Monday, 30 January 2012

The death of magic

It was a balmy afternoon in 1993. School had come to an abrupt end at around quarter to two, and everyone was herded into the assembly hall. This was highly unusual, but the break was a welcome one for the bored kids of all sizes occupying twelve classrooms. As they walked into the hall, they noticed with interest that the curtains had been put up. Normal business was conducted in the hall without curtains; they were brought out only on special occasions. They also noted with dismay that there were no carpets or chairs laid out, as is usual for special occasions, and this meant sitting on the uncomfortable and dusty concrete floor. Some of the elder ones had figured that whatever this was, it seemed short notice. They were soon seated, and after some squirming about, were all settled in. 

A little boy of about seven or eight was sitting with eyes fixed on the curtains, about two or three rows from the front. He had to take his eyes off the stage when classmates seated nearby interrupted with chatter, but soon all eyes were on stage since they had seen some interesting looking people enter stage from the corridor. The curtains went up, and joy of joys, it was a magic show. It was the first ever magic show the boy had ever seen, and since it magically killed the remaining three periods of class, it was even better. The magician was a portly man with a mustache that looked fake, and he was clothed in flowing robes and a cape. He took centrestage with ease, and soon the kids were all in rapt attention. At least the younger ones were. 

The boy looked on transfixed as the magician performed one trick after another. An assistant disappeared inside a box and reappeared, cards were picked out with unerring accuracy, and a dove was pulled out of a hat. The man was seemingly a god, there was nothing he couldnt do. The cheers grew louder with each successful trick, but the boy was unaware of the noise. This was the first time he had seen anything like it, and he was mesmerized. The magician lifted his wand and waved at the audience indicating that he required silence. The noise fell and the kids paid attention. He required a couple of volunteers, and he asked the audience who among them would help him out. The boy enthusiastically lifted his hand, but a look around told him that pretty much every hand in the auditorium had gone up. 

Just as enthusiasm was turning into mild dismay, the magician pointed to the boy and said "you, young man. why dont you come up here and give me a hand?" Elated, the boy got up and made for the stage. They were seated in the hall according to height with the shortest up front, and if there was another perk to being short, he couldn't quite think of it at that moment. As he climbed the four or five steps up to the stage, he wondered where he would be if the magician were to make him disappear. Would he float through space? Would he become invisible? He saw the second volunteer, a boy younger than him but equally wide eyed, making his way up the stairs on the side of the stage. If they both disappeared, would they meet somewhere in the middle? What if he can't bring them back? What will they tell their moms? 

Trembling with nervousness, the two boys made it to the stage. The magician looked at them and declared to the audience that they were unfit to be his assistants. As elation and nervousness threatened to turn into dismay once more, the portly man produced two capes, and all was well again. The boys were fitted out with capes, the elder one in a fiery orange-red cape and the younger one got a leopard print cape, and the magician turned to the audience and declared them fit to be his assistants. Our boy returned to nervousness and awe. Magic was happening around him, and he was part of it. Better than a ringside seat, he was in the ring. He held out tubes for the audience to verify that they were empty, and watched stunned as the magician produced flower after flower from it. He handed him a white handkerchief and the magician folded it and then unfolded it and turned it red. Finally, after a multitude of tricks, the boy was asked to stand in the centre of the stage. 

Shy and nervous, he took the three steps necessary to propel him to the required location and stood facing the audience. There was a bit of pride in being the assistant, and he wasn't doing too good a job of hiding it as he looked at envious friends in the rows beneath. From the magicians voice over the loudspeakers, he figured that a glass of milk was being placed on his head. He felt the bottom of the glass on his hair as the magician held it above him without placing it on him. He wondered if the glass would in fact be placed on him, since he wasn't too sure he would do a good job of balancing it. He didn't want to mess up the trick and embarrass the great man. The other boy brought a straw that went into his mouth, with the other end sticking out in the air in front of him. The magician announced that the assistant was going to drink milk in this fashion. He was asked to suck in with the straw, and he did for all he was worth. 

The audience cheered in front of him, but something was amiss. There was no milk coming in through the straw, and he had been worried he messed up somewhere. Yet the audience was cheering, and when the magician stepped in front of him to show the crowd the empty glass was when he realized the milk had indeed disappeared. A strange disappointment grew within him. He wasn't as enthused as before when the magician put the glass under his armpit, covered it with the cape, and returned it full with milk again. He was asked to drink again, three or four times, with the same result. He began to suspect this was all some sort of trickery. Why was there no milk in the straw? As he stepped down the stage at the end of the show, classmates gathered around and patted him on the back and asked a hundred questions. He gave a blank smile. He saw the other boy telling stories to his classmates who had gathered around. All he could think of was to go to the playground. 

The announcement came that even though there was forty minutes left till the end of school, there would be no more class and they could all play outside until the school vans came at three thirty. He made his way to the playground and sat on one of the swings, staring blankly ahead as he filtered out the noisy kids on the merry-go-round and the slide. If it wasn't really magic, what was it? He was certainly tricking us, and there certainly had to be a how and a why. How? was there a secret pipe in his sleeve? Why? perhaps he didn't have real magical powers? Over the course of that afternoon, he had lost blind belief and was questioning everything. Three kids a coupla classes elder to him made their way to his swing. They had questions. "Tell me something," the girl who seemed to be their leader said, "did you really get milk in the straw when you sucked in?" 

"Yes", he said, looking at their slightly disbelieving faces, momentarily setting aside his struggle with magic and logic. "It was real magic." 

PS - this blog has been ignored for too long, and I intend to rectify that soon, (hopefully). the flying course is over, but unfinished posts remain to be published. I hope to do that over the course of this year believing late is better than never. This was a story written a while back, one I'm not entirely happy with, but I have nothing else to post for now.