We had been in Indian several weeks before our first attempted to watch the infamous Bollywood film. The theater experience, like everything else in India, was hectic and confusing. For twenty minutes, we wandered around in a daze, like home-schooled kids at the mall, trying to find the box office and concession stand. Right as we were settling in with popcorn and a soda, a tall, skinny boy yanked us from the men’s restroom and plopped down beside us in the actual screen room.
Despite knowing hardly any English, our new friend attempted to translate, but after a few scenes he resigned himself to talking loudly on his cell phone, leaving us to decipher the enthusiastic Indian policemen who raced across the vinyl freeway shouting phrases in Hindi that ended in English.
“Blah blah blah, the mission is off!”
And a few minutes later, “the mission is back on!” (This time including the necessary enthusiastic point toward the ceiling.)
After the film had let out, we empathized with our translator as he lamented over the lack of singing and dancing in the movie. He stopped in front of a black sedan.
We did the obligatory two second pause to consider the wisdom in accepting this offer, as if this momentary risk assessment would somehow absolve us of any responsibility should we end up impregnated or on a bus to the Pakistan border. Of course, we climbed in.
“Magic” he blurted suddenly after we had been driving in silence a few minutes.
We responded with polite smiles and nodding, “Yes, magic.”
“Uh…I, magic!” He smiled proudly and laughed.
“Mmm, hmm, magic, very nice.” We didn’t bother to try to figure out what on earth he was talking about, but responded like a distracted mothers whose child claimed to have seen a dinosaur outside.
Sensing our disinterest, he jerked the car to the side of the road.
“You have coin?” he demanded. I handed him a 1-rupee coin.
“No, no, more small.”
Sighing, I dug around again and hesitantly produced a 2-rupee coin.
He pressed the coin between his forearm and two fingers and began to rub. The coin immediately fell into his lap.
No, no ” he mumbled, repositioning the coin and rubbing again. It fell off into his lap once more. The process repeated itself several times before, on his third attempt of, the coin flew across the dashboard and fell beneath the seat.
“You have more coin?” I fished him out another 2-rupee coin, and this time he was successful in rubbing it into the crux of his inner elbow and securing it there. He proudly showed us his empty palm.
We applauded, not so much impressed with the trick but relieved that he was actually able to pull it off before sunrise. He threw the car into gear and resumed driving, with a proud, sloppy smile on his face. At the hotel, he exited the car and announced, “Magic man make magic in your room tonight!” And strutted confidently past our blank faces. He waited impatiently for us to unlock the hotel room door, where he rushed in ahead of us, setting up for a private magic show.
“Um, how long? We are all very sleepy,” my friends nodded in agreement and we all started yawning and stretching simultaneously.
“No long. Only one hour.”
“One hour! Oh no, too long, how about tomorrow?”
After a several protests, we agreed to reschedule the magic show until tomorrow, assuming we the next few minutes would be the last time we would be subjected to his mystical powers.
The next afternoon, as I was out for an afternoon stroll, I walked passed a young man leaning against a black sedan parked along the sidewalk. As I moved to go around it, the man jumped in front of me and shouted with excitement. It was magic man.
Half an hour later, the three of us sat along the edge of our bed and watched him fumble decks of cards and send large metal rings bouncing off the ceiling. I wondered how, in a country of 1.21 billion people, he had managed to track us down despite not having any means of communications or any idea of what our plans had been for that day. As I crawled under the bed, retrieving 1-rupee coins that he had sent rolling along the floor, I wondered if he just might be magic after all.