hg: The Finale

Strolling along a busy promenade that skirts the shore of a great lake. Wind blows off the water and buffets me. The sun shines in a sky dappled with cloud, warming the back of my neck.

Ahead of me there’s a crowd watching a street performer, a magician. Rope laid out in a circle marks where his stage begins and ends and he dances around this stage, bantering with the audience as he performs one trick after the other. He is tall, bearded, with long brown hair emerging from a leather fedora. His clothes are ragged and loose, his hefty boots scuffed. And yet he moves gracefully.

I join the crowd. It seems to be near the end of the performance. A few onlookers are getting distracted, looking at their phones, discussing spots for lunch. A helicopter rumbles in the distance. Well there’s my ride, the magician says, gesturing towards the noise. We all laugh. Better wrap things up, he adds.

He begins to describe his final trick. The Frodo Trick, he declares dramatically. It involves throwing a ring twenty feet in the air and catching it on his index finger, just as Frodo did in The Lord of the Rings. The audience is sceptical. We murmur, tilt our heads to one side, and narrow our eyes in suspicion, already trying to decipher the stunt.

The magician adjusts his feet in response and we hush. He adopts a wide, powerful stance and holds out the ring on his open palm, as if offering it to us as proof. He pauses for a few seconds. Silence descends. No-one is looking at their phones anymore.

Then the ring goes up, flipping over and over and glinting in the sun. He scurries around beneath it, feigning panic. Everyone takes a collective intake of breath. The entire promenade seems silent for a moment.

With eyes wide, seemingly doomed to failure, the magician thrusts his hand into the air and points a finger towards the shimmering jewel.

Down it comes. He fumbles and stumbles. The ring pings across his makeshift stage, bouncing away. The audience groans. We’re disappointed but we also know this initial failure merely serves to build the tension.

He retrieves the ring and repeats the motions. Up it goes. He fumbles it again. People are looking at each other impatiently now. Arms folded. Is he messing with us, we seem to be asking. Can he actually do this?

At this point a cloud is ushered over the sun. The wind suddenly feels cold and a shiver escapes me. The magician improvises with this divine intervention. Lights down, he says. The cloud drifts away. Lights up, he orders, raising his arms as if conducting the weather. We laugh again. He has regained our attention for one final attempt.

With his arms still raised the magician begins to clap, urging the crowd to follow suit with an encouraging nod.

Clap… clap… clap…

He looks up to the eternal heights and we follow his gaze, still clapping automatically. And then the golden ring goes up too. Up, up, up. Rotating over and over. We squint into the bright sky, trying to see a glint of gold against the blue and white.

Our eyes fail us and we look down in time to see the magician’s arm go up and his finger unravel higher. The invisible ring falls directly onto it with a satisfying thud and comes to rest against his knuckle. A second of confusion or disbelief goes by and then we cheer and clap and surge forward a few inches in excitement.

With a triumphant grin the magician bows to acknowledge our acclaim and doffs his fedora. It’s a grin that says: It was never in doubt.

After soaking up the applause he reels off the last few lines of his script. I hope you enjoyed the show… thanks for stopping by, you’ve been great… I’ve been doing this for five years, it started as a six month experiment…

When he stops talking he bows his head and offers his hat to the audience, almost in apology. The crowd begins to disperse in all directions. Attention lost in an instant. Some people step forward to drop money in and he thanks them warmly.

Donations soon dry up and the stragglers drift away, back to their lives after this brief interval. I watch as he packs his props into a battered leather suitcase and coils up the rope and stashes that too. He carefully pours the money from the hat into a satchel before returning the hat to his head. It shades his eyes from the hot sun and he looks around.

I wonder what’s going through his mind right now. The stage has disappeared. The audience has trickled away. His performance feels like a distant memory, like it never happened. But he held us in the palm of his hand for a few minutes. He was the absolute centre of our attention.

He hitches the satchel onto his shoulder, squats to pick up the suitcase, and joins the gentle tide of people on the promenade. I see his hat bobbing above the crowd and then he disappears. That’s his real finale.