Flash Fiction by V.M. Devadas
Translated from Malayalam ('Maanthrikappizhavu') to English by Minu Varghese
The magician was wiping the sweat off his face, seated on a chair backstage after the show, when I approached him. I showed him my identity card from the periodical I work for and shook his hands. When I told him that I wanted to interview him, the magician tried to evade me saying he was the least bit interested in interviews.
'I will not take much time. I want to know only one thing. You can answer me as briefly as you like.'
'Okay then. Go ahead.'
'In your magic performances, you never use birds or animals. I have seen other magicians using rabbits, parrots, sparrows, pigeons, rats and even snakes whose fangs are pulled out. Why do you avoid them?'
'You have observed it right. I never use birds or animals on stage. The birds and animals get killed at times, when as part of completing the act it requires the killing; or by mistake, or when the bird or animal in question refuses to stay tamed. I dare not use them in my shows for this reason. In fact there is an incident that led me to this decision. While I was learning magic, I bought two rabbit kits from the market for my master’s shows. On my way back I walked into a movie theatre with the basket containing the kits. It was the premiere of my favourite hero’s latest movie and it was full house. I forgot to take the basket while leaving the theatre after the show. I remembered about it only when nearing the house of my master. I rushed back but as the next show had begun there was no way but to wait outside till the end of it. By the time I managed to retrieve the basket, the poor animals had succumbed to their fate. I still cannot figure out the exact reason why this happened, whether it was the air conditioning in the theatre or the crowd stepping on them that caused their death. On my way back I emptied the basket in the sewage in the city. I still remember clearly how the snow-white baby rabbits drowned by degrees into the thick, dark, slimy water in the sewage canal. I decided on the spot that I would never use any other life forms in my shows except human beings. I have never felt like killing any creature, other than human beings.'
'Is there any guarantee that magic shows that employ human beings will go flawless?'
'There is no such guarantee. See, these days it takes me less than a moment to levitate the girls who appear in my shows, wearing flashy costumes and bright smiles. Years ago when I did not have the dexterity or speed, it took me real pains to raise a girl in the air.'
'What was that act?'
'Freezing her in the air …then letting her vanish. It did not happen on a stage during magic performance. In place of the magic wand there was a creaky ceiling fan and instead of the magician’s hat there was only a worn and crumbled sari as my accessories at that time.'
'Was it still a successful show?'
'Of course! Goes without saying!'
'This is enough for my column in the weekly. Thank you for granting me your acquaintance and answering my questions.'
'If you have no urgent work at hand please come with me to the stage and be my accomplice in the coming act. You are free, aren’t you?”
Without even waiting for my reply, the magician put his hand around my shoulders and led me to the stage. He removed his hat and bowed to the full house. Then he clapped and his assistant pushed something covered in black to the stage. When the cover was removed, I saw a guillotine. The magician turned towards me and smiled. Then he waved me to the guillotine. I realized that my assigned mission was to stretch my neck into the guillotine while the excited audience clapped. Suddenly the creaky ceiling fan and the worn crumbled sari from the magician’s tale flashed across my mind. At the very moment I just closed my eyes and prayed hard that the mantra that helps one vanish will come to my mind.
First published in the short story collection 'Avanavan Thuruthu' (2016) by DC Books, Kottayam.
V.M. Devadas was born in Wadakkancherry, Kerala, India. He works in an I.T. company in Chennai. He is the recipient of the Geeta Hiranyan Endowment Award of Kerala Sahitya Akademy, Malayala Manorama Novel Carnival Award, Nooranad Haneef Memorial Award, Chandrika Katha Puraskaram, Ettumanoor Kavya Vedi Puraskaram and Cochin International Short Film Festival of India's Best Screenplay Award for 2015. Dildo: Aaru Maranangalude Pulp Fiction Patapusthakam (2009), Pannivetta (2010), and Cheppum Panthum (2016) are his novels and MaranaSahaayi (2011), SalabhaJeevitham (2014) and Avanavan Thuruthu (2016) are his short story collections.
Minu Varghese is a bilingual writer and translator from India. Her MPhil dissertation was on the history plays of John Osborne and Bertolt Brecht. She has taught English Language and Literature in India from 1995 under various institutions of IHRD and is currently working as English Language Instructor in Jazan University, Saudi Arabia. She is the Malaylam translator of the Finnish children’s book (based on its English translation) ‘Simo and Sonia’ by Tiina and Sinikka Nopola, illustrated by Linda Bondestam (Sampark: Kolkata, 2014). She writes poems and short stories in English and Malayalam and is a Translations Editor of Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts.