“Manish!” I was startled to hear my name called out.
I turned to see a tall, gaunt man in his fifties, chestnut hair graying at the temples, in an incongruous combination of dated khaki chinos and a fashionable blue blazer. His horn-rimmed glasses helped me place him, though his appearance hadn’t changed much beyond the color of his hair.
“Hugh!” I exclaimed happily. Hugh was always an interesting person.
“What are you doing at the scene of your crime?” he asked, in his typical jocular fashion, referring to the fact that we had both worked in the office I was looking at. This is something I like about Washington: one often encounters interesting people.
When I told Hugh that I was doing nothing of importance, he promptly suggested that we have a drink together and celebrate our chance reunion. He led me to a small Peruvian restaurant where, it came back to me when I entered, I had dined a few times. I ordered what I always order in a Peruvian bar, Pisco Sour, and, when Hugh followed suit, we also asked for two plates of Lomo Saltado.
Hugh knew that I had joined diplomatic service and asked me what I had been doing. As I was talking, the waiter, a young Mexican, brought the food and drinks and placed them between us. When I finished, Hugh called the waiter and said he had served only one drink and one plate of food. I was taken aback, for, though I was not paying close attention, I thought I had seen him bring a pair of drinks and food. Hugh pleasantly suggested that the waiter might have absentmindedly left the other drink and plate on another table. The waiter came back in a moment and said apologetically that he had indeed left them on another table by mistake and served us both.
Hugh said, “If you can’t believe your own eyes, I suggest you close them for a minute, then open them slowly and check what you find.” I did. When I looked, I saw two drinks and two plates of Lomo Saltado!
I sat speechless. I wondered if two sips of Pisco Sour had made a curious difference to my vision – or my mind.
Hugh sat in front of me with a benign smile. Then he said, “Let me tell you what I do these days. I do magic.”
I felt spellbound. I muttered, “How can it be? You didn’t even leave your seat once.”
Hugh offered a gentle reproof, “You didn’t notice. I got up to take off my coat and hang it up.”
I was still mystified beyond words. How could a whole plate of food appear and disappear, not to mention a glass of Pisco Sour! I didn’t ask Hugh how he did it, for by now I was even more fascinated by the question of how my friend, a competent economist, had turned himself into a skilled magician.
It was quite a story. Hugh had taken his young son some years back to a school event where a magician performed. The son was greatly intrigued and wanted to meet the magician. Hugh took his son backstage and met the Turkish magician who went by the name, The Magus. The conversation was spirited, and the magician invited Hugh to a performance in a nightclub. This time the repertoire was quite different from the fare that the magician had presented at the school. Hugh was impressed; in fact, he was hooked. Later, he had several drinks with the magician and broached the idea of taking lessons.
He performed with the magician in a few clubs and got a good reception. The Magus lived in California and preferred to perform on the west coast; he went to other cities rarely, only when the remuneration was attractive. He graciously invited Hugh to come to California and perform occasionally with him, but advised that Hugh should hone his skill independently in his own town.
That is what Hugh has been doing, apparently with notable success.
Hugh was always an interesting person, but now he had a huge collection of amusing anecdotes from his performances with a large variety of groups. We sat and drank for a long time and when we left Hugh made it a point to tip the Mexican waiter exorbitantly.
As we said goodbye, he asked how I intended to go home. I disclosed that I had a car in a nearby parking lot.
He smiled and said, “My friend, you can’t drive home unless you use your car key,” and placed the car key in my palm.
I had no idea how and when the key had moved from my pocket to his.