of the ringmaster. It felt as though the wind of his powerful rage would lift the sides of the tent. The beast bared its teeth in a display of intense emotion that shook the crowd to their very core.
Orangutans have massive hands. The second hand of the beast grabbed the Professor by his throat. The Professor was ridged. The resolution of the entire crowd was palpable. This man was about to die in front of five hundred people.
Nigel had seen a dead body. He felt completely filled with fear as he felt himself compelled to rise and began to take a step towards the ring. The smell of oil and sawdust filled his mind.
As his foot cleared the rim of the ring, the Professor’s eye caught Nigel. With a simple flash of his eyes, brought the boy to a halt.
At that moment, the Professor made his move. Gently, he reached into his outside pocket and produced a small yellow banana. The orangutan, still clutching the little man’s throat, fixed his eyes upon the banana. Slowly, the ape’s grip subsided as he released the throat. The Professor moved back as he gave the banana to the creature. The crowd produced a collective sigh of relief as a woman said, “I thought it was going to kill him”.
The orangutan held the banana by the stem and sucked the fruit out of the other end. The Professor stood, collected himself and established his composure. His face moved from fear to a smile. He clearly let the crowd know that he was actually in control the entire time and this was part of the act.
The act was far from over. The orangutan picked up the cue stick and banged it on the bars of the cage. The crowd froze again as the massive ape hands gripped the cue stick and snapped it in half. The monster threw the two pieces of cue stick through the bars.
The Professor retreated to the core of the center ring next to the green table. He reached into the case and withdrew three white metal milk bottles which he placed two feet apart upon the table. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he produced another banana. Carefully, he balanced the banana on the top of the center milk bottle. He removed his pith hat and smacked it hard to get the orangutan’s attention.
The ape eagerly jumped up and squared off with the Professor who was now some twenty-five feet away. The primate’s long arm picked up one of the red balls as he tapped his hat again. The orangutan, instantly, threw the ball colliding with the base of the milk bottle. The sound rung and the bottle flew four feet into the air. The professor reached out and caught the ball in the crown of his hat with ease.
There was an audible gasp of disbelief from the crowd. Was it real? Did the ape just accomplish what the drunks at the midway can only attempt?
Next, the Professor, skipped the bottle with the banana, and stood behind to the bottle nearest the crowd. He tapped his hat, again. The orangutan picked up the second red ball and threw it. Bing! A dull ring filled the air as the ball made a perfect hit on the metal jar. The Professor looked at the crowd as if to say, “Why are you not applauding?” The crowd’s shock was broken as wild applause filled the space.
Finally, the Professor moved to the center bottle. The orangutan was gyrating wildly in a display of elation and enthusiasm.
The Professor offered a “whoop” as he stood behind the last bottle and tapped his helmet. “Surely, this knuckle dragger could not do this three times in a row. That would be absolute proof of the unfathomable,” thought Nigel. “Could a man and an ape have such communication?
The ape picked up the final billiard ball. There was a pregnant pause. Then ape threw the final ball while covering his eyes with the other hand. He was quite the performer.
The ball struck the last jar with authority and certainty. As the metal milk jar was displaced the the banana flew straight up into the air. It appeared to rise as though it was in a state of slow motion and tumbled through space. The Professor used his pith helmet in his left hand to catch the third ball while simultaneously catching he banana with his right hand. The Professor hurled the banana at the ape who casually snatched it out of the air.
The crowd exploded with amazement as the reality of what had occurred sunk in. Man trains and controls ape. Man trains and controls crowd. Man appearing to have mastery over all. It was clear, it was all a very well-contrived act. Every moment, every nuance.
The only exception was Nigel’s near heroic moment, yet he too, was instantly trained by the Svengali talents. One flash of the eyes by this seemingly meek man had tamed Nigel.
The following display only cemented the confidence in this man’s gift as he walked over to the cage and reached inside. He produced a leash. The orangutan leaned into him and allowed the easy restrictor to be attached to the collar around his neck.
The Professor placed a key in the lock of the cage and the door slung open. It was a simple move for the orangutan to swing on top of the cage and stand. Again, the crowd rose to its feet and applauded. The ape curtsied.
The Professor and the creature walked the entire length of the front row, allowing people to touch, pet, and shake hands with the ape. Nigel felt anxiety as the two came his direction. They stopped about fifteen people away as a little girl offered them popcorn. The creature ate a bite then, took the container and put it to his lips. His lips worked like fingertips as they gently extracted a few kernels. He tossed the container into the air and popcorn rained down like confetti on the first few rows.
Finally, it was Nigel’s turn.