The news had spread around the small town like wildfire, and as a result the main street was children and young people hoping to catch a glimpse. The circus was coming for two whole weeks, and excitement fizzed in the air. Nothing eventful ever seemed to happen in the town, so this was a major occurrence.
He stood at the fence, in between his sister and mother, watching some children play with a skipping rope as their parents talked nearby. It was midsummer, quite late in the day, and the sun was pleasantly warm in contrast to the heat of the afternoon. He had taken off his jacket and folded back his shirt sleeves in an attempt to tan his skin. He watched as a girl of about seventeen came running down the streets, shouting that they were coming. A frisson of anticipation could be felt all around, as people leaned forwards over the fence to try to catch a glimpse of the circus folk. Women pulled their children back off the street as the first of many horses could be heard down the cobbled street.
He watched as three black mares ridden by three young men came into view, and behind them more followed, some walking, some holding the reins of horses pulling caravans and trailers, about forty in total. A small circus, considering the huge and elaborate parades that he was used to back at home. Children could be seen sitting or standing in the back of the trailers, women looked out of the windows of the caravans and waved at the townsfolk. Only a few waved back.
He watched disinterestedly as more men on horseback brought up the rear of the procession. One of them rode bareback and carried a baton, which he was continuously throwing up into the air, higher and higher each time, and catching it one handed. Each time he did, the children clapped and cheered. It was difficult really to see what he looked like – he wasn't close enough yet.
But when he finally did pass, the man was captivated. His large blue eyes seemed to have a life of their own, dancing with laughter and mischief. He wore a Thespian-style white shirt, hanging open, and tight black riding trousers, and looked to be twenty at most. The man's gaze travelled down his body slowly, from the thick jet-black hair, to the golden skin covering firm muscles, down to slim bare feet. He had a European look about him. When he looked up again, the young man was staring at him with an amused grin. He tossed the baton again with his right hand, so high in the air that a few people could be heard gasping and whispering, then caught it deftly in his left, twirling it around a couple of times easily. His gaze never faltered.
When he finally looked away, he gave a barely visible tug on the reins of his horse, and the mare reared up onto its back legs, and the baton went into the air again. He caught it before the horse's front hooves touched the ground again. People clapped and cheered again, most of the crowd joining in this time. The man took a moment to look at the horse. It was a fine animal, he could tell that easily. A pure black stallion, sturdy and likely to be very headstrong and difficult to control, however he noticed it responded obediently to every touch of its rider.
The young man was hanging back now, enjoying the attention, and obligingly performed a few more tricks with the baton and his horse to the delight of the crowd. Someone from up ahead turned and shouted something to him in a foreign tongue, and he replied with a curt "Si, padre!" and the man realised he was Spanish.
With one last toss of the baton, he turned and began to walk his horse in slow pursuit of the trailers. Again, his gaze met with the man's and the Spanish boy gave him a cheeky wink. He didn't smile in return. In response, the boy made a face at him and urged the stallion into a canter in order to catch up.
Far ahead he could see the mayor of the town speaking to one of the riders and pointing to a field opposite. A shout could be heard, and the group began to make their way into the small field, dismounting their horses and helping to move the trailers.
The Spanish boy was lost in the crowd now; there were a number of dark heads that could be his. He watched, hoping to see someone throw and catch a baton with such skill, but it didn't happen.
"Shall we?" His sister touched his shoulder, turning to her mother. "They're awfully coarse, don't you think so Mother? That boy with the stick, he was flaunting himself shamelessly!"
They wandered away, but he stayed at the fence, leaning on it and watching as the circus people began to unload their trailers and call to each other, sometimes in English, sometimes not. The sun was beginning to set, casting a vast array of colours across the sky, and across the field he could see the Spanish boy by himself, walking his horse in circles and practicing mounting him with one quick leap.
He waited a while longer, before turning and walking back across the town square to his mother's house. He was staying for three weeks, and one of those weeks had already passed. He grimaced at the thought of his last two weeks being disrupted by the presence of a group of circus players.