The Grand Neopian Travelling Circus: Part One
Sinead sighed happily, as she pored over book after book in the library. Outside, heavy rain splattered against the window, a roaring wind sweeping all the autumn's leaves and scattering them, while fuzzy, grey-bellied clouds rolled menacingly across the sky.
Meanwhile, the little Aisha was content in the warmly lit library, sitting cross-legged on the carpet with every book she could find about dancing spread across the floor. More than anything, Sinead loved to dance to her favourite music, and to see such graceful movement in the books' pictures of ballet dancers took her breath away.
'The library closes in fifteen minutes,' announced Geoffrey, a young, bespectacled Lenny, wheeling a trolley of books along. He tipped a friendly wink to Sinead, who was a regular visitor.
'Are you borrowing today?' he inquired.
'Yes, please,' she said, helping him sort his books into a shelving order.
'Ah, ballet!' he said, squinting at the once-glossy dust cover of one of her volumes. 'A most beautiful, graceful art form – full of, err, beauty – and grace!'
Sinead grinned. Geoffrey was always brimming with these pearls of wisdom!
'Are you interested in becoming a dancer?' he asked, doing a funny kind of two-step with his long legs, as they proceeded towards the checking desk.
'Oh, yes,' Sinead said excitedly. 'Well, I'm starting proper lessons next week!' she confided, as Geoffrey began scanning her books. Ballet for Beginners, Nimble Toes, Royal Neopian Ballet ...
'Proper lessons?' he said.
'Well, I've just been practising what my friend teaches me. But if I'm good enough, I'll be able to learn at her dancing lessons. See ya!' she collected her books and whizzed out of the sliding doors into the dimly lit foyer, where a chaotic sight met her eyes.
A raging storm was playing outside, the gutters flowing rapidly with fresh water, rain sweeping loose leaves through the wind. Sinead groaned, but she felt exhilaration building as she surveyed the storm. Stowing her precious books in her bag, she produced an umbrella, much like a knight might produce his lance in preparation for battle.
The unusual weather had really baffled the top Neopian meteorologists (who don't really have anything to do with meteors, but study the weather), as cottony nimbus clouds soared above the cauliflower-esque beauties on their atmospheric journeys. One day would be deliciously warm, the sun blooming in a clear blue sky, to follow a flurry of chilly, overcast days, causing much speculation on whether the elusive Dr Sloth had any sneaky plans to overthrow Neopia sometime soon.
(D'aaargh! They've got me!)
Sinead decided to wing it – marching out the sliding doors she ducked under her umbrella, shivering as the first cold gust of wind hit her. She dashed across the street, weaving her way under awnings and trees, laughing as she dodged her bag swinging at her side. After a few shortcuts and necessary breaks under shelter, she made it to her street, a wide road on the outskirts of town. Houses were seperated by flimsy garden fences and bastions of tall weeds, bringing happy memories of childhood games – chasing the Easter Cybunny for chocolate eggs (look! I just saw his fluffy white tail!), hiding in the long grass, tickling crickets in the hot sun. Seasons came and went, leaving nothing to show for it but the fond memories kept in their dusty photo albums. Sinead was entranced with the trees' branches, waving mightily in the gale, bringing her thoughts back to the present.
'Phew!' she said, as she marched up to the verandah, kicking off her shoes at the threshold and slowly opening the door and slipping inside, closing it softly behind her. Her little sister, Chloe, a spirited little Shoyru, often took naps around the afternoon. She was almost old enough to attend school, but their owner was hoping she would learn to be a little less boisterous around the other pets.
'Sher-neeaaaad!' Chloe greeted her elder sister as she burst into the corridor, jumping up and down, wings beating furiously, her face contorted with pure concentration. She landed with an almighty bounce and beamed, as Sinead took her hands.
'That was excellent flying, Chlo!' she praised.
'Really?' puffed Chloe, her eyes lit up with happiness.
'Sinead?' Their owner's voice called from the kitchen, down the corridor.
'I'm home!' she replied and headed to the kitchen, as Chloe scooted off to whatever she was doing.
Chloe and Sinead's owner, Tori, was a little old fashioned in some ways, and sort of stubborn. By the afternoon, her mop of ginger hair was a tangle, and her nose was smudged with dirt. Aside from reading and dancing (like her pet), her favourite thing to do was gardening. Tori simply loved flowers and fruits, especially if they had recently blossomed from her shambled veggie gardens assembled all around the front and back yards, and along the side paths too. She tended to them from every morning 'till evening, the loving care shining in her soft, brown eyes as she tilted the watering can, laying straw on the soil – the ferocity as she tirelessly beat back ivy and creepers that threatened to engulf her precious beds.
As if she could read her thoughts, Tori smiled and gave her a peck on the cheek. 'How was school today? And your studying? I hope you didn't get caught in the storm!' she said cheerfully, turning to fix a pot on the stove.
'Good,' replied Sinead, peering over her owner's shoudler. 'I got heaps of new books to read. What's for dinner?'
'Silverbeet and cheese risotto – from the garden,' Tori beamed proudly. 'Tell Chloe it's dinner soon, eh?'
Sinead proceeded from the warm, steamy kitchen back through the draughty, wood floor corridor. 'Chloe,' she called. 'Come and have dinner with us!'
'Sinead!' Chloe burst out from her room into the hall. 'We have something for you!' she said, clutching something behind her back.
'Really?' asked Sinead, noting the 'we'. She wondered what it could be...
Chloe thrust a pink box into her hands and ran off to the kitchen, giggling.
Sinead followed slowly, carefully unwrapping the delicate tape around the rectangular box, shaped a little like a shoe box -
She opened it as she entered the kitchen, where Tori was already serving the steaming rice into bowls at the table.
'They were mine when I was your age.' Tori beamed again, looking up at her. 'I found them in an old box of stuff, I tried to fix them up a bit to fit you -'
Sinead gave her a big hug. Then Chloe joined in, Tori and Sinead laughing at her cuteness.
In the box were a pair of pale pink, oval canvas slippers, with a slip of elastic over the top. They were almost pristine, scrubbed of dust, the soft soles a little scuffed. But they meant more to her than a shiny new pair ever could.
They were not particularly wealthy, but quite happy as they made the most of what they had, and Tori always made sure the pantry was well stocked, even if they couldn't always pay for things in one go.
After dinner Sinead began washing the dishes, listening intently to the subsiding storm outside, as Tori and Chloe were playing a raucous game of cards just across in the living room. Straining her ears, she thought she heard the faintest chirp of a cricket somewhere outside. Where did crickets go in the rain, anyway? She thought with a yawn. The promise of the weekend was a reassuring one – the week's events had left her sleepy and wrung out. She thought then to her ballet, and grinned. How would she get any good if she never practised?
Stacking a final plate on the sink, she set her cloth down and went back to the hallway, leaving Chloe announcing triumphantly, 'Aha! Snap! I dare say it's a pair.'
The hall's wooden floor provided a smooth surface for dancing – though it seemed to keep little heat, she thought, tapping her cold toes on the floor. Hey! Wait a moment – her special slippers!
She retrieved them from the kitchen, as Tori yelled 'Take that! No more cards for you, old bean.' to Chloe's groan of frustration.
Easing her feat into the slippers, she stood straight, examining her posture in the mirror on the door. She pointed her foot to the side, and swept it to the middle again. Then to the front and back, and then swapping around to do it with the other foot.
She bent and stretched, swept her foot around the floor, and finished with a graceful curtsey, smiling in the mirror.
She practised her jumps, leaps and turns as best she could till her owner's voice rang out through the silence.
'Go to bed!'
That night, Sinead lay on the top bunk bed in her room, listening to her little sister's soft snoring. She was thinking of her upcoming dancing lesson – and how she could make the most of it!
To be continued...