Thursday 5th April 2018

by sophie

I think about magic often, and what that word means to me.

I think that magic means that something occurs, and we do not need (or really want to find) evidence of how it occurs. Magic means that the emotional truth of the occurrence is enough.

Cambridge is a place where atheism can feel like the predominant religion. There are not many people who are outwardly religious, although they might be inside.

But every time I had an appointment to see the ear surgeon, a man would sit across from me on the bus, urgently crossing himself, clutching rosary beads. He was not an old man and not a very young one either. Maybe in his thirties, slightly overweight, wearing brown leather shoes, a black peacoat, and on some days, a blue collared shirt, which is how I noticed that his eyes were blue.

In other words, he looked perfectly ordinary. The only reason he stood out because his prayers were so fervently strong, and everyone else on the bus was so mindlessly in transit.

Every bus ride I took, he would take too, even though the appointments weren’t all at the same time. He would sit, mumbling to himself, crossing himself, praying as the sun streaked through the bus and people bumped and jostled around him.

I live next to a big, beautiful cemetery. The first time I wondered if he was a priest and he was going to a funeral to lead a service. I grew up with so little concept of religion, even as an adult I’m not sure if all the words I just said are the right ones for that sentence. But he never got off at the cemetery.

The third time I shared a bus with him, I decided that it must have been more than coincidence. I eyed the man on the bus, and followed him ten steps behind as he took the subway, in the same direction as me, from Harvard. I sat with him in the same train car, but not in the same row, so that I could peek at him in my periphery.

I expected him to get off at MGH with me, because where else could one go in such feverish worry if not a funeral or a hospital?

But he didn’t.

After I got better and no longer needed to go to the hospital every week, I often wondered who he was praying for. But I never asked him or even spoke a single word to him, although we made eye contact once. The eye contact was neither warm nor suspicious, it was simply weary.

I thought that he might have been a magical creature and when you see a magical creature at work you should not stop to question their magic. I thought he might have been praying for me.

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