Seeing the Wizard

By Doug Muder

Christchurch International was one of those midsized, managable airports that Tom rarely saw in the States. It was nothing like JFK, LAX, or Logan–or even Auckland, for that matter. He and Mary walked down the ramp into the gate area, went downstairs for the luggage, and then stood out on the curb to find a minivan-taxi that would take them to the hotel. The process took about twenty minutes, and would have taken considerably less if there hadn’t been so many pieces of luggage to identify.

The first driver they found quoted a price, which Mary accepted. As the trip had gone on, Mary had taken more and more control of their remaining cash, for which Tom was grateful, since he kept screwing up the kiwis-to-dollars conversion. It was the kind of calculation he ordinarily had no trouble with–you multiplied by .6 going one way and 1.6 going the other. But he kept forgetting which was which. Conveniently, it was exactly the same algorithm for converting kilometers to miles. (Or was it miles to kilometers?) He had had no trouble with it in Auckland, but those particular brain cells must have drowned somewhere off the beaches of the Tasman Sea. They were gone now, and Tom was content to give clerks the money they asked for. Anything more complicated he left to Mary.

Mary got into the van, while Tom stood outside watching the driver load their ever-increasing stack of bags into the back. The driver was one of those fifty-ish men who seemed to be everywhere in New Zealand, doing all the jobs that weren’t filled by college kids or foreigners–balding on top, whitening around the sides, carrying a bit of a tire around the waist. At first Tom had pegged them all as candidates for quadruple-bypass surgery, but he had yet to see one of them red-faced or out of breath, no matter how many steps they climbed or how many bags they tossed into the back of a van. A week before, on Mount Tongariro, Tom had met two of them on holiday, standing at the top of a steep ridge of black volcanic rock, nattering away as merrily as if they’d been walking their dogs in the town gardens, and maybe building up a thirst just perfect for a pint of Speight’s.

“What part of America have you come from?” asked the driver.

He must have noticed the tags on the bags, Tom thought. Or maybe not. Tom was getting used to the idea that he must have the stars-and-stripes tatooed across his forehead. He didn’t need to speak, and it didn’t seem to matter what he wore; everyone knew he was an American. “Boston,” Tom answered.

“Lovely city, from all I’ve heard.” Tossing in the last bag, the driver asked if Tom had been to Christchurch before, and then assured him that he would like it. It was, after all, a university town, like Boston. “It’s good you came down to see us here on the South Island,” he said. “So many Americans fly into Auckland and never make it this far. They only see the North, which is a pity, since we’ve got twice the land and only half the people. It’s a fine place to have a look around.”

“Up in Wellington,” Tom said, “there was a Maori girl who told us the story of the fish-hook necklaces she was selling. She said the South Island was Maui’s canoe, and he stood in it and fished up the North Island from the bottom of the ocean.” Tom remembered being amazed at how well this myth matched the geology. The North Island actually was the younger of the two, and, being volcanic, it had come up from the ocean floor.

The driver chuckled. “Down by Mount Cook they’ll tell you a better story than that one. You see, when the Sky Father married the Earth Mother, he’d been married before. Can’t recall who the first wife was supposed to be, or what happened to her, but there were a couple of sons from that marriage–big, powerful lads, about like you’d expect. Anyhow, they weren’t too keen on the idea of this second marriage, so they came down with this big canoe and started paddling around exploring–trying to dig up a little dirt on the Earth Mother, if you know what I mean. Well, by the time they arrived down here in the South Pacific, they’d made quite a nuisance of themselves–and who knows, maybe they’d found something out they shouldn’t–so the Earth Mother turns their canoe into the South Island. Then she whips up a wind from Antarctica and freezes the boys solid. And now they’re Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.”

Tom smiled, and was about to compliment the driver on his story, when Mary poked her head out the window and asked, “Are you two finished out there?”

There were no other passengers, and Tom sat beside Mary on the seat behind the driver. “I don’t know if I’ll every get used to this driving on the wrong side of the road,” Mary muttered, mostly to herself. The driver inquired about their plans, and Mary recited the remainder of their itinerary: staying two days in Christchurch, renting a car to drive to Mount Cook, moving on in a few days to Queenstown, and then down to Te Anu, where they’d start a three day trek of the Milford Track. Mary usually did not make a habit of telling strangers her plans, but she felt a certain amount of pride in having put the itinerary together, particularly in getting reservations on the Milford Track, which was limited to 40 people a day. The driver was appropriately approving, except in regard to Queenstown, which he said had changed a lot since the Japanese had started buying out the local businesses. “Strange people, the Japanese,” he said. “They want to see the world, but when they get there they only want to do business with other Japanese.”

There was a lull in the conversation, which the driver punctuated by announcing the name of this park or that garden. Tom’s mind was back in the driver’s Maori myth. He couldn’t quite imagine a New York cabbie regaling a passenger with an Indian story about the formation of Manhattan. Something about the geography in New Zealand seemed to demand a mythic explanation, he thought. This land was clearly not the work of the same God who had made Kansas, where Tom had grown up. The mountains were too high, the lakes were too deep, and the rain forests would occasionally creep to within two hour’s walk of the glaciers. It seemed infinitely old, and yet ephemeral at the same time. At the lodge in Tongariro, Tom had admired a wall-sized painting of a white-rock-and-water formation called “The Ice Terraces”. He had been about to insist on an itinerary change when he read the brass plaque more closely. The scene had been painted in the 1850s, and twenty years later a volcanic eruption had blown the terraces away. If there’s anything you want to see, he had thought, you’d better see it now.

“And of course you’ll be wanting to see the Wizard,” the driver was saying, jarring Tom out of his reverie. They were downtown now, and a huge steeple loomed in front of the van.

“The Wizard?”

“Honestly, Tom,” Mary said, “don’t you look at the guidebooks at all?” The driver and Mary tried to explain, and Tom tried to understand, but somehow his brain failed to digest. The Wizard, it seemed, was a bum or derelict of some sort–a famous one, if that made any sense. He didn’t seem to have a job or any money, and nobody knew where he lived, if indeed he had any regular residence. All anybody seemed to know about him was that every day at about one o’clock he came to Cathedral Square in some strange get-up and gave wild, rambling speeches. (There must be eight or ten people like this on Boston Common, Tom thought, but none of them ever became famous.) This had been going on for more than a dozen years, and Tom supposed that when you are that weird for that long, eventually people start to notice you. By now, the Wizard of Christchurch had become the South Island’s most unlikely tourist attraction. He was in all the guidebooks, and now everyone came to see him because, well, everyone came to see him.

“All right,” Tom said as the van turned down a road whose median was a strip of parkland along the Avon River, “I’ll bite. What makes him a Wizard?”

“He’s got a regular routine about that. Or as near to a regular routine as he ever gets. It seems he has a certificate signed by the Vice Chancellor of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and it proclaims him a wizard. And he says: There are two ways to look at this.” The driver’s voice had suddenly changed, and Tom had the bizarre thought that all regular residents of Christchurch must do a passably fair Wizard imitation. “When a Vice Chancellor of a university proclaims you a doctor, then you are a doctor. And when he proclaims you a lawyer, you are a lawyer. So if a Vice Chancellor has proclaimed me a Wizard, then I must be a Wizard.

“And the second way to look at it?”

Surely no one but a wizard could induce the vice chancellor of a major university to do something so ridiculous as to sign a paper proclaiming him a wizard.

Tom shook his head. “This is a whole island of comedians. You should get the canoe moving again and take your act all over the Pacific.”

“Glad to be of service,” said the driver, as the van pulled into the hotel lot. He and Tom unloaded the bags from the back of the van, and said their farewells.

“How exciting that you’ve come all the way from America,” said the hotel clerk, an attractive redheaded woman who might or might not have been a college student. “How long will you be staying with us?” In America “us” would have referred to the hotel, but after more than two weeks in country, Tom knew that here it referred to New Zealand. By now he had heard the same question many times from waitresses, museum guards, park rangers, and even random citizens waiting for a bus. At times it seemed as if all of New Zealand were a single establishment, with three and a half million proprietors.

“Two nights,” Mary answered, and the disappointed clerk was not satisfied until she had elicited another complete retelling of the itinerary. Her boyfriend, she reported, had walked the Milford Track in the spring, and his pictures were excellent.

Their room was on the third floor, facing the front of the hotel. Tom did what preliminary unpacking a two-day stay called for, while Mary changed out of her travelling clothes and got ready for the shower. Like Tom, she was barely thirty, and all the recent hiking had made her even leaner and tanner than she had been at home. He allowed himself the chauvinistic thought that she did not look at all like an MBA, whatever they were supposed to look like.

After she had disappeared into the bathroom, he started changing his clothes as well. Out the window he could see the road, with its hundred-yard median sandwiching the Avon. Low-angle rays from the late-afternoon sun glistened off the water. For a moment, Tom had the strange intuition that the glistening was in his eyes, and not on the water at all–that if he turned his head, the glistening would stay at the center of his field of vision. The wall would glisten, the bed, his hands, Mary. Some time, perhaps as much a minute, went by before Tom tested this theory and found it to be false. Moving his head was like shaking himself out of a dream, and he realized that he had been standing by the window mesmerized, shirt half off, wearing one shoe but not the other. “My son John,” he said to himself.

Dinner that night was at a restaurant near the University, one mentioned in two of Mary’s guidebooks. They ate with Don and Linda, a fiftyish couple from Phoenix that Tom and Mary had met during a tour of Parliament in Wellington a week before. Don was a banker of some sort, semi-retired and living quite well off of investments that he managed himself. Linda apparently spent a great deal of time by the pool. She was tan and quite thin, and her hair was a bit too blond to be believable. She had apparently mastered the art of pleasant conversation, and admirably filled the role of a businessman’s wife–she listened attentively when her husband spoke, but led the conversation herself when he seemed distracted. And she always smiled, whatever she was saying or listening to. Tom found it hard to imagine her giving offense. Both she and her husband wore clothes which were casual, but expensive, as if they had just come from golfing at an exclusive club.

Don and Linda were not much like the people that Tom and Mary usually went out with, but two weeks on the North Island had taught them the importance of finding dinner companions. Away from the night life of Auckland, New Zealand’s restaurants tended to consider themselves a full evening’s entertainment. Service was considerate but slow, and the better restaurants served many well-spaced courses.

And it was not as if they had nothing in common–Don and Mary could discuss money. The couples had met initially because Don had somehow conjured up a Wall Street Journal, which Mary had not seen since the layover in San Francisco. He had at first been condescending, but when Mary turned out to know what she was talking about he had been charmed. This dinner was their third meeting, and they quickly fell back into a running argument about local business opportunities.

“Can you imagine bringing Ben & Jerry’s in here?” Mary said over the appetizer. She counted supporting factors on her fingers. “They have a great local dairy industry, so you wouldn’t have to import any raw materials; they don’t have premium ice cream; one of the local brands calls itself ‘American’, so you know that American ice cream has a cachet here. Did you stop at Taupo? Major lakeside resort town, and you can’t get a really good dish of ice cream. I tell you, whoever buys the rights to franchise Ben & Jerry’s here will clean up.”

Don shook his head. “You don’t want to be in business here. The taxes are terrible and the regulations are worse. The whole system is so inefficient. Typical socialist country, the government is into everything. And if the government isn’t into something, the people complain about it. Have you been reading the papers here? Know what the big political controversy is now?”

Tom dimly remembered seeing headlines at newstands. “Something about the health system,” he said.

“It sure is something about the health system,” Don laughed. “You know what it’s about? Copayments. The government has been providing medical care free here for years, and finally some genius in Wellington has figured out how grossly inefficient that is. So they want to institute copayments, trivial little copayments, so that folks don’t run to the emergency room every time their kid skins his knee. And the people are in an uproar about it. I saw a member of Parliament on TV claiming that instead of paying his $15 medical bill he was going to go to jail on principle. Can you imagine it? He’s not going to pay his bill–on principle!”

“They must have different principles here,” Tom suggested.

“They must. And whatever those principles are, they aren’t good for the businessman, I’ll tell you that. You really don’t want to start a business here.”

Mary was about to answer, but Tom sensed that the evening might proceed more smoothly if she didn’t. “Mary does this wherever we go,” he said, beating her to the punch. “If she likes a place she starts imagining ways to open a business. It’s a way to fantasize about staying here, rather than having to go home in a couple weeks.”

He shifted his eyes to Linda as he finished, and she took the cue. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” she said before Don could start talking. “Why, if we could make a living in Coromandel, I don’t think we’d ever go home, would we Don?”

“Well, um,” Don sputtered a little, realizing that the speech he had been building in his head was becoming useless. “If we did, we’d be sure to keep our money and our citizenship in America. The taxes back home are bad enough.”

The waitress conveniently arrived with soup. She needed to check with each person to make sure she was serving the right soup, and having gotten that far into the conversation, she inquired whether their vacations were going well. (Another proprietor, Tom thought.) When all assured her they were having an excellent time, she nodded and seemed quite satisfied.

“Have you been to see the Wizard yet?” she asked.

Mary said “no” just as Linda said “yes”, which made them all laugh. “We saw him today,” Linda explained. “But these two just arrived this afternoon.”

“See him while you’re here,” the waitress said to Mary, “because you’ll not see him anywhere else.” Having had her say, she then retired to the kitchen, from which, in the fullness of time, further courses would undoubtedly emerge.

“Can’t say I understand what all the fuss is about,” Don commented. “This man puts on a funny robe, and a helmet with an antenna on it. He stands up on a step ladder, and starts to ramble about God knows what all. Then at the end he has all the children come up and he gives them little orange round stickers that say something-or-other. I never got a good look at them. But as for the rest of his nonsense, it didn’t even stick in my head. He just–“

“He said he was out of control,” Linda interrupted, seeming to startle herself as much as anyone else. Her voice was flat, and she was not smiling.

“What?” Tom asked.

“It was like he was talking just to me. He said that … , well he said,” and suddenly her voice picked up a timbre remarkably like that of the van driver, when he had been quoting the Wizard “I am out of control, and no one can get me back under control.” She spoke slowly, like a person trying to explain a concept that is too simple to blurt out all at once. “If I were a bad man, then the police could get me back under control. But in fact I am a very good man. If I were a crazy man, then there are doctors and hospitals that could get me back under control. But actually I am quite sane. And so I continue to be out of control, and no one can stop me.

Her eyes were focused on the far wall. Don sat slowly opening and closing his mouth, as if he expected words to start coming out at any moment. “What do you think he meant by that?” Tom asked.

She continued looking at the wall. “I think he meant that everything we want controls us. We want airplane tickets and swimming pools and country clubs and people to be with. And so we have to play the parts that make those things possible, and every little thing we do is under control. But a man like him, who doesn’t have any money or any family or any place to live–he’s free in a way we never can be.”

Don cleared his throat. “Well, that’s a bunch of nonsense,” he said. “If he decides he wants to eat at this restaurant, he can’t, because he doesn’t have any money. But we’re Americans, and we can say what we want, and go where we want, and buy whatever we feel like. And that makes us the free-est people in the world.”

Linda looked down from the wall, focused her eyes on her husband, and smiled. “Well of course it does, dear. He’s just a silly little man who says whatever comes into his head. It doesn’t mean anything at all.”

“That’s what I was saying,” Don said.

In the morning Tom and Mary took the bus in to Cathedral Square and had breakfast at a bakery shop. Tom enjoyed walking aimlessly through the streets of foreign cities, an enjoyment that Mary either shared or indulged, according to her mood. He especially liked city centers during business hours, when he could see what kind of people worked there, how they dressed, where they seemed to be going and why. Mary enjoyed shopping for things that were cheaper here than they were at home, an enjoyment that Tom either shared or indulged, according to his mood. This particular morning in Christchurch was a compromise–when Mary tired of walking and watching, she would lead Tom into a store.

It was about 11:30 when Tom became bored with shopping. They were in a large, duty-free shop near the Cathedral when it occurred to Tom that he had bought close to a lifetime’s supply of Merino wool sweaters on the North Island, and that nothing else here really interested him. He recalled a newstand down the block, and told Mary to look for him there.

The day was clear and warm, but not hot. Tom wondered if this was unusual for February, which was, after all, this hemisphere’s version of August. The other pedestrians looked appropriately dressed for the temperature, which led him to guess that it was probably normal. The newstand was a little bigger than he had remembered, about the size he would expect in an American airport, minus the souvenir section. Among the books he saw a few photo collections intended for tourists, but otherwise the store carried the same mysteries, romances, and best-sellers that he remembered from the States. He picked up copies of Time and The Economist from the magazine rack.

The man behind the counter was another of those plump, balding fifty-year-olds. “Catching up on the news back in America?” he asked.

Tom nodded. Then he remembered to ask a question he had been wondering about off and on for a week. “Why are there so few New Zealand magazines?”

The man shrugged. “Small market,” he said. “And the new technology puts its thumb on the scale as well. Not long ago if you wanted a Time you had to pay its airfare from Los Angeles. Now they just zap the bits over by satellite and print them here. Local magazines haven’t an advantage anymore.” He scooped the magazines into a paper bag and handed them to Tom. “And of course the television’s no different. Not that I mind keeping up with America and all, but I wish the government would take a hand. If we lose our culture, well, why would all you tourists come here? Might as well stay back in California, hadn’t you? They’ve got mountains and beaches there, I hear.”

Tom shook his head. “Not like you do.”

The man smiled and nodded as he handed Tom his change. “Whether that’s true or not, I thank you for saying it. A man gets a little dismal on a day when there aren’t many customers.”

As Tom turned to leave, Mary came quickly through the door. “Tom, do you have the camera?” she asked.

He didn’t. It wasn’t in Mary’s canvass bag, or in Tom’s backpack. A quick conference revealed that neither of them remembered taking it out of the leather camera bag, or seeing the camera bag at breakfast. “It must be back at the hotel,” Tom concluded.

“Well, how are we going to get pictures of the Wizard, then?”

By mutual instinct they left the shop and started walking quickly toward the Square as they discussed the situation. Buying a second camera was considered and rejected–cameras were more expensive here than at home. By the time they reached the bus stop, Tom had a plan to offer: He would catch the bus back to the hotel, get the camera and meet her back here in time for the Wizard’s performance.

“Do you think you’ll get back in time?”

“If the bus comes soon enough.”

They paced nervously around the bus stop. Cathedral Square was named, just as Christchurch itself was named, after the old Anglican cathedral that dominated the square. Tom tried to examine the architecture, but it seemed incongruous to invoke his aesthetic sensibilities while he fretted about a bus.

The bus came in five minutes, which seemed to leave enough time. Mary thanked him for being such a good sport, and gave him a peck on the cheek as he turned to get on. He sat behind the driver, and as they moved into traffic he asked how often the buses came on this route.

“Every half hour,” the driver answered.

Tom tried and failed to look at the scenery. At the stops he mentally commanded the passengers to move faster, though he felt a little guilty about one old woman, who already seemed to be moving as fast as she could. At the right stop, he was the first one off. He jogged over to the hotel, then ran up the stairs rather than wait for the elevator.

The camera bag was sitting on the chair next to the television. He dropped his backpack, threw the bag’s leather strap over his shoulder, and headed back the way he had come. He got to the hotel doorway just in time to see the bus back to the Square pulling away from the curb.


Tom took two or three deep breaths and tried to think. Outrunning the bus to the next stop was out of the question. He walked quickly over to the stop and read the sign, hoping to discover a second downtown line that used the same stop, but was disappointed. He looked around to find any likely place to catch a cab. Seeing none, he estimated how long it would take to go back to the hotel, call for a cab, and be picked up. He didn’t like what he came up with.

Tom was sure it was less than two miles, maybe only one and a half. “No sense stalling,” he said out loud. “You know what the answer is.” He went down to the path beside the Avon, pressed the camera bag to his hip and started to run. Two weeks of hiking had done good things for his wind, he noticed with some satisfaction. He dodged the occasional casual walker without looking at them, and checked his watch about once a minute. This just might work, he thought.

“Hey, America. Slow down.”

Much to his own amazement, Tom stopped running. He had lived the last ten years in Boston and Chicago, and if he had learned anything there, it was that you don’t stop when a stranger calls out to you from behind. And yet, there he stood, looking back down the path. In the second or two that it took him to pick out his caller, Tom was struck by how unnaturally quiet it seemed here, so close to the center of the city. The Avon sloshed against its banks, the wind rustled the trees, and a few downstream ducks quacked their duckish amenities.

“Such speed. You must be a runner.” The man coming up the path behind Tom was wearing a plain white T-shirt, blue gym shorts, and no shoes. He had a black beard, unruly black hair with flecks of grey, and long white bony legs. Over his left shoulder he carried a green garbage bag. Tom thought of those aging hippies he occasionally saw in Harvard Square–citizens of the Sixties left to wander the decades like refugees. Tom figured that the bag was probably full of newly-collected litter, or perhaps Coke bottles he had picked up for the deposit. Already this social encounter seemed disagreeable, and Tom aimed to close it off as soon as possible.

“I’m sorry, but I have to run ahead now so that I can see the Wizard.”

The man threw back his head and laughed. He had a big, booming laugh that was considerably louder than the sloshing, rustling, or quacking. “Nobody gets to see the Wizard,” he said, doing a recognizably good imitation of the Doorman of Oz. “Not even I get to see the Wizard.” He walked past Tom–who still had not started moving again–without changing his pace. “Well, come on then,” he said, looking back. “Though I don’t imagine you’ll miss him. The Wizard tends to ramble on a bit. You’ll probably be bored before he’s finished.”

Tom jogged to catch up, and then (again to his amazement) he matched his pace to the barefoot man’s. They walked together in silence for several minutes. Tom watched the ground squirrels dash back and forth across the path in front of them. He listened to birds he couldn’t identify as they called from tree to tree.

“You must forgive us for being the way we are,” the man said. Tom wondered if this “us” was the royal “us”, or if he was perhaps referring to something larger than his personal situation. After another minute he continued. “It’s the Land that does it to us. You can’t quite imagine what the Land was like, back a thousand years or so when the Maoris found it. No mammals at all; not one. No cats, no mice. No wolves, no little pigs. No lions, no tigers, no bears. Do you remember what God said to Cain after the murder? ‘Thy brother’s blood cries out to Heaven.’ Well, imagine this Land a thousand years ago, without a single drop of mammal blood crying out to Heaven. Imagine the stillness of it.”

Tom felt an odd combination of peace and terror. Clearly he was out for a walk in the park with a lunatic, discussing murder and mammal blood. It was obvious that the only prudent thing to do would be to run screaming. And yet, it was also obvious to him that he would not, for whatever reason, break stride. Would-not/could-not, the difference seemed academic. Tom was certain that he would continue to walk and listen. And certainty, he realized (as if he had always understood this) was the only kind of peace he had ever known. Certainty, not stillness. Without intending to do anything but figure out a means of escape, Tom found himself wondering what it must have been like, this stillness of the Land. He imagined living his entire life next to a siren, taking its high-pitched whine for granted, learning to forget about it. And then one day having it shut off, just like that. That’s what the stillness would have felt like, he thought.

“An entire island of nothing but birds. Birds filling every last ecological niche. Absurd, inefficient birds, most of them. Like the moas–ten feet tall and stupid as moose. Extinct now–the Maoris made short work of them. They probably didn’t even run. Probably didn’t know anything could hurt them.” The path turned at a gentle bend in the river. A new flock of ducks came into view, and began to swim toward them in expectation of begging some food. “But it changed them in the end, you know. The Land had to give up a lot of birds, but it got the Maoris in return. It bewitched them, it entranced them. They became its people.

“It was different when the English came, with their sheep and dogs and rabbits. It took much longer for the Land to work its magic. Maybe the Maoris had weakened it, or maybe the English were just stronger. But it got them too, in the end. The Land wove its own special spell, designed just for the English: ‘Let your sheep and cattle roam in the tall grass,’ it said. ‘Sell the butter, sell the wool. No one has to get hurt. Plant the trees and gardens you remember from home, but plant twice as many of them and I’ll make them taller, stronger, and more beautiful than they ever were. Plant some barley and brew a good beer. Go walk in the mountains and breathe the clean air. Take care of your poor. Build hospitals for anyone who’s sick, and don’t ask them for money.’ That’s what the Land sung to the English.”

The median had widened out to a larger public garden, with many varieties and colors of flowers. The birdsong here was not quite so loud as the sound of traffic, but it was somehow easier to hear. Tom remembered a trip he and Mary had taken to the coast of Maine, back at a time when they barely knew each other. They had sat on a rock and talked in little more than whispers, but somehow those whispers had stood out above the crashing waves.

“Horribly inefficient way to live,” the man said. He took a piece of sugar cookie from somewhere (his clothes seemed to have no pockets), and tossed it toward a committee of five or six ducks. They splashed and quacked loudly as each tried to grab it away from the others.

“So now we have a new wave of conquerors. Japanese businessmen, American lawyers, shopkeepers from Hong Kong and Singapore. Focused people, hard working, salt of the earth. They don’t waste their time talking to strangers in the park, or having a good laugh over afternoon tea. No one knows whether the Land can work its magic on them. The Land is weaker now, and people come and go so quickly.”

They turned off the sidewalk and came to a secluded bench. The man set his garbage bag down and began to rummage through it. “The Land’s not strong enough to change you all. But occasionally it catches the eye of one or two of you. It picks you out, sings its song, makes its offer. What it will do with you, no one can say.” He turned away from the garbage bag and locked his eyes on Tom’s. “I will let you go now,” he said. “I have an appointment of my own to get to, and I must get ready.”

In later years, whenever Tom told this story to children (he seldom told it to anyone else), they always knew what was in the bag. “It’s his wizard’s costume,” Mary’s seven-year-old niece had said. And so it was: the white robe with rainbow trim on the hem and cuffs, the white pith helmet with its telescoping antenna. And yet, Tom himself had not suspected until that very moment. “You’re the Wizard,” he said with amazement.

“Of course not,” said the Wizard as his T-shirt and gym shorts disappeared under the robe. “I couldn’t be the Wizard any more than I could be Santa Claus. The Wizard isn’t a person, the Wizard is a visitation. A half hour ago you had never seen me, but you’ve been listening to the Wizard ever since you arrived in Christchurch.”

None of this made much sense to Tom, but he was awed by the sense of dignity and power that the robe and helmet had brought to the man. He no longer looked like a lowlife lunatic. He looked … well, he looked like a famous lunatic now, a lunatic who had been written up in every one of Mary’s guidebooks. The multi-colored horizontal stripes looked preternaturally bright, as did the gleam in his eyes.

“It’s not that I am the Wizard, it’s that I can be the Wizard. And so can anyone else. In fact …” He put a hand on each of Tom’s shoulders and stared into a spot on his chest. “In fact, why don’t you be the Wizard for a while?”

“Me? Get into a costume and make a speech in Cathedral Square?”

The Wizard laughed. “No, no, no. That would be the Wizard doing his job, working a crowd. You would be the Wizard on vacation–wandering the city, listening to the flowers, talking to the trees, gathering up a little of the magic of the Land.”

“And the crowd?”

The Wizard patted Tom on his chest, over his heart. “Don’t worry about them, your Wizardship. I’ll cover for you today.”

And with that, the man in the white, rainbow-trimmed robe was gone. Tom did not recall seeing him walk away, but neither did he recall seeing him pop out of existence or vanish into a column of light like Kirk or Picard. Rather, it reminded him of times when he had daydreamed in a meeting, only to snap suddenly back to attention and realize that the overhead projector was off now, and he was staring at a white screen. This time he was staring at a bend in the river. Several dozen ducks were eyeing him, waiting for him to pull a bag of bread out of the ether.

“Tough luck,” he said, “I don’t have anything but a ca–” And then he realized that the camera bag was gone. He remembered leaving the hotel with it; he did not remember putting it down. The thought that Mary would be upset passed through his mind, but like a bird over the ocean, the thought found no place to light, and soon glided away.

He got up and began to walk, though not towards any destination he knew of. He passed a square of open-air merchants selling painted T-shirts, Maori bone carvings, and pictures made of stained glass. He came to the University and saw grey stone buildings with winged-monkey gargoyles. It reminded him of the University of Chicago, and he knew somehow that they must both be imitations of Oxford, which he had never seen. The quadrangles were full of people eating lunch or sunning themselves. In one a band was playing Dixieland jazz. In another a procession of people in medieval costumes went past to promote an upcoming festival. Some clowned, some juggled. The highlight of the procession was a woman on stilts, wearing a floor-length gown that made her look nearly ten feet tall. In her hands she held wooden paddles connected to puppet strings. The strings led to a jester dressed as a puppet, who walked in front of her. In his hands he held wooden paddles connected to the strings of a two-foot-high puppet that he made walk in front of him.

Beyond the University was the city’s largest, oldest park. The area near the entrance contained European trees of gargantuan proportions. Tom wondered if they were as old as the city itself, and marvelled at the founders, whose first acts must have been to survey a park and plant the trees of home. He touched the rough bark of one tree, and then another. Each evoked in his mind images of people who had planted or climbed or sat in the shade of the branches.

He passed a museum and came to a place of younger vegetation. The trees and bushes were of all types now–Japanese, Indonesian, African. Some were labelled for the student, or for the home gardener looking for something just exotic enough to wake up that predictable little corner. His imagination peopled the scene far beyond the occasional stroller or tourist. He saw lovers on a secluded bench, an ancient banyon full of climbing children, a row of bushes with a gap at the end just perfect for a ten-year-old boy to enter into a hidden world, without losing sight of the world he had left.

The rose gardens were full of people with Japanese cameras and large zoom lenses, but Tom hardly noticed them. The roses were of all imaginable colors, and brighter than he had thought possible. Tom squinted and wiped the perspiration from his eyes three times before he finally gave in to his perception: Each rose had a halo around it, like the full moon in humid August, or a streetlight on a foggy night. The halos extended about an inch in every direction, and were just faintly tinted with the color of the blossom. As Tom walked from bush to bush, he felt the bittersweetness of knowing that he had never seen this before, and wondering if he would ever see it again.

After the rose gardens Tom just walked. He walked very fast and listened to the wind in his ears. The wind had brought the Maoris. The wind had frozen the sons of the Sky God. It knew all the stories. And for a while it seemed as if Tom could almost hear them, the way that he had almost been able to make out what his parents were saying when they talked around the kitchen table late at night. From his bed he had heard the murmur and an occasional laugh, but the words became clear only after he started to dream them, and in the morning he could never remember what they had been.

He walked on grass, on sidewalk, on riverbank. And when it occurred to him to look up, he saw the hotel. He climbed the incline from the Avon. A bus pulled up from the direction of the city center, and a number of people got off.

“There you are,” Mary said with some exasperation. “I couldn’t imagine where you had gotten to.”

Calmly, as if he were watching from a seat somewhere in the balcony, Tom recalled the situation: He had left Mary in Cathedral Square, gone off to find the camera, and vanished like an inconvenient witness in a gangster film. Ordinarily he would expect her to be relieved and angry. But in fact she looked dazed.

“Did you see the Wizard?” he asked.

She nodded. The bus had moved on and they began crossing the street. “It’s so odd. I can’t remember what he talked about. He went from this subject to that one, and I remember people laughed at some of it. But then near the end he got off his little step ladder and came into the crowd. He walked right up to me, said something, and patted my shoulder. But I don’t know what he said. All I could think was ‘When is Tom going to get here with the camera?'”

And then they both noticed. The camera bag was hanging from Mary’s shoulder as if it had always been there. She stared at it wordlessly as they walked into the hotel, and then she began to laugh. “You poor man. No wonder you couldn’t go back to the hotel and get the camera. I had the camera the whole time. I can’t believe it!” The back of the elevator was mirrored, and she stared at the bag’s reflection as if she expected it not to be there. Then she turned and stood very close to Tom, looking up into his eyes. “I’m too young to be senile. You don’t think I’m senile, do you?”

Her eyes were still the same powder blue color that he remembered from their first date. But this time he saw something else there as well: a faint blue circle of light around each eye, like the halos of the roses. “No, I don’t think you’re senile,” he laughed, and hugged her close. He really did cover for me, Tom thought.

When the elevator stopped she pulled back a little, and looked at his chest. “Wait a minute, where did this come from?” On Tom’s chest was a round orange sticker that said “I can’t help it, the Wizard put a spell on me.”

“Oh, that,” Tom said as he tried to think of an answer. “Some old man in the park gave it to me as a souvenir.”

“You and these strangers,” she said. “I swear you’re going native on me. Just don’t talk to any more of them when we get back home, OK?”

Back in the room the guidebooks were piled on the bed. Mary went into the bathroom and Tom went to the window. He looked down on the flowerbeds planted in front of the hotel, and at the Avon glistening in the afternoon sun. The trees along the river waved in the wind, soundless behind the glass. Tom remembered his father waving from inside his sealed car as he drove to work on summer mornings.

Tomorrow they would drive to Mount Cook, the larger of those frozen sons of Heaven. And then to the Milford Track, which the guidebook described as one of the most beautiful walks in the world. In his mind Tom could see it, as if he were a bird at treetop level. He could see the river, the rain forest, the mountains, and the waterfalls. Did a waterfall, he wondered, have a halo as well? Did mountains? Did glaciers? Where did they come from? Why had he never seen them before?

And how, exactly, was an American like him going to go about gathering up the magic of this Land? What did it even mean? And what on Earth would he do with it, or it with him? He wondered that most of all.

August, 1995