The stinging scent of candyfloss invaded my nostrils that day. And despite the surge of people swarming around me, there was only one thing in my line of vision. My mother. A small woman, with a slight frame that was unable to give a true portrayal of her irascibility. A vice that followed her around, snapping and snarling at the slightest of things.
On that day, a crown of brown tendrils surrounded her face. And she had bags lurking from the depths of her eyes, paired with unsmiling lips. I should’ve realised something was off; I should’ve paid attention to the way her voice splintered and cracked, sounding hollow and detached as she spoke her last words to me. And more importantly, I should have noticed his absence.
“Bailey,” Her lips were forming into shapes, making syllables, long chains that were supposed to form into words and then eventually a sentence. Yet I couldn’t keep up. Her words weren’t making sense. I was looking at her but at the same time, I wasn’t. For there was a hole forming, an abyss appearing right through the centre of her chest. It gave way to the other side, almost like a window that allowed me to see right through her. Then she was suddenly shaking me, her fingernails digging into my shoulder blades. “Bailey! Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes Mum, “I had muttered out, but it wasn’t true. My attention had been diverted- preoccupied with what was before me. I was finally surrounded by my idea of heaven, and all I wanted to do was explore- and the only thing blocking me from doing so, was her body and her words. So I did what any other seven-year-old would do. I pretended to listen to her, nodding in all the right places, in the hopes she’d release me and allow me to explore. My wish came sooner than expected.
She suddenly stooped over, scooping me up into a tight hug, that caught me so off guard, I almost head-butted her. “Take care Bails,” I didn’t understand her words. They sounded so final, so resolute, almost as if I was to never see her again. But I was. In an hour or two, Mum and Dad would be done with the performance, and they would troop back to the fairground to collect me. That was what had always happened. So why did it begin to feel like today would be different?
She began to stride off, quickening her pace before I could say a word. Instead of pursuing her, I swallowed my doubts, for I finally had the fairground to myself. The window of obstruction had finally rolled down, and I wasn’t about to waste this opportunity
So I did what I had been striving for. My feet moving before my brain could command them to. My eyes darting to each corner, being memorised by all the dazzling things I saw. At least, I can remember them being fascinating. But looking back at it, I don’t think it was a particularly impressive fairground. It was dirty; I would even go as far as saying it was grimy. With crisp packets decorating the floor, the smell of foul smoke almost obscuring the sweet scent of candy, and not to mention the fact that each second was met by the shrilling sound of someone’s baby crying. None the less, I was hypnotised. Along with the few other dozen kids lining up for the rides. And I went along with them, hoping to blend, to fit right in as I got strapped into seats beside them. But the differences between me and these children were clear. And one look from them told me they thought the same thing.
Sick of the prying eyes and the concerned looks from parents, I settled at the arcade, finally at ease. There were no subconscious comparisons to other kids my age, as my concentration was taken up by the claw crane machine- and it was like I was under a trance. I stayed there for hours, unaware that the sizes of the crowds around me were diminishing and that the sky was darkening as each second passed. For me, my sole focus was winning a smiley, rumpled-looking teddy bear that was trapped between two dolls. Nothing else mattered.
And after countless tries and misses, I had a lucky shot, being able to grasp the teddy in the metal claw. Moments later, equipped with intense concentration, I was able to drop the bear in the collection spot, ripping it away from the place that had once been its home. As soon as it tumbled out of the dispenser, I already had a hold of it, gripping it tightly as if it was about to suddenly come alive and make a break for it. And it was at this point where I was thrust back into reality once again. As the soft fur grazed the tips of my fingers, I began to worry. My parents should’ve been here by now. Everyone had gone- even my surroundings had settled. The peach tones that had once been scribed in the sky were gone, the shade now similar to the colour of Mum’s leotard. A dark midnight hue of navy. And it began to unsettle me.
With a trembling step, I backed away from the crane machine, almost hypersensitive to the fact that no one was around, apart from a few stragglers and the fairground people. With this in mind, I began to sprint, catching the glances of startled eyes nearby. I first went back to the place where I had last parted with my Mum, near the entrance, the great gilt gates running through the grounds. When I first saw those gates, all I saw was the wonder behind it. But now, I had the feeling of dread, bubbling at the back of my throat. She wasn’t there waiting for me.
I staggered out of the fairground, close to tears. I was heaving, trying to calm myself down by the reassuring thought that when I eventually found them, we would all laugh hysterically at how scared I had been. But maybe that day wouldn’t come. As I crept closer to the field nearby, a place that had once supported the four corners of that circus tent, it felt as if my worst fears had been awakened. I was greeted by the sight of nothing. Nothing but a patch of lighter grass marking the middle of the field. Evidence that a tent had been there at one point. Evidence of people. But now, it was a big empty field of nothing. Everyone had gone.
My eyes refused to give up, darting to each corner of the field, in the hopes that I came across a forgotten caravan, having my parents residing in it. Waiting for me to find them. But I never came across it. There was nothing. Nothing but grass in front of me. At this harrowing realisation, I let out a choked sob, unable to stop the stream of tears that cascaded down my cheeks, dripped onto my clothes and dampened the soil beneath me. I was alone. Once and for all.
And maybe, paired with the fact I was only seven years of age and a little hysterical, I began to think of all the bad things I had done. All the things I must’ve done to upset my parents, to push them to the point where they had to leave me. And as the image of the circus' red and white stripes coursed through my mind, I got my answer. It was my fault. I had never been able to live up to my parents’ name. I wasn’t even half of the gymnasts that they were. And my parents probably thought there was nothing to override this. They were left with no other choice. They had to leave me. With this in mind, I couldn’t blame anyone but myself.
And I carried on believing this sentiment, years on, when I should’ve been wiser and more mature to know it was down to other reasons, such as my parents’ incapability to look after me. But I refused to let myself think that, even though my seven-year-old reasoning was beyond the bounds of possibility. There was still an ounce of hope in me, burrowed deep down that wanted to think that if I lived the life my parents wanted me to live, they wouldn’t have left. It was easier to accept that it was all down to me- it gave me the power to change it.
So I went on living my life without them, housed with a new family, wearing fitted clothes, having monthly haircuts that weren’t done using a bowl. Yet I didn’t forget them, instead, they haunted almost each and every action I took. Everything I did now in my life was for my parents. It wasn’t long until an unhealthy obsession about being able to change my fate manifested itself within me. I thought could win them back. So, instead of attempting to have a normal childhood like the rest of my peers, I was doing everything I could to make myself a better gymnast. Trying to show them I could live up to what they expected. I could be that acrobat, one able to catch the eyes of everyone in the ring, one willing to swing precariously from each rope, always one slip away from death.
I only had one problem- I had no idea where they were. Fortunately, many years later, at the age of sixteen, I was able to overcome this…