On her 30th birthday, Nimali met a sorcerer. This was quite unexpected, as she had stopped believing in magic – like many – in childhood, once Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy turned out to be elaborate hoaxes. And she had discarded her cherished fantasy novels back in high school, when the real world began to intrude upon her imagination and make more demands on her time.
Since then, Nimali had dutifully followed the path of pragmatism. She focused her attention on excelling in her law career, managing her personal finances, and making the necessary doctor and dentist appointments in a timely manner. There had once been a time when she had focused on being a good daughter, friend, and wife. But then her parents had died, her friends had gotten married and lost touch or moved away, and her husband had had an affair with their real estate agent when he was supposed to be looking for a new home to build a family with Nimali.
Staring at her round, olive-toned face in the mirror, Nimali locked eyes with herself and said, “Here we are. The earth didn’t shake; the walls didn’t crumble. I am simply 30 now, that’s all. Today will be just the same as yesterday, and not so different from tomorrow.” But the thought didn’t comfort her much.
Nimali went to work as usual, settling into the desk in her 24th floor office and began reading tedious legal briefs. After a few hours, she began to feel stifled by the canned air-conditioning and sickly fluorescent lighting. In a spark of uncharacteristic spontaneity, she switched off the lights and swept open the window blinds to let the sunshine flood in like melted butter. Once that was done, however, Nimali had no end of distractions. She could not help but gaze out the window at the skyline of haughty bank buildings huddled against the topaz sky, then down below at the endless array of people strolling down sidewalks, scurrying across streets, loitering outside shop windows.
And then she felt the sharp, distinct compulsion that she must be one of them. She could not remain in the office a moment longer; no – she would take an early lunch and venture into the open air to enjoy a sandwich and slice of cake from the Dutch bakery down the street. It was her birthday, after all. Why not treat herself to a meal away from her desk for once?
It was at the corner of 45th and Main that Nimali encountered the sorcerer. He was about four feet tall, with deep violet robes, a matching conical hat imprinted with silver stars, and a goatee scribbled on his smooth little face in black marker.
He stood on a bus stop bench, which boosted him a little above Nimali’s height, and raised his arms over his head in an imposing, grandiose gesture.
“I am Richie, THE MOST POWERFUL SORCERER IN THE WORLD!” he bellowed. A few passersby looked over and smiled fondly at the boy before continuing on their way. One elderly woman shook her head at him disapprovingly. Only Nimali slowed to a halt in front of the bus stop bench, watching. “My magic can do anything…ANYTHING!”
“Can it find me love?” Nimali whispered under her breath. Aloud, she asked, “Where is your mother?”
The little sorcerer raised his arms even higher and lifted his face to the heavens above. “There.”
Nimali felt her heart squeeze as she watched the boy’s upturned face soak in the golden rays of sunlight. Poor, motherless child. “And where is your father?” she asked, more tenderly.
The sorcerer looked sadly at her. “He’s sleeping with the fishes.”
Nimali was so taken aback by this morbid, noir euphemism for death that she had to sit down on the bench. From this vantage point, the sorcerer was a dark figure haloed by shimmering sunlight, making him appear to indeed possess some extraordinary power.
Both parents dead…how awful! Nimali didn’t know what to do. Perhaps she should take him to the police station? Yes, the authorities would know what to do, who to contact. Maybe he had foster parents, or lived in an orphanage. But what if he had run away? What if he wasn’t happy?
“What kind of powers do you have?” Nimali asked, stalling for time. Part of her wanted to take him home with her and cook up a proper meal. It had been ages since she had cooked for anyone other than herself.
The sorcerer stooped down and pulled a quarter out of Nimali’s ear. She gasped with astonishment and delight. Of course, she knew the trick…but she still remembered how she had felt when her father pulled a Susan B. Anthony coin from her ear when she was six years old, the thrill of wondering if her daddy was secretly a wizard.
“That was amazing!” Nimali said, clapping her hands. “What other powers do you have?”
“I can grant you your wish,” said the sorcerer. And he pressed his eyes shut with such earnest concentration that Nimali found herself grinning broadly. But then his eyes snapped open and he was looking with glee at a man walking towards them.
The man was not very tall, but he had a kind face with dancing honey drop eyes, and his groomed brown beard gave him the appearance of a rugged lumberjack adapting to city life.
“Happy Birthday!” the man said as he approached. He pulled out a bag he had been holding behind his back and thrust it toward the bench.
Nimali grasped it in confusion. “Th-thank you,” she said. “But how did you know? Who are you?”
The man knitted his eyebrows together in surprise. “Sorry, Miss, but that was actually for my son.”
The sorcerer grabbed the bag from Nimali, giggling at the hilarity of the situation, and pulled out a second plastic bag filled with water and a lone goldfish.
Nimali looked from the sorcerer to the man. “Oh! I’m so sorry! It’s my birthday, too…I just got mixed up for a moment. And I thought he said his father was dead?”
The sorcerer looked at her with indignation. “No, that’s not what I said! I said he was sleeping with the fishes!”
The man roared with laughter. “Richie, that phrase doesn’t mean what you think it means.”
“But you were,” the sorcerer insisted. “In the pet shop, you were sitting in front of the fish tanks, and then you closed your eyes. So I got bored and came out here.”
“Which you should not have done,” the man scolded. “You could have been kidnapped by this scary woman here.” He grinned at Nimali.
“Nuh-uh,” said the sorcerer. “I could see you through the window, daddy, so I knew you would see me when you opened your eyes. And my magic powers showed me that this woman is not scary.”
“Is your mother in the shop, too?”Nimali asked, trying to make sure she fully understood the situation.
“No! I told you…she’s in heaven.”
“Right. I’m so sorry…” Nimali glanced at the man again, then back at the sorcerer, and decided she had embarrassed herself enough for the day. She stood up. “Well, happy birthday, Richie the Sorcerer. Thank you for showing me your magic!”
“You’re leaving?” the sorcerer asked, distressed.
“Thanks for humoring my kid,” the man said, extending a hand. “My name’s Finn, by the way.”
“Nimali.” She shook Finn’s hand, and the warm pressure of his flesh filled her with a sense of comfort.
“Nice to meet you, Nimali. Listen, Richie and I are going to have some lunch and birthday cake at a bakery down the street. We’d be so happy if you would join us.”
“Oh, I don’t know…” Nimali said, growing flustered. She tried to think of a believable excuse.
“You have to come,” said the sorcerer. “It’s your birthday. And this is the wish you made.”
“Wish? But I didn’t make a wish.”
“Not out loud. But you did.” The sorcerer looked Nimali in the eyes, and all at once she felt his enchantment swirl around the three of them, sweeping them into an invisible cyclone of pure, breathtaking magic.
And so she yielded to the powers of the little sorcerer and walked with him and Finn down to the bakery, the three of them laughing all the way, and she wondered if she would recognize herself if she were to look down from her office window now.