Dying In Flight
Dying In Flight
PrologueIt was a dark night with the clouds covering the moon, and the only light in the circus grounds was from the tents and caravans of the folks in the hamlet where they had set up as home. Sounds of people having dinner over small camp-fires, or chatting after a meal wafted into the main grounds where the giant marquees and animals were housed. In the main tent, a huge hoarding proclaimed that Gemini Circus was the best in all of United Kingdom.
There were two people inside. One was Nader, the owner of the circus and trainer of the trapeze artists. He was a swarthy and dark man from Romania. Nadir had been a trapeze artist himself until an early onset of arthritis almost crippled him. He left performing and instead began to train others. With Nader, was his wife, Tania, who was also a trapeze artist. She had been performing with the circus for many years now and had been Nader’s partner before his retirement. Now she performed on her own or sometimes paired up with one of the other male trapeze artists in the circus.
Nader drove Tania hard, even harder than he had driven himself. It was as if his own frustration at not being able to perform was to be taken out on her. He was also madly suspicious and possessive about her. That night, Nader was accusing Tania of having an affair with her co-trapeze artist, Jared…
“But I have never been unfaithful to you…” said a tearful Tania.
“Don’t lie to me. I have seen the two of you exchange looks when you think I am not looking!” snorted Nader, his face all livid and ugly.
Tania, turned away, and said sadly, “I don’t even want to perform anymore. I want to retire and have a baby. But you won’t hear of it!”
“Rubbish…now you want to pass off his baby as mine? Is that your plan?” was Nared’s angry response as his face flushed wildly with anger and bitterness.
Sighing, Tania started to climb up to practice her routine one last time. They would be opening to the crowds the next evening, and she wanted to go through it once again. Nader watched his slim and lithe wife climb the rope ladder and gritted his teeth. Every time she was up in the air performing he wanted to kill himself and her. Why was life so unfair, that he was unable to even walk properly at times and she could still do everything he wanted to do and more?
As Tania started to swing slowly from one handhold to another, he called instructions up to her. This was a new solo routine he had thought of where Tania did three vaults in the air and instead of coming down to the trampoline after her vaults, he had made her practice and catch another handhold all the way up. He was sure this would get her a standing ovation. It meant that Tania had to do her vaults in such a way that she got in reach of that last handhold just in time or she would lose her balance and fall. It had taken numerous practice sessions for Tania to get it right and she was deathly afraid of missing the handhold and coming tumbling down.
Nader was adamant that she had to do it, and she knew it was impossible to change his mind. Gracefully Tania swung from one rope to another, doing complicated flips and turns and readying herself for the final set of flips. Nader followed her every move intently. The moment came, and Tania let go of the handhold and started to do her vaults. During the third vault, she could usually see the handhold she needed to catch and would swing on and catch it. That night as she completed the flip, she could not see anything. Frantically she reached out and found nothing but air.
What she had feared was coming true, and losing her balance, she started to fall. Nader seeing this, rushed forward, confident that the safety net would catch Tania. It did, but as she fell, she banged her head against the metal rod around the boundary of the net and flopped lifelessly on to it.
“Taniiaaaa..” screamed Nader trying to reach his wife, who was now lying on the net, a pool of blood slowly spreading on the floor beneath her.
It was all over for Tania – she had died in flight.
Chapter 1The Gemini Circus has performed in many counties and towns in the United Kingdom and people always came to see the special trapeze act it was famous for. While the animals, and the clowns, were lovable, it was the daring and complicated routines of the trapeze artists that drew the crowds in.
A year had passed since Tania had died tragically while rehearsing her routine before a performance. Nader had been so heartbroken at Tania’s passing, that he refused to have the trapeze act after that. This had affected business quite badly, and most of the trapeze artists had left to find jobs in other circuses.
The circus was hardly pulling in the crowds, and so the elephant caretaker, Sudan, and the chief clown, Harrod, both decided it was time to talk Nader into bringing back the trapeze act that had been their piece de resistance.
The two of them came and knocked on the caravan door, where Nader sat and brooded most of the time. “Come in” said a gravelly voice from inside. Entering the caravan, Sudan and Harrod, saw that Nader was sitting and drinking cheap whiskey. The once fit man had let his body go to seed, and he was looking unhealthy and bloated with bloodshot eyes. Now he turned those eyes on to his two visitors and said abruptly, “What do you want?”
“Nader, please, we have come to talk to you. We cannot continue this way. We will have to close down, unless you start training and getting the trapeze artists to perform again…” said Harrod.
Nader did not respond.
Sudan tried now, “At least think of Tania. Would she have wanted this circus that she loved to close? You owe it to her to at least try and save it!”
Harrod put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and Nader closed his eyes a second. He could see Tania so clearly, the way she had been when she was performing. He knew what his friends were saying was true and in a small corner of his heart, he wanted to be back in the thick of things as well.
After a long and fraught pause, he nodded very slightly. “I will start looking for a new girl tomorrow” he murmured. “Now go and leave me in peace.”
The two left, hopeful that things would now take a turn for the better. From the next day, Nader seemed like a changed man. He went and put up “Artist Wanted” posters he had written himself for a new female trapeze artist and though he still drank and brooded every night alone in his caravan, he seemed to have recovered his purpose in life.
Girls started to come for the audition, but Nader rejected all of them. Too short! Too dark! Too fat! Too heavy! Too clumsy! The problem was none of them were Tania. Finally, after a week of rejecting every single candidate, he found someone he allowed to climb the rope and show him what she could do. The girl was a tall blonde Russian, with hair that reached her knees and a strong and toned body. Her name was Valentina.
She was confidence as she climbed up and began her act. Nader watched intently, and the others in the circus crept up to see how it would all go. Valentina was good – in fact better than good as she swung from rope to rope gracefully.
Nader watched her intently and his eyes started to burn with his old fire. This was the girl who could possibly replace Tania. In a total turnaround, he wasted no time in hiring her. And from that moment onwards, Nader and Valentina became inseparable training partners. Nader got back his old fire and drove Valentina relentlessly as she practiced her solo act. Nader would not allow any other trapeze artist to even come near her. “She’s special and her performance will be our crowning glory!” was his response to anyone who asked why Valentina was not doing her act with other artistes in the circus.
The rest of the circus were relieved to see that their owner was doing something constructive instead of sitting and brooding in his caravan. Nader focused mainly on training Valentina and left the other work of reopening the circus to Sudan and Harrod. They were happy to do something that would give them back their livelihood and worked hard for the reopening.
They planned to reopen Gemini Circus in its full glory at Gloucestershire, and then have a full tour of the nearby counties. There was so much work, and every member was busy getting ready for the grand reopening. But no one was more focused and dedicated than Nader and his new protégé Valentina.
In the past, Tania would get tired or sometimes not feel like practicing, but Valentina had an iron streak of determination and no matter what Nader threw at her, she kept at it to make her act perfect. As she became increasingly nimble and tried daring flips and turns, Nader began to believe that she could be the one who could do the flip that Tania had died trying to do...
Chapter 2With just two weeks to go before the grand reopening, Nader decided to take the plunge and he began to train Valentina in the act that Tania had died practicing for. Valentina was not one to back down from anything, and while it was a difficult set of flips and turns, she began to master it slowly and practiced every moment that she could. At times she drove herself even harder than Nader could!
As the big evening drew near, Valentina would practice her normal act and then end it with the set of three in-air vaults, catching the final handhold at the end of the third vault. The first few times, she had found it tough to catch it after a vault and had come tumbling down on to the net. But nothing deterred her, and she was usually climbing back up by the time Nader’s string of insults reached her ears.
Nader could see that this girl would stop at nothing and she was the only one who would be able to do this daring act and get away with it. Both obsessed about the moment when they would complete it before an audience and get a standing ovation.
The evening of the grand reopening was soon upon them, and because of all the publicity that Harrod and Sudan had worked hard for, the crowds came in droves to see this reputed circus once again performing before the public.
Valentina looked breathtaking in a red sequined costume and she waited nervously in the wings, as the other trapeze artists did their acts. Hers was to be the final one after which, the animals and clowns would entertain the crowd. Nader waited right beside her, his eyes like two pools of liquid fire.
The trapeze act was stunning, with each artiste doing it flawlessly and seemingly without effort. The crowd loved the way they swung and vaulted and gracefully ended their routines. And then it was time…
Valentina’s great moment was before her. She started to climb her way to the top, her strong muscles rippling in the lights, and her blonde hair tied with a single red ribbon shining and shimmering. As she started to do her act, the crowd fell silent at this awesome spectacle. Almost six feet tall, yet with the grace of a gazelle, this woman seemed to be the ultimate trapeze artist. Each move seemed musical, each swing seemed to be perfect. As she neared the final set of vaults, Valentina’s heart was in her mouth. She badly wanted to get it right and have the crowd remember her forever.
Gritting her teeth and forcing herself to stay relaxed at the same time, she began the final flips to end her act. The first, second, third one all were done beautifully in mid-air and like her predecessor before her, she looked for the handhold while she did the third vault. And just like Tania had not seen it, neither did she, and her eyes immediately grew wide in panic and she knew she would fall too.
The crowd all gasped as they saw that Valentina was starting to lose her balance and had one hand outstretched to catch a handhold that did not seem to be there. Just when she thought that this was the end of her career as a trapeze artist and the end of her life possible, she saw a hand that seemed to appear out of nowhere. This mystical hand grabbed her outstretched hand, and lo behold, she had caught hold of the elusive handhold. It took her a millisecond to adjust to the fact that she was now swinging with one arm, and being the ultimate professional, she gracefully held a pose.
People who had been holding their breath now let it out in relief. All they had seen was that the trapeze artist had faltered for a split second and then recovered gracefully. Everyone stood up and started to clap. Nader who had been sure that this would be the second girl dying on him started to cry like a baby in the sidelines. He too had seen nothing but the fact that Valentina had faltered and then recovered.
The rest of the evening was a huge success and the crowd loved every single clown and adorable animal that performed for them. Gemini Circus would certainly not go out of business and before the evening was even over, they had had offers to perform in many other counties.
Valentina and Nader had both been applauded and congratulated countless times and the troupe had a huge party planned to celebrate the success of the reopening. Gemini Circus was back with a bomb!
EpilogueThe party was all noise and people backslapping each other – success is something everyone wants to be a part of. Nader had been poured whiskeys by Harrod and Sudan and the three of them clinked glasses as they drank to their beloved circus. Valentina, dressed in a golden gown that seemed to blend with her golden hair, cut an awesome figure. She laughed and smiled and accepted every compliment that people gave her and danced with countless folks. Yet, there seemed to be a restraint to her smile and a question in her eyes and from time to time, she would look down at her right wrist where a bruise was forming – that seemed to be an imprint from someone grabbing her hand with force. Each time she did that, she would look up and at Nader – who hardly noticed this, because he was surrounded by people all the time.
Finally, she could bear it no more inside. Taking a glass of wine from one of the trays, she walked out of the party tent and towards the edge of the grounds. It was a beautiful night – a full moon and she could hear the loud noises of the party fade as she walked further away. Sipping her wine, she walked into the woods that began where the circus grounds ended and looked up at the moon. No one knew better than her that she had begun to fall when from somewhere a hand had grabbed her and guided her to the final handhold. No one else had noticed – not even Nader but she knew what had happened.
Now she looked closely at the bruise around her wrist. It had taken considerable force to grab her hand and steady her so that she did not fall. Valentina slowly ran her hand over the bluish mark and as she looked up, she got a shock. Standing in front of her, with the moon behind, high up in the sky, was a beautiful woman all dressed in a red trapeze costume. She was a stunning brunette, almost as tall as Valentina herself, and she seemed to have a smile on her lips as she looked at her.
“Wwhooo are you?” she stammered, her heart growing cold in fear. The person took one step forward and replied, “I am Tania – the woman you replaced…”
“Oh my God! I must be drunk!” exclaimed Valentina, downing her glass of wine in a gulp nervously and looking here and there for some explanation of this bizarre scene.
“Well maybe you are!” laughed the woman who was supposed to be dead. “But I wanted to meet you and tell you why I saved you today. It was my hand that grabbed yours during the act…”
“Huuhhhhh” replied Valentina who seemed to have nothing coherent left to say – all her usual bonhomie having deserted her.
“I was a good trapeze artist – one of the best. I loved my husband Nader, and he drove me to my death – making me do this stupid act, that even you could not pull off. He was driven, mad, and adamant about it. But if I had not helped you today, not only would you and Nader have failed, but so would the rest of the circus. Many livelihoods were at stake. I saved my idiot husband, you, and Gemini circus from utter ruin, and that is why I am here. I bear him no grudge and every time you do this act; I will be there to help you….” saying this, Tania seemed to fade back into the night, leaving a stunned Valentina standing there, absorbing all that she had heard.
The woman who had died in flight had come back to make sure no one else suffered the same fate and had just promised that she would keep doing it. Such is the power of goodness that it sustains forever…