“The circus is in town!’ everybody shouted with glee.
There was a bustle of excitement in Dublin. It was the most thrilling day of the year. Huge numbers of people jostled to buy a ticket.
The eager crowds flooded into the Big Top as a band struck up a merry circus tune. There were side shows and smaller tents too but the word on the street was that the lion tamer at the Big Top was something else.
Who cares about the bearded lady, the man juggling flaming chainsaws, the haunted house, the fortune telling gypsy and her crystal ball or the crocodile with two tails? They wanted to see the lion tamer.
There were warm-up acts with red-nosed clowns and a high wire trapeze artist, a woman who stood on galloping horses’ backs and jumped from one to another. There was a magician putting a woman in a box and sawing it in two. He put the box back together and out stepped the lady – in one piece. There were acrobats forming a human pyramid of 30 people.
But the people were still hungry for the lion tamer.
Then the lights went out. A bewildered gasp went up from the audience.
A spotlight opened up on the ring master and his beautiful assistant. She was a glamorous young brunette in an evening dress.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys – now is the moment you have all been waiting for. For your viewing pleasure we have a show that is world renowned. From deepest Africa he comes, Mamadou, a lion tamer the like of which you have never seen. He tames wild beasts so huge, so ferocious that they have other lion tamers crying for their mummies. We have the biggest of big cats – lions, they are not. They are ligers. Their father is a lion and their mother is a tigress. They are three meters long and they can swallow a man in a single gulp. If you are nervous or have a heart condition we advise you to leave now! This show is so terrifying that you should not stay. We have brought Mamadou the lion tamer all the way from the Ivory Coast. He is a man utterly without fear. The bravest of them all. Ladies and gentlemen put your hands together for the great, the legendary, the one and only – MAMADOU!”
There was a burst of wild applause and the lights went up.
The huge cage had now been assembled. Mamadou stood smiling broadly wearing a bright red jump suit encrusted with sequins. He was a muscular man of average height with jet black hair and a confident smile. His arms were folded and he held a whip in one hand. There was a metal chair in front of him. Behind him was a cage tunnel leading out of the tent.
When the clapping died down Mamadou spoke into the microphone attached to his collar. ‘These ligers have not been fed for a week – so excuse their bad manners!’
With that he turned and faced the cage tunnel and shouted, ‘Ha!’ and cracked his whip.
Suddenly an enormous liger came trotting out looking around, scowling, growling angrily. He was sandy brown with faint stripes and subtle spots. His mane was thin.
‘Get up onto the stool boy.’
The liger snarled.
‘Get onto the stool I said!’
The liger growled and then stopped dead. The audience held its breath. Then Mamadou cracked the whip and the liger slowly turned and then hopped onto the stool.
Then a second liger trotted out.
‘Hey girl – get onto the stool.’ The liger slowed down and walked right up to Mamadou.
‘Get onto the stool.’ The liger came within a centimetre of Mamadou.
‘Get up there or I will bite you!’ The audience fell about laughing. The liger did not see it that way. She growled and purred with menace.
‘Do you want some of this?’ He brandished his whip. The female liger slunk away and climbed onto her stool.
Then a third liger came out not trotting but running. The liger hurtled straight for Mamadou.
‘Stop right there boy!’ The liger took no notice and ran straight into Mamadou. Poor Madamdou fell back and the liger stood over him licking his lips.
‘Oh God!’, cried the audience. Children buried their heads in their mothers’ chests.
Mamdou got to his feet – ‘what do you think you are doing? You don’t frighten me? You bad boy’ He slapped the liger on the snout. ‘Get out of here – get on your stool!’
The liger meekly retreated and as he went Mamadou gave him a lash on the rump.
Then a fourth liger, the biggest of all, came trotting out of the tunnel. The liger slowed down and crept right up to Mamadou. The liger slowly opened his huge jaws and let out a blood curdling roar so loud that the tents poles shook.
Shrieks went up from the audience. One man ran out!
‘What kind of way is that to say hello? I will teach you some manners.’ Mamadou stepped back and lashed the liger across the face. The immense liger seemed not to feel a thing – he only roared louder, bearing his gleaming razor sharp fangs for all to see.
More screams rent the air.
‘Get back – get back!’ Mamadou whipped the animal. Then the liger walked forward – Mamadou picked up his metal chair and held it in front of him. The liger bit on a chair leg – it snapped in an instant and the liger swallowed the chair leg whole.
‘Pathetic!’ said Mamadou – his back was against the cage wall now. He punched the liger full on the nose.
The liger whimpered and sauntered off to its stool.
The others occasionally growled or beared their claws. The female got down and approached Mamadou but a good crack of the whip and she withdrew.
Mamadou put the exotic felines through their paces. He had them run around in circles, jump through hoops, roll over, play dead and even clap their paws.
‘Now everybody I am going to show you a trick that you will never have seen before and you may never see again. I am going to put my head in the biggest, nastiest liger’s mouth.’
‘Don’t do it you can die I read it in a book!’ a man shouted – his voice trembling.
‘Die? – only if they dare bite me. Remember they are just cats – no matter how big. The biggest one – his name is Barry. Right, Barry come here.’
Barry just growled sourly.
‘Come here I said.’ Barry did not budge.
‘Didn’t you hear? You cheeky cat.’ Mamadou raised his whip. ‘Are you going to be nice or do I have to teach you a lesson?’
The liger raised himself onto his hind legs and leg out a deep almighty roar. The audience yelled in fear.
‘Get down? Do you want a taste of the lash?’ Mamadou whipped the cat across its belly. The liger grabbed the whip its gigantic paws and tore it clean out of Mamadou’s hands and flung it away.
Barry leapt up over Mamadou. Mamadou tried to step aside but was knocked to the floor. The liger’s whole weight did not land on him. Mamdoud picked himself up.
‘Right Barry, I will show you who is boss around here.’ He slapped Barry’s face.
‘Ok, ok, I feel guilty now.’ Mamadou walked forward and kissed Barry on the nose. Barry made quiet growl of affection.
‘You are just a naughty boy. Right now open up’
Barry slowly opened his mighty jaws – both decks of enormous teeth shone brightly.
‘Drum roll please!’ The drums began to roll as commanded.
At the crescendo Mamadou leant into the liger’s massive maw and put his head down till his hair touched its tonsils.
The audience gasped in terror, some fell over, fainting.
Mamadou pulled his head out. There was some of the liger’s saliva on his face and hair, he had to wipe it off with a handkerchief from his breast pocket.
‘I wouldn’t like to be your dentist! What did I tell you about brushing your teeth? You breath smells Barry. Well you are just a cute little kitten aren’t you?’ The audience chuckled from relief as much as amusement.
Turning to the audience Mamadou said, ‘Right – a 1 000 Euro to anybody who will do the same.’ Not a soul stirred.
‘Is this the Dublin I heard so much about? 2 000 Euros.’ Again not a hand went up. Nobody made a peep lest it be thought that they were volunteering.
‘Where is your courage? Men of Ireland – are you not ashamed? 5 000 euros to anyone man enough to do that.’ No response.
‘Ok maybe you don’t believe me. Let the beautiful assistant show I speak the truth.’
The beautiful assistant stepped forward. She held open a brief case – laid across her forearms. It was stacked with wads of 50 Euros notes. She was smiling rather falsely.
‘Ok I’ll do it’ shouted young man standing up. There were gasps of disbelief.
‘Let’s hear it for a man with more courage than sense!’ said Mamadou.
‘Hurray!’ everyone cheered.
The man stepped down to the cage and Mamadou opened the door and let him in.
They walked towards Barry.
‘Are you sure you want to do this – to put your head into the jaws of death?’ asked Mamadou.
‘I need the money. I can’t afford the operation to give my baby daughter her sight’
‘Don’t do it’, cried an old woman in the audience. ‘You’ll be no good to her when you are dead.’
‘I can do it’ said the young man. ‘Anything a foreigner can do an Irishman can do better!’
‘Ok Barry open up – let’s see those gnashers of yours’, Said Mamadou.
Barry growled angrily but slowly opened his cavernous mouth to full gape.
‘Are you ready sir?’
‘Right then’ said Mamadou, ‘do it!’
‘What?’ said Mamdou.
‘My head is too big to fit in your mouth Mamadou.’
He didn’t get the 5 000 Euros in the end.