Days went by fast at the Opera House and before I even fully realized it, my first week was over. I had already formed new habits and was able to find my way around the place quite easily already. It felt as though I'd always been there and the group of dancers had proven itself to be a real family. They were kind for me and had never shown any sign of dislike or a feeling of superiority towards me, despite the great difference between our ancestries.
On our free Saturday afternoon we – or rather they – decided to go into Paris. There was said to be a big market with all sorts of things in the centre of the city. Food, clothing, animals, even a small circus. I was quite exited, since I never had been to something like this before. And, maybe even more, because I finally belonged with a group. Meg, Anne and Adrienne were the best friends I could imagine. Despite our completely different characters, we could get along very well and having friends like this made me feel all warm inside.
'Come on, there is so much that I want to do today!' Adrienne cried out as we made our way to the grand lobby. She seemed to be twice as eager to go into town as the rest of us and she couldn't wait for us 'snails'.
'Calm down, already. The market won't run away.'
'No it won't, but it will be packed by the time we get there if we continue at this pace.'
'Why are we so eager to go to this market thing, again?'Adrienne looked at me as if I had just asked her if the Pope was Catholic and then said, wildly gesturing with her hands: 'Because it's fantastic!'
She wants to go to the traveling fair,' Meg explained to me in a soft whisper. 'We have to go there every time.'
I nodded understandingly, then dared to ask: 'What is so special about this circus?'
'What is so special?!' She called out in disbelief and shook her head. 'Everything! They have the most amazing acrobats and there are magicians and a fortuneteller and, and..'
'I think she gets your point, Adrienne.' Anne interrupted quickly. 'Well, let's hurry. We can't risk missing anything, can we?'
The redhead snorted. 'You go and make fun of it all you like, but I will not love or enjoy it any less.' No one reacted on that comment anymore, probably all thinking it would be better to just let it rest.
We continued our walk into town in silence. It was not an awkward silence, though, despite the argument the girls had just had. I could easily imagine them bicker over this every week and there seemed to be no hard feelings between them at all. It was just like the topic of the Opera Ghost; I doubted they ever agreed on it, or even wanted to have their right.
I tilted my head a bit up so the early morning sun could warm my face. For some reason it felt totally different than the sun I had felt back home. Warmer, gentler, as if I had never really felt it before. Maybe, I thought, I hadn't. Not like this anyway. I'd always been too occupied to actually take the time to enjoy the warm touch of the sunlight.
My life had changed a lot since I was at the Garnier Opera. Not only my surroundings, but the way I lived, too. The heavy burdens, the responsibility I'd had back home was gone and for the first in a long time I actually felt like a kid. I didn't have to take care of anything anymore, I could finally do the things I loved and it felt good.
'Here we are!'
I snapped back into reality and surprisingly found myself standing in front of a giant tent. Around me were over twenty other wagons, small tents and carriages, spread across a big grass court. The circus.
Meg let out a sigh and rolled her eyes at me, smiling.
I couldn't help but smile back. To her this might have been routine, but I was just as excited as Adrienne was. Perhaps even more. I felt like a small child, looking my eyes out and turning to take in everything that was at sight.
The richly decorated wagons, which clearly belonged to the wealthier gypsies of the fair, were separated from other, dilapidated cabins by an invisible line and I figured that here, too, was a pecking order. Curious as I was, I slowly parted away from the other girls and made my way to one of the decayed wagons. This one was made of dark wood and looked as if it was at least a century old. There were no decorations on it, no lanterns, not even a proper window – for the one which was there was simply a hole in the wall with bars in front of it, as if it were a prison. Again, my curiosity got the best of me and I took even a few more steps towards the cabin. My heart was pounding loudly as I approached the heavy looking door. The closer I came, the more the thing reminded me of a prison, and I wondered what kind of thing would be kept inside it. An animal perhaps? Or goods?
I stopped in front of the door and glared over my shoulder. There was no sight of Meg, Anne or Adrienne anywhere, so I figured they must had gone into the large tent without me. Somewhere I felt a pang of sadness, since they hadn't even realized I'd gone, but for some reason the feeling didn't reach my head. I was too caught up in the cart in front of me. Instead of reaching for the door knob, I moved towards the makeshift window and stood on my toes to peek inside.
It was completely dark inside and my eyes could barely make out anything. The only light was submitted by the sun which, high in the sky as it was, only let a single beam of sunlight penetrate the darkness. I lowered myself back on my feet and waited until my eyes had adjusted to the dark ceiling I could now solely see. After a minute or so, I got back on my toes and silently thanked God for being a ballet dancer, since it had made me used to standing on my tips.
At first the cabin seemed completely empty and disappointment already started to fall over me. That was when I saw a small movement in the corner of my eye. To have a better view, I pulled my face against the cold, iron bars and focused on a small pile of clothing in the back corner of the cabin. It took me a second to realize it was in fact alive and my mouth dropped as I could now clearly see the state this.. this creature was in.
Its clothes were dirty and ragged and its hair was a smutty mass on its head. Even though it was partly hidden in the shadows, I could easily see the bones pinching through its filthy skin and compassion consumed me. What kind of life must he have had? Locked in a decayed wagon, away from daylight and life. I felt tears well up in my eyes for the dark fate of this creature and swallowed to keep myself from crying. I didn't want to see any more of this traveling fair, but found myself unable to run away from the poor thing before me. It was beyond me why anyone would be given a life like this. What kind of God would allow this, I wondered.
Unable to think of anything else I could do for him, I reached for my pocket and pulled out the few pieces of gold I had. I'd wanted to buy some dresses on the market this afternoon, but realized he was in far more need of it.
For what seemed like hours I stood there, not moving a limb. I didn't want to frighten the poor, little thing, as it seemed so broken already. At last I coughed softly and it – I still wasn't sure about the gender of the creature before me – turned its head up to me.
Two big, green orbs looked at me in utter terror and a second load of compassion made its way into my heart. 'I'm sorry,' I said quickly 'I did not mean to frighten you.'
It didn't respond and backed away even further against the wall of the cabin. Fear was still locked in its eyes and its body was trembling in anguish. I felt myself wanting to enter the cabin and take this small, frightened creature in my arms. What could it possibly have done to be treated like this?
'Please,' I spoke again 'I wish you no harm, I promise.' With that, I curled the ends of my lips into an encouraging smile. As a further proof of my good intentions, I squeezed my left arm through the iron bars and extended my hand towards him. 'My name is Angèlique Fournier.
The boy – I took it was a boy, by the few features I could see - at the other side of bars didn't move though. My friendly behaviour didn't seem to comfort him at all, in fact it only seemed to make him back away from me even more. He was suspicious, I realized, and I felt even more sorry for him. What kind of things must he have experienced, becoming so scared and mistrusting.
I held my arm out for a few more seconds, then slowly retreated it and let it fall at my side defeated. 'Here,' I said, pushing my other hand - which held the coins - through the window again and offering him the golden coins. 'It's not much, I know, but I don't have any more money. But you take it, it's the least I can do.' As I opened my hand, sunlight caught sight of the golden coins in my hand and they started to shimmer.
His mouth dropped and he looked at me with a complexion of confusion and disbelief. He eyed me skeptically and knitted his brows as if to figure out what kind of game I was playing with him. Perhaps he thought I was mocking him and I'd pull my hand away as soon as he'd come closer. Slowly, he moved. Pulling himself up, he never lost eye contact with me. He shuffled towards me sceptically.
Now he was standing, I could get a better impression of him. He was, as I already thought by the features of his face, a boy. Though it was hard to say exactly because of the emaciated state of his body, I was sure he couldn't have passed the age of ten. He missed the childish curves many of his peers had and his face was sunken, still I could see a shadow of the boy he could be. He kept himself to the shadows, having come to a halt just outside the small beam of sunlight. 'Please, extend your arm, I cannot reach any further than this, ' I said, proving it to him as my upper arm got stuck between the iron bars.
He looked at me in suspicion and then, probably after deciding that I would be no danger to him if I was lying, took another step to me. His face remained in the shadows, but I could see his green eyes still fixed on my face.
As he raised his arm, I smiled at him and dropped the coins in his hand. I looked as his expression turned. Complete disbelief took the place of suspicion and before I even realized it, he smiled at me. It was a rather awkward, weak smile, but nonetheless it made my heart heat up.
'T-Thank you,' he creaked, his voice soar from dilapidation. Then, he bowed his head down in a mixture of shame and fear, then muttered, stumbling over his words. 'I mean, thank you, madame.'
'It's just Angèlique. I'm not a madame, in any application of the word. May I inquire who I have got the pleasure of meeting?'
He stayed quiet for what seemed like forever, and I took it that he was not going to answer at all. But then he slowly opened his mouth hesitant. 'It's Philippe, madame,' he mumbled and stepped carefully forward to shake my hand.
It was at that moment, when he stepped forward, that I could see why he was in here. When the daylight caught his body it all became alarmingly clear. I understood why he kept himself to the shadows and why he seemed so afraid of me. Without realizing I had pulled my arm back through the iron bars and staggered a few steps away from the cabin. All sorts of appalling ideas formed in my mind and I found myself becoming sick. 'Dear God.'
The boy, the poor, famished thing. I could only imagine what kind of life he must have known. Being treated like a monster, a demon, simply because his body looked different than what is common. People would gape at him, laugh and nag, merely because of something he was born with.
I took a deep breath and steadied my heartbeat before I stepped back to the window. I saw the boy, Philippe, had retreated to his dark corner and my heart broke at the sight. 'I am sorry, Phillipe, I really am terribly sorry.'
He seemed to shrug his shoulders. 'I'm used to people being scared of what I look like, madame. It's nothing.'
I shook my head. 'No dear, it was wrong of me. But please know, I'm not afraid of you. It was not your appearance that made me stagger.'
'What are you doing? Did you think you could get a free show on the little demon?!'
I spun around quickly and almost lost my balance when I noticed the tall, tinted figure that stood only a few feet behind me. He was coarsely build, with broad shoulders and arms as large as my upper legs, and he had a smile on his lips that sent chills through my body. Even though he had a smile on his face – or perhaps a smirk was a better way to call it – his voice had been filled with venom and controlled anger. I knew that if I wanted to get away unharmed, I'd better not mess with this man. 'I'm sorry, monsieur. I-I was looking for my friends. We came here not too long ago and I lost track of them.'
He raised one of his eyebrows, the smirk still remaining on his lips. 'And you were searching for them in a cabin?' He crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked at me with a glance of amusement. Surely he was wondering how I was going to talk myself out of this, too.
Before I could open my mouth though, a voice, heaven sent, saved me from the difficult situation I had gotten myself into. 'Angèlique, is that you?'
I turned to see my three friends walk up to me, all with relieved expressions written on their faces. My own visage looked probably exactly the same, though it was not for relief of finding my friends again. 'Oh, there you are! I was afraid I would never find you guys again,' I exclaimed, exaggerating my facilitation enormously. 'Monsieur, it was a pleasure,' I curtsied and added in a whisper. 'I won't forget you, Philippe.' Then I hastily headed towards my friends, eager to leave this dreadful place as quickly as possible.