The Circus


A couple of weeks ago I foolishly told my son about the circus with the elephants, lions, clowns, the smell of popcorn, hot dogs and cotton candy. He was excited about the idea, (so was I!) and I promised him we would go.

The first objective was to buy ticket – a nerve racking experience. The Thursday before, I attempted to buy them at the USO on base. “Sorry, all gone,” said the girl, and I just stared at her. With the child psychologist warning, “never break a promise” screaming in my head, I gasped, “Oh no, my son will kill me!” (Can a three year old be tried for murder?)

The attendant behind the counter, sensing the emergency, immediately called another USO and tracked down some available tickets. My thoughts on how to run away from home on Okinawa kept being interrupted by a small voice saying “Mommy, go circus now?” until later the next day when I finally was able to get those tickets.

The day before the circus we rode by the area by chance and noted the absence of tethered elephants and circus tents. I supposed (in my infinite American wisdom) that they hadn’t gotten here yet, and, throwing a prayer towards heaven, continued on.

“Circus day” arrived. We found a minor Okinawan traffic jam at the stadium with six cops directing traffic, one of whom directed us into the wrong lane while the rest ignored our plight. Literally hundreds of people standing out­side should have forewarned us. That gymnasium was packed. Every seat was al­ready taken. The crush of people forced us onto the floor of the gym. Suddenly, on our right, arose a 5’3″ figure of authority, shouting “Shoes, Shoes!” He pointed to the paper-taped floor. “Shoes!” A passing American breathed in my ear, “Put them in the plastic bags” and he promptly faded away. Baggies for shoes? You bet, partner! Let me tell you about the pair of large cowboy boots I was wearing-they really didn’t fit into that Okinawan-sized bag!

We bagged the shoes and gained squatters rights on the floor. The lights dimmed and I heard a whisper, “Mommy, go bathroom!” I stood up but all I saw were squatting and kneeling people. Slowly, carrying my very impatient son, I picked my way through the crowd. The crowd didn’t thin out even in the rest-room. Many mothers with equally impatient children stood waiting. Next door, meanwhile, was a nearly empty men’s room. After a few moments of indecision (will he come back if I let him go in?), a man generously escorted my son inside.

Returning with our apples (yes, apples, forget the popcorn, hotdogs, and cotton candy), I realized, plowing through that mass of people again, that we, of course, had chosen the longest way over, through, between and by fifty or so circus watchers. At least I believe there was a circus. Those who stood up could occasionally catch a glimpse of clowns and even dogs. (No, ma, no elephants. I think we would have spotted them.)

With my husband holding my son aloft, I sat cross-legged on the floor meditatively crunching on my apple, the smell of recently unsneakered feet rising to my nose. Yes, they tell me there was a circus performance that night. I had been reassuring myself that at least my son got to see part of it, when earlier today, he looked up at me and asked those fateful words, “When’s the circus, Mommy?”!

Sayonara from the land of “you never know what you’re getting into,”