I’m still sore and sorry from my operation the other day so rather than a letter I thought I’d send you a story instead. One that I wrote a while back, one day when I was thinking about girls in yellow dresses.
The sign read ‘THE GREAT MERCADO – LION TAMER’.
It’s posted outside the Victoria Theatre, among the signs for the London Symphony and other bourgeois attractions of the day.
This isn’t that. This is meant for the people who can’t afford those tickets, and it’s something joyful for those in London in the 1930s. A brief escape from the potential despair and hopelessness that’s one bad day away from all of them.
He likes it. Likes being this person, likes the accolades and the cheers. He’s raised his lion since she was a cub and they’re a team. The two of them travelling around England, where such things are a curiosity and not a mundanity as it was back in India.
There’s whispers about him being from somewhere exotic, after all he’s swarthy skinned and brown eyed. There’s dark curly hair above his head, and a bright smile on his wide mouth. Nothing too exotic of course, just enough to be intriguing, not enough to be scandalous. Not that he would mind. There’s a tattoo of an anchor on his arm that suggests a rougher past than most would attribute to the well spoken man, and he likes that secret.
That’s his secret. For him and his lion.
There are nights when his secrets keep him awake. When there’s a memory that lingers a little too long and he stirs, tears in his eyes. Remembering the wife he lost more than ten years ago now. Her pale skin, bright blue eyes and the utter devotion that existed between them. He’s long forgotten her smell but occasionally there’s a scent of a breeze and it’s as if she was standing beside him again. Under the magnolia, drinking tea in their garden back in Rangoon.
Today at the show, there’s a little girl with a yellow dress, brown boots and a bright smile as she sees his gorgeous Margarita roar. There’s no fear or trepidation, there’s nothing but pure joy on her face as she fails to blink, to enraptured in the sight. He throws her a wink, though he’s sure she doesn’t notice him at all.
That night, once the shows have ended for the day, once Margarita is fed and he’s settled back down into his caravan again, he sits and remembers. Remembers the little girl in the yellow dress back in Rangoon, or possibly elsewhere now. That smile of joy when he took her to see the tigers at the zoo when she was small enough to be carried in his arms. The look of hope when she asked him how long he was there, how long he could stay.
My grandmother refused to run alongside trains to say goodbye to anyone. It wasn’t that she was old or incapable, or simply refusing for the sentimentality of it.
She refused to run alongside because it meant finality.
The last time she’d seen her father was when she’d run alongside the train to say goodbye. In a yellow dress, with brown boots.