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Image by Adrien Olichon
Mathemagic
The magic of patterns and numbers fascinates our young protagonist. A Fibonacci tale unravels.

Students of all grades sat cross legged on the carpet, a sea of jagged lines. I saw the teachers sitting in the back on plastic chairs. The older students joked and flirted. The young teens joked with more enthusiasm and tried to flirt with more courage. Us fifth graders added to the din of conversations, fiddled with strands of nylon from the carpet, fired spitballs, observed the degrees of facial and leg hair of the older boys and tried to ignore the stench of sweat hanging in the air—the fans were too small to provide comfort in a capacious hall with a high ceiling. I did all of these things to kill time. I was wondering if this talent contest could be half as much fun as the lesson on Fibonacci we had left midway. I like numbers and patterns.

 

The contest organizers send anchors to schools to pick four kids from each city to participate in the statewide competition. They were supposed to be here yesterday, so most of the students’ excitement had vanished, and what remained was fast evaporating in the balmy heat.

 

My eyes met the girl’s from seventh grade, who sat in the line next to ours. It had only four students of different age and size, their backs resting on the wall.

 

“Were you in the middle of art class?” I asked, pointing to the drawing book she held close to her chest like a magic tome. She looked cute despite her glasses that were two sizes small for her face and too-steady eyes. If only those eyes were on me. I crossed my arms to hide the sweat patch on the armpits of my white uniform—I could feel them growing.

 

“I’m going to draw a portrait,” she said and nodded at the marble platform that served as the stage.

The boy sitting beside her looked at me. “What are you staring at?”

 

I shrugged. I hated him but couldn’t do much since he was three grades my senior and at least twice my size. My friends tell me it’s no use liking an older girl who’s dating an even older guy. But I’m rather mature for my age. Everyone says so.

“Are you here as her cheerleader?”

He scoffed. “Kids. Always trying to be clever. I’m going to spin this notebook on my fingers. I can go all day. And night,” he chortled and elbowed the girl. I didn’t know what was so funny. Neither did she I suppose. Her eyes didn’t move. There was reluctant applause and mumbled cheers as two men, one in a bright orange T-shirt and the other in yellow, showing a flexing squirrel with the words “Always nuts”, strutted to the stage. Both had stupid smiles. We whispered chi chi chi in mock disgust. The sound took me back to Fibonacci. It was annoying to be in this corridor, more so to watch the anchors salute and bow to our rather reluctant welcome. The worst thing was seeing Portrait Girl smile at the duo and tuck her hair behind her ear.

“It’s so good to see you all here! We’re eager to see what you guys have in store for us. Let’s get going already! Unless you guys want to stay with us longer?”

I wanted to kill.

 

The first student walked up to the stage to muted applause. Plain face, dead eyes, crew cut hair, he sat with his back perpendicular to the chair.

“And how will you entertain us, young man?” The anchor turned the mic to the boy.

“I challenge you to make me laugh. I find nothing funny.”

The pathetic duo shared wide-eyed glances to our boisterous cheers and claps. “Seems like we have to earn our keep!”

 

Oh my god the kid wiped the floor with them. And just by sitting still. They tried a knock-knock joke, which earned mocking chuckles from the crowd, as well as miming and pranking each other. The tenth grader remained stoic. When they tried to tickle him, he slapped their hands away. The boy didn’t smile even to our adulation and celebration.

 

“Ok, we’re not on our game today. How about you stay on stage until the end as an entire hall of students watches you for the slightest hint of a smile?”

Stoic Guy gave a curt nod.

“All right then! Up next, we have an eighth grader.”

Notebook Boy tried to copy the anchors in his gait and on-stage behaviour. Even I laughed at how bad it was. The idiot took that as praise. I wondered if Portrait Girl had a thing for miserable guys. He sat on the chair next to Stoic Guy.

“I’m going to spin this notebook on my finger.”

The anchors chuckled. “I’m sure all of us here can do that, son.”

“My notebook only stops moving when I want it to. It’s magic.”

The echo of Oohs rang a bit too long, probably because of the high ceiling and the strange acoustics. Magic, humph.

 

We all watched his black notebook with undivided attention, looking for the slightest tip or topple. It spun like a basketball although he didn’t touch it like one. He also wore an unbearable smirk. He then waved at someone in the crowd, rubbed his eyes, and looked at the nails of his left hand to giggles and applause. Bloody showoff. Once things quieted down, I could hear the fans’ murmur fifty feet above. It seemed the notebook synchronized with the fans’ blades. I counted the seconds, starting from zero, and waited for him to fail.

 

“Well, I think we can bring the next student up here while we keep an eye on this notebook. Let’s keep it spinning!”

Some kids chuckled; some teachers made a show of laughter. Most others grunted. Portrait Girl’s undone shoelace and swinging ponytail chalked semi-circles around her head and feet.

“I’m going to draw your portrait.”

It seemed too drab now, but she received scattered applause as consolation, nevertheless. The anchors went rock-paper-scissors and the one in the “Always nuts” T-shirt won. He walked to stand in front of her chair next to Notebook Boy and copied the squirrel’s posture. I marveled at how no one had killed him yet.

 

Portrait Girl was drawing with her eyes fixed on the subject.

“All right. So as these two talented students go about their business, how about we get the next student up on stage?”

 

The sweltering afternoon heat and the minutes of silence and inactivity had subdued everyone’s energy and enthusiasm. A couple of coughs rang louder than the dull encouragement the crowd offered the young fourth grader.

 

“Come on, sing with me!”

No one was prepared for the injection of life. It took the crowd some moments to react to her performance. She wasn’t simply humored—this was genuine admiration for her singing and dancing acumen. Even Stoic Guy clapped to the beat of her song.

 

“She nachi like Fibonacci,” said a boy from our class. Although it was tongue in cheek, we all knew it was praise for her dance. It soon became a chorus. The teachers shushed with all their might. I was more pleased by how her multiple talents had formed a Fibonacci sequence on stage. It’s a wonderful world full of patterns.

 

The crowd’s newfound interest fizzled out when Song+Dance Girl began her third act. It didn’t help that it was a tired old number remixed more times than the girl’s years. Even her high, melodious voice couldn’t keep the silence at bay as it descended on the crowd heavier than wind from the fans.

 

Stoic Guy had gone back to being stoic. The notebook continued to spin. The pencil kept scribbling. Dance+Song Girl started a fourth song. All the while, Portrait Girl’s eyes didn’t move from the subject. My shorts were stuck to my thighs with the sweat. I wiped my head, looked up and closed my eyes. I wanted to feel something, a gust, a tiny miniature lick of wind.

 

I heard gasps and opened my eyes.

The ceiling was a little closer to me now. I hadn’t planned to participate in the talent exhibition.

There was the slightest draft on my head. The blades were rather noisy actually. They drowned the screams coming from down below and were also faster than the notebook. I felt hundreds of glances hit my rising body from all angles, yet Portrait Girl’s too-steady eyes wouldn’t budge. Dance+Song Girl, Notebook Boy, the other anchor, and even Stoic Guy, all watched me rise. Somehow the notebook continued to spin, the little girl still danced+sang, albeit with much less verve. I felt bad for her punctured enthusiasm, so I beatboxed to the song. The nuts anchor looked up at me. But Portrait Girl…

 

She is drawn to misery, right?

I could feel a lot more wind from the fan now. It looked small even this close. I clicked my fingers and Notebook Boy’s finger snapped. It was only right to maintain the Fibonacci series of talents, so I kept the notebook spinning. I don’t think anyone noticed. The wind dug into my face. I turned up my beatbox tempo. Dance+Song Girl’s energy went down in inverse proportion.

 

I looked at portrait girl one last time.

Finally.

It’s a wonderful world of patterns.

Pensive man

Chinmay did his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. His work has appeared in  Bluestem Magazine, Ginosko Literary Journal, Every Day Fiction and elsewhere. He has work forthcoming in NonBinary Review, and his translation has appeared in Anuvad (Translators' Association of India). He likes to add colour to the lives of those around him, and can often be found smiling or grumbling under a motorcycle helmet or behind a harmonica.  

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