When the amusement park project was abandoned for want of funds, the street urchins made it their joint, explains the stripling as he leads us through the grounds. He looks no more than fifteen or sixteen.
At first, they did nothing other than lying on the grass and smoking a reefer, convinced this was all there was to life, that they had seen it all, and that little else mattered. Until one of them suggested they take a go at the ferris wheel one misty evening, he says as a faraway look creeps into his eyes.
He recounts how with what sounded like a mélange of a groan and wail, the big wheel had started to turn and taken him and his friends on a trip more lucid than any they had been on.
As the big wheel turned, so had time. Moments had turned on their head and distended to eternity. Happiness had stretched over the boys' faces like snug-fitting masks. Their breaths had hung in the misty air, forming steaming rings of white life around the revolving wheel. Time and space had mingled in unbridled harmony in their juvenile minds. The world was at peace at last, they had believed.
He then leads us to the carousel, a hum playing on his lips. Another misty evening they had mounted their noble steeds on the merry-go-round, he recalls. An invisible hand had started to play the music and, as if on cue, the animals had leapt into the air. Dragons and unicorns had galloped through the mist, flying their riders into the twilight.
They had raced with sunlight and shooting stars, soared past birds flying back to their nests, screamed in thrill when their steeds nosedived to kiss the ocean, and lain in carefree joy on their backs as night draped their world in a blanket of stars.
The roller-coaster is the trickiest of them all, he warns, and says it had taken them a long time to figure out how it works. Only one passenger is permitted to ride at a time. You mount the train and whisper your destination to the wind, and only then does the train start with a rumble, he explains. He has never ridden it before, he is not ready yet, he says, but he thinks he knows what lies in store.
At first, he says, the train creeps harmlessly uphill, inching ahead until you are able to kiss the clouds, and as you pause to take in the view from above, the train quietly slips from under you and gravity yanks you earthwards a split second later, and if you are very lucky you fall back into your seat right before the train arches backward into a vertical loop, then attempts another somersault and yet another, and just as you begin to think you could get used to the momentum the tracks disappear and the train freezes to a halt in the nick of time, and flings you out of your seat towards outer space, with a snort as if it were spitting phlegm from the back of its throat.
And where would we land, we ask.
On the moon, the lad says. Or among the stars if you miss it.
And how would we get back, we demand to know.
You don't need to, he shrugs. When you are ready to leave, there is no coming back.
(Story originally published on Wednesday, March 20, 2013)