It’s 37 degrees and sweat is streaming down my face before I’ve even moved. We find a small patch of shade behind a tent to warm up - the gradual process of dropping down into my body, finding my voice, and finally connecting to this inner spark of joy, playfulness and love is delicious after so much time spent in transit. Any nerves that I had about being good enough are superseded by my strong desire to inhabit the refuge that is Dr Maybee, to do the thing I have come to do.
It’s not busy on this side of the border. A food tent, UNICEF tent, information desks, a few volunteers line the path that leads to border control. Families - women and children - come in dribs and drabs, lugging too many, too heavy bags, eyes fixed on the border, hearts fixed on home.
We agree that this time will be well spent finding a shared language so that we have something to build on the next day when we will be in hospital.
Cuckoo and Maybee stand side by side and take a deep breath. As we inhale, Cuckoo’s leg lifts for our first step together. His legs are very long and he can lift them unfathomably high. Maybee stumbles. We look at one another: No matter! We must try again, and we must try harder! The second step works, a sigh and a smile of wonder and delight as we step forward into this new world together riding the wave of a pure and hopeful exhale.
Within minutes, Maybee has her foot stuck in a huge black tarpaulin sheet and it seems there is no escape. The world of possibilities from just a few moments ago? Gone. She is destined to be here, in this tarpaulin, in the blazing sun, forever more.
Cuckoo tries to sing her free with the harmonica to no avail, and then flies around looking for solutions - under the tarp, around it - all the while being directed by a man sitting in the shade who is laughing with delight. Finally the man shouts, ‘go down on one knee!’. Cuckoo goes down on one knee. ‘Music Maestro!’. Before we know it, the man is singing the wedding march in full voice, ‘Da da da daaaa, da da da daaaaaa’. Cuckoo takes Maybee’s hand and swings her into a dance, and she is released, spinning and twirling in amazement. Cuckoo and Maybee are married, love has set us free, and we have hit our stride.
We both have a shared understanding in the importance of inhabiting a game and clown world that is rich and real and requires our full attention. People find Cuckoo and Maybee ‘in medias res’ and in this way our game serves as an invitation rather than a demand. Igor and I see people on the periphery and moderate our play to suit what we see, but we make don't insist. Passers by can feel safe to come close, to play on their terms or to walk on past. I found Ira Seidenstein’s description of this parallel reality very insightful;
‘Containing one's focus is the single most important discipline for an artist. They have to self-impose a form of ‘myopia’ or what I call one-sightedness. Yet, especially for a stage performer in acting and clown one must also have multi-sided awareness of the whole space and everyone in it. That Duality is: One-Sightedness, AND, Multi-Sided Awareness’ *
We walk full of joy towards border control and as we near the door we stop with the sudden, sinking realisation - Cuckoo is on the wrong side of the railing. Our eyes meet. we look down at the railing, we look at one another, back to the railing, slowly back to one another....separated…forever…and so soon after the wedding!
But no.. we must take courage…there must be a solution!
As we quickly post Cuckoo through the middle of the fence, in her efforts, Maybee ends up balanced precariously on top of the railing. Cuckoo does his sweet, clumsy best to lower her down, but when a man arrives who is helping a family to cross the border and offers his hand, she takes it and is lifted, light as a feather, to the ground. Maybee is saved and her gratitude is boundless.
Now Maybee and Cuckoo are bearing witness to an emotional goodbye between this man, two women and a small child. It seems the only thing to do is to hold this as gently as possible, to give their emotions space to flow. Maybee plays a melody on her ukulele and Cuckoo joins to sing the man's name. After a while, the women offer their names to be included, and the mood brightens as we celebrate this tender moment of deep gratitude.
The girl, however, dramatically turns her back. She wants us to know that she is not okay about this.
Just as we are saying goodbye, Cuckoo bends over and something squeaks. The girl is intrigued and moves closer with a smile. He gently touches her upper arm - squeak! She immediately giggles. She touches the same place and it squeaks again. More giggles. She does it again and again and again and the giggles have their own energy now, taking on a life of their own, as if she has started up a 2 stroke engine in her belly. Her mum touches her arm too. More squeaks, more giggles. They are all giggling as they pass through the turnstile and enter passport control, waving goodbye to their friend, squeaking all the way.
Back out of costume we are queueing at passport control to cross into Ukraine. An old lady dressed in pink with bright, shining blue eyes comes through the door. She is clearly hot and tired, so I wave her ahead of me in the queue, without much thought. She tries to say something to me and I don’t understand. She tries again and I say, uselessly, ‘English…?’ and she shakes her head, smiling. She turns away to pick up her bag and then before I know it she is back, right in front of me. She takes my face in her hands, looks me in the eyes and kisses me warmly on the cheek.
It strikes me then that the more acute the pain, the more impactful even the simplest gestures of love can be.
There couldn’t have been a more tender welcome into Ukraine.
* I highly recommend subscribing to Ira’s newsletter: https://iraseid.com/international-school/newsletter
I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.