Circus Maximus had been travelling Romania for two weeks now, with a few performances in Moldova, inbetween. Pjotr had been with the troupe for almost a year. A misfit of the streets, Pjotr had made a sort of living with diverse conjurer's tricks, when Mr. Palaci had dragged him into the hard-working, efficient embrace of the Circus. Yet for all the drudgery, here was something Pjotr hadnt known before. A feeling of solidarity. Being part of a family of sorts. For all their differences, the artistes & the crew worked for one common good. The circus.
There was Tiny Tom, 300 lbs of sheer muscle, who could tear three phone books apart in one pull. Julius the Peculius, whose face was so gummy that he could touch his lower lip to his eyebrows. Palaci himself & his score of white horses. Pierre the clown whose sad face always made you laugh, whose tears were so affected, 'look at me, I'm such a tortured clown'. Always a reminder of the mediocrity of self-pity. Only two people stood a little apart. The Blandini twins, Luigi & Monica, were so much alike, that people often confused them, even though they were man & woman in their late teens. Their act was the trapeze. Triple somersaults their trade mark. Even Palaci mentioned their name with awe. Sometimes when Pjotr looked at their act, the illusion suddenly came upon him there was only one up there swinging from trapeze to trapeze. But the next moment the mirage had gone & the twins were smiling down at the spectators, bathing in thunderous applause.
One night as the tent was packed & the vans were getting ready to leave Zalau, heading for Bistrita, Pjotr heard Palaci bellow through the hustle of exodus. Something was amiss: "You saw them last by the elephants. I tell You, they're not there.. & neither in their caravan. They're gone. Gone" he was yelling at Tiny Tom, who at least mentally looked rather smallish now. Pjotr stood up from his bunk, absent-mindedly doing some card tricks while walking out to see what was wrong. "You seen the Blandini's?" Palaci shouted. Pjotr shook his head: "No". A storm was brewing, no big surprise, it had been on the weather forecast, yet still it felt like an omen. The horses were nervous because their master was. All through the next hours, people walked the perimeters shouting: "Blandini", "Luigi", "Monica", but to no avail. A stillness settled on the whole troupe.
Next morning the Circus headed for Bistrita, Palaci determined to fulfill the contract, despite the twins' disappearance. Through storm & shower they went to Bistrita. There, the local population told the troupe how the arrival of the Circus Maximus had been preceded by a score of ominous events. A goat had suddenly collapsed & died. An orchard had blossomed, in late autumn.. Good & bad occurences, all beyond the natural scheme of things. Palaci considered cancelling the show, but the Mayor assured him, this was sheer coincidence. These rural people were prone to see omens in just everything. Never mind them. Just get on with the show!.
To fill out the gap caused by the absence of the Blandinis, Valetta got the chance to perform with her sea lions. Valetta was Pjotr's secret love. Ever since she had joined three months ago, she had shown remarkable skills with animals, first helping Palaci with the horses, then inheriting Miss Mara Kech's sea lions, when that grand old lady had finally succumbed to a terminal illness. Valetta had won their trust in no time. After only one month's rehearsals, she delivered a perfect performance. She smiled out to the spectators, then caught Pjotr's eyes, grinning wistfully. Pjotr was almost fainting with bliss. Luckily he had already done his own act, or else his lack of concentration would have spelt disaster. That night she knocked on the door to his room. That night he lost his innocence for real. The next morning when he rose from their love nest & looked out, he saw two ravens fly towards the horizon. And just for a fleeting moment, he thought he saw humanoid features on these birds, features last glimpsed from under the canvas, swinging from trapeze to trapeze. "You ever wondered why they left?" Valetta asked from behind, hugging her arms around him, "they had to go back" she continued, sinking her teeth into his neck. "That's where we all go when the time comes". Pjotr felt her teeth, he sensed a blurring at the edge of his vision, & felt the two of them kind of melt together, almost like twins