The Circus

Jackson moved swiftly, skirting through the dark back streets of Ijora, he’d lived here only six months but already knew all the back alleys and shortcuts to the place— the best magic show on the mainland. He heard rumours about them when he lived in Festac, things were better then, before his dad got sick. His dad had worked as a driver to a big man in Festac, they could afford him to go to school then, now he was stuck taking care of the shell of a man lying silent on the parlor-which was now used as a bedroom, and sometimes as a toilet. He thought it was overpriced for a bedbug infested shack but Mummy Tolu —his mum said it was that or the street.

He dodged Area by hiding at the back of a dumpster. Area was the lady, if you could call her female with her yams for legs, who sold provisions on their street. Mummy Tolu still owed her N200 from the previous week. The sound of loud northern traditional  music blasting from what he suspected to be the public address systems evangelists use on their morning run guided him the rest of the way as he burst into the clearing.

The stage was the centre of a large ring of mostly children, their mothers half-heartedly calling the kids home and men who watched with arms folded. He did not doubt many of them were slightly drunk; some more so. The drink of preference these days was Agbawo, an alcoholic bitters packed in tiny 20cl nylons. It was small enough to hide when on duty, some security men, many others motorists and drivers and was also economical enough not to burn a large hole in their finances.

The players on the stage varied by face each time but the tricks were similar. There was the man who would swallow a long sword up to its hilt and twist it around remove it unharmed and unstained before using it to slice through a tuber of yam like it was made of foam. He was especially fond of Buba Duraga —the one who juggled hot coals. The man first poured kerosene inner charcoal and lit it up then picked out from the fire with his bare hands and juggled three or four pieces like they were small lemons.

Jackson looked around, the smell of stale urine, weed and liquor were common in these parts and sporadic fights were not unheard of, his mother had warned him to keep his eyes peeled for danger. As if on cue, he saw a girl of no more than eighteen run across the circle, her hair scattered in all directions and her shirt torn. She had full breasts that got little protection from the torn fabric that covered her body—he doubted it was much to begin with. Her silent sobs as she ran past seemed oblivious to everyone but him, they were focused on the tricksters but he couldn’t concentrate anymore, it was all too common these days. The frequency of the rape and sexual assault cases seemed to numb most people but not him—he recalled the stigma Bukky—a girl on their block faced when they first moved in. She was assaulted but she said they hadn’t succeeded in raping her. That didn’t help much as people still avoided her like the plague, even some of her supposed church members as though it was all her fault. He wasn’t sure what to think, it just seemed all wrong. Jackson wiped a solitary tear rolling down his cheek as he turned away from the tricks, the evening was ruined from him.

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