Yesterday, I took a walk through Covent Garden. Usually, the insistence of the tightly packed masses to walk as slowly as they are able...

The Street Magician

   Yesterday, I took a walk through Covent Garden. Usually, the insistence of the tightly packed masses to walk as slowly as they are able through the cobbled streets just frustrates me to the point where I start to consider anger management, but the beauty of yesterday's wet cobbled street and the smell of fresh rain just passed invigorated me and put me in a mood where nothing could bother me. For once, I was in no rush, and the buzz of London, and particularly this little square of excitement, was putting a spring in my step. Off to my left, I saw a man juggling Barbie dolls, dressed as a rabbi, while his fairly pretty assistant played Baker Street on a saxophone. The alleyway through the middle of Covent Garden’s grand old piazza was blocked off by a man who was balancing a piano on his head, on which he played the classics of Abba while the crowd clapped along. Making my way around to the right of the piazza, two contortionists were competing to see which could fit into the smaller glass box, and their hats were brimming with donations. Turning the corner, my head still turned to watch them, I bumped into a group of midgets dressed as Elvis, running single file in the opposite direction. Never knowing what to expect as you turn a corner in this place is its biggest charm. As I averted my eyes from the midgets and back to my headed direction, that's when I saw him.

   There wasn't much special looking about him; he was a bit too skinny, I guess. But he wasn't wearing anything spectacular, just a blue tracksuit. He wasn't a mumbling idiot like David Blaine or a charismatic charmer like Derren Brown, he was just a guy. He had a drawstring bag at his feet full of props, or costumes; it could be squirrels for all anyone knew, it seemed like most of the props were emerging from his body, not his bag. But he had his audience stunned, literally speechless. I approached the crowd and joined, but joining this late I was at least 5 people back. Peering between heads, trying to piece together what was happening from his muffled voice and the surrounding gasps, I saw him guess a number from 0 to 1000 in one guess. Tip-toeing, catching glimpses where I could, I watched as he vomited pound coins onto the cobbles. Every ten seconds, the audience would erupt into applause, and the clink of coins into his donation bucket would inevitably follow. After a while, the people in front filtered out, and I was at the front of the crowd, looking out on a semi-circle of gawping tourists and Londoners, and the magician himself.

   He seemed to be working on a catchphrase for himself. Before every trick he'd say, "This one's gonna take your breath away!" but at first, he was wrong. They started out pretty tame; him guessing cards, more pound coins appearing out of nowhere, sleight of hand. Still, the crowd and I clapped our little hearts out. People smiled at each other with looks on their faces that suggested a teaspoonful of sympathy, not greatly impressed. But then his tricks evolved into something a bit more incredible. With a click of his fingers, his ears began to bleed. With another click, they stopped, and he wiped his face with a tissue that had appeared out of thin air. He said, "This one's gonna take your breath away!" and swallowed a mobile phone whole. He squawked his mantra again, and managed to set his entire right hand on fire. Every new trick was that little bit more amazing.

   He started talking about how sometimes, he gets complaints that all his props are false and his feats are simple illusions, so now was his chance to change that. He asked the audience for a cigarette. He held out his hand and gestured harshly, jabbing his open hand at the front row, working his way around the crowd, who didn't fill it until he reached me. I had more cigarettes, I could afford to give him one. He took the cigarette, thanking me kindly, and stood stiff as a board with his legs shoulder width apart in front of the audience. "This one..." he said, "Is gonna take your breath away." And we watched as he opened his eyes as wide as they would go and pushed the cigarette, filter first, into one of his irises. He did it slowly, and pushed until there was no cigarette left. This time, he was right, I was breathless. Completely confused by what I'd seen, I could only stand there slackjawed and horrified. Had he planted a fake cigarette on me? He hadn't touched my bag, there was no way he could have. Like the rest of his followers, I was shocked. Here we stood, standing around this glaring man with a cigarette in one of his eyeballs, his newest disciples.

   It took a while for us all to react, and when we did it came in the form of a slow clap that gradually went from quiet and sparse to roaring and loud. Still stunned, I tried to watch his eye, see if it wasn't keeping up with the other, see if it was false. But it moved, it focused, it was real. It was mind blowing. Eventually, after his bowing subsided and his act was complete, he picked up his bag of props which seemed to have mysteriously grown since I joined the crowd. It looked soft, and wet. Warm, cushiony. It seemed... strange. Most of all, it made me wonder what I'd missed at the beginning of his act. With his other hand, he picked up his bucket, full to the brim with well-deserved donations. Bowing once more, he said, "This one really is gonna take your breath away." And strolled away slowly with his enormous bag over his shoulder, dripping a line of red paint behind him. Still stunned, it took me until he had left my field of vision before I noticed the horrible pain in my chest. It was tight, like someone had pulled a belt taut around my ribs. I was finding it hard to catch my breath, and it looked like the other audience members were too. As we coughed and spluttered, gasped for air, I reached down and lifted my shirt to look at my chest. Struggling to focus between convulsions, I was met by two large scars grinning at me like a pair of stoned teens, and as we stared at each other, me and my chest, a horrible realisation hit me.

   That man had stolen my lungs.

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