Fic­tion

Eve fer­vently hoped Gareth would change his mind and choose her to be his queen at the an­nual spring fes­ti­val

YOU (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY TONY HAYNES IL­LUS­TRA­TION: MICHAEL DE LUCCHI

EVER since she was a lit­tle girl it had been Eve We­ston’s am­bi­tion to be crowned the vil­lage car­ni­val queen. A high­light of the so­cial cal­en­dar, the car­ni­val was a hugely pop­u­lar event and al­ways at­tracted large crowds.

Re­cently, the lo­cal his­tory so­ci­ety had re­searched the car­ni­val’s ori­gins. They were sur­prised to dis­cover it dated back to pa­gan times. Al­though his­to­ri­ans had pro­duced sound ev­i­dence to in­di­cate the fes­ti­val had be­gun as an act of cel­e­bra­tion to mark the ar­rival of spring, this didn’t stop the odd rogue from telling tourists the lo­cal leg­end as to why the event sup­pos­edly started.

The night be­fore that year’s car­ni­val, Eve and her boyfriend, Gareth, found them­selves in The Royal Oak lis­ten­ing to old Tom re­late the tale to a rapt group of vis­i­tors. “The crops had failed for sev­eral years in a row so our an­ces­tors made a deal,” Tom ex­plained.

“What kind of deal?” an Amer­i­can tourist asked.

“They made a deal with the devil.” Tom paused for ef­fect and drained the last of his pint. “They turned to the devil and asked him to en­sure our vil­lage would never ex­pe­ri­ence a bad har­vest again. The devil agreed, so he drew up a con­tract which de­manded that ev­ery May Day he must have the first dance with our car­ni­val queen. And we still hon­our his de­mand to this day.”

By the time Tom had fin­ished speak­ing you could hear a pin drop. Eve turned her back on her un­cle and sti­fled a gig­gle. As his au­di­ence gazed at him in awe, Tom twirled his empty pint glass in an ab­sent-minded man­ner. Sud­denly the si­lence was bro­ken by one of the Amer­i­cans, who asked Tom if he’d like an­other drink. “That’s kind of you, sir,” Tom replied. De­cid­ing to call it a night, Eve and Gareth left the pub. On the way home Eve tried her best to per­suade Gareth to se­lect her the next day. Gareth had been cho­sen as that year’s car­ni­val king and ul­ti­mately it was down to the king to choose a queen. Eve had ex­plained to Gareth sev­eral times how much it would mean to her to be picked, but Gareth was adamant he should se­lect some­one else, to ap­pear im­par­tial. “Why?” “Be­cause if I chose you every­one would

ac­cuse me of favouritism,” he said. “So?” Gareth tried to pla­cate Eve. “You’ll al­ways be my queen.”

The pair kissed then Eve wan­dered across the road to her par­ents’ cot­tage. As she did so, she hoped her boyfriend would have a change of heart.

THE next morn­ing Eve woke early. Has­ten­ing down­stairs she found a note from her par­ents in the kitchen. They’d gone on ahead. Af­ter grab­bing a quick shower, Eve got dressed. Ad­mir­ing her­self in her old bed­room mir­ror she felt like a fairy­tale princess. All she needed now was for her hand­some prince to choose her as car­ni­val queen.

But when she called on Gareth she found him still in bed. His cheeks were flushed and he was fever­ish. Eve felt his brow. “You’re burn­ing up.” “I’ll be fine.” “Would you like me to get you a drink?” she asked.

Barely able to re­spond he nod­ded weakly, so Eve made her way down­stairs and brewed a hot toddy. By the time she re­turned Gareth was fast asleep. Given that it seemed highly un­likely he’d man­age to per­form his du­ties that day, she felt she ought to tell the car­ni­val com­mit­tee. Turn­ing to leave, she caught sight of Gareth’s cos­tume hang­ing on the cupboard door. Run­ning her fin­gers down the lapels of his tuxedo she couldn’t help won­der­ing who’d take his place.

AS SHE made her way to the main tent on the green, Eve was sur­prised at how busy the vil­lage was al­ready. It looked as if there’d be a record num­ber of vis­i­tors that year. On en­ter­ing the main tent Eve dis­cov­ered most of the car­ni­val com­mit­tee mem­bers were help­ing out with last-minute prepa­ra­tions. Spot­ting the car­ni­val queen’s crown on a ta­ble she wan­dered over and picked it up, mar­vel­ling at how it gleamed in the sun­light.

Sens­ing some­thing was trou­bling his niece, Tom si­dled over and asked, “What’s the mat­ter?” “It’s Gareth.” “What’s wrong with him?” Eve was about to ex­plain that Gareth was fever­ish when she felt some­one tap her left shoul­der. Turn­ing around she found her­self face to face with a hand­some fig­ure wear­ing a tuxedo and a devil mask. Eve had al­most for­got­ten how dash­ing her boyfriend looked in the out­fit. The el­e­gant fig­ure ges­tured at the crown in her hands and asked in a gruff voice, “May I?”

As Eve handed the crown to him her fin­gers brushed against his. She noted that he still seemed to be run­ning a fever as they were warm to touch.

“You’ve made a mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery,” Eve re­marked.

“It must have been that toddy you fixed me,” he replied.

“Has my niece been fix­ing you the old fam­ily rem­edy the morn­ing of the car­ni­val?” Tom in­ter­jected. “I’m sur­prised you can still stand.

“Now, Mr Car­ni­val King, about the pro­ces­sion-” Tom said as the pair wan­dered off.

AN HOUR later half a dozen young women from the vil­lage were stand­ing on the stage in the main tent. The car­ni­val king took the mi­cro­phone from its stand and strode to the cen­tre of the stage. Sens­ing that the car­ni­val queen was about to be cho­sen, the large crowd fell silent. In a loud voice he an­nounced, “Ladies and gen­tle­men, it’s my great plea­sure to an­nounce that our car­ni­val queen this year will be . . . Miss Eve We­ston!”

The crowd broke into thun­der­ous ap­plause. Eve gasped in sur­prise as she re­ceived con­grat­u­la­tions from her fel­low com­peti­tors. Her heart pound­ing in her chest, she took her place at the king’s side. As he placed the crown on her head he whis­pered, “My queen.”

He ex­tended his right hand and in­vited Eve to join him in the first dance. She ac­cepted his hand and the band struck up. He was just about to lead off when Eve sud­denly re­mem­bered what an ap­palling dancer Gareth was. “Try not to worry,” she said, re­as­sur­ingly. “You’ll be fine.”

The car­ni­val king bowed and then, to her great sur­prise, led her into a dra­matic tango. As the pair glided ef­fort­lessly across the stage she whis­pered, “Have you been tak­ing lessons?” “No,” he said. “So where on earth did you learn to dance like this?”

“That would be telling.”

The first dance of the day was just the start of pro­ceed­ings. The pro­ces­sion to the may­pole fol­lowed, then the af­ter­noon was taken up by slightly bizarre com­pe­ti­tions, in­clud­ing boot throw­ing and sheep rac­ing. Pre­sid­ing over each event, the car­ni­val king and queen were never far from the cen­tre of at­ten­tion.

Alas the day passed too quickly. All too soon Eve found her­self back in the car­ni­val king’s arms as they took to the stage for the fi­nal dance, which brought pro­ceed­ings to a con­clu­sion. On this oc­ca­sion they per­formed an el­e­gant waltz. As the mu­sic stopped the king bowed grace­fully to his queen, just as the church bells chimed mid­night. At the twelfth stroke the tent sud­denly plunged into dark­ness.

It was a few mo­ments be­fore the lights came back on. Glanc­ing around Eve was sur­prised to find her­self stand­ing alone on stage, her king nowhere to be seen. She found this puz­zling be­cause the pair had a fi­nal duty to do, which was to bid every­one good health for the re­main­der of the year. Eve was just about to start search­ing for Gareth when she felt a tap on her shoul­der for the sec­ond time that day. She turned to find her boyfriend stand­ing be­hind her, mi­nus his mask. Eve barely recog­nised the el­e­gant crea­ture she’d spent the day with. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes puffy.

“You look like hell,” she said.

He smiled wanly. “I’m so sorry.” “What for?” “I haven’t felt my­self all day.” Eve put her right arm around his shoul­ders. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

As they left the stage Eve hap­pened to catch sight of her un­cle Tom at the back of the tent. He was deep in con­ver­sa­tion with some­one dressed in a re­splen­dent tuxedo.

Af­ter bid­ding Tom good night the stranger turned, bowed at Eve, then wan­dered off into the foggy night. Cu­ri­ous, Eve steered Gareth in her un­cle’s di­rec­tion. “Who was that you were talk­ing to?” Eve asked Tom.

Her un­cle smiled, enig­mat­i­cally. “Just an old friend.”

“Why didn’t you in­tro­duce us?” Eve said.

“Maybe next year,” Tom replied. “He al­ways comes back for the car­ni­val.”

‘If I chose you every­one would ac­cuse me of favouritism,’ Gareth said to Eve

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