Anatoly Meliakoff was the greatest magician of his age. Crowds would flock from miles around to see him, trudge through mud and rain and snow to see him, and when a theatre booked him for a show word of his coming would race before him like fire until all the hotels were full and the whole town was ablaze with anticipation.
They queued around the block to buy tickets before the theatre even opened, huddled inside their coats beneath woollen hats and scarves, stamped their feet to drive out the cold as the lucky ones ran from the box office like lottery winners, holding aloft bright orange tickets, waving them at the gleeful crowd before hurrying off into the wind or the rain or the whirling snow.
He arrived out of nowhere. Just walked into Budapest one fierce summer noon, him and that dwarf of his, both of them dressed in bow tie and tails, dust on their shoes and sweat clouding their high, starched collars. He walked straight to the theatre and asked to be allowed to perform there that very evening, as though nothing could have seemed more natural.