Mirrors for the Blind

I dedicate this story to the many wonderful street artistes who, despite harassment, bring joy.

Listen well and attentively. We are about to enter the world of magic. Now in the world of magic it helps your understanding of things if you can believe in the impossible. As the White Queen said to Alice: "Why, I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast!

On with our story. A long time ago, a woodcarving knife came into my hands. What I was meant to do with it, I did not know, for I knew not how to carve. But, feeling myself driven by some mysterious force, I picked up a piece of wood, fixed my glasses on my nose the better to see, and - began to carve.

As the wood shavings gathered in the folds of my apron, I saw to my amazement that a little man was taking shape. My excitement grew. Carve carve carve. I went on like a man possessed. And then finally after many, many months, there appeared in a swirl of magical mist - me! Well, not exactly me, but a little me. The only problem was, he was completely lifeless. I was at a loss as to what to do, when all at once I remembered the expression: to breathe life into something.

I huffed and I puffed and blew out great gusts of air. Well blow me down - to use another blowing expression - if the lifeless wooden puppet did not begin to stir. First one leg twitched, then the other, then an arm, and so on up, till at last he was fully alive.

When I said I had made a replica of myself, that is not to deny the little fellow a distinct character of his own. I don't mind admitting it: my likeness was imbued with qualities that made me fairly green with envy. He was dapper, wearing a burgundy red cape rather in the style of a musketeer, with a top hat set at a rakish angle. You could see right away, what with his air of self-assurance and all, that he was a ladies' man. And yet there was more to this greying, bearded, moustached gentleman: there was depth.

On his lips played, not a sardonic smile, but a hint of whimsy that came from the way in which one corner of his mouth turned up, and the other down. The eyes - which only later I learned could be directed like laser beams to a purpose - in repose lent him a remote air as if he were on a journey somewhere inside himself.

"Hello. I'm King Sigurd."

"What!" I cried in astonishment. The little fellow had spoken.

"How do you do? I'm King Sigurd," he said.

"But- But I'm Sigurd," I said, for that is my name.

"Yes, yes. I know that. You are Sigurd, and I am King Sigurd."

"King Sigurd!" I was impressed. "So I am the friend of a real king?"

"Why don't you behave more like a king yourself? Hmm?"

"But I'm not a king," I protested.

"We are all kings - as you will learn in time," he added auspiciously.

Out of nowhere there appeared a beautiful crimson cape and tall black top hat which I donned.

"Now," said the little King Sigurd, making it sound like a royal decree, "hadn't we better learn to work together?"

"But Your Majesty, that will be no trouble at all."

"It's going to take more than just words. Practise, my lad, practise. I'm a marionette, and you will have to learn how to pull on the strings."

Then I saw it: he was suspended from, let me see, one, two, three... hmm, about fifteen strings. Without warning, he began to sing, and I bent to the task.

I love you whether I show it or not
I love you whether you know it or not
There are so many things I have to share inside my heart
Perhaps this is a good time to start.

It certainly was not easy. I must have bruised and dented his poor old majesty black and royal blue, and I really don't blame him for some extremely harsh outbursts of anger, and some choice expressions of abuse. But, in time, we became an accomplished showbiz duo, polishing our act on the streets of Europe.


What in heaven's name possessed me to make the next character, I shall never know. I can only assume that nature organises herself in such a way that things balance out. So, prepare to meet the king's opposite.

What emerged after much, much carving, was the most miserable looking person you can possibly imagine. He had one wooden leg, a mangled hand, and a hangdog expression.

As if he was not disadvantaged enough, my hands and my carving knife somehow contrived to put him in stocks too. I was considering whether or not to breathe life into him, when I was jolted by a voice close to my ear.

"Exactly right."

I whipped round to see a perfecdy calm King Sigurd looking on like a proud parent.

"Are you out of your mind? He's a basket case," I exaggerated.

"You are exaggerating," he said. “Now, please, shall we?"

He indicated the man's ear. With a heavy heart I bent forward and began to breathe life into him. At last, there it was, the wail of incredu1ity and dismay that announced his arrival on this planet.


The king beamed. "Welcome. Welcome Victimus Ultimus."

"What? W - What did you call him?" I stammered.

"Victimus Ultimus."

Whereupon the ultimate victim obliged us with cries of: "Woe is me. Nobody loves me. The end is nigh...."

One day, when the king was fast asleep in his deck chair, I told Victimus his problems were bogus.

"If you want, you can be rid of them just like that!" I snapped my fingers. "I suspect you like wallowing in them."

The better to make my point, I sang the following song:

Don't take his problems from him, don't
What is he left with if you do?
An awful lot of emptiness, emptiness
With nothing, nothing at all to do....

It's nothing less than a caress, it touches, stirs and moves you
To be diddled and duped and have your life made crappy
Now you can say: "I told you so, I told you so.
It's not very bright but you'd rather be right than happy.

I sang it a few times over, for emphasis, and bless my soul if his wooden leg didn't start tapping to the rhythm!

I whispered conspiratorially: "It's all right, you crafty old devil. I won't tell anyone. Or you'd lose your perks, wouldn't you? You are sheltered, clothed and fed-" Here he produced the most enormous burp, by way of proving my point. "-and when you cry you get sympathy and cuddles and sometimes even sweeties. But remember, Victimus," I warned in the sternest tone, "if you play the victim, you’ll become the victim. You'll be laughing on the other side of your face when you come up against someone who's not prepared to be suckered into playing your game. We are too soft on you."

I turned to King Sigurd, who was reclining in his deckchair. “Do you know something extraordinary? He actually enjoys hanging onto his problems."

"That is not extraordinary," said His Majesty. “It takes real courage to live one's life without problems."

“Hmm,” I muttered, turning that over in my mind. “Still, I can't shake off a presentiment of disaster. Something's coming, and it's not good..."


Later that day the three of us were watching the news on television, read by an over-made-up, vacuous, platinum blonde pretending to be half her age.

"I am Miss Quote, bringing you the news on Channel 13. In the north, there is exploitation. In the south, famine. In the east, corruption. In the west, hegemony.

"And now, closer to home, the Government has announced a tightening up of regulations pertaining to the issuing of licences for every conceivable activity. The Minister of Licences and Licensing said: 'Bureaucracy will prevail, no matter the cost. If anyone so much as breathes without a licence, we’ll clap him in irons.' Inspectors are at this very moment hunting down offenders..."

“And now, the weather forecast: every silver lining will have a dark cloud attached to it, so weh!"

Just then I heard a commotion outside, and my heart stopped. Who should come around the corner at that very moment? None other than Mr. Smother!

Victimus turned around to see who had arrived, and let out a choked gasp. "Aaarrrggghhh!"

This specimen had a countenance so terrifying that at the sight of him nursing mothers dried up, and birds collided in the sky. His head was misshapen, evidence of an instrument birth with complications. It was topped with mousy-coloured coir for hair, with a middle parting. Affixed haphazardly to this ill-wrought dome were cauliflower ears.

The eyes were deeply recessed, one of them bloodshot and half the size of the other. His nose, large as the prow of a war canoe, was blotched and blotted with carbuncles and warts. His thin-lipped mouth was so far turned down that the corners ran under his chin. Stuck with dried spittle to his lower lip was a cigarette butt that had become a permanent fixture. His neck - when he was not on the warpath - was drawn into his shoulders like that of a cowering turtle.

Mr. Smother was dressed in a grey striped double-breasted suit that he wore like a uniform, with ill-matching shirt and loud tie. His boots were made for stomping, they stomp all over you.

Like an extension of his right arm, he gripped in his hand a huge official stamp which he wielded like a bludgeon.

Now let me sing you a sad fact of this life:

One way or another
We come up against old Smother
The misbegotten product of his
Father and his mother

And here Smother himself joined in, banging the stamp down in time to the beat.

Stamp, stamp, all day long
Stamp, stamp, that's my song
Stamp, stamp, right or wrong
Stamp, stamp, Bing! Bang! Bong!

Victimus, when he had found his voice, managed to squeak: "Who- Who are you?"

"Smother! Mr. Smother! And if there is any joy around here, you know what I’ll do to it, don't you?"

"N- No," said Victimus.

"I'll smother it. And from now on, I will ask the questions. For a start, do you have all the necessary licences?"

"Licences for what?"

"Well, for one thing, a licence to sit in that contraption."

"1 didn't know I needed a licence to be in the stocks."

"You need a licence for everything."

"My goodness me, I- I thought I was safe here," stammered Victimus.

"You mung bean, you parasite! Nowhere is safe any more, now that we are clamping down on you and your type. My superior, the Minister of Licences and Licensing, the Honourable Mr. Flop Flaccid, gave fair warning to malingerers and he appointed me the scourge of you scavengers. Remember, from now on, no matter what you are doing, you need a licence to do it. And all the relevant forms have to have been filled in - in quintiplicate."

Victimus by now had been reduced to a limp, whimpering wreck. Though he had enjoyed wallowing in his misery before, this was too much.

Smother extended his turtle neck and his head popped like a periscope seeking the enemy. "And now, let us see that else we have here." His probing eyes searched left, then right, and with obvious glee fixed on a figure reclining in a deckchair; patently another malingerer.

"And what have we here?" he asked with treacly malice. "Would it be troubling you too much to stand in a queue, to fill in a form, huh? Well, speak up, you there dandy, in your finery. I am addressing you, sir."

From the way that Victimus was whimpering, I sensed that his world was crumbling. If Smother could talk to His Majesty like that, then surely this was the end. Or was it?

King Sigurd's arms moved lazily outwards in a full stretch. He yawned, and then in his own good time he got to his feet. What followed was most peculiar. He started running on the spot, the sort of trippling that a high jumper does before starting his run-up, and then before you knew it he was coming straight at Smother. He jumped high in the air, yelling at the same time a kind of war cry: "YiiiiiiYakkaTakkaBoooooom!" and landed with a thump in front of the tyrant. But it was His Majesty's eyes that turned Smother's belly to jelly: they glowed like fiery coals!

Completely overawed by King Sigurd, Smother backed down. "Well, ah, well, yes, ah yes. Lunch engagement with the Minister. Must be off." And with his tail between his legs, he scampered off.


Some time later, I sat carving again, King Sigurd was snoozing in his deckchair, Victimus was quietly moaning.

"I'm not a happy victim any more," he whimpered. "I wish I knew how to stand up to a bully like Mr. Smother."

I felt sorry for him, and in a way I blamed myself for his dilemma. By tolerating his pathetic strategy we had sheltered him from the harsh reality he would have encountered sooner or later.

"But what to do?" he asked in a thin voice. "What do you do when you don't know what to do?"

This sounded like a serious question from Victimus, so I put aside my carving. "I listen to my inner voice," I said. “A sort of guardian angel.”

"Do I have an inner voice?" he asked.


"I haven't heard it yet," he said.

"One day you will."

"Well, I hope my guardian angel will come to guide me soon," he said. "I would like to kick Mr. Smother's shins with my wooden leg. That would serve him right."

"I'm sure she will be along," I answered.

"What are you carving there?" he asked.

"I don't quite know. I just let my hands do it. Shall we blow some life into it and see what happens?"

I held the wood to Victimus' lips, and following my directions, he blew into one ear. King Sigurd came over and encouraged him. He huffed and puffed, then strangely, the light dimmed and suddenly his hands were empty. There was a whistling sound and whirling mist, and in flew a magic carpet - carrying a good witch!

“Yikes!” cried the startled Victimus, but King Sigurd was quick to reassure him.

“Now I must tell you something very important about witches,” he said. “Long, long ago, all witches were essentially good witches. The word ‘witch’ means: wise woman. Later on there were bad witches, but you can spot them a mile off because they fly about on broomsticks, while good witches fly about on magic carpets.”

Victimus sat there gaping, no longer afraid of this kind-looking woman with her penetrating blue-grey eyes.

"Are you- Are you my guardian angel by any chance?" he asked.

The good witch smiled at him. "No, but if you like I can stand in for her till she arrives. But only for a while, mind. "

"Oh yummy yummy yummy. You see, I just don't hear any inner voice yet," he said. “What is your name?”

"I am Yin-Yin the Wise."

“Could you help me stand up to that nasty bully, Mr. Smother?"

"The solution to your problems is close at hand. Let me tell you something." Yin-Yin the Wise began to sing the following song:

There was a man
He came into town
There was a man
He came into town

Yin-Yin pointed to King Sigurd, and continued singing.

They asked him why
Have you come to town?
They asked him why
Have you come to town?

King Sigurd replied: "To sell mirrors to the blind."

"What?" we all exclaimed.

"To sell mirrors to the blind." Here the king took up the refrain.

And when they look in those mirrors
The blind will learn to see
With a crown on your head you are bound to know
The royalty in thee.

Once you have seen who you really are
You always can be free.

At this point a piece of wood I had been working on passed through the alchemical mist, and emerged as a Magic Mirror, a beautiful golden mirror topped with a crown, and studded with jewels. It danced on its little shoes and opened its arms, as if wanting to embrace us.

Mirrors of gold
With jewels are showing us the truth
These mirrors of gold
With jewels show the truth.

"But how can the blind use the mirror if they can't see?" I asked.

"Not blind blind," explained King Sigurd, "but blind in the sense that they are unable to see they have an inner king. Or queen. But once you see your reflection in the Magic Mirror with a crown on top of your head, presto! You make the connection."

"And then what?" Victimus looked sceptical.

"Then what? Then what indeed!" boomed His Majesty. "Then, my dear Victimus, you will be impervious to Smother's bullying."

"Will it give me the courage to kick that misbegotten whatnot on the shins with my wooden leg?"

King Sigurd sighed. "If you like."

"Oh goody," he exclaimed excitedly.

"But I'm talking more of an inner revolution than an outer rebellion," he muttered into his beard. “Well now, the big moment is upon us, old chap. The metamorphosis is about to take place. Bring on the Magic Mirror so Victimus Ultimus can discover his inner king."

As he spoke, I noticed a nervous tick appear in the corner of Victimus' eye. "Wait," he cried, a quiver in his voice. And then to our surprise he started crying. "Oh boo hoo hoo. Boo boo boo."

"What is it, Victimus, what is it?" I asked. "Here you are on the very brink of the biggest change in your entire life, and you burst into tears."

"That’s just it," he sobbed. "Now I'm going to have to leave my beloved old stocks and the safety of the world I know. Boo hoo hoo."

I threw up my arms in exasperation and lamented:

He stood before the very door, the door to the promised land
Was poised to knock upon that door, boom boom
Yet faint of heart, away he went, away he went
He was you see not ready yet to bloom.

Don't take his problems from him, don't
What is he left with if you do?
An awful lot of emptiness, emptiness
With nothing, nothing at all to do...

But the good witch, Yin-Yin the Wise, showed more understanding. She put an arm around him. "Poor dear old Victimus. I know what you must be going through. It’s not easy, hmm?"

"Dear old stocky-wockies...."

I rolled my eyes to heaven. And yet, I thought, if I could believe in six impossible things, why not seven?

The king tried to reason with him. "You don't have to leave your - eh - 'stocky-wockies' as you call them. I told you, the way to find your inner king is to love yourself exactly as you are..."


At that very moment Mr. Smother was sitting under anaemic fluorescent lighting in his bleak office in a faceless, soulless government building, gloating upon his prospects.

"I’ll have them on the rack, I’ll turn the thumbscrews, I’ll boil them in oil! I know exactly what they are up to. And by alerting the Minister, I have most certainly secured a promotion.

"I said to him: 'Mr. Flaccid, we have to act now to stop this insurrection or we'll be staring Armageddon in the face before we know it. They are on the point of liberating Victimus' spirit. If we allow this to go through unchallenged, it will open the floodgates. The rank and file will be queuing up to take a peek at themselves in this magic mirror thing...”


Meanwhile, efforts to get Victimus to look in the Magic Mirror had continued unabated, but still without success.

"I am going to whizz around the sky once more, to make sure the coast is clear," volunteered Yin-Yin, sensing somehow that something was afoot. Off she went like a rocket on her magic carpet. Within minutes she was back, screeching to a halt before us. "Quick! Quick! Get on with it. They're on their way already. A whole army, it seems, and led by a very angry Smother."

As if things weren't bad enough already, Victimus chose that moment to freeze up. I suppose the tension was too much for him, and in my heart of hearts, I could not blame him.

"Victimus has tripped out," I said weakly.

King Sigurd stood in front of him and intoned like a druid invoking an incantation: "Victimus Ultimus, listen well. You are the Sun behind the Sun, the Moon behind the Moon. Now is the time for you to give recognition to your inner king."

"Your Majesty, he's not even hearing you," I said.

He ignored me, drew himself to his full, imperial height, and mustered every ounce of his energies: his eyes began to glow like hot coals, brighter and brighter till they achieved the quality of laser beams, which he directed at Victimus. The poor fellow jerked as if jolted by high-voltage current. He was fully present now.

King Sigurd ushered in the beautiful gold Magic Mirror studded with all its precious jewels, guided it to a point in front of Victimus, and said: "Victimus Ultimus, look into the Magic Mirror."

"No. No. I'm too sc- sc- scared to do it."

"You can do it, Victimus Ultimus," persisted His Majesty.

"This is for braver men than I. No. No. I cannot."

Yin-Yin moved in close, put an arm around him and firmly clasped his good hand. "Victimus, I'm here, supporting you. You are strong, you can do it."

"I'm really scared you know."

But I could hear that the tension in his voice had eased a fraction. I went round to the other side of him and squeezed his good foot. This seemed to reassure him further.

"All right," he said more firmly, "I'm ready. I’ll take the jump."

With an incisive turn of the head, he came face to face with himself in King Sigurd's Magic Mirror. Just then, the noise of tramping feet marching up the road reached us.

"Repeat after me," instructed King Sigurd, undaunted by the sound, "I am the Sun behind the Sun."

"I am the Sun behind the Sun," recited Victimus.

"I am the Moon behind the Moon."

"I am the Moon behind the Moon."

“Now tell the world what it is you see in the Magic Mirror.”

“I see- I see-”

“What, Victimus?” I cut in impatiently, the sounds of the marching feet growing ever louder. “What do you see?”

“I see- I see a Royal Victim!”

The relief all round was enormous and we burst into cheers. Victimus was now on the road to emancipation.

At that very moment Smother turned the corner and lunged forward, his henchmen coming after him. In a trice the Magic Mirror had run off on its little feet and disappeared in the shrubbery.

"Caught you in the act, didn't I," thundered Smother.

"Don't know what you're talking about," said His Majesty.

"Don't you, then? You have been performing the Ceremony of the Magic Mirror, haven't you?"

"What magic mirror? Can anyone see a magic mirror hereabouts?"

Smother decided to go for easier prey, and rounded on Victimus. He glowered threateningly at him and bellowed: "You there, worm! Now confess. You were involved in a ritual cult rite without a licence, presided over by a money-grabbing guru and a witch. Not so? You know that I can lock you up for this, and throw away the key, don't you?"

Victimus began to tremble, and I feared that the Ceremony of the Magic Mirror had not really taken hold. Yin-Yin leaned close and whispered in his ear: "Victimus, remember you are a royal victim now . You have the power to stand up to this bully. Go on, Victimus, you can do it."

Victimus collected himself and became infused with courage. At the same time a perplexed look crossed Smother's face. He could not believe what he was seeing. Like a volcano erupting through its crust, Victimus came into his power.

"Now you look here, you misbegotten misery," cried Victimus, "do you know who you are addressing? I am-" And he began to sing.

I am the Sun behind the Sun
I am the Sun
I am the Sun behind the Sun
I am the moon
I am the Moon behind the Moon
I am the Moon
I am the Moon behind the Moon
I am the Sun....

We joined in and a tingle crept up my spine. Seldom has victory tasted sweeter. Then Victimus held up his arms for us to be silent.

"Care to step closer, Mr. Smother? I have a little gift for you."

Smother went and stood right in front of him. "And where is this gift you speak of?" he enquired.

"Here!" roared Victimus, raising his wooden leg high and bringing it down hard on Smother's toes.

"Aauuuweeeeee!" cried Smother.

"Now don't you ever disturb me in my beloved old stocky-wockies, do you hear? If you do I'll grind you down finer than dust with this here pestle of mine."

"Yeah Victimus!" we all shouted.

While Victimus raised his arms in victory, Smother, completely deflated, winced in pain and slunk away with his tail between his legs.

And that is the end of our story.

"No, no, dear. It's just the beginning," called Yin-Yin.

"Indeed," concurred His Majesty. "Every ending is also a beginning. Now we embark on a long journey."

"What for?" I asked.

"So that we can give as many people as possible the opportunity to be transformed by the Magic Mirror."

"Wow, that will be exciting," I exclaimed. "Did you hear, Victimus?"


"Well what do you say to that? Are you coming along?"

"Yes. That is, as long as I can bring my beloved stocky-wockies, and all my problems if I want-"

"Of course, of course," King Sigurd reassured him.

"Where exactly are we going?" I asked.

"Nowhere," replied Yin-Yin.

"Nowhere? You talk in riddles. A journey to nowhere?"

"We are all of us on a journey to nowhere," said His Majesty with a playful look, and he began to sing:

We are moving
On a journey to nowhere
Taking it easy
Taking it slow
There is no hurry
Not even a worry
Nothing to carry
Let it all go.

The End