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Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Circus

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The Circus
The Circus

One of my daily responsibilities as editor of The Observer, a weekly newspaper that served the Federation islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, was to sort through the daily mail. On a Monday morning, I had a pile of letters heaped on my desk when I came across a bulky brown manila envelope postmarked Paris, France. That was the one I opened first.

Inside was a circus poster, a press release, and four tickets. The circus was coming to Basseterre all the way from gay Paree.

I stuffed the tickets inside my pocket and wrote a story about the French circus. It would arrive in Basseterre, capital of St. Kitts on Friday, with performances scheduled twice a day for a week at an area designated for cultural events near the government building. And I knew who were going to be my guests for the Parisian circus.

That day after work I climbed into my company-owned Honda and followed the main island road along the ocean to Keys Village, a small town about six miles from Basseterre. That was where Lynette Pemberton, her mother and brothers and sisters lived.

I had been dating Lynette ever since arriving in St. Kitts from Marco Island, FL. where I had been living before moving to the Caribbean. The road to Keys Village was a lovely drive past coconut palm trees and the restless ocean. I could see a couple of cruise ships anchored in the deep harbor. Several sugar cane workers trudged wearily along the road, machetes hanging from their hips. They waved as I passed them.

Lynette's family lived in a small house next to a railroad track that a train used to transport the sugar cane to a distillery plant where rum was made. Lynette had built a tree house behind her home where she could go when she wanted to be alone.

She and I had spent several nights there watching the blinking lights of the ships at sea and listening to music from a small transistor radio while we sipped wine or beer I had purchased from the Newfoundland Bar or the convenience store that was just down the street from her house.

I parked the car next to her house and could smell the delicious aroma of the Caribbean food even before I opened the gate to walk down the path to the house. Her brother Steve, who had just turned 17 and who had gotten a job at the Marriott Hotel, greeted me at the door.

Shaking my hand, he smiled and said, 'You're just in time for dinner. Mama cooked rice, black beans, pork and plantains.'

'It smells great,' I said, walking into the house.

Mama Pemberton had a plate full of food waiting for me when I sat down at the table. She told me to 'eat all of need to gain some weight.' Natasha, Lynnette's 15-year-old sister, gave me a hug and Lynnette came out of her bedroom to greet me.

When dinner was over, I told them I had a surprise for them.

'Have you ever gone to a circus?,' I said.

'Never,' Lynnette said. Her mother shook her head negatively and Natasha smiled.

'I have never been to a circus,' her mother said.

'Well, all of you are going to one Saturday as my guests,' I said. 'That's to repay you for that wonderful dinner.'

That Saturday I picked up all of them and drove them to the grounds where the circus had been set up. To say they were excited would be an understatement. Mama Pemberton had found a hat that she wore and Lynnette whispered to me, 'Are you sure you can take enough time away from your poker game to treat us to the circus?'

'I can suffer through it,' I said, giving her a hug.

About 300 people were jammed inside the tent. The air conditioning was not very effective and it was hot, but the family didn't mind. They looked in awe at the elephants, the camels, the caged tigers and lions, and the French clowns who passed balloons to the children and who made funny faces and did back flips to entertain the audience.

The heat was stifling, but you would have thought we were in the most luxurious of settings. I bought cotton candy and soft drinks.

'What is this?,' Mama Pemberton said.

'Cotton candy,' I said. 'Try it. It's just spun sugar.' She sampled it and loved it. So did Natasha and Lynnette.

The clowns were wonderful. The audience roared with appreciation as the high wire artists did their death-defying tricks. I watched all the family members. They paid no attention to me. They were mesmerized by everything they saw.

When the performance was over, I drove the familly to the Biambi African Cafe. There I bought all of us a round of cool drinks and asked Mama Pemberton if she would like a glass of wine.

'Mama has never drank wine before,' Lynnette said quietly. 'Go ahead, Mama. It won't bother your sugar diabetes.' Her mother sipped the wine, smacked her lips, and finished it.

'Could I have another please?,' she said shyly. I told her of course she could.

When we got back to the house, Mama Pemberton, Natasha and Steve told me it was the best day of their lives.

I told them, 'It was the best day of my life, too.' And I meant it.

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