A quick, sharp drum-beat, like that of a military tattoo, sounded
and then stopped. The beams of the spotlight focussed on a pair of
amazingly black, waxed moustache: “Luigi, the Ladykiller.”
“L..l..ladies and g..g..gentlemen,” Luigi‟s eyelids flickered and he
broke out into a wide-toothed grin as he rolled the „r‟s on his tongue and
shouted, “I am sup..rem..ely happy to introduce to you the
in...compa…rable, in..imit…able, one and only, fearless (a long rap of the
violin) --- “Fausta” (a longer rap of the violin).
Yet another drum-beat and a second spotlight homed in upon
Luigi‟s left; illuminating in its bright circle of light the smiling, dark-
complexioned, white-haired, impish-eyed Fausta, about 23 or 24, clad
in a skimpy, bikini-like bra and a short panty of black silk, hands
clasping her thighs (and what thighs!). Luigi and Fausta greeted the
audience with a bow of their heads; a long-drawn, all-embracing
acknowledgement (cheers, applause, wolf whistles, continuous clapping
Luigi came straight to the point. He twirled his moustache, spread
out his hands and shook them, and said that Fearless Fausta was not
undeserving of her sobriquet, ladies and gentlemen, you will see it with
your own eyes. Fausta has not the least fear of danger, not the teeniest
scruple to confront peril. Swords? Bullets? Pah!
Doesn‟t fear a thing? Ah, but I can‟t certainly claim that (Luigi
continued to speak in a sonorous tone, as if the thought had just
occurred in his mind) --- do you know what, ladies and gentlemen, for
five long years I have been asking Fausta to be my wife (Luigi, of course,
was not exactly telling the truth) --- Ah, can you blame me for doing so?
Just take one look at Fausta (loud and prolonged whistling)! But what
does she say? (Crowd breathless in anticipation). Believe it or not, ladies
and gentlemen, she says that if she becomes a wife she will also have a
mother-in-law. And the very thought of having a mother-in-law makes
her throat go dry with terror --- (cacophonic laughter drowns out the rest
of Luigi‟s words).
And, like this, complementing the thrilling moments with humour,
Luigi attempted to kill Fausta once, twice, three times. He shut her tight
in a long, flat, coffin-like box and pierced the box from all sides with ten-
twelve swords; the swords had been pushed through one side of the box
to come out the other, there could be no doubt that they had gone
through her body. And, when finally the swords were removed and the
box opened, there emerged with a soft-smile the unscathed Fausta. After
that having shut her inside a similar looking box Luigi and his assistants
with a great deal of exertion sliced her into pieces as if she were a loaf of
bread, first with an ordinary, carpenter‟s saw, next with an electric-saw.
Yet out came --- impish-eyed Fausta. Finally, shutting her inside a third
box, Luigi commenced to maniacally shoot at it with a revolver; round
after round of bullets pierced the box even as the sound shook the
auditorium --- and when an exhausted Luigi opened the badly shot up
box, out came --- of course! ---youthfully undulating, full-breasted,
laughing, narrow-waisted, triumphantly alive, death defying, fearless
* * * *
In the Greenroom, under the heated, powerful light of an
uncovered hundred watt bulb, Luigi‟s features changed. His eyes stopped
rotating, the continuous flow of words ceased; droplets of sweat beaded a
pattern on the make-up powder on his face.
Sound of applause from the audience floated in through the wings,
the Japanese wrestler Yamamoto‟s group was on the stage performing
dare-devil stunts. Luigi sat at one corner of the dressing table and
surveyed his moustache in the mirror. How grey it was becoming?
Mamma mia! One could not be a lady-killing magician with a grey or
white moustache, that wasn‟t the done thing in show-business! Has the
time to blacken it finally arrived, like Merlin the Magician of Vienna‟s
Luigi took off his magician‟s black frockcoat and put on an
ordinary jacket; the mirror reflected an obese statue, mouth clamping a
monstrous cigar; that was Bill McGrew, the caricaturist who specialised
in portraying famous personalities, in the guise of Winston Churchill.
McGrew made a V-sign with two fingers just like Churchill and said, “In
the name of the Queen and the Empire --- what happened to you today,
old man? Ready to go, aren‟t you?”
Bill McGrew had recently become father to a son, still in hospital.
The “Hickory-Dickory Sisters” had been pestering McGrew --- a
celebratory dinner at a fine --- really fine --- restaurant. The “Hickory-
Dickory Kids” were two obstinate sisters, one 18, the other 20 (they sang
and danced upon two tall unicycles on the stage). McGrew had not been
able to ward them off by pointing out to the poor condition of his pocket.
Therefore, after the end of tonight‟s show, McGrew would be taking
them to a terrific restaurant in West End; he had taken the opportunity
to invite Luigi and Fausta too.
“Sure,” Luigi said, turning away from the mirror, but without much
enthusiasm. Removing the cigar from his mouth, McGrew scanned
Luigi‟s face with curiosity.
“Know what, it kept playing on my mind, every now and again you
looked distracted on the stage today. No, no, it wasn‟t that noticeable ---
the audience did not sense anything amiss, they don‟t know you that
well. I may be wrong, of course. Is anything the matter? Fausta?”
Luigi brought out a letter from the jacket-pocket. Addressed to
Fausta --- Italian postal stamps.
“From her father,” Luigi said.
“Ah, your unwilling father-in-law, good old papa! What does he
“How am I to know? Haven‟t given it to Fausta yet. Couldn‟t hand it
over before her act was finished, could I? Who knows what he has
written this time? You tell me!”
“Right,” said McGrew. “You did the right thing.” The words directed
at Luigi and Fausta in those letters from home --- each time after
receiving one Fausta‟s mind seemingly goes empty for six-seven hours.
(Perhaps she recalls past life at her home). During those hours she grows
angry at the slightest provocation, makes a mess of everything. Once she
had to go on stage just after receiving such a letter, that day she totally
forgot about what she had to do --- was nicked on the armpit by a saw ---
fortunately Luigi with his presence of mind saved the situation ---
“Look, --- let me suggest something,” McGrew said. “Fausta is
changing her clothes, will come out in a moment. Put away the letter.
Don‟t give it to her right now. Let my party be over. What do you say?”
Luigi conceded that what McGrew had said was logical, but when
she learnt later that he had kept away the letter for such a length of
time, wouldn‟t her screams turn the hair on his head (moustache?)
white? McGrew said, “Cross that bridge when you come to it. Right now
you can‟t ruin my party. No, you can‟t.”
Luigi agreed, though hesitantly. McGrew said, “O.K., that‟s agreed
then. Don‟t worry.” Pulling out a bottle of pale ale from under a drawer,
McGrew poured two pints into two beer- mugs. “Have a shot. Will whet
Luigi took the mug mechanically.
“Of course, Papa would roar once in a while,” McGrew said, wiping
with satisfaction the froth of beer from his lips. “Had I been in Papa‟s
shoes, I too would have growled. After all, you had eloped with their only
“Why do you keep repeating the same thing time after time?” Luigi
said with irritation. “I have told you, she was an adult then.”
“In age,” McGrew said. “Luigi, old man, in age.”
In other words, perhaps, not in intelligence and judgement.
McGrew knew what had happened. “Rinaldi‟s Mobile Variety Party,” after
doing the rounds in Italy, had one day arrived at the village of San
Giovanni (population 723) near the city of Pisa and struck camp. At that
time, in Rinaldi‟s Party, Luigi had been swallowing fire, glass and swords
(“All-Eating Luigi”)! In the very first night in the first row Luigi‟s
omnivorous eyes had fallen upon Fausta‟s spellbound features and
startled eyes, and Fausta saw Luigi‟s Roman nose, full lips, jet black hair
and wax-layered moustache --- in short, against the wishes of her father
and mother Fausta had come away with Rinaldi‟s Party… having
performed in numerous cities and villages Rinaldi‟s Mobile Party went
further and further away from San Giovanni --- Carara… La Spezsia…
Rapalo… Port ofino… and after that Genoa, and it was in Genoa that
they got married.
After that she had gone to twice to San Giovanni village, once she
had forced Luigi to go along. On the whole a “compromise” had been
arrived at with her parents, their anger had slowly subsided, they have
accepted the situation, but still now their dissatisfaction had not
disappeared completely. Was this a normal life for a young Italian
housewife? You must return home, you and Luigi can do something
better to earn your bread in your own country, leave this nomadic life of
yours. Do you think yours is a healthy lifestyle? Don‟t you feel bad about
what you do, cara mia, to be crammed hardly able to breathe in a dark,
flat box day after day six days a week --- piercing swords, pistol bullets,
rap of saws --- twice a day --- before thousands of people in the
country… like a caged animal in a zoo…
Luigi did not look McGrew in the face but continued to silently sip
the pale ale, and recalled what he had said in an excited voice to Fausta
under the tent at San Giovanni village. Colourful plans for the future. He
would leave Rinaldi‟s group, would form a troupe of his own --- in which
he would no longer be merely the sword-swallowing Luigi, but the
director, the owner. Signor Luigi Ferrari! The world-famous “Variety
Ferrari” would move to the movement of his fingers, Minx coat and
Russian sable on Fausta‟s body, and the pearls around her neck would
be those cut in Amsterdam. And when “Variety Ferrari” would perform at
the London Palladium, Palais de Glas at Brussels and Berlin‟s Theatre
am Schlosspark, Signor and Signora Ferrari would check in at the Hilton
hotel, at the Grand, at the Dorchester…!
No, on that day the thought of having to shut Fausta in a box once
in the afternoon and once in the evening had been furthest from Luigi‟s
But the war had changed everything, poverty and famine had
descended upon the land, the red-light had flashed for Rinaldi‟s Variety,
the singers, instrument-players, clowns, wrestlers had dispersed in
different directions, only poverty and hunger and joblessness all around,
all plans vanished into thin air … and, aimlessly, here today, there
tomorrow, they had finally floated into this unknown, uncelebrated
music-hall at the Belsize Park on the London suburbs; instead of a suite
at the Dorchester a flat with torn wallpapers in the East-end, the same
low quality food from menus in self-service diners, the routine of heating
coffee and frying sausage upon a gas-ring in a damp kitchen….
And what does Fausta say? “….But dear Papa and Mama, I don‟t
mind this in the least, I don‟t consider it to be an unnatural life-style.
Had Luigi been able to leave the stage we would certainly have gone back
home, but the stage is in Luigi‟s blood, taking Luigi away from the stage
would be like taking a fish out of water… and, truly, I don‟t mind in the
least being shut up within the darkness of a flat box, I have little trouble
breathing… On the contrary, I find it great fun… and so thrilling…”
* * * *
Fausta changed her bikini for a skirt, wrapped herself in a
raincoat, tied a scarf across her face before the mirror, picked up her
handbag and was all set to leave. Sound of applause floated in from the
auditorium. Hickory-Dickory Sister‟s act has ended. No sooner had they
entered the greenroom, they opened a drawer to bring out two concealed
ham sandwiches and began chomping on them. Fausta said, “Ma-donna!
Eating again? Why, aren‟t you going to Bill‟s dinner?”
“Working out an appetite,” Hickory (actual name Belinda) somehow
blurted out with a full mouth and tried to smile.
“Oh, I too am working out an appetite,” Dickory (actual name
Anne) somehow blurted out with a full mouth and tried to smile.
“Come, get ready. Bill said nine-thirty,” Fausta said and went to
knock at Luigi and McGrew‟s door. “Yes,” Luigi called out from inside.
McGrew was not in the room. Fausta said, “Why were you so distracted
“Distracted? Me?” As though Luigi had fallen out of the sky! “Ask
“Audience, bah! Does the audience have any eyes and ears? Can
the audience ever catch anything amiss? Tell me, truly, what was
“What could be happening?”
“If you don‟t tell me, I shan‟t go to Bill‟s party, I shall go home,”
Fausta said with an air of finality and set down. Luigi was not unaware
of Fausta‟s obstinacy. Moreover, Luigi thought, what harm could be there
in giving the letter now and settling the matter rather than save the
inevitable fracas for the future?
McGrew and Hickory-Dickory came in chatting, McGrew un-
Churchill-like and Hickory Dickory having removed the paint from their
cheeks garbed in evening-dress. Luigi said, “We must go. O --- which
restaurant did you say it was?”
“The Leicester Square Romanoff?”
“That‟s the one,” McGrew said, puffing his chest slightly.
“Ma-donna!” Fausta exclaimed.
“Where Rita Hayworth has supper? What the interior must look
like! Today will be the first time I enter the Romanoff,” Hickory said.
“Me too,” said Dickory.
“All right, you go on ahead. We are just coming,” said Luigi.
“What do you mean just coming?”
“Oh, Bill, we have some unfinished business, you go on ahead, we
will be with you in a moment,” Fausta said.
“Oh, Bill, I almost forgot about it,” Luigi said. Hickory and Dickory
chorused in protest and McGrew said disbelievingly, “Oh? I see!”
* * * *
Fausta read the letter under a light outside Belsize Park tube-
station, while Luigi kept looking at her face with anxious eyes. A cold
breeze was blowing. At the front of the station the old newspaper-vending
woman crouched behind an almost depleted bundle of papers. Every now
and again one or two passengers emerged from the station onto the
street, tightening the mufflers across their throats or the collars of their
coats once outside. No one in particular turned to look at Fausta. Under
the raincoat and the head-scarf glamour girl Fausta was just another
among the thousand and thousand young women-housewives of London,
A smile slowly bloomed upon Fausta‟s features and she said, “And
you were worried to death about this? No, there‟s nothing against you
this time. Just news of home. Papa‟s arthritis is slightly better. The crops
are doing well. Pietro has received the scholarship. Ma-dona be praised
for that … Both Papa and Mama will go to see Pietro off to Pisa… Have
asked us to pay them a visit during the Christmas vacations… There‟s
nothing this time about me being stifled within that flat box --- Bah, you
On Luigi‟s face too the hard lines slowly softened into a smile, and
he said, “Whatever! You know, I too sometimes think that Papa‟s
dissatisfaction is not totally unjustified. Truly, what else have I been able
to give you apart from putting you in a box? I had spoken of such big
things before you…”
Fausta laughed as she would do on the stage, delivered a light slap
on Luigi‟s cheek and said, “It‟s getting late. Bill and the others are
waiting. But where have we come to? Are you planning to go by tube?”
“Of course. We‟ll reach quicker. Come.”
Luigi loved to ride the tube at that time of the night, especially the
Northern Line. No crowding, just one or two inert, unhurried solitary
passengers strewn across the long, wide coaches, and one or two self-
absorbed young couples on their way back home. It was quick too. Only
seven stations to Leicester Square, just two more when you change over
to the Piccadilly Line. Those empty trains instantly flew with lightning
speed across the dark tunnels and brightly-lit platforms from one end of
London to the other.
“What‟re you talking about? Let‟s go to the bus-stop,” Fausta said.
“We‟ll be very late if we go by bus. Holborn, Aldych, Regent Street,
everywhere such terrible traffic-jam ---”
“Bah, seems you‟ve forgotten today!” Fausta said in a tone of
complaint. “You know it, how I detest travelling by tube. Shut up in
those closed coaches that move below the ground through pitch-black
tunnels, the very thought of it makes my mind cringe; I don‟t feel like
uttering a word. Let‟s go by bus, we can chat all the way, so what if we‟re
a couple of minutes late.” Fausta tugged at Luigi‟s hand --- “Even though
you know of it, yet you‟re trying to drag me into a tube-train, within
which my breath seems to stop. Ma-donna!”