La La at the Cirque Fernando
Every time I swing from the circus roof, I think about
My father was a sea captain and my mother an African girl
he had met on one of his voyages. I was born in Stettin,
on the Baltic Sea.
When father was home, he would take me by the hand and
we would walk through the streets to the woods that lay
up on the hill above the town. People would stop and bid
us 'Guten tag!'
I loved the smell of the trees; the crunch the pine needles
under my feet and the woods’ dark, secret places.
I would hide among the great pines, crouch down and crane
my neck up towards the sky where the seagulls hovered
waiting for the next fishing boat to come in.
But when my father was away, life was very different.
Before going out, my mother would dress us both in coats,
scarves, hats and gloves. I thought it was because of
the wind that whipped down across the North Sea and into
the town. But there was another reason; more chilling
even than the wind. Out on the street with my mother,
people would stare at us, point at us and even spit at
us. And so I learned what it meant to be different.
When we knew for certain that my father’s ship would
not return, I braved the angry and despising looks, and
went up into the woods to think. That was where I met
Tad. He was a year or two older than me and his father
was a sailor, too. Tad climbed the trees all the time.
He was practising for the day when he, too, would go to
sea and would have to climb the masts and rigging of some
great sailing ship.
Tad taught me to climb; to balance and to swing from the
highest branches. Each time I climbed I would feel closer
to the seagulls and the sky until the day Tad said: "Olga,
you climb even better than me! You should become a sailor!"
But girls cannot become sailors. In Europe girls cannot
become very much at all, especially black girls. That
made me sad. But what made me sadder was the thought that
Tad was now twelve and would soon be going to sea.
One evening, Tad and his father called. It was all arranged.
Just like that. My mother would go and live with Tad’s
family, to keep his mother company when the men were at
sea. And I? I would go to the circus.
"Girls may not be able to climb the rigging,"
said Tad, "but they can walk the high wire."
In the circus we are from everywhere: from Asia, Africa,
America and Europe. Our costumes and our characters are
bright. Ours is a world of colour; unlike the foggy grey
streets of Stettin.
And every time I swing from the circus roof, I imagine
Tad, flying high with the seagulls from the rigging of
his sailing ship, somewhere on the great ocean.
Somewhere between Europe and Africa.
Roy Apps 18/11/08