“Need ye more proof,” the wizard said. “As I told you, it was a trick mirror and an evil one at that, for which you sold your soul, and now you have your soul back. And perhaps you are a bit wiser.” And before he could be thanked, the wizard disappeared into a dust devil that raced across the empty desert plain and off past the horizon.
He sat for a long time there thinking of what had just happened, of the magic mirror, of the loss and regaining of his soul, of the wizard. How he had many years ago, now so many he had lost track, had come across the shop in that old market, and how he had been shown the mirror. “The mirror has great power,” the shop owner said in a raspy voice. “Yes, very great power, for it once belonged to the King of Persia and before that, Alexander of Greece, the Great Alexander. It gives its owner the power to see himself as anything he chooses. Imagine, just being able to see yourself as a Prince or a King or as having great power and riches,” he whispered into his ear.
“Aye,” the man said with no small amount of skepticism, “and what be the price of such a magical mirror?”
“Oh you could never afford it,” said the shop keeper, “nor can anyone, therefore there is no price, no money price anyway. The mirror is only sold by contract, fully guaranteed, of course. Why if it is not all and totally everything I say it is, then, well, it’s fully, entirely, guaranteed.”
“Oh, just a simple bit of paper, no fuss; here it is somewhere, ah here. See it’s all so very simple, just you sign, sign right here at the bottom, and this magic mirror and all its power is yours, it’s very simple really. You just take the mirror and in return you agree to give…” he hesitated a moment and looked him in the eye, “…your soul – but there’s the guarantee, don’t forget. I mean how could you loose – if it doesn’t work, then, well the contact is null, null and void. And, you even get to keep the mirror, and for free.”
“And if it does work?” the man intoned.
“Oh, of course it works and I might add it’s cheap at half the price.”
So that’s how the man came to possess the evil mirror and, yes, it was guaranteed, and yes, it did work just as the shopkeeper had promised. At first the man was overjoyed. For he thought of himself as handsome and successful and loved by all, and he looked into the mirror and he saw himself just that way, handsome, and successful and loved by all. And he was very, very happy. And he went into his village with a smile on his face and a spring in his gait and with his head held high. And all in the village saw him favorably, and they returned his smile. And he spoke with such sureness and authority that they thought he was certainly important, and they were quick to show him respect and even approach him for counsel and advice. And he soon caught the eye of the prettiest maiden in the village, and they courted, and soon after married and were very happy together.
“What a wonderful mirror I have,” the man thought. “It has brought me all this happiness.” But one year a drought came across the land and the village did not prosper and nor did the man, and he began to doubt. He went to the mirror and looked into it and he saw the doubt on his face. His wife saw it and the people in the village began to see it. He sensed something was wrong. He didn’t know what, but he was confused. He went to the mirror and looked at himself and he saw the confusion and he saw the doubt. “Why doesn’t the mirror work,” he said to himself. He began to get sad and then he felt angry and then he felt frustrated. He went to the mirror again and he saw, in its refection, the anger, the sadness, the frustration, and later so did his wife and so did the townspeople.
The man thought of the storekeeper from whom he had obtained the mirror. And he journeyed back to find him, for the shop keeper had said the mirror was guaranteed.
“Yes, may I help you,” the man remembered the raspy voice of the old figure approaching him. “Ah, and how have you found your mirror?”
“I am not pleased,” the man said, “for at first I was very happy, and all things went well, but then the tide changed and now my life is sad and unhappy and the mirror no longer works.” “Of course it works, just as I said, of course it works. It gives its owner the power to see himself as anything he chooses. Just as all my mirrors do.” And with that remark the man noticed for the first time that the shop had other mirrors, many in fact, and all were exactly alike and all were just as his. “Why you fraud,” the man said, “these are not magic mirrors.” And he was filled with rage and he lunged at the storekeeper, but the storekeeper quickly stepped into a mirror and disappeared, leaving only his own angry countenance staring him in the face.
And when he got back to his home, the man found that his wife had left him and when he went into the village, he found that the people shunned him, and so he left the village, for there was now nothing there for him. He wandered far, far away and finally settled in a cave in a desert where he lived an empty life and broke bread with no man.
And as the years passed, his confusion remained, but became like a mannerism that one no longer notices. And the anger subsided as the man had no energy to sustain it. And the frustration died as he gave up on having anything in life and only waited for his death. And the feeling that was left was loneliness, and it overtook him and became him. That and his mirror were all he had left and each day he would sit for hours and look at the image in the mirror and the sad lonely face would look back, uncomforting, at him.
Then one day the man saw someone at a great distance walking across the desert towards his cave. And when the man approached, he could see that he was very old and walked slowly with the aid of a stick. And he invited the old man to sit and rest before his fire and he offered him a cup of tea.
The old man, noticing the mirror, asked about it and the man related the sad story of how he came by it and how the mirror had destroyed his life. And to his surprise, the old man told him he had once seen a similar mirror far, far away in a land of green meadows and lovely castles. There, there was a young man, who, alas, possessed the mirror and he too had been first given enormous happiness. But then the mirror seemed to turn against him. For once the young man had seen himself in the mirror as loving and young and innocent, as handsome and curious and energetic, as adventuresome and hopeful and joyous, and full of the spirit of life. But after time passed, he no longer saw himself that way, but saw himself in the mirror as a clown; as sad and as stupid and as laughable and as pitiful. And those around him began to see him that way as well.
“For it is an evil mirror and those who possess it have made a bargain with the devil,” the old man said, and the truth of those words seemed to ring across the empty silent desert. “But is there nothing I can do?” said the man. “Surely then if the mirror is evil, I will destroy it!” And he picked up a great rock and hurled it at the mirror. But the rock passed into the mirror just as the store keeper had many years before.
“You’ll not destroy it,” said the old man, “at least not by feeding it your anger. The mirror will take all you throw at it. There is only one way, and that way may not even work for you.” “Please, what way, I know of no way?” “But I think you do,” the old man said, his voice taking on a stronger character, “what did the store keeper tell you of this mirror?” “Only that it gives its owner the power to see himself as anything he chooses,” said the man. “And that is the way out as well as the way in,” said the old man. "Just choose to be without the mirror, just choose that your life be the way it is and not the way you see it in the mirror. For all along the mirror has given you back exactly as you have seen yourself. And so you are truly stuck with your Faustian bargain. But, “this time with a gleam in his eye the man had not previously noticed, “if you can look into the mirror and see yourself without the mirror then you may be able to overpower the evil.”
And so the man stood before the mirror, trembling. And he gradually brought his gaze upon his own face in the mirror, and with all his might he chose to see himself there, but without the evil mirror.
It’s 1993 and I’m working in Riyadh and spending far too much time alone in the world’s largest sand desert.