Noch Aye

“I thought that drinks weren’t allowed,” said Moreen. The circus troupe had started drinking when they’d left the Village, and continued all the way up the Lucerne Valley Road. The Russian clowns downed vodka; Jamaican acrobats limbered up with rum; English jugglers drank both cheap and premium gins, according to their social class; Goan magicians made fenny appear and disappear; the Chinese doll family drank thimblefuls of baijiu; the Mexican couch-spinner had tequila and mezcal – he said “one for each end”; the German sword swallower liked schnapps to “heal his mistakes”; the Iraqi cannonball said that only arak “kept his tummy in”; Greek plate-spinners said brandy “balanced their ears”.

“We are circus people,” said the Scottish Ringmaster, sipping 23-year-old malt whisky, “We make our own rules.”

“You could get into a lot of trouble for drinking,” said Moreen. “They are pretty tough here. The whole Valley is dry.”

“This is the land of water. Water is wet!” said the Ringmaster loudly. “Noch aye!”

“Noch aye!” the circus troupe members replied.

“Isn’t it Och Aye?” said Moreen.

“Well usually it is, but we make our own rules. If those gold diggers want entertainment, they’ll have to cut us some slack. Noch aye!”

“Noch aye!” everyone called out.

It is inappropriate to be drinking on a schoolbus, thought Moreen. The driver seemed to agree with her and stopped the bus halfway up the Valley.

“Right, you lot,” he said through his beard. “I’m going to tell you this once only. Drinking is forbidden in this Valley, and also on this bus, which is used to transport children to school daily. I’ve turned a blind eye till now, but break time’s over. You better put those drinks away and sharpen up your act.”

The Mexican couch-spinner rose from his seat. The Iraqi human-cannonball did likewise. The Scottish Ringmaster rose up too, and indicated for the other two to sit down. They screwed up their faces, but followed his order.

“Ok, you’re the boss,” he said the driver. “Then he faced the troupe and said, “Ladies and gentlemen! You heard the man. Let’s drink up.” Everybody raised their glasses and downed them. “Thank you. Now put them away – at least till we get through the checkpoint.” The driver slowed the bus again. “Ok, I didn’t mean that. Ladies and Gentlemen! No more drinking on the journey at all please.”

The driver sped up and called out, “If I see anyone drinking I’m turning around and taking you back, and reporting to the Authority.

They soon reached the Golden turnoff, lined with black security fencing and guard dog patrols. Depleted supply in Africa and Asia meant that gold was more precious than ever; a vital component for cellphones, laptops, satellites, solar panels, catalytic convertors, airbag and braking systems, and a million other things. And of course, it was the only universally recognized currency, come hell or high water. Golden had been designated a “Fundamental Framework” zone.

The security guards were idle. They didn’t smell or spot the booze. They ordered everyone off the bus and then back on again. They asked troupe members to perform some tricks. Most were on work visas and didn’t want fuss, so obliged.

The Balkan chapeaugrapher rolled his eyes, and transformed his white, ring-shaped piece of felt into a pirate’s hat, a Russian fur hat, a nun’s wimple, Admiral’s hat, skyscraper, baseball cap, baby’s bonnet, mortar board, an iPod, a barrister’s wig, and Mickey Mouse ears. The security guards laughed and clapped. The Peruvian knife thrower was called upon. He threw five knives at a cedar, five at a fir, five at a pine, and his last five knives removed guards’ hats and pinned them to the security fencing. They reached for their guns but then burst out laughing, and gave him high-fives. The Israeli fire-dancer was required to produce a turn. She ran her standard repertoire of poi, fire hoops, batons, nanchaku, and fire whips, then fire-eating and fire-breathing, and lit all their cigarettes for a finale. The guards cheered, and then stamped the troupe’s passes.

They asked Moreen her reason for visiting Golden. She said that she was looking for work there. “What kind of work?” asked the biggest guard.

“It depends on what’s available. I’ll consider most things.”

“Will you now?” said the big guard. “Wait here for a minute.”

The circus troupe were back on the bus now. Only Moreen remained. The guard told the driver to start up the bus and get going. “But what about my passenger?” he said.

“She hasn’t been cleared yet,” said the guard. “We’re waiting for instructions. We’ll send her on the next bus.”

“We’ll wait for her,” said the driver.

Moreen was scared. What did these guards want with her? She should have chosen her words more carefully – not said that she’d “consider most things”. The Ringmaster climbed down from the bus to enquire about the hold up. When they told him he was incensed. “You let fifty drunken reprobates through, and you want to keep this perfectly respectable single woman here for no reason? Gentlemen! That’s ungentlemanly behaviour. What do you think you’re playing at?”

The big guard placed his hand on his gun. “Buddy, you may be King of the Ring in your world, but here I am God. What I say is Law. Now be on your way or I’ll arrest you for obstruction.” His fellow guards prepared to handle their guns, and didn’t know what happened to them next.

They later recalled being flipped about, being wound around people’s heads, swung around, ejected a hundred metres, having their tongues set on fire, being sawn in half, thrown about repeatedly, pinned to boards and spun about, having pies pushed in their faces, and the bus disappearing in a puff of smoke.

“What did you do to them,” Moreen asked the Ringmaster.

He said, “We just taught them a lesson. That was no way to behave with a lady. We circus people like to follow the rules.” He winked at her. “Our rules.” Then he called out, “Noch Aye!”

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