A Place Where Magic Abounds

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They stood on the steps of the Sheldonian as twilight descended over Oxford. The snow was falling softly on them like icing sugar.

“Snow in Oxford in June!” Professor PW Vanderleyden of Eastern Transvaal, South Africa, said incredulously, shaking his head. “Your blerrie crazy country! Why is it snowing in summer!”

“It would have been crazier if it hadn’t snowed this June in Oxford,” Alice said solemnly. “Given how many Junes that had gone by in history where there hadn’t been snow in Oxford.”

PW stared at this strange student of his uncomprehendingly. “Probability, my dear Professor,” she grinned. ‘It’s always snowing in Oxford in June in some other universe. I guess now is our time, hey?”

For the first time, PW noticed that Alice was wearing an unusual blue Victorian dress. She clapped her hands joyfully. “How about high tea, Professor?”

“It’s already 6pm,” he said hesitantly. “We’re too late.”

“You forget, time does not exist,” she said with a laugh. “Come, let me take you someplace magical.”

“Do we need a spaceship?” He asked teasingly.

“You of all people should know that magic exists here on earth,” she chided him. “After all, quantum physics is about magic, isn’t it?”

And so, they walked through magical Oxford via a network of hidden, cobblestone paths to the Grand Café on The High. Built in 1650, it was the oldest coffee shop in England, according to Samuel Pepys. It was indeed the perfect place for English scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam on a snowy June evening in Oxford.

Alice greeted the proprietress with familiarity and led PW through a narrow passageway that opened up to a strange chamber. The mirrors in the room had heavy velvet fabrics draped over them, covering their reflective surfaces. PW shivered as he looked at those strange shapes on the wall. He was reminded of the old tales again. In his culture, all the mirrors in the house had to be covered whenever someone dies, so that his soul does not get incarcerated in the mirrors for all eternity, trapped in a world within a world. And this is why people don’t buy old mirrors as a rule.


PW shivered again, cold fingers of fear walking down his spine. He forcefully took his eyes off the mirrors and looked at the big clock face instead. The clock’s hands were pointing to twelve and six.

“It can’t be!” PW exclaimed incredulously! “It was six o’clock when we left the Sheldonian!” He looked at his own watch. It was showing six o’clock, too!

Perplexed, PW plonked himself down in an armchair with elaborate Victorian upholstery. His eyes darted round the table. All the chairs were different – Alice picked an uncomfortable wooden stool – and there were already teapots and teacups with un-matching saucers on the table.

“I’m sorry, some of them are dirty,” Alice apologised charmingly, gesticulating at the messy, haphazard table. “Service in this establishment is focused in the front parlour. We just have to sit where there are clean cups and saucers. Here, have more tea, Professor.”

PW grinned at her. “I can’t have more tea, because I have not had any yet. See, there is nothing in my cup.”

Alice stared at PW intently with her eyes closed. Whenever she did this, she could see, like really see. She saw PW when he was a boy of about six or seven, standing in the barren veld on a hot afternoon and dressed in his brother’s hand-me-downs. In his hand was his school lunchbox. He was speaking to an old, old man.

“Oupa,” he said in a shrill voice. “If I take this lunchbox into outer space and scoop up a boxful of something, what will be in my lunchbox?’

The old man had laughed merrily. “Magic particles, PW,” he had replied with twinkling eyes that promised.

Alice wished for eyes for PW to see these magic particles, stuff that you find in cosmic rays, cloud chambers and detectors attached to accelerators where violent subatomic collisions take place.

And then PW saw. He saw them all.

“Jislaaik!” He breathed, spellbound. He stretched his hand out, as if in a trance. The particles came in and out of existence, ephemeral beings filled with energy, tangible yet surreal.

The most incredible thing was that PW could actually feel them! They were so beautiful! He wished the whole world could see them.

And then he began to remember. He had known them, these magic particles, when he was a small boy sitting inside the hollowed-out trunk of the thousand-year-old baobab trees of the veld. Then, he had known them, because he had not learned yet the rules that will trap human minds in a Newtonian prison.

“Take the smallest particle apart and it opens into another dimension,” Alice whispered.

Alice’s voice snapped PW back to reality – which reality? – and he immediately stopped being able to see the zoo of magic particles that were floating right in front of him only moments ago.

His eyes went immediately to his watch. It was still showing six o’clock! His heart was pounding loudly in his ears. “I have a flight to catch tonight,” he said weakly. “I have to go now.”

Alice could sense the fierce conflict raging within PW.

He wanted to stay and be immersed in the magic that abounded here. He wanted more of this magic that he was discovering again at the age of 42, but the Newtonian prison of what we know as “real life” - family, wife, children and responsibility - conspired to keep him grounded instead of allowing him to take flight. Oh, how he wished he could do both - or everything! - in this existence that held multiple universes and infinite possibilities in its palms.

"Ah, but you have to choose, my dear Professor,” Alice said with a stony, expressionless face. “Because there are only two possibilities: yes or no."

About the Author: 
Jacqueline Koay is a mother of five. Educated at the University of Manchester and Oxford University, she now lives on a beach somewhere and writes, runs, cooks and dances.