He steps out onto the line to the mighty drum roll and the hushed silence of the audience but he thinks nothing of these things. He is alone, up there, on the wire, master of his world and completely in control of body, rope and balancing bar. Nothing and no one can stop him.
He hears the gasp of the audience as he takes step after step far above their heads with no safety net to protect him. But he knows he has done this a thousand times before and is at peace. He smiles to himself as he concentrates purely on reaching the other end. His every move is art.
And then, he notices a tremor on the line, almost imperceptible though it is. How odd? There is no reason for this oscillation but it makes him hesitate to work out what’s causing it. He doesn’t know whether the tremor is causing his foot to shake a little or if it is the other way around but now he sees: his foot is shaking.
Now, the game is different; now he is not so certain. He tries to calm his foot but the shake only gets worse. He hears the crowd gasp and he knows they can see the whole line trembling. He knows that some will be worrying he’ll fall to his death, others will just wait anxiously to see what happens next but some – some are willing him to fall.
He can hear their thoughts in his head: fall, fall now. It feels like he can’t shake them away from his mind. The words fill his body, much loud than those of the people who want him not to fall.
Fall. Fall. Fall.
This is silly, he thinks. It’s just a foot tremble, nothing more, nothing less – he’s known worse. Yet it won’t go away. He can’t stop the foot from shaking. The more he tries, the worse it gets. Before long his whole body is swaying, twisting, desperately trying to retain his balance.
And he knows the voices of the audience below, their opinions, their beliefs. It was bloody stupid, they’ll say; it was inevitable. He had to fall. Had to. There was no safety net, nothing to prevent it. Obvious to all now, it should never have been allowed – what an idiot to have tried. Heads will roll. He was clearly past it and should never have been up there. The master has been revealed to be nothing but a fool after all.
Stop it! He almost wails aloud, trying to beat back unbelief. He knows he must put his next foot forward.
But then another thought grabs him -What’s the point?
He realises that even if he makes the next step, there is another after it, and another, and another. And then once he’s reached the end he has to go back the other way to complete the expected performance. And even if he manages that, there’s tomorrow’s show…and the day after…and the day after that.
Now he knows what he is. He is a dead man walking. It’s just that the audience doesn’t know it yet. He is already dead, already a failure. Reduced to nothing in the eyes of the audience in a fraction of a second; all his years of successes forgotten in an instant. He will simply be ‘the man who fell’.
So a new thought begins. If he must face the fact he will, sooner or later, fall to his death, he can at least control it. He could choose to slip, choose to jump, show that it was no accident but his controlled decision to plummet.
But no. He can’t do that either. The audience demand that he is successful. It is only entertainment when there is the danger of death. Once death appears it is the real world again and they have been cheated of their much-needed escapism and that would be the ultimate failure. Besides, in all his years of training, all his years of performing, no one ever showed him how to jump. He doesn’t know how to do it.
So, no – he will carry on; he will make it to the end.
Only now, the grin of the master is gone from his face and is replaced with a stoic, solemn gaze. Now he is a man who knows his destiny and can do nothing about it. Now he is a man who knows each step takes him closer to his inevitable – and inescapable – demise.
He steps out along the line to the mighty drum roll and the hushed silence of the audience but he thinks nothing of these things.