Late. Late. Tim was always late. He hurtled up the stairs two-by-two; his canvas bag, which was stuffed with books, notepads and the chunkiest laptop known to man, was not making the task any easier. He would have taken one of the lifts if it wasn’t for the fact that all the students used all of the lifts all of the time, pretty much guaranteeing to make any trip slower than climbing the stairs with a Zimmer frame. And Tim had no time to lose. He had precisely two minutes to get to class on time. Two minutes which could determine whether his 2:1 would slide to a 2:2. You didn’t mess with Baker. Though it was technically against official uni policy, it was common unofficial knowledge that Pr. Baker marked students down for lack of attendance and tardiness. Two minutes, four floors. Doable. On Tim ran.
He reached the fourth floor, bolted down the hallway, and skidded to a halt in front of the classroom. A piece of paper was taped to the door.
SEMINAR TO BE RESCHEDULED AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE
Tim swore and gave the offending notice two bolt-upright middle fingers, the veins on his knuckles popping. He slouched down to the floor. His legs were actually quivering from the sudden strenuous physical exercise they were very much unused to. He wished he could crawl back into his warm, cosy bed. No use going home though, he had another class that afternoon. He pulled out his phone and texted Daryl.
Hey. Seminar cancelled. Have a few hours 2 kill. U about?
Yes. At Goat Herder.
Tim headed to the little artisan coffee shop down the street from his campus, and got caught in a heavy downpour of rain on the way. He had no umbrella on him. Obviously. It was turning out to be one of those days. He had slept through his alarm. Rushed to class in a blinding panic, which was all for nothing. And now he was getting soaked to the bone. When it rains, it most certainly pours.
He ran into the café and stood there catching his breath, dripping wet and adding to the puddle in the already muddy entranceway. He spotted Daryl sat at a corner table with his girlfriend Alysia and … Cassie! Tim inwardly groaned. What was she doing here? Cassie was a recent addition to their circle of friends. She had turned up to one of their nights out a few weekends ago – it was unclear who had invited her exactly – and had been tagging along ever since. She was a token kook who wouldn’t stop yapping on and on about crystals and chakras and positive thinking. Tim couldn’t fathom how the others tolerated her. Maybe it was all the free back massages she was only too happy to give. Tim bought himself a much-needed Americano and went over to their table.
‘Hey all,’ he said, his wet jeans squelching on the faux-leather chair.
The three of them were cupping their coffees in their hands looking glum.
‘Something wrong?’ he asked, hoping the couple weren’t having one of their epic rows. He most definitely wasn’t in the mood.
‘Salome messaged before you arrived,’ Daryl explained. ‘Her aunt died this morning.’
The news, while tragic, was not a massive surprise. Their friend Salome’s aunt had been diagnosed with breast cancer six months prior. The disease was already quite advanced when detected and the doctors were forthright in saying there was little that could be done at that stage. Salome, who was very close to her aunt, had naturally taken the news hard. Tim could empathise. His dad had fallen victim to cancer two years ago now. The hospital appointments, the useless doctors, the endless treatments. He had watched on helpless as his dad deteriorated to a husk of the man he once was, as his mum fell to pieces after dad finally succumbed to the illness. It was all still fresh in his mind. It still hurt.
‘Sorry to hear that,’ Tim said quietly.
Daryl put a reassuring hand on Tim’s wet shoulder. From all his mates, it was Daryl who had really helped him get through those bleak times most.
‘Poor Sal,’ Alysia said.
‘I blame the hospitals to be honest,’ Cassie said. ‘You only need to look at cancer patients to realise that chemotherapy is doing more harm than good. Who knows what chemicals and poisons they’re pumping into people really. They refuse to use natural remedies because they want to make their millions off their laboratory medicines.’
Tim could have thrown his steaming hot beverage straight at her.
‘Not right now Cass,’ Alysia said, giving Cassie a wide-eyed warning glance, the significance of which wasn’t lost on Tim. Did she think he couldn’t hold his own?
‘Well,’ Cassie said twirling a spoon in her latte, ‘hopefully Sal will at least be comforted to know her aunt is no longer in any pain, that she’s in a better place.’
‘What, the morgue?’ Tim spat.
Daryl squirmed in his seat. Alysia, always the diplomat, held her breath and said nothing.
‘No, of course I don’t mean the morgue,’ Cassie said, clearly taken aback. ‘I mean wherever it is we go after we pass … heaven or the afterlife or whatever you want to call it.’
‘What, you believe in heaven?’ Tim sneered.
‘Well, yeah, I do I guess. Maybe not in the conventional sense. But I do believe that when we pass, we carry on in some form, as like a bodiless energy.’
Tim would have usually bitten his tongue. He could just let the moment pass, let the subject slide, it wasn’t worth the aggravation. But Salome’s news had touched a nerve.
‘What absolute rubbish.’
‘It’s only an opinion,’ Cassie said with a wounded smile. ‘Why? What do you think happens when we die then?’
‘Nothing. We die. We’re buried. We rot in the ground.’
‘Jesus Tim!’ Alysia whispered, reclining her head backwards on her chair. Daryl stared fixedly into his empty mug, seemingly fascinated by the patterns of the remains of his coffee grounds.
‘Why are you being so dark and morbid?’ Cassie asked, clearly confused.
‘I’m not being dark and morbid. Our friend’s aunt has died and you’re spewing a load of superstitious new-age hippie bullshit. I’m just trying to steer the conversation back to the realms of reality.’
Tim glared at Cassie from across the table, silently daring her to argue the point further. Cassie didn’t take the bait however. Instead, she sat there looking embarrassed. This infuriated Tim even more.
‘You know what, you’re always going on about opening your mind and being spiritually enlightened, but you’re stuck in the dark ages, swallowing any story with the slightest suggestion of magic and miracles hook, line and sinker. What are you, five? Do you still believe in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy? Do I have to break it to you that the Easter Bunny’s not real?’
Tim knew he was being needlessly malicious. He knew Cassie had probably no idea that his dad had died from cancer; they had only known one another for a few weeks after all. But oh, it felt so good to rip her ludicrous worldview to shreds. He felt like a rabid wolf tearing through the meat and guts of a helpless hare, intoxicated by the salty tang of fresh blood on his tongue.
Cassie looked towards Daryl and Alysia, seeking some form of explanation or support on their faces, but the couple refused to meet her stare in the awkwardness of the moment.
Cassie had had enough.
She pushed her half-drunk mug forward, got up, and walked out of the café without a word.
To Extinguish & Ignite the Light of Magic is a short story told over 5 scenes in Tim’s life.
The concluding part will be posted next week.
Special massive thanks to the amazing Cynthia Tedy for her beautiful illustrations. Please check out more of Cynthia’s work on her website here.