The phrase ‘four eyes’ is usually used as a derogatory term for a regular human who does not actually have any more retinal features than his fellow humans, but instead wears spectacles in order to improve their vision. Over the years this has become an acceptable mild insult that is used commonly in playgrounds and certain shoe shops.
But for Timothy Smalls, the phrase ‘four eyes’ had a literal meaning, as he was born with twice the amount of retinal features that the normal human has. So he was, quite literally, a four eyes. Although the spare set of peepers were not where you would expect. They were actually on the reverse of his head, just below the few wisps of hair that protruded from his balding head. This, of course, meant that he could use another common phrase, which is “I have eyes in the back of my head”. This phrase is often used by teachers who cannot control their pupils as a warning not to misbehave when they are facing the other way. A warning which sadly never works.
Because of his freakish deformity, he lived his life in solitude, which is just outside of Birmingham. He worked from home doing ‘computer stuff’ and rarely left his house, apart from the odd trip – and it was often a very odd trip – to the local shop to buy groceries and property renovation magazines. He had no interest in property renovation, but he hoped it would make people think that this was why he spent so much time at home.
The day that I have chosen to document was one of the days when Timothy went to the local shop. Today he had decided to wear the brown wig. He often wore wigs to hide his rear eyes from the public. The trouble with wearing a wig though, was that half of his vision was momentarily impaired. It is hard to describe how this worked, but close your left eye (do try it, close your left eye now) and you will still not understand how it felt for poor Timothy.
You can open your eye now if you haven’t already.
On the way to the shop, Timothy walked sheepishly past a group of schoolchildren, who, although they gave no indication of it, he thought were probably silently laughing at his freakish disability. It is not unusual for Timothy to have thought this, because schoolchildren often laugh at other people, even if they have only two eyes. As he carried on, he heard somebody shout “Hey, four eyes!” But as he turned around to see who had called him, he soon learned that the child had been talking to another child that was wearing glasses.
Timothy smiled at having not been insulted, but felt slightly sorry for the poor boy. He felt like he wanted to run over to the bully and shout “Why don’t you pick on someone who actually has four eyes?!” But he knew the boy would take him up on his invitation, and he wasn’t in favour of being bullied by a small boy.
As he turned back around to continue a journey, he was faced with two words that would change his life forever, although he didn’t know it at the time. In big hand-painted letters were the words ‘Freds Circus’.
“Fancy a laugh sir?” Shouted an enthusiastic young voice. But before Timothy could reply the young boy continued. “Then come on down to ‘Freds Circus’ and witness the comical clowns, the agile acrobats, the jolly jugglers and the lazy lions. See the music, hear the lights, experience the sheer thrill and excitement that is ‘Freds Circus’!”
Timothy stood for a second, too stunned at the speech that had just been thrown at him. As he wiped a few adjectives off his shirt, he said “Where’s the apostrophe?”
“What?” Asked the boy, perplexed by Timothy’s comment.
“There’s an apostrophe missing in ‘Freds’.” He explained.
“Ah, no. It is correct you see, as the circus is run by two people who are both called Fred.”
“Well then there should be an apostrophe after Freds.” Timothy argued.
“Look, are you going to stand here all day complaining about my dad’s grammar or are you going to take a leaflet and come to the show?” The boy asked in an irritated tone.
“I’d rather discuss the grammar.” Timothy admitted.
“Well I haven’t got time,” the boy replied, “So write a letter. Or better still come to the show and you can tell my boss after.”
“I thought it was your father.” Timothy said.
“I work for my dad. They pay’s rubbish but the holidays are good.” He answered.
So Timothy took a grammatically-incorrect leaflet and the boy ran off, shouting at more people as he went. Timothy looked at the badly-designed leaflet for a moment and then put it in his pocket as he continued his journey to the shop.
To save ink and a few precious seconds of time, I am, from this point onwards, going to refer to Timothy Smalls as, quite simply, Tim. Tim is a common abbreviation for the name Timster, and is much easier and far quicker to type.
When Tim arrived at the shop, he went inside to find a group of bankers standing just by the door. These particular bankers had seen Tim’s two other eyes previously and sniggered as he shuffled awkwardly past them.
The shop was not very big, but seemed to hold just about every item you could think of within its endless isles and crammed shelves. From fruit and vegetables to DIY equipment, to call it a convenience store would be doing it an injustice. Deeper in the shop, just next to the jams and spreads, was a couple who lived a few doors down from Tim, and they chuckled at poor four eyes too.
He silently gathered as many groceries he could find – including milk, bread, cereals and an avocado – and made his way to the till. Whilst he was standing in the queue waiting to pay, he noticed a poster on the wall that looked identical to the leaflet which now resided scrunched up in his pocket. But before he could read any more, Mr Unc, the owner and sole cashier, called him over to pay for his goods.
“Good morning.” Mr Unc said, despite the fact it was now 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
“Good morning.” Tim replied, too distracted to notice the mistake.
“How are you today?” The cashier asked. Tim did not reply.
If somebody had seen him standing at the till with a blank expression on his face and little knowledge of his surroundings, they may have said that he was ‘on a different planet’. This would have been a true observation, but not necessarily accurate. Although he was still on Earth, his mind was metaphorically, but not literally, elsewhere. He was still thinking about why the poster, and to a greater extent the leaflet, somehow seemed so important. After a brief bag-packing moment he handed the cashier several notes from his wallet and left the shop without his change. There was no change, because while he was in a daze, he neglected to notice that some of the notes he had given Mr Unc were reminders to phone various boring people.
For the remainder of the journey home, Tim was silent. This may not seem abnormal, as most people are silent when walking home alone, but there was something about his silence that gave him an aura of deep mystery.
When he arrived home, he put his shopping away and made a cup of tea. I shall not divulge which particular brand of tea he preferred as I have not received any sponsorship from large tea manufacturers, but as he drunk his tea – which may or may not have been Tetley – and ate his unbranded digestive biscuits, he stared at the leaflet which was now on the coffee table behind him. The words ‘Freds Circus’ stared back at him, and as he pondered over their relevance, an idea formed in his mind.
There was one small line of text on the leaflet that had struck him the most. Just below a paragraph about the comical clowns, agile acrobats, jolly jugglers and lazy lions was the following line:
“And our newest attraction, the Friendly Freaks, including a bearded woman and a man with one arm.”
As he read and re-read the line about the freaks, he wondered if this was something that he could be a part of. Maybe this was where he belonged. Perhaps there in the circus he would be accepted, and maybe even liked for who he was.
The following day, Tim awoke with a mission. Today, he thought to himself, he would go to the circus and see if it would be a suitable place for him to work.
Since the circus didn’t open till later in the afternoon, he had the morning to himself, which he thought was very generous of the world. He made his way downstairs and into the kitchen, where he made his usual breakfast of porridge. As he waited for Maurice the Microwave – a name he had given one boring afternoon – to heat his oaty meal, he stared at the circus leaflet which was now stuck to the fridge via a novelty magnet that a relative had sent him from a day trip to Manchester.
After he ate his porridge and thanked Maurice, he got changed into an outfit that he considered smart but not too formal. As he put on his tutu he smiled to himself… No, I’m just kidding. He wasn’t wearing a tutu. He had instead opted for trousers and a shirt.
Later that afternoon he left for the circus. He walked confidently down the road, with a smile on his face that seemed to say ‘look at me, I’ve just had a really nice sandwich and now I’m going to the circus’. He passed a few people on the way that knew of his retinal disposition, but their sniggers and pointing was not enough to spoil Tim’s happy mood.
When he arrived at the entrance, he stopped to stare at the sign that towered over him like a tower. In large friendly letters were the words that had initially enticed him. FREDS CIRCUS the sign read, and just underneath was a sentence that looked as if it had been scribbled on with a marker pen at the last minute, which read ‘If you work for us, you’re on the wrong side of this sign’.
Tim chuckled to himself nervously, wondering if soon the message on the sign would apply to him. He hoped it would.
“One please.” Tim said as he stood at a ticket desk that was inhabited by a teenage girl who clearly looked like she would rather be anywhere in the world than here. She passed him his ticket and mumbled a price. Tim felt it best not to engage in conversation with the girl over the price, so he gave her a ten pound note and waited for his change. When he did not get one, he moved along for the next victim to see the girl.
As he made his way into the giant tent – or ‘big top’ as it’s called in the industry – it seemed Tim had not remembered that he had always been frightened of circuses due to an encounter with a drunk clown at an early age. But neither this nor any other fear would prevent Tim from searching out what he thought was his destiny.
He sat on an old bench next to an old woman who he recognised from a bus stop he had once walked past. The old lady smiled at him and offered him a sweet. Not wanting to seem rude, Tim accepted her offer, only to find out she didn’t actually have any sweets, she was merely enquiring if he was wanting one. After breaking the ice, Tim then attempted to break the silence that had befallen them.
“Do you come here often?” he asked, despite the fact the circus had only been in town for 2 days.
“Oh yes,” she lied. “Every day. I like watching all the different fishes swimming around.”
After deducing that the old lady thought she was at the aquarium, Tim felt he’d better look after the poor deluded woman.
“Are you here with anyone?” he asked.
“Yes,” she lied again. “You know I remember when this theatre opened 42 years ago. I was only a nipper then, but my father brought me to see a film, I forget which one, but oh it was marvellous. We paid tuppence for a ticket and my father said he’d never seen such a beautiful ticket. Anyway, we sat down in this very seat, although it’s been changed now because it wasn’t a bench when I was here, and when the film started my father said…”
But Tim did not hear what the old woman’s father may or may not have said, as she was interrupted by the grand entrance of the ringmaster. A fanfare filled the room as a tall man in a top hat ran out and began jumping around half-heartedly, as if he didn’t really want to do it. He was wearing a tremendous outfit that included a bright red waistcoat and black boots. Above the fanfare, he greeted his audience with a voice bereft of all enthusiasm. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and the small number of dogs.”
As Tim looked around, he noticed that there were in fact a small number of dogs in the front row, all looking rather puzzled as to what was going on. But he too was puzzled by the ringmaster himself, in particular his accent. The ringmaster’s indistinguishable accent was the sort that a writer would give a fictional character so that if there was a film made about his book, the character could be played by any foreign person.
“I am Fred,” continued the ringmaster in his dullest tone. “And tonight I bring you spectacular surprises, spellbinding sights and… Superb… … Stuff. So without any more ado, here’s the first act. The amazing, agile acrobats.”
As the audience began clapping and cheering excitedly, the ringmaster slumped out of the ring and the acrobats began flying in from a number of directions. “Why aren’t you clapping?” The old woman asked Tim.
“They haven’t done anything yet.” He replied truthfully.
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