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I remove my top hat and run my fingers through my coal-black curls with a sigh so deep it reverberates through the empty circus tent. They say there is no business like show business, and literally there is “no business.” It has been the summer months since I have seen a true crowd when the sun was broiling and almost every seat was filled with sticky-fingered children and their parents eating cotton candy and popcorn and drinking lemonade.
But now the snow has fallen and it is winter, and not many people travel along the highway looking for some attraction to entertain their family. India and I are left performing for audiences of regulars. Yes, there are people who come by the circus on a weekly basis. I seem to always hear Stan hooting and clapping from the audience towards my assistant, “India, you look fine in that fancy little dress of yours!”
She’ll smile politely for the patrons hiding her embarrassment. Her parents never wanted her life to end up this way. To become the magician’s beautiful assistant, wearing crepe dresses and performing death-defying stunts for regular creepers like Stan. If only she had known that running off and joining the circus would be the silliest thing she could do―
Worse yet, it is tonight’s last show and no one is here to see our magic tricks. I glance back at my friend and give her a rueful nod. We both knew the circus was not for us. I had dreamed of being a pilot, and she always wanted to see the world. We start packing up.
An advertisement sweeps across my feet like tumbleweed and I bend down to pick it up. It reads “Ride Miguel’s Illustrious Hot Air Balloon for 2 Tickets.” I shake the paper for emphasis, look at India and say, “This is it.” I tap the picture of the balloon, “India, you know what this means? We can leave!”
She raises her eyebrows, “In an air balloon! Are you mad?”
“Why of course! Now come, we don’t have time to lose. You could change your mind any second.” Without waiting for any indication of her agreeing to my plan I grab her hand and place my top hat on my head and rush out of the tent with a powerful stride that could knock down a building if it dared to jump in front of me.
I jump into the balloon’s basket clearing the edge as if it were a fence from the small town where I grew up. I pick India up from the ground and place her beside me. She sits down in the middle, to control our balance while I untie the ropes and light the jet.
I peer over the edge as we rise and see the lights on the ferris wheel turn off, the ringmaster and the bearded lady yelling at us to get down from Miguel’s Illustrious Balloon.
Leaving the chaos below, the balloon takes us higher. The higher we rise, the more clouds we pass. They hit us like fog and I can no longer see anything, as if someone threw a bucket of black paint on the night sky.
I lean over the basket and grip my hands tightly to the sides, locking my arms and holding on for dear life and thrill. I toss my head back and let out a strange laugh, a mixture of confusion, adrenaline, fear, and freedom. India rises beside me in silence looking at the beads of sweat on my forehead.
She stares in a way that I assume helps her from breaking down. Then wind hits the balloon and the basket shakes.
It knocks her over, and she loses balance and falls backward hitting the side of the basket. Tears fill her eyes and she cries for all the emotions she had been repressing for too long. The basket still shakes under my hands as my vision blurs. I am by her side, holding her hand and rubbing her back.
“India, don’t cry. We’re free, no longer are we caged. We’ve left the circus. No longer will we have to stay.”
She warms up, her tears subsiding. We are free.
“Free,” she whisperes slowly, “Where will we go now?”
“Everywhere,” I say looking off into the sky. “Beyond this town. Maybe we will see the mountains. We might even find the time to visit Paris as Bohemians are. Wherever you want to go, India. That is where I will take you. For now the sky is where we live.”
Her eyes shut tightly and then open as they dart to the pink clouds. In a soft voice she says, “Let’s fly.”
“We are already in a hot air balloon,” I smile, not understanding what she means.
“No, let’s fly.”
“Fly?” I stand up and glance down below, then wince. “You mean jump?”
“I mean let’s see where the wind really does take us, Gabriel!” She says almost feeling the experience already.
I shake my head, “You’re not stable right now, you were just crying―”
“All you’ve told me the entire time I’ve known you is to not be afraid of anything. I believe this is what you have been trying to tell me.”
She stands, but I place my hand on her shoulder and say, “Not like this!”
Ignoring my pleas and not feeling my hand, caught under the trance of freedom, she climbs to the edge of the basket.
The wind blows harder and her crimson slipper falls down into the emptiness below. Her hair blows in the wind hitting her face with strands of gold.
She cannot hear me as she stretches out her arms, spreading her wings like a bird and bringing them above her head like a swimmer. Without a second thought, she dives into the sky.
She breaks into the clouds, and swims into the sea of dreams. And for a second she stops and floats in the air. India really is flying. The fact that she truly believes that she can, enables her to fly. When there is nothing else to fear, death is not apparent.
Tears well from my eyes as I watch. I sob aloud and India turns and floats back to me with an outstretched hand.
“You’re flying,” I say in awe.
“Come fly with me, Gabriel,” she says in a light-filled voice.
I nod, “All right, let’s fly.” And take her hand and grip it just as hard as I had gripped the basket, but softer out of love.
We are flying, and we escape the life down below and now we are living in the sky.