"Ha-haha-haha!!" The mocking shouts filled his ears. A half-dozen fingers pointed at him from as many young boys.
"You're so stupid!"
"Your face is funny-lookin', and so is your hair! You're just funny all over!"
"You talk strange, too! What's the matter with you?"
Nine year-old Uli slowly backed up against one of the carnival trailers. When he nearly tripped over some rope lying on the ground, the laughter directed toward him became even raucous. Tears sprang to his eyes as he frantically glanced back and forth looking for a way of escape. None was apparent.
However, after a few more rude comments, the tormentors lost interest in their prey and headed off for the nearby carnival rides. Uli slumped to the ground, and laid his head upon his drawn-up knees. Why did Mama and Papa have to join this traveling "carny" group? He knew the answer, but asked the question anyway. Papa had belonged to a circus back home across the ocean, and he didn't know how to do any other kind of work. Papa says God has blessed us with this job, but I don't feel blessed. He swiped at a tear, smearing wetness across his cheek. He needed to blow his nose, too. I wish I could run away!
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of faint movement a few yards away and looked up to see one of the clowns watching him. The man had a wide, red, painted smile but his brown eyes seemed sad. Uli remembered them being introduced last week after his father had been hired by Mr. Mack, the carnival boss, to do equipment maintenance and help set up and tear down as they traveled from place to place.
The clown beckoned to Uli, and when the boy stood in front of him, he reached over without a word and wiped away another straggling tear. He pointed to a name tag pinned to his bright orange suspenders, which read "Grundle," and then he pointed at Uli with a questioning look.
Understanding flashed across the lad's face. I remember. This clown can't talk! I think he wants to know my name.
"I'm Uli." He gravely reached out his hand to shake Grundle's, which made the clown's eyes smile to match his lips.
To Uli's surprise, Grundle launched into a silly set of pratfalls, somersaults, and comical poses. When Uli finally began laughing, the clown nodded enthusiastically and patted the boy's head.
Realization dawned for Uli again . Grundle did all that funny stuff just to make me laugh, so I'd forget about those mean boys.
"Grundle, do you want to be friends?" Uli gazed earnestly at the man.
Grundle clapped his hands, and motioned for boy to follow him. He took Uli to his trailer and showed him all the props and costumes for the acts he did daily under the "Big Top." He let Uli try on some of the hats, crazy wigs, floppy shoes, and false noses. He did some of his tricks for the boy and indicated that Uli was to try and copy him. The two spent a happy afternoon playing and practicing together before Grundle had to start getting ready for his evening performance.
For the next few days, Grundle looked Uli up whenever he had some free time and patiently taught the boy a handful of simple routines they could do together. Toward the end of their week's stay in this town, Grundle handed Uli a piece of paper on which was scrawled the words, "Be my helper at tonight's show. Please."
Uli read the note with a stunned expression. "Me, be a part of your act under the Big Top?"
Grundle hopped up and down and tipped his hat to Uli.
The boy stammered. "I...I g-guess so." Then his face lit up. "I think that'd be lots of fun! Will you help me practice some more, so I don't mess up?"
That evening, Grundle and his new, young assistant made their debut as a duo. Uli was unrecognizable in colorful grease paint, a blue and yellow wig, a bulbous purple nose, and baggy patched overalls. They performed their comic routines flawlessly in front of a delighted audience that just happened to include five of Uli's former tormentors--sitting right in the center of the first row.
"Ha-haha-haha." Their laughter filled Uli's ears again, but this time there was no hint of mockery in it. He looked at Grundle. They both smiled.
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