Corps de Ballet | Carmel Lillis

Love’s inpenetrable shroud

Corps de Ballet

By Carmel Lillis

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love


‘Recession Buster Specials,’ trumpets the clown-spruiker, balancing on stilts in his blood-stained apron. ‘Step up. Step up. This can’t last. Half price – next ten minutes only. Lamb shanks for your dinner. Free balloons for your kiddies.’ A riotous clutch of helium-filled balloons on strings bob and bump above the butcher’s stall where, like hungry seagulls squalling, a United Nations of faces calls, ‘Lamba, please. Ten of lamba special one.’ A strident hand, thrusting a wad of notes forward, jostles the other shoppers, and from somewhere behind the hand, a voice shrills, ‘Me, I first.’

Behind the crowd a ghost, upright and shrouded in black, glides as if in a ballet of the dead.

In one little fist, a black-eyed boy grips a corner of the ghost’s shroud; in his other hand, he clutches a kebab. Carcasses dangling on hooks transport him to a different marketplace. Lines of blood-spattered grooves in the earthen floor marked the path they had followed. Searching, searching with his mother amongst rows of human bodies slung from hooks. Eyes never connecting with soldiers’, sub-machine guns strung across their torsos.

Trembling, the boy buries himself in the folds of the shroud. A minute later, he peeps out. The spruiker, who has been watching for him, winks. On a shudder, the boy sweeps his hand across his face. The smiling spruiker, holding out a balloon, bends down to him.

The little boy tugs at the shroud. The spectre beside him does not acknowledge the tug. So the child drops his corner of the shroud and steps forward, with hand outstretched to the spruiker.

Again, the boy clutches the black shroud. But now he fumbles, little hands struggling to manage the kebab, the shroud and a dancing red balloon.

‘Oh, oh, ohh,’ he cries to his balloon floating upwards. His pointing hand opens and shuts – the beak of a baby bird.

A leap, graceful as a ballerina’s. A catch, impossible as an A-grade basketballer’s. The spruiking clown places the balloon string back into the child’s hand. ‘Hang on to it, little mate,’ he grins out of his painted mouth, and he ruffles the child’s hair.

The little boy claps and twirls. So fast does he spin, that the balloon string winds around his waist like a sash. At which his laughter ripples across the crowd in waves of joy.

Seeing him dance so, his mother in the black burqa bows towards the spruiker.

And the audience round the butchers’ stalls, momentarily suspended from their bargain hunting, smiles.