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February 17, 2019

Ever watched a boy lay an egg? I did, but...really?

Terapin looking like the stone he sits on
Terapin looking like the stone he sits on

When I was a little child in lower primary school, we were invited to a magic concert within the locality social hall. I was sitting in the front row of the hall as prefect in order to control the other kids and pick out 'volunteers' for the magician since we all were afraid in most cases to come forward and help him. He had this habit of making a boy lay an egg, which was obviously embarrassing.

I must say I have always been inquisitive in nature. My sitting in front was not just to be useful as a prefect of the class. I had another card to play. I wanted so much to prove the magician wrong, or if he was right. I wanted to learn the trick of the trade. So I was very keen to watch every move he made, and note down anything suspicious so as to discuss with my teacher later and uncover the disguise of the magician. When he entered the hall, I was ready for him with a pen and paper. Mine was not going to be an entertainment but learning evening, and a win over the magician and his bag of tricks. He seemed to have read my mind because as soon as he had his tools on the table and tied his signature red bandana around his forehead, he beckoned me to join him at the dais. I went limp on the knees. Me, the prefect of the class, was going to be made to lay an egg!! I detested him so much but there was little I could do. I helped myself to climb the three stairs to his table and waited at a distance, wondering what part of me would be used to bring out the egg!! He sometimes used the mouth, the hand, and most times, the embarrassing exit at the rear end.

“Hold this jar of water high enough for all to see,” the magician instructed me. Now I was a little less nervous. We were not about to lay any eggs, seeing that we had started with a jar of water. I held the jar of water and true enough, there was nothing else in it apart from clear water. He then gave me a handkerchief to shake it as everyone watched. It had nothing in it. He proceeded to hold the handkerchief above the water jar and...pooof! There was smoke around his hands and I could not see the handkerchief anymore. As the smoke cleared, the jar, which had the cover on, and which I was holding, had a tiny gold fish in it! Pure magic. Or was it? I stumbled back to my seat completely bewildered. I was not only watchful; I was part of the process. I still remember the day like it happened yesterday mainly because, up until today, I still do not know how the trick was performed. But I do know why. It was and still is a survival language. It is a career like any other and the performing artistes are as good as they are trained in illusion showbiz. The better trained and experienced the more mindboggling their tricks come.

Human acts of deception will be mostly on entertainment platform: like the performing theatres or the famous Nigerian movies where the actors perform so well they have the audience crying with them when they cry. Sometimes it can be a soft or rather harmless act of illusion – like when a tiny white lie is told to protect a friend. Or when a child acts innocently to avoid punishment when the minder discovers a misdemeanor.

But deception in the wild has a very serious meaning and purpose. In the natural world, there is constant pressure to live and reproduce. One has to eat without being eaten, and one has to ensure his or her genes are successfully transferred to the next generation. Under this twin pressures, nature will contrive any strategy that is likely to give an animal the edge in either of the objectives. And nature has no apology in using some dishonest tactics in order to achieve this critical advantage. I almost ran over a pangolin here in Mara after mistaking it for an old discarded metallic object. You can’t blame me when you look at the picture. Perfect definition of deception.

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