The Great Magician

by Φ

The Great Magician, by Rene Daumal

There was once a powerful magician who lived in a garret on Pauper Road. He lived there under the guise of an old clerk, tidy & punctual. He worked in a branch of Mystic Bank, Humble Road. He could, with the wave of his magic toothpick, have transmuted all the roof slates into ingots of gold. But it would have been immoral, because, he thought to himself, there’s a dignity in labor for man, & even woman, to some extent, he would add.

When Auntie Ursula, an old bag if ever there was one, who had just been ruined by the fall in Viragon shares, came running & settled down in his place, he could have turned her into a beautiful young princess, or into a swan which he could have yoked to his magic chariot, or into a boiled egg, or into a ladybird, or into a bus, but it would have been against eminently sensible family values, basis of society & of morality.

So he slept on a mat, & got up at six o’clock to prepare Auntie Ursula’s coffee & to get her some croissants. And that he would listen patiently to her daily scolding, because the coffee smelt of soap & there was a cockroach baked into one of the croissants, & he was an unworthy nephew, & she would disinherit him, of what? nobody knows. He would let her go on, knowing that if only he had wanted to he could… but it was important that Auntie Ursula should not know he was a powerful magician. It might have brought about thoughts of filthy lucre in her & that would have closed the pearly gates forever.

And then the great magician would hurry down the six flights of stairs, & he would occasionally fall flat on his face in the treacherously slippery staircase, but he would get up again with a little smile, thinking to himself that is he had wanted to, he could have changed himself into a swallow which would have soared up through the skylight, but the neighbors might have noticed him, & a prodigy like that would have shaker the foundations of a simple but salutary faith in those innocent souls.

Once in the street, he would brush his alpaca jacket down with his hand, taking care not to pronounce the magic formulae which could instantaneously have changed it into a gold-embroidered chasuble, since this could have thrown a pernicious doubt in the minds of passersby, so happy in their naive conviction of the immutability of natural laws.

He would breakfast on a  stale roll at the bar of a seedy care; ah! if only he had wanted to! …But to make sure that he could not use his supranormal powers, he would quickly down five brandies, because alcohol dulled his magical powers & made him humble once more, made him realize that all men, even he, were brothers, & that if the woman at the cash-desk brushed him off when he tried to kiss her, on account of his dirty beard, it was because she had no heart & did not understand a word of Holy Scripture. At 7:45 he was in the office, sleeves rolled up & a pen behind his ear, reading his paper. With a bit of concentration, he could have known at one & the same time all the present, past & future of the whole world, but he took care not to use this gift of his. He had to read the paper, so as not to lose the use of popular speech, thanks to which he would be able to communicate in appearance with his fellows at the bar, all the while guiding them down the road of righteousness. At eight o’clock he would start scribbling, & if he occasionally made a mistake, it was only to justify the reprimand from his boss. After all, if his boss told him off for no reason, he would have committed a grievous sin. And over the whole day, the great magician, under the modest guise of a bankclerk, pursued his work as the guide of humanity.

Poor old Auntie Ursula! When he cam back at lunchtime, having forgotten to buy parsley, instead of smashing a bowl on his head, she certainly would have acted quite differently, had she known who her nephew really was, but then she would not have had the opportunity to realize how true it is that anger is brief madness.

If only he had wanted to! …Instead of dying an almost unchristian death in a hospital from an anonymous disease, without leaving a trace on this earth except for a moth-eaten jacket in the wardrobe, an old toothbrush, & a handful of ungenerous memories in the ungrateful hearts of his colleagues, he could have been a pasha, an alchemist, a magus, a nightingale or a Lebanese cedar. But it would have been contrary to the secret designs of Providence. No one spoke over his grave. No one suspected who he was. And, who knows? Perhaps he himself did not know either. And yet he was a very powerful magician.