In Rormon’s becak called `Ming’, we roamed slowly through the streets and alleys. We visited painters and batik craftsmen; we became a little bit known so that people greeted us as we drifted by.

‘Are you interested in magic?’ a man asked us.

We were, of course, more and more interested.

He told us to go to the old, ruined palace, Taman Sari and, anywhere in that area, ask for Yamto Magic. `Seeing is believing’, he said, and almost as an afterthought: `Take along some nails and drawing pins, razor blade, perhaps an electric light bulb’.

We had a good idea of what these were for. David shopped for them carefully, lingering over different kinds of tacks. He bought a light bulb. ‘One hundred watts? Seventy-five watts?’ the shopman asked and quite seriously David said: `That sounds a bit too strong. Have you a twenty-five?’

Near Taman Sari, we asked for Yamto Magic and sure enough, he was well known. The way went round and about, through alleys which became too narrow even for a becak and we walked on through the kampung, all three of us, for Rormon was curious too. It had begun to rain. Yamto’s house was a small one, standing higher than the houses round about, built on a part of the old ruins. The man who had sent us was there. `Seeing is believing’, he said again.

Yamto Magic was a man in his thirties with close-cropped hair, and a small moustache. He was small, wiry and active.

First of all, we drank black coffee from glasses and the two men talked to us of magic in general. For years, Yamto had been the leader of a group of ritualistic dancers who travelled the villages, performing rites to keep away sickness and disease. They told us how silat fighters could knock down walls, just by the power of thought, how soldiers could deflect bullets.

Then after a small fee had been arranged, Yamto Magic demonstrated. `There are tricks’, he said `and there is magic. First, the trick’. He poked his tongue far out and David sprinkled a few drawing pins on it. He munched with an awful crunching sound then took up a glass of water, swilled and swallowed. David was invited to inspect the inside of his mouth – so was I, but I declined – and he reported that the drawing pins were still there, hidden around the edges. ‘Now, the magic.’ Yamto swilled again and swallowed. David inspected again and this time in his mouth there was nothing.

`They go right through?’ David said, rather indelicately. `No’, said Yamto, `they disappear’.

He showed us again, with razor blades (though I assured him it was not necessary) and again with tacks (though I protested). Thank goodness, the electric light bulb was forgotten. Yamto was in the swing of things now. He took up two bricks, had David inspect them, then leapt in the air and smashed them on his cropped head. David had to inspect the head; it was undamaged.

Now, the atmosphere of magic was thickening. Outside the door, a young boy appeared. He carried a bed of nails, which, it was explained to us, had been borrowed by a neighbour, a soldier who wanted to deflect bullets, and who was practising to develop his powers. `Now’, said Yamto Magic, `I will transfer my power to this boy’.

We went outside into light rain. A small crowd had gathered from the kampung.  Rormon was wide-eyed, so was I.

Yamto took the boy’s hand in a firm grip as though they were about to Indian wrestle. ‘Now, they will recite a mantra (incantation) in the old Javanese language’, the man beside me said.

The whole scene had become dreamlike. The man and the boy squatted, gazing into each other’s eyes, and the boy repeated the sing-song words. Very carefully, he eased himself onto the bed of sharp nails and lay full length. Carefully, two men placed a heavy board across his stomach. Meanwhile, Yamto Magic had mounted a motor-bike. He started it, revved it, he sped three times around the open space, then once over the boy’s stomach. The board kicked up in the air and fell back heavily on the boy. Yamto cut his engine and there was silence.

When he had been lifted from the bed, David inspected the boy’s back. The whole thing became nightmarish for me when I heard David asking politely if Yamto could transfer power to him.

`Of course,’ he said.  But you must repeat the mantra exactly as I say it.’

They clasped hands; the mantra was intoned; David put himself on the bed. I looked at Rormon and I am sure his coolie hat was shaking on his head. `Couldn’t you just walk on him or something?’ I said.   For one thing the plank seemed very narrow, and if Yamto missed it …

But Yamto was already zooming around his victim. David was spiked into immobility; he could not have moved if he had wanted to. I could see his eyes rolling as Yamto sped round him. He looked such a dry, frail leaf. Then it was over, the board crashed down, David was lifted off, and we all inspected his back. There were hundreds of deep holes, which took some time to go away, but not much blood. `We could do it with a jeep if there was more room and if we had a jeep’, said the man beside me. `Would you lie on the bed of nails?’ I asked him. `Oh no, not me.’ And he raised his hands, palms forward and laughed nervously.

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