A girl sneaked on stage from the side wings, hunching and making her body as small as she could, as if she didn't want to be noticed.
She put up three tea lights at the front of the stage and left again. She hadn't said anything, nor looked at the last people still in the hall, but they had seen her nonetheless.
Fingers pointed at the now empty stage and the lonely tea lights. An excited buzz grew among the crowd and people moved around restlessly, unsure if they should stay or not.
Some sat down again and others followed swiftly.
When he thought everyone had made their choice and had either sat down again or left the theatre, Rafi-Morris made his entrance on stage.
His steps were slow and calculated, and exactly the same size. He was a born entertainer, could feel just how unbearable his silent, unannounced presence had to be for the audience.
For a moment, he stood in the middle of the stage without moving at all, letting everyone greedily take in his figure.
The first time he had done it, it had felt as if he had sold his body to these miserly strangers.
From his higher position, he could see the uncomfortable curiosity sparkle in the eyes of his audience. For the first time this evening, the unsettling boy had their full attention.
“Bienvenue à l’encore,” he simply said. As with his English, it was difficult – if not impossible – to determine his accent.
He sounded as if he had spoken French his entire life and maybe he had. There was just no way of knowing, and that was precisely what Mr. Galloway wanted.
Gracefully he took the hat from his head and after a short bow that was unmistakably mocking, he through his hat in the air.
The audience followed it upwards with their eyes, and frowned when it didn’t come down.
Some people on the front row bended forward to try and check if there was a helper hidden up in the scaffolding. They didn’t see anything.
He hadn’t said anything after those first words and the majority of the visitors were too distracted by his hat trick to notice he slipped off the stage.
It was only when he walked past the front row that he regained the full attention of the spectators again. The people closest to the boy unconsciously yet collectively backed away.
They liked watching the freaks, but freaks shouldn’t come too close, become too real and human. Rafi-Morris despised them all.
Then he opened his mind, let it wander carefully around his audience.
His mind pushed against theirs, as if he walked past a row of lockers and let his key collide with the metal cases, let it bounce off of them, until he had found the right one.
She was around his age, maybe slightly older, and looked at him with clear, defiant eyes.
Rafi tilted his head while he examined her and then he climbed back on stage again, right in front of her seat. He didn’t say anything as he sat down cross-legged.
He made sure not to lose eye contact with her, not even when he picked up the nearest tealight, placed it on his hand and held it out in between them.
There was fascination on her face – one of Rafi’s favourite expressions – but she didn’t extend her hand to take the light from him.
In fact, she didn’t move at all, patiently waiting for what he had in store for her. Her grinned glance only wavered so she could look from his now lighted face to the tealight and back.
He already liked her better than most of his other involuntary volunteers.
The way the word left his lips, it didn’t sound much like a command, but the girl listened to him regardless. She fixed her stare permanently on the flickering flame.
Earlier he had bounced around his mental key on the different minds on the front row to test them, but now he aimed toward only hers.
Almost effortlessly he slipped into her thoughts, his eyes closed as hers spread open wider, glittering in the light they reflected.
Images of the last few hours danced in front of his mind’s eye and he saw himself, when he had walked by her to sell her souvenirs.
She had mostly remembered his charming smile under the tilted top hat, had forgotten the details of the rest of his outfit.
Her name was Evelyn, he discovered as he worked his way through her inner self. A thought popped up, unasked.
Her cat had died: a cross-breed that had quickly outgrown its basket in the second week of adopting, refused the new ones she had bought for it and preferred settling on her paperwork instead.
“Evelyn. That’s a beautiful name,” Rafi said, his eyes still closed.
If she reacted, then it wasn’t vocally.
“You are a dancer, are you not, dear Evelyn?”
Only Evelyn sat close enough to see how his eyes shifted behind his shut eyelids, as if they were locked in a dance themselves too.
She looked dazed at him as she tried to figure him out, until she realised she owed him and the rest of the audience an answer. She averted her eyes.
“Yes, I am,” she answered with a steady voice.
She was determined not to be surprised by his act.
There were so many people that claimed to be able to read minds; he or one of his friend had probably followed her while she was on her way to the theatre to get information on her.
The tickets weren’t sold on name for nothing after all.
“Oh, but I can read your mind,” Rafi-Morris said, tilting his head in amusement. Denial was everybody's first reaction, but he had decided that that fact was funny, not boring.
“I can do so much more than letting hats vanish. I can see what you're thinking, at any moment, anywhere, ever.
No, it's true, Evie – can I call you Evie? No? – it's true, Evelyn. I'm not boasting. I would never.”
'Twenty-seven,' she thought.
“Twenty-seven,” he repeated.
A red dress.
“A red dress, with laces and a little tie at the top. Cute, love, but challenge me.”
A vivid image of mashed potatoes in a sea of gravy. Tiny, soft carrots, that could be crushed with the tongue, and broccoli and Brussels sprouts, all covered in a thick sauce. A steak, only red in the innermost part, glistering with greasy fat.
“Are you trying to make me hungry, dearest Evelyn?”
'Open your eyes.'
And he opened them. The flame died, though he hadn’t blown it out and there wasn’t any drought in the theatre.
The boy let his eyes wander through the room, looked at what his performance had done to the spectators.
As usual, the majority was primarily confused, tried to figure out for themselves if all of what happened was just a prepared act,
or if he just said some random things, hoping the girl would be too nervous or scared to correct him.
He stood up in a fluent motion and with a few steps he was back at the centre of the stage. A content smile spread on his lips.
He had never been able to capture the entire room as his gift only worked one mind at a time, and thus his act didn’t belong on the main stage.
For a while now, he had been trying to come up with a complete, worthy act that would catch the attention of a full audience, but he really only did so because Mr. Galloway expected it of him.
Galloway thought his talents were lost in the encore, but Rafi-Morris himself was satisfied with the girl, that still looked puzzled.
“Merci pour votre attention,” he said, before bowing again, with his arms spread widely to the side. His hand opened mid-bow and caught, out of nowhere, his top hat.
In his left hand, he still held the died-out tealight. He handed it to Evelyn and added: “Oh, and Evelyn? I’m sorry about your cat. Bonne nuit.”
The crowd buzzed again with the earlier excitement, now mixed with confusion as the boy left the stage.
Some people stayed behind, hoping there would be another encore, preferably a less confusing one. But the tealights that remained on stage died out and no one came to collect them.
Finally, as everyone had left, the lone last visitor held one of them in his hands, examined it and then decided it was nothing more than a cheap piece of now useless rubbish.