It all began with a gleaming, silver ten-pence coin. The old man made it look like an object from another realm – a fairy, perhaps, that danced and skipped and twirled in his long, nicotine stained fingers.
David Barry watched. Mesmerised as the old man slowly opened the fingers of his right hand.
‘…and it’s gone,’ he said mystically, his final finger opening to reveal an empty palm where the coin had been moments before.
‘Open your other hand,’ David’s cousin, Nick, said with a knowing smile spread across his slightly sun-burnt face.
‘Whatever you say.’ The old man opened his left hand.
The boy’s eyes widened with delicious wonder. A wonder that, for Nick, lasted only seconds, as the old killjoys of Logic and Reason quickly teamed up and stomped Wonder and Awe into submission.
‘Prob’ly a special coin or somethin,’ he grumbled. ‘Can I have a ninety-nine, please.’
But for David it was magic. Pure and simple. The last time he remembered feeling like this was walking into his sitting room as an eight-year-old boy, and seeing the brightly wrapped presents piled under the tree, actually delivered during the night by the master of stealth himself, Santa Claus. A man who magically flitted around the world like a breath of wind, leaving a wake of presents to all good children as they slept. But then he found out Santa wasn’t real. And his belief in the magical was given the old heave ho-ho-ho.
But here in a small ice-cream shop in St. Andrew’s, an old man with a ten-pence coin had re-kindled that same sense of wonder. That feeling that the world isn’t all surface detail and cold, hard facts.
The old man handed Nick his ice cream. A flake jutted from the top like a Dalí-esque cigar piercing the shell of a pure white egg.
‘Thanks,’ Nick said. ‘And thanks for the trick.’
‘You’re very welcome.’
Nick turned to David. ‘I’m gonna go into the next shop and look around. I might buy a plastic sword.’
‘No probs,’ David heard himself say. ‘I’ll catch you in a minute.’
‘Cool.’ Nick licked his ice-cream and left the shop.
‘And what can I get you, young fellow?’ The old man asked, a kind smile on his thin, weather beaten face as he waved his hand in a flourish to encompass all the goods on offer.
‘I want to know how,’ David said.
‘How you did it.’
The old man tapped his nose. ‘It’s a secret. But I suppose you could find out how to do a coin trick on the internet.’
‘No, not the trick,’ David said. ‘I want to know how you made me believe again.’
‘Believe in what?’
The old man’s ice-blue eyes seemed to burn a little brighter as they studied David. ‘I’ve been waiting for you for a long, long time,’ he said eventually. ‘Wait.’ He disappeared into a back room, returning moments later with a tattered, brown leather bag.
David stood. Blistering sunlight spilled through the door, and the otherworldly voices of tourists passed by outside.
And he knew two things.
Firstly, nobody was going to come into the shop. He didn’t know how he knew. He just knew – this moment was too important. And, secondly, his life was never going to be the same again.
The old man reached into the bag and produced from it a thick, black book. ‘Young man, the answer to your question lies inside these pages.’
‘How much do you want for it?’ David asked, fingering the seventeen pence in his pocket, not even enough for an ice-cream. Times were tough since Dad’s office closed.
‘I don’t want money,’ the old man said. ‘I want you to promise that you will work through this book, page by page, as I did. And when the time comes you will pass it on to another.’
David took the book, the padded leather cover feeling warm to the touch. ‘How will I know when to pass it on?’
‘You’ll just know, like I did,’ the old man said, a serene look spread across his face. ‘Now you better go and catch up with your friend.’
‘Thank you,’ David said. He was about to add something else, he didn’t know what, when the bell above the door tingled, and a gaggle of sun soaked tourists blustered into the shop.
The moment was over.
‘Good afternoon,’ the old man said to his new customers, ‘welcome to my ice-cream emporium.’ He added his sweeping flourish.
David smiled, and walked towards the door. Just before he stepped outside the old man called out.
‘Hey, young man.’
‘You forgot your change.’ The old man flicked a coin through the air, reflecting dazzling light.
David turned his palm upwards and the ten-pence piece seemed to float into his hand.
‘Thanks,’ he said, but the old man had turned his attention to his new customers.
For the next twenty years, David worked diligently and obsessively through the seventy-five chapter book – an epic, handwritten tome, with nicotine yellow pages. It contained brilliant sketches that depicted how to execute the many wonderful, but finger busting, sleights required to make magic work.
The first chapter entitled: How to show empty what is full, and reveal what isn’t there, took him eight years to master.
But he had finished it.
And, now, as he sat in the chair, twirling a ten-pence coin along his fingers, so quickly it looked like liquid silver, he thought about the old man, who died of cancer shortly after giving him the book.
A knock came on the door. ‘Two minutes to show time, Mr. Barry.’
‘Coming.’ David carefully put the coin back into the circular, silver locket around his neck, stood up and stared at himself in the light bulb rimmed mirror.
‘This one’s for you old man,’ he said, rubbing the locket – a ritual he followed since he had begun performing.
He left the dressing room. Silence remained.
Thirty seconds later, warm applause drifted from the hands of two-thousand people in the auditorium. All willing to believe in magic … if only for a little while.
And it all began with a coin. A gleaming, silver ten-pence coin.