She climbs the ladder, the crowd cheering her on with every step she takes higher. Her heart is pounding, she is sure everyone can hear it. She looks down, at the distance between her and the ground. It feels miles away. Something catches her eye. She looks closely. Its a white thread come loose from her sequinned leotard. It can barely be seen, but it nags her. Everything should be perfect. She tries to shrug it away. She’s too high up the ladder anyway. She’s getting tired, already. She knows that’s not a good sign. Getting to the top is just the beginning of the act.
She’s reached. She sees the long rope stretched taut across the wide circular theatre. The audience has finally quietened. She knows they are looking at her now, holding their breaths, waiting for her next move. She lifts her right leg, hovering over the tightrope for just a bit. She can feel the expectations of the people rise around her like an invisible cloud. She gently lowers her foot on to the rope, spreading her hands out like wings on either side, and lifts the other leg. She pretends to lose her balance, a carefully choreographed move designed to shock the spectators. She achieves her motive, a woman gasps loudly in the crowd. She smiles slightly, and continues moving. The thread is still fluttering, distracting her. She is annoyed. This isn’t alright. Not today.
She reaches the centre of the rope and stops. The spectators are distracted by now, looking at the acrobats cartwheeling in the air. She raises one foot, standing in a ballet pose. One child notices her and shouts out. Instantly, the attention is back on her. She can feel eyes boring into her. The acrobats have also stopped their antics, confused. This wasn’t part of the choreography. She gently bends her knees and jumps.
In an instant she is hurtling through the air at breakneck speed, the wind hitting her face and eyes, her hair billowing out behind her. She loves the feeling, the liberation that comes from the free fall. She thinks of all the times she had walked the tightrope in the past, focussing only on the rope, on the restriction placed on her, on the way that was laid out for her. How she used to wish that she would find a loose knot and fall through it, be free, if only for the few seconds that would take for her to hit the ground. The fluttering thread distracts her from her thoughts, and she reaches out to rip it out once and for all. She smiles as she breaks the thread, just as she hits the safety net, softly bouncing on its sturdy material. She knows she won’t be allowed to work at the circus anymore, they will say they cannot depend on her. But she doesn’t mind. In the free fall, she has discovered what it was that she had always wanted to be, explained her deep-seated urge to run away from everything and everyone, and found out what she really wanted. Liberation.