- Vol. 04
- Chapter 08
ONE OF US
My father said it was all smoke and mirrors. But I don’t remember seeing any smoke. And we were standing too far from the little stage where the creature was displayed to be able to tell whether she was surrounded by mirrors at all. And, if so, where they were positioned. I was too young to know that the alcoves in the café had been designed as an ironic tribute to 19th century sideshows. But the flesh on display was real. I was mesmerised by the mythical names on the vintage posters: The Alligator Boy, The Mermaid, The Jackal Man, The Panther Woman. Especially, The Panther Woman! I had recently seen a black and white film on TV where a woman became a panther at night. And I pictured in my mind a creature with the body of a black panther and the head of a glamorous woman, elegantly walking inside a cage. Dangerous but beautiful. So I insisted and, to my surprise, I managed to convince my father — who was very sceptical and too stingy — to buy tickets for the family to see The Panther Woman. It must have been my birthday.
How disappointed I was!
To begin with, it was not a black panther; it was a spotted panther. There was no cage; just the poorly lit stage. And this panther could not walk; she was hanging in the middle of the stage, her stumps tied with ropes to four posts around her. The conceit was that she was so ferocious that they had to keep her tied up at all times, even after all her legs had been severed when captured in the deepest recesses of the Indian jungle. Yet the moustachioed MC, in his thick Eastern European accent, did not sound persuasive. Even someone as naïve as me could tell that the “creature” was simply a woman tightly wrapped in a leopard print costume, the presumed fur around her face clearly a hood. This woman had no feline features other than her cheap, stained bodysuit.