Book Excerpts · Books

When dreams become a refuge from a loveless marriage

The Magic Within, by Manal Shakir

IMG_6759_The scene before Adnan was familiar. Childhood memories flooded his mind as he stared at the tent’s bright red-and-yellow-striped tarp. Long ago he had visited a circus with his father and the magic that had ensued within the great tent was now returning mysteriously, in a manner as bizarre as a dream. Bright lights beckoned him to enter, but he could not recall how or when he got there.

Four thick wooden poles bordered the corners of the concrete platform at the centre of the structure while smaller poles ran alongside the outer walls of the circular tent, holding the tarp upright. Spotlights hanging on wires at the top of the tent guided him down an aisle and onto a stage. He scanned the grand structure as his feet took him further inside.

Two silk paintings covered the back of the tent. One had a bright painting of an elephant adorned in jewels and mirrors, with two little boys on its back. The painting next to it was of a fire-breather. Her fire sparkled with jewels. She was outlined in black and painted in bright red and orange, almost blending in with the fire. The curtains on the stage were painted with a picture of girls dancing, behind them a tightrope, clowns and a magician holding a peacock proudly displaying its extravagant tail feathers. The last painting, which hung above the stage, was of a man in a top hat. He sported an enormous grin. His eyes were decorated with mirrors and his top hat in jewels. His skin was painted olive and his lips bright red. The visitor felt nervous staring at the painting of the man whose grin was morphing into a devilish toothy smirk.

No one was around; his every step echoed on the concrete aisles and through the empty bleachers. When he managed to make it to the middle of the stage, he turned to look out. The empty space weighed heavily around him. All of a sudden the spotlights from the entrance up to the stage turned off one by one, snapping with loud crackles. Crack. Crack. Crack. Within seconds just one remained, shining directly on him. He felt uneasy as he wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. As he stared at the spotlight, it flickered. Crack. It went out. Too scared to move, he stood in complete darkness for a few seconds, listening to his own heart beating out of his chest. Then, all of a sudden, the overhead lights in the room turned on with a loud buzz. He covered his face with his arm, trying to shield his eyes from the brightness. Slowly, he looked out in front of him and saw a man dressed in a top hat and a red tailcoat with a yellow stripe down the middle just a few yards away. He had a wide plastic smile on his face, bright black eyes and gleaming white teeth. ‘What is your area of expertise?’ asked the man, twirling a whip in his left hand as he walked towards him. ‘Excuse me?’ ‘Expertise, man what is your line of work?’ the man asked in irritation. ‘Um, accountant.’ ‘Great. Here you go.’ The man handed him a whip, and smiled. The visitor looked down at the whip and then back up at the man, who had disappeared. He then looked around the stage, now occupied with different objects. A tightrope near the back was held up by bamboo rods. A huge, round, steel motorcycle stunt cage was to his left with motorcycles parked outside it. And on his right were two long silk pieces of cloth hanging from the ceiling. Panic set in. He realized he was standing in the middle of a wiry steel cage with various hoops and stools made of wooden blocks. He looked out as a noise from the bleachers erupted in front of him. Hundreds of people in the audience were watching him. He looked down at his clothes and found himself in black leather pants, a white shirt with ruffles down the middle and a black leather vest. A whip in his hand. He then heard a roar behind him, and his heart dropped as he slowly turned to see a large lion with a thick mane standing on one of the stools looking directly at him. To his left was another male lion, lying atop one of the structures and licking his paw. His breathing became erratic as his eyes searched frantically for an exit, but could not seem to find a door to the cage. The male lion in front of him was visibly agitated and leapt from one stool to the next, closer to him. Adnan moved back towards the edge of the cage but fell. He quickly jumped back up and noticed the lion was even closer, a little too close. He didn’t think twice before cracking the whip. The lion stayed where it was while he moved further back until he was right up against the wiry cage. He groped with his hands for any exit and slid along the wall as the lion followed him with its eyes while he followed the lion with his. He momentarily looked out at the audience, but they looked as stunned as him. He searched for any indentation or latch, but felt nothing. The lion began its approach again. His eyes narrowed as he gripped the whip even tighter. Before he knew it, the lion leapt up and flew towards him. He closed his eyes and scrunched up his face, waiting for impact, but then felt the cage give way behind him. He landed heavily on his back. When he opened his eyes, he found one very big and one very little man standing over him. He sat up and saw that the lion was inside its cage while he was safely on the outside. ‘What were you doing?’ asked the laughing big man. ‘You could have been killed. You had a whip, why didn’t you use it?’ asked the little one irritably. ‘I…I…’ was all he could choke out. The little man and big man looked at each other and smiled.

‘What is your name?’ asked the big man. ‘Adnan.’ 

‘Ok, let’s get you up.’ The big man extended his arm to Adnan who took it and stood up uneasily. He put his head in his hands to stop it from spinning and then turned back around to look at the cage. Now there was no audience, no cage, nothing; just an empty stage and an empty tent. He turned around and saw both men walking towards the curtains at the back of the stage. The little man gestured with his arm. ‘C’mon, it’s time to go.’ Adnan, confused and frantically trying to find a logical explanation, was too stunned to even shout out and ask the men where he was. Exasperated, he walked towards the backstage curtains, hurrying to catch up with the two men who had rescued him. As he stepped backstage, he turned left and then right, but could not find them. He turned around to look out at the stage again, but when he turned, everything slowly faded away. Adnan stared into the darkness and could feel his heart beating harder in his chest. He opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came out. He realized he was no longer standing; he was lying down on a cushy surface. His eyes shot open. He was in his own bedroom. As his chest heaved, he looked around the room and breathed deeply as the familiar surroundings eased his discomfort. He put his face in his hands and took a deep breath. Hearing himself breathe assured him that he was conscious and his latest encounter with the lion had only been an aberrant journey in his subconscious mind.

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