By: Danie Reynolds
"Carnival!" The dancers rush past me, full skirts swinging, laughing with one another.
"A treat for the madame?" A man from a nearby booth waves a pastry under my nose.
I almost sneeze at the strong vanilla scent the sweet gives off.
"That's very kind of you, but no thank you. I just need directions. Do you know where the exit is? I've been trying to find it for hours." I say politely.
"Leave... Carnival?" The man looks like he can't comprehend the words coming from his mouth.
"Yes. Do you know the way out?" I ask anxiously.
"No, no," he says quickly. "No, you cannot leave Carnival! The night has not even begun! Besides, there is no exit until the night is over. You must enjoy the festival while you can!"
My breath catches. "But, I just stumbled into here by mistake! I'm not even supposed to be here."
The man smiles knowingly and pats my shoulder. "There are no mistakes at Carnival. Here, I show you."
He steers me towards the float parade, where dancers are twirling around and singing.
"What are you doing?" I cry as he pushes me towards the largest one, a beautiful peacock float with actual peacocks fluttering gracefully atop it.
"Hey, Sonja!" He shouts over the noise. "Volunteer!"
The lead dancer looks down at me and smiles. She's beautiful. Chocolate skin with curly black ringlets that fall down her back. Stunning brown eyes that are filled with warmth. She's dressed in a sparkly blue costume, with peacock feathers in her hair.
"Simon! How are we doing this Carnival day?" She says, then laughs, a sound like tinkling bells.
The man beside me, Simon, laughs with her. "Doing lovely and getting better. Here, I want you to take this girl on the float with you. She talked about leaving Carnival!"
Sonja gasps. "Dear girl, surely not! Here." She stretches her arms out towards me, and Simon lifts me up to grab them.
"No, no. I don't dance." I yell, but the music drowns me out. "I just got lost! I need to get back home!"
Sonja just grins and pulls me to the front of the dancers.
"Like this!" Then she swirls her hands above her head, shaking her hips.
When she glances over and realizes I'm still not doing anything, she grabs my arms and makes them dance anyway.
"Stop!" I say, but then a slight giggle comes out of me, and then I'm laughing along and dancing.
The people below us are cheering, and I grin.
A group of dancers comes towards me, and then I'm being lifted into the air, spinning around on their strong hands.
I scream in surprise, then laugh again, finding my balance atop the sea of hands.
I close my eyes, a soft breeze blowing the hair from my face.
"How are you doing, Darling?" Sonja is dancing below me, her peacock feathers spreading around her, like an actual peacock tail.
I take a deep breath, and let it out. "I'm doing better than I have in years."
"Carnival has that effect on people." She says with a wink, and then I leap down from the hands holding me up, and I grab Sonja's hands and twirl around and around.
"That was magical," I say, breathless. The night had been incredible, and my cheeks were still flushed from the dancing. "I didn't know it was possible to have fun like that.
The other dancers around me all nod and agree.
"Perhaps now the madame would like a treat?" Simon appears, waving the same pastry as before at me.
I smile and accept the treat. "This is fantastic," I say with my mouth full, crumbs spilling everywhere.
"Thank you, dear." Simon sits down beside me, on the hill we found that overlooks the festival.
"She would love it here," I say softly. The people, the music, the food, the dancing.
"Who is this she?" Simon asks curiously, eyeing me.
"Oh," I look up, realizing I just said that out loud. "My Ma," I say quietly. "She... she's really sick, and she hasn't been able to get out of the hospital for months now. I just think she'd love this place."
Simon squeezes my hand, eyes filled with sympathy. "Of course she would. Everybody loves Carnival. Would you like to tell me about her?"
I blink back tears but smile as I think of Ma. "She's the most hardworking woman I've ever known. She always made time for us and was always patient. I haven't really been myself since she got sick."
Simon nodded sadly. "I understand, Miss. I had a brother who fell ill when I was just a child."
I met his eyes. "Did he recover?" I asked hopefully but knew by the bittersweetness in Simon's eyes that he hadn't.
Tears welled up in Simon's eyes, but he smiled. "He rests for now, but I will see him again. Do not fear too much for your mother. She will wait for you, you know."
I pondered that for a moment. "Thanks," I said, feeling lighter than I had in days. Somehow, I knew he was right. Everything would turn out okay.
My mom would wait for her Skylar. It would be all right. Everything would be all right.
Sonja came and sat beside us, plopping a cup of hot cocoa into each of our hands.
"Thanks," I said.
I sipped the beverage and was warmed from the inside out. I'd never dreamed that this was where I would end up tonight, but somehow, it felt completely perfect anyways.
Sonja leaned against my left side, and Simon my right.
I rested my head on Sonja's shoulder and stared at the stars just beginning to come out above us. They were beautiful, the constellations lighting up the sky. People had started drifting out of the festival, but I knew that Carnival wasn't dying down, or going away.
Carnival was in my heart now, and I would never let it go.