This story is one of the May Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
They call me the wild cat. The winged snake. Some know me as a performer. Others know me as a freak. To strangers, I’m just some random girl. To other performers, I’m a competitor. Easy prey, they say.
When I’m not in the tent, they know me as a broken shadow of a girl. Shy and timid. Those who know me better say I have a dangerous past. They say I’m a victim of war. Collateral damage. They underestimate me. But that’s okay. It makes it easier to hate them. To hate everyone. To pull away. To put up walls.
They paint their pictures of me. But then we’re in the tent, and I frame their pictures of me. Shatter the glass and make the paint bleed. I steal their preconceived notions and throw them back once they’ve been destroyed. Once they’ve seen me perform. The shock on their faces. The sharp intakes of breath.
They are my adrenaline.
I burst their dreams of seeing me fail one by one. With each step. With each flip. With each trick. The audience blurs into one, each face a mirror of the next. Maybe they think it’s a facade. An elaborate plot. The rigid, shy girl is not the same person. Not the wild cat. But that’s where they are wrong. There are two versions of me. There is the quiet, lonely 15-year-old girl who has built an iron cage around herself—who has folded herself into a drawer.
But then there’s the other version—the one who throws their assumptions into chaos. The performer. The star of the show. The acrobat. The girl who dances on air. Who floats on the freedom of flight.
My tightrope is my sanctuary. No longer tethered to the ground, I experience a rare thrill of freedom. The music starts, and so do I. I dance like no one else can. Under the light of a thousand stars, everyone disappears. The wings on my back lift me up. I fly, higher and higher. I dance on the moon, and nothing matters. Nothing but me, the sky, and my wings. Colours flash as I spin and the audience roars. I seal the window of doubt in their minds that I might fall. I close the curtains and shutter the blinds.
My wings would never fail me.
And then my turn is over. My time is up. I float to the floor as the audience rises to their feet. I let their praise wash over me, but I know it won’t help. The show is over. The curtains are down, and I’m sent back to my cabin. I stare at my reflection in the mirror, watching the other version reappear. The bags under my eyes become prominent, and my hair tumbles down, obscuring my face in shadow as I wipe away the makeup. I’m all alone here. A house for one.
I climb into my bed, and just like every night I’m assaulted by memories of the bombs as they land on my past, present, and future. Only remnants of our circus remained. I remember the choking strain as the dust coated my lungs. As another round of planes arrived. I gag, my memory so vivid. I can feel the exhausting weight of rubble on my chest.
I choke out and a sob escapes my lips; a cry is torn from my lungs. I rip away the duvet cover and rush over to the mirror.
My eyes fill with tears and I clutch my stomach as I see the empty mirror.
Empty space where I should be.