Now a fan of magic?

A freak accident upsets a mother's realistic belief

Misty rain slants over the neighbourhood as I leaf through old photo albums. I see a picture of my daughters, aged seven and four, posing beside a television. And suddenly, I’m there on a night 17 years ago when something extraordinary happened.

After 10 years as a stay-at-home mom, I’d started work as a junior lecturer. Days were frenetic. More than once I despaired I couldn’t clone myself, delay clocks, or grow more hands.

Maybe there existed research that frowned upon young mothers who used television to distract their children at meal times. I was blissfully ignorant of these studies. I’d discovered that my daughters fussed less over their vegetables and ate faster when they watched their favourite show on television. And that was how the magic pencil joined us at dinner time.

Shaka Laka Boom Boom aired every night at 7.30 on television. For 30 minutes we watched Sanju, the young hero, get into some sort of scrape, and then extricate himself, thanks to the prowess of his magic pencil. The show ensured the brisk sale of imitation magic pencils at our stationers. My daughters owned a pencil each. Despite clear evidence these were ordinary pencils that donned colourful pixie heads, the pencils were treasured and exclaimed over.

My daughters often wondered if magic was real. When I explained how even the ‘real magic’ of magic shows was only a trick the magicians worked hard to master, and magic of the sort that Sanju experienced, existed only in fairy tales, they were unconvinced. Every night when the title song in a child’s voice exhorted the power of the pencil to create anything from a cycle to an elephant, my daughters abandoned everything they were doing and rushed into the living-cum-dining room.

It was early September, but summer had decided to overstay like a tiresome guest. Noiseless ceiling fans pressed blankets of hot air upon us and whirred ineffectively. That night, we sat at the dining table that offered only an angled view of the television screen. My younger daughter, who was four at that time, loved sitting on the dining chair like a grown-up. We’d worked out an understanding that we could all move to the sofa in front of the TV only after they’d finished dinner. Despite the uncomfortable viewing angle, they followed Sanju’s capers from the dining table.

Halfway through dinner, I stood up and exchanged places with my younger daughter. A few minutes later I stood up and walked away. I heard a loud thud. I watched with disbelief as the ceiling fan slipped from my chair and crashed on the floor. It wouldn’t have been more shocking if an alien had fallen through the roof. The fan rotated lazily on the floor before it rested on one blade. I bent to pull the fan out of the way, and flinched when I touched its hot dome.

The three of us sat on the sofa in silence. The fan weighed nearly four kilos, and I was too terrified to imagine any further. Meanwhile, Sanju signed off with a cheery song. My daughters waved at the TV screen, the fan already forgotten.

Long after the children had gone to bed, I sat alone. Like a movie director scrutinising a shot for imperfections, I constantly replayed the events of the night in slow motion. Why had I exchanged places with my little one and then moved away? I’d heard nothing by way of warning. What’s more, the timing had been too perfect to dismiss everything as mere coincidence.

That night, I tiptoed into the children’s bedroom. They slept peacefully. They’d always believed magic was real. And now their skeptical mother had been offered proof. I wasn’t going to analyse who made that magic, or where it sprang from. It sufficed that it existed.

The memory brings a reassuring glow. My daughters will be home soon. We’ll have cosy times together before they set off to face the world’s adventures. But no matter where they go in this wide world, I know there will always be a little magic to keep them safe and happy.

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