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“Drive” — A Flash Fiction by Chukwuebuka Harrison Aninze

Perched on a chair, I perused a pamphlet in my hand. Although I had read it cover to cover, I needed something to do while waiting for the interviewer.

They never kept to time, and they never apologized.

“John Sylvester,” the secretary called my name and I jumped. She directed me to an office at the end of the hall.

The nails on the soles of my shoes clicked against the marble floor. I hated the sound. Cheap shoes announcing my inadequacy. I guess that was why the interviewer pushed aside my credentials, slid his spectacles down his nose and said, “We’ll get back to you.”

Another job denied, adding to the count. The sun was blazing when I stepped outside, adding to my misery. Beads of sweat ran down my face, more from anxiety than the heat. Rent was due and I only had a pocketful of change.

Someone grabbed the collar of my shirt and I spun around to see the smiling face of my friend Zack.

“John! I haven’t seen you university. How have you been?”

For a few moments the smile hung on his face, then he took in my appearance. I hid my shame by embracing him. “Doing great. It’s good to see you.”

“I don’t mean to be indelicate but you look like you could use a break. Come with me.”

I was grateful for his understanding but wondered what he was getting me into. We had gotten into so many tight spots back in the day, but I usually talked us out of it with a joke or a bit of physical business like pretending to trip, or dropping things, or creating any other kind of distraction.

On the way to our destination, we shared our life experiences. Zack loved performing, but things had not exactly worked out for him either.

“I found a good gig, though. You can join the troupe if you’re interested.”

“What is it? I don’t think I can be an actor.”

He grinned and opened the door to a building with a colorful banner that said “Circus”.

“Wait!” I said, but he kept walking. We pushed through a throng of people dressed in colorful costumes. I groaned.

We entered a room. There were mirrors surrounded by lights. He shoved me into a baggy, patched coat. My heart raced.

“A clown, Zack? Seriously?”

“Nothing serious about it.”

He chuckled, pushed me into a chair, slathered my face with greasepaint. I looked at myself. What the hell. Wasn’t this how the world saw me anyway?

Moments later, I was under the lights. I improvised, people laughed. It was exhilarating.

When I ran offstage, Zack was there.

“You’re a natural. The job is yours if you want it.”

Did I? Who would humiliate themselves for money?

There was a tug at my coat. “You’re funny,” a little girl said.” She giggled into her hand.

I squatted down, pulled a quarter out of her ear. Her eyes got big.

“Yes, Zack, I do.”

My genuine smile outshone my painted one.

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