Bouffon

Another woman, this one wearing a flowered summer dress, her sunglasses pushed into her hairline, walks past without pausing – without considering his offered flower. Josef Klima drops his head inside a dejected resignation. His shoulders slump. It’s as if someone has kicked him in the stomach. This is the twelfth woman to reject him today and it is not even noon. Josef is a bouffon who works on the Charles Bridge in Prague. Even though his teacher at the École Philippe Gaulier in Paris told him he was too serious to be a bouffon – that he feared death too much – that he would never find the balance between grotesqueness and charm – Josef believed he was a clown in his soul. All week, he had been playing with the idea of how we connect as human beings, how we risk embarrassment, rejection, and ridicule for love. He walks up to women on the bridge, tooting his little whistle, trying to get their attention – and once they look, once they pause, he spruces himself up, shoulders back a hand through his hair and an attempted smile. Then he bows and with his left hand on his heart, he offers the flower – a white Gerber. This red-nosed bouffon is looking for love. He is hoping for desire and passion and romance. In his real life, Josef remembers what this feels like. He remembers offering up his heart to a woman who wanted nothing to do with him. He’d fallen in love with the kindness in her face. Her eyes promised to be gentle, always. She was not so gentle with him, which is fine. He understood this. It was probably difficult for women who were this beautiful. The tyranny of beauty was a burden. Constantly fending off unwanted advances. Josef understood. Well, she was beautiful to him. He was not certain if she was beautiful to the world. So Josef was regrouping, licking his wounded ego, reframing.

The bouffon watches as the woman moves away, his mouth hanging open, and hurt in his eyes as he follows her movement away. He turns his back to her and takes a few slow steps. He hears the clicking of coins dropping into his hat, which is beside his bag at the edge of the bridge.

It’s courtship that he’s mocking. Here is the result of risking your heart – dejection and depression and pain, because it rarely works out. The question is what now? For this bouffon, the answer to that fundamental question is try again, and again, and again. But not right away. Josef’s bouffon stays with the dejection a while. He stops, his head down, looking at the cobblestoned bridge deck. Soon, he would perk up, stand up straight, brush himself off, and begin again.

And then, the unexpected. He feels a tug. Someone is tugging at his pant leg. He turns around. The girl must have been watching. She is perhaps four. He notices her ponytail and her white plastic sandals. There is such a determined look on her face, as if she were about to correct the biggest wrong she knew. He inhales quickly, as some of the doubts he was having about his own worthiness disappear. She is looking up at the bouffon, holding out a small blue flower, for him.