Jack & Jill

[This story is the fleshed out version of the outline I created at the STC Pune’s Storytelling lesson. I presented a short version of this to the audience there as part of one of the sessions. – Pradeep]

Jack had just finished his morning run. He was listening to a podcast on childhood memories. Something they said had struck a chord in him. They were discussing how entertainment had moved from video parlours and circuses to Netflix and TikTok. They were nostalgic about the old times.

The interviewer had asked if circuses could still be experienced. The interviewee had answered yes. But, he had said something more important. One of the last travelling circuses in America had just moved to his hometown and would be performing in his home town. He had left his home town when he was 18. He was now 32.

He showered and then cycled to work. He walked into his office mechanically. Swipe in, security check, took the elevator to the seventh floor, swiped in to his office, went to the coffee machine and then sat at his terminal. He powered up his terminal and the first thing he rechecked was the route to his hometown. Then, he sent an email to his boss. His first paid vacation in three years. One month long.

He didn’t wait for the day to get over. He rode into his home town that afternoon and reached on the morning after. He stayed at a motel overnight.

As he drove in to his hometown, only one word came to his mind. Desolate. The town had old unoccupied houses, overgrown lawns, no kids playing in the playground and the playground itself was desolate.  There were only a couple of shops on Main Street that were open. They too had seen better days. It had been so long that no one recognised him. He passed by his old home and saw that the new occupants had done little to keep up the look. The weeds were taking over his old house and the swing set in the garden out front was rusted and broken.

He pulled into the pump and walked into the store. He asked if there was a place to crash for a few days. The owner looked up. He said he had a place upstairs. It would be basic but had a bathroom and toilet attached and a bed. Jack said that would be enough.  In the evening he had a basic sandwich and was driving around town.

The town once supplied auto peripherals and had three or four industries to some of the big auto companies in Detroit. They had a coal mine and a thermal power plant. The thermal power plant was the only one that existed now and provided some sort of employment for the people there. The managers all lived 30 miles out in a new suburb that the company was building. There were global warming protesters at the gate.

He saw that the circus was pitched on the outskirts of town. He enquired when the next show would be. The girl at the ticket counter told him it would open this Friday. He went back to Main Street and went to a coffee shop.

There was a power cut. Despite having a power plant in their background, the town was facing power cuts. In the dark, when he looked out of the window, the only lights he saw were at the circus in the distance. It probably ran on a generator. The huge Circus sign was on top of the tent. All around, there were parked campers. The campers were home for animals and performers. They too would soon be out of a job because the circus owner was planning to shut down the circus after this tour through the American hinterland. People didn’t come to a circus anymore. There were always better tricks on the internet. Setting up the circus in any town was too much of a hassle nowadays. Permits, permissions, local laws, angry neighbours, etc.

On Friday evening, Jack went to the circus. He was amazed to see a full parking lot. There were people who had come in from the company and from the towns nearby. When he got to his seat, the circus was full. There were mostly adults with very few kids in the circus. He got some pop corn, sandwich and a Diet Coke. He was enjoying the performance. As he was drinking, he got a call of nature.

He moved out of his row and took the closest exit out. There were no signs for where the toilet was. He wondered if there was one. A feeling of concern arose on his face. If he had to go to town to get to reach a toilet, that was a 3 mile drive. That would mean he might miss the rest of the show. There had to be a toilet here somewhere. It was then he saw her. She seemed equally concerned.

“Do you know where the restrooms are?” she asked him.

“I’m looking for them as well,” he answered.

Just then he spotted a bored security guard walking along the periphery of the circus on his rounds. He asked for directions and was relieved to hear that there was one close by. Yes, the ladies room was also there. He signalled for her to follow him. They rushed to the rest rooms and each went to the respective rest rooms. It provided very basic facilities but at the time it was a god sent.

After relieving himself, he combed his hair, tucked in his shirt properly and washed his hands and face properly. He made sure his shoes were knotted and ironed out the crease on his jeans with his hands. He then gave himself a general look over. He got a tissue and wiped his hands clean.

In the ladies room, she was giving her make up the final touches and making sure she looked good.

They both stepped out of the rest room at the same time and came face to face. Both looked at each other for a long time.

“Enjoy the circus,” he asked.

“That’s why I’m here,” she said.

“I’m Jack,” he said.

“I’m Jill,” she said and laughed. He knew then that he loved her.

After the circus was over, they went to a coffee shop nearby. As they spoke to each other, they realised just how much they had in common.  They both loved the Big City. They had grown up in opposite sides of the same town. Both had moved to the Big City for employment and lived just blocks away from each other. He was a technical writer in a boutique engineering services firm. She was a freelance features writer. He could see they shared a special chemistry. At the end of the conversation, Jack asked, “Will you marry me?”

“Yes”, said Jill.