The moment I saw that hand, the rest of the room vanished. If anyone had seen my face turn white and the sweat break out across my brow, I’d have been sat down while my well-meaning colleagues and total strangers sat me down and someone fetched me a glass of water. As it was, anyone looking at me would only see the inverted smile of a harlequin hiding someone standing straight-backed and alone in a room full of mingling masks.
His back wasn’t straight but slightly bent, which gave me some small satisfaction. His movements were a little stiffer than I remembered – as if I’d ever forget – but he was still favouring his right leg. All his efforts to blend in couldn’t repair that the injury.
In a room full of ersatz monsters, I walked up behind the real thing.
“Happy Halloween,” I said.
He turned around to face the harlequin. Seeing no clue as to who I was, he looked me up and down. Even if he remembered me, it wouldn’t have helped him. The scars he left me with are not where he’d be able to see them.
“The same to you,” he said.
His voice was firm, his accent flat. It would pass as English except among the English, among whom the tones the tones of region and class are the true passport of an authentic countryman.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I asked him.
I may not have been able to see his face, but he paused for long enough that he obviously thought it was a silly question.
“I’d hoped it was obvious. I’m a clown.” He shrugged. “I think I’m supposed to be called the Joker, but I’m not very familiar with popular culture.”
“Did you know the clown’s pallor was once seen as a representation of death?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “I believe I’ve heard that. But it’s all a bit of fun, isn’t it?”
“Interesting that you put it that way,” I said. “Because this is the one day in the year when you are not masquerading at all. Isn’t it?”