Playing The Fool

Entry by: Freya

29th April 2016
Playing the fool
The Jester stumbles, drums a fuming staccato on his thighs and then bursts into hysterical laughter.
A roar passes through the audience. The spectators leap to their feet, their hands shooting high with their lighters. Flames flicker through the murkiness in ghostly quivers. A thunder produced by the hundreds of hands clapping in a unison bolts through his head. He freezes in ecstasy, standing still until the cheering crowd reaches for him and carries him in their arms as if he were their deity.
The shudders of elation that devoured his body, the sheer delight of being one with his audience stayed with him for days, sustaining him in what came after. His best performance ever. His last.
‘Raise, you hog!’ The guard boots him in his ribs and the Jester staggers, bending forward in pain. His whole body aches. A desire to shove away his hair glued by the blood and sweat to his puffy eyes only becomes stronger the moment he remembers his hands are roped. He squints.
‘Stand up, I said. You’ve got a visitor.’
Another punch, this time to his chest. He trips but then pushes himself to stand.
Like the Jester’s guard, the visitor’s green uniform marks his special police status. This one however boasts more stars on the lapel. Is it good or bad? The Jester muses. Does brutality permeate senior ranks as deeply as the lower? The officer, a wiry, bespectacled man of around fifty, isn’t as tall or brawny as the guard. His eyes gleam with intelligence, but coldness lurks in their corners.
‘Sit down, prisoner,’ the officer instructs, and the guard pushes the Jester onto a metal stool in the middle of the interrogation room. The officer perches on a comfortable-looking office chair behind a birch-wood desk separating him from the prisoner. The guard is about to drop to a plastic seat next to the door when the officer commands him to leave them alone.
The Jester reads disappointment on the guard’s stupid face. His meaty lower lip drops as he’s pondering hard on how to make himself useful so that he’s allowed to linger. His cruel gaze tells the Jester the man craves blood, no matter whether it is sighting its spillage facilitated by someone else or inflicting the harm himself. The Jester winces.
‘Now!’ the officer barks.
The guard straightens up, salutes and hurries outside. He isn’t bold enough to argue with his superior but he sneers at the Jester. His farewell glance is a promise of future torture.
‘Well, isn’t it nice to finally meet the famous bard of the underground. I can see the guard has already showed you our hospitality.’ The officer chuckles, clasping his hands. He then plaits his long elegant fingers and rests them against his cleanly-shaven chin. ‘Don’t mind him. He’s not a refined man. I’m sure the two of us can come to an arrangement.’ He bends over the desk, closer towards the Jester. ‘I am myself a parton of the arts, my friend. We both want you back on stage.’
The Jester doesn’t flinch. He stares at the officer. If the man hopes to buy his cooperation with a few pleasantries, he will be sorely disappointed. Actors may be softies but he isn’t just any actor. He’s a jester. He comprehends the meanness, the cruelty, the abhorrence better than la vie en rose. After all, to jest is to disguise a fault under a cloak of frivolity.
The officer clicks his tongue and backs away, falling deeper into his seat, his upper lip curving in one corner of his mouth. He switches on the desk lamp and turns its shade towards the Jester to blind him. The Jester blinks.
‘Open your eyes, my friend. We don’t want the guard to force open them for you. That’s right. Now, I’ll ask some questions and you answer yes or no. Do you understand?’
‘Good. Is your name Tomasz Kwiatkowski?’
‘No. My name is Jester.’
The officer bangs his fist on the desk.
‘Don’t try to be smart! We know that’s your name.’
The Jester tilts his head to one side.
‘Why do you ask then?’
‘Quiet!’ the officer bellows, bubbles of spit forming on his lip.
The Jester eyes them fascinated.
‘I finally get what bubbly means,’ he chuckles to himself.
The officer reaches to his chest pocket and drags a handkerchief to his mouth.
‘I admire your nerve. If I were you, I would sober up, my friend. Don’t you realise how serious your situation is? If you keep on being obstinate, I won’t be able to help you. And, I’d really like to be of service.’
‘I’m sure you would.’ The Jester snorts.
‘There is really only one thing I want from you. Maybe two.’
The officer leers.
‘We offer our guests more sophisticated services than a bullet to the head, but where was I? Oh, yes. We want contact details of the leader of the underground. Karpowicz has evaded our company long enough. The first secretary has lost his patience. One address for one life. That’s more than a fair deal, isn’t it?’
‘You said you had two requests,’ the Jester answers with all the calm he can muster.
‘The second request is almost not worth mentioning.’ The officer glances away, waving his hand to emphasise how insignificant his demand is.
‘Better mention it so that there are no misunderstandings.’ A little smile twists the Jester’s lips.
‘Fair enough. You will work for us from now on. You can take part in as many underground plays as you like. You will also get access to the best theatres in the country, if you choose to act in the state approved plays.’
‘Very generous.’
The officer opens his eyes wider, eager to note signs of cooperation.
‘There is film and radio as well if you fancied reaching to those of the comrades who live outside the big cities. That would warm the generous heart of the first secretary. There is really no limit to the career possibilities for you. Who knows, perhaps you could even perform for comrade Stalin one day?’
‘Even for the master of puppets himself? Very tempting.’
The officer furrows his brows, uncertainty in his eyes.
‘We can be very generous, if you make it worth our while. These two small favours will pave the way to a fruitful, life-long friendship.’
‘You see that’s the point. Life-long is the key word here. If I was to look in the mirror ever again I would have to spit each time. I don’t think I’ll have saliva to spare. Well, maybe for this one final time.’ The Jester loudly gathers his phlegm and spits.
The officer reddens as the yellowish snot hits his cheek. But then he sneers, exposing his shark-like teeth.
‘Have it your way, my friend.’
He stands to go. As he unlatches the door, he calls for the guard who runs towards him with eagerness of a famished dog.
‘I won’t have anyone playing the fool in the matters of state business. He’s yours to do with as you please,’ the officer pronounces with malice, inclining his head towards the guard.
The guard’s eyes lighten up. His blood thirst will finally be quenched. He leaps towards his victim and thrusts the Jester onto the wall. Shooting like bullets, his fists ignite the fires of pain around the Jester’s body. The officer watches the torment, savouring each groan.
As the Jester senses his spirit readying to desert him, he whispers:
‘I am a jester. It’s my business to make a fool of an idiot. Even if the jest is partly on me.’