I zigzagged across the emerald lawn between circular flowerbeds, trying to ignore the pain in my back. My seventy second birthday loomed and a girlfriend had recently asked me had I made a proper will. That's when the back pain kicked in. I figured a brisk walk through St Kilda Botanical Gardens might alleviate it.Rows of blue and white agapanthus fringed a pond where ducks and seagulls screeched at two children clutching bags of stale bread. In the centre of the pool, a stone fountain flung streamers of water high into the sky.
To my left, a group of middle aged men zipped inside windcheaters stood around a giant chessboard. Like statues, they focused as one, awaiting their players' next moves. To my right, an ancient pine tree groaned with the weight of a thousand cones, like an old man crippled with arthritis.
I was running late to meet a young relative, Jade, for coffee. She was actually my 'great niece' but I didn't allow myself to dwell on the 'great' bit.
Suddenly, my attention was caught by fluttering yellow pages pinned to a noticeboard. Moving closer, I saw they contained lists of winter courses soon to become available. One in particular caught my eye: LEARN CIRCUS SKILLS.
During my childhood in the 1940s, I lived in a house adjoining the Glen Iris playing field and Gardiner's Creek. In those days, the oval was more like a rambling paddock and, once a year, Perry Brothers Circus camped there. I spent every day after school befriending the circus folk and helping to feed the animals. All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a trapeze artist. I wanted to wear silver leotards, ballet shoes and a golden hairnet over my hair.
Peering now at the words CIRCUS SKILLS, I fumbled for my glasses to note the telephone number. Scribbling it on the back of a Woolworths receipt I hurried on, noticing the pain in my back had eased.
An hour later, Jade and I strolled back through the park. Frozen in time, the same group of men huddled motionless around the chessboard. A couple of teenagers in school uniform sprawled on the grass beside push bikes, kissing passionately. I dragged Jade to the noticeboard.
"Look at these interesting courses. I want to enquire about the one on circus skills."
Jade looked at me as if I'd just announced I wanted to swim through toxic waste.
"You've got to be joking!"
"No, I'm serious."
"But Aunty Jo, aren't you being a little unrealistic? You're turning seventy two this year."
"What's age got to do with it?"
"Circus skills! They wouldn't let a woman of your age through the door!"
I felt a petulant pull at the corner of my mouth. "Just a simple bit of juggling, maybe. I don't know…"
"A course like that's for kids! Look at these other ones - ceramics, watercolours, macramé - or what about Gentle Aerobics for Senior Citizens if you insist on being physical?"
"No, it's circus skills I want to learn. You know, smell of the greasepaint, roar of the crowd."
"Aunty Jo, I know you're a Leo but this is ridiculous. Come on, let's go over there and smell those beautiful roses. They won't be in bloom for much longer."
She strode ahead like a bossy hockey teacher. With a sigh, I observed the Big Top in my mind deflate and crumple to the ground. A sturdy, iron walking frame with rubber tips replaced the tightrope.
"Smell this! It's beautiful. The red roses smell quite different from the yellow ones."
I felt the twinge in my back return and hobbled over.
"Aunty Jo, don't look so gloomy. You're babysitting the grandchildren tonight, remember? They love it when you jump up and down."
In an attempt to save face, I spoke to Jade slowly, as if she were a small child who needed to have things explained carefully.
"So can't you see how circus skills would come in handy for someone my age? I'm teaching the children little tricks all the time."
"You mean you want to teach them how to juggle and stuff?"
"Yes, That's all I'm trying to say. Juggle. Twirl a drumstick."
Thank God I hadn't mentioned the trapeze.
"Well, that's all right then. A great idea! Smell this one. It's unreal!"
For the moment, I agreed to smell the roses.
Feeling like the cat who'd just swallowed the canary, I peeked inside my bag to check that the phone number was still there and we continued along the path, knees bent, heads down, sniffing the blooms until we reached the wrought iron gate. Jade enveloped me in a big hug.
"Bye Aunty Jo. Have fun."
"I will. Don't worry."
Striding down Mozart Street, I scrabbled for my mobile. Squinting at the scrap of paper, I hit the buttons. A cheery voice greeted me:
'Good afternoon. Circus Skills and Acrobatics.'
'Hello, I wonder if you can help me….'
By the end of the conversation, the pain in my back had completely disappeared. The Big Top in my mind was ablaze with lights and pigs were definitely flying overhead.
Jo Buchanan is a writer and great friend of Egypt