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THE GREAT WIZARD

                        For the great majority of people, childhood is the most beautiful
                part of life.  And, as years go by and their time passes to be lost forever,
                several insignificant events--pale and disfigured by the tooth of
                time--become more and more important.

                        I am not one of those who are able to speak about their childhood for
                hours and hours.  I've never spoken stories about juicy peaches stolen from
                neighbors' gardens, about skillfully altered marks in school files, or about
                poor little lizard that I hid in the sugar box and about Mom's face when she
                tried to make a coffee.  Since ever, I've preferred to look in front of me
                instead of behind me.  Maybe I am too young for such stories--I am only
                twenty-nine--or maybe it's just the fact that I don't have such memories of
                my childhood.
                        I was always quiet and somehow reserved child.  I lived with my
                mother in a small apartment that was located in a quiet quart of the
                northern part of the town.  My mind never passed an idea to steal
                neighbors' unripe, desperately stony and sour peaches because I never
                liked to eat even the ripe ones.  I had no need to alter my marks either--I'd
                always been the best student.  Finally--thinking about lizards--my mother
                was a zoologist and our apartment was full of rare species all the time.
                There were Algol bats, single eyed martens from Beta Lyre, infra-green
                parrots from Vega and who would have remembered what else!  And then,
                how could I ever have my mind crossed by an idea like that--to bring home
                a plane lizard and to put it into the sugar box!  By the way, my mother
                wouldn't be frightened by the lizard at all:  She would simply throw it out
                of the apartment as a completely uninteresting sample.
                        So, if I would take a glance at these years of my life, with an
                exemption that I grew up without father, my childhood was very common
                and ordinary.  I wouldn't say boring or lonely because it really wasn't.  I
                liked to read, I liked my piano lessons--probably owing to the beautiful
                young lady that taught me--and I liked my chemistry lab where I used to
                make some incredible things.  Things that would envy me on even those
                who used to steal peaches; if they would have only tried to join me.

* * *

                        Though, there is something that happened to me in my early childhood,
                something that I have never ever talked about.  At this time, the word
                'secret' still had it's sense and I was silent.  Only much, much later, I
                realized that that event changed and guided my entire life.
                        I was almost six at the time.  I was taller than many other kids of my
                age, I was thin, and my first milk teeth had just started falling out.  I
                remember, for that reason I was a little bit ashamed, and I was silent most
                of the time because I didn't want to see other kids laughing at me.
                        It was a hot summer afternoon when I was playing in the park near our
                building.  Actually, there was a small play yard in the park that was every
                single day full of kids--from early morning till dusk--but I preferred to play
                away from the play yard.  I preferred to play alone.  And so it was that
                day.  I was squatting in the grass and intently watching an ant family.
                Suddenly, I realized I was not alone any more.  I reflexively raised my
                head and espied an incredible creature!  There was a tall, dark haired man
                in front of me dressed in black and covered with a cloak made of small,
                multicolored squares of fabric.  His cloak reminded me of the ones that
                were worn by wizards in my favorite fairy tales.
                        "Are you Latto III," he asked me.  "I'm looking for you."
                        I wasn't frightened.  The man seemed somehow familiar to me and I
                felt as if there finally arrived somebody whom I had been waiting for a
                very long time.  I just nodded and stood up.  At the same time, with a few
                pretty clumsy attempts, I tried to remove dust from my knees.
                        "Can you keep a secret?"
                        I remember that we sat on a bench.  And I remember how unreal his
                cloak looked, lightened by flashes of the sinking Sun.  And I remember how
                proud I was when he told me that I was the only kid who was able see him.
                Later, when Annie from the second floor asked me who was that clown
                with me, I pronounced her a liar because she could not see him.
                        The man was speaking to me.  About a small yellow house in a suburb
                that was guarded by two fragrant lilacs...  About a boy whose name was
                Latto, the same as mine, and who lived in that house...  About boy's mother
                who wanted her son to become a doctor like she was...  About the Great
                Wizard who was the only one who could tell a kid what it would become
                when grown up.  And that he was coming only to selected kids, not to
                everyone...  And that boy whose name was Latto, he had been selected;
                selected to become the captain of a great researching spaceship that would
                sail for centuries and centuries looking for unknown...  And the Great
                Wizard visited him...
                        "Has that boy become the captain," I asked him. "Are you the Great
                Wizard?  Is that the reason you have a mottled cloak?  Am I selected, too?"
                        The man nodded after every question.  Then he told me something that
                I couldn't understand and so I couldn't remember either, but I remember
                clearly that he told me:
                        "You like to examine and explore; you like everything that is new and
                unknown.  For that reason, your place is among stars, too.  And that boy
                from my story, he is impatiently waiting for you.  One day, you will sail
                together..."
                        He fondled my hair, and--I think before the next very moment--he
                wasn't there any more.  I was left alone only now I was richer for one
                secret...

* * *

                        I have never told anybody about that event.  I've taken care about the
                secret, I've lived and grown with it; but, maybe unconsciously, the secret
                has been somewhere deep inside me all the time.  And it has been deciding
                my future.  Otherwise, how could I explain the fact that--in spite all my
                love for chemistry and music--I chose to study the psychology of inhuman
                intelligent beings.  I think that even kids know that the subjects of my
                examination live everywhere around except on the Earth.  Destiny?
                        Until the previous year, I worked at the "Earth Research Center of
                Intelligent Species of the Universe."  I was one of leading designers.  The
                job was interesting, the earning was above expectations and all my friends
                envied me.  Then I met Sellena, got married and bought a small but
                comfortable house.  Shortly after that, I proudly looked at the newborn Latto
                IV, wriggling in a cradle.  I was sure everybody who knew me would say
                that I got everything one could possibly wish for.  And they would probably
                be right.  Only, Id been looking for something new all my life and I just
                couldn't draw a line and say: "I've got everything I've wanted--I am
                satisfied."  Not me.  I'd been always looking for something more.  No
                matter what I'd succeeded, I wasn't satisfied.  And when I suddenly got a
                call from the "Aldebaran & Algol Scientist Association," I accepted it
                immediately and delightfully.  All that I knew about them was that they had
                a ship of enormous capabilities; but the details were not important to me
                anyway.  Finally, there was something new...
                        The first trip should have lasted seven Earth years.  As far as I as a
                traveler was concerned, it would have lasted no more than one year.  I
                remember that Sellena cried when I told her the news.  She told me she
                would be old and ugly when I came back.  She was sure that was our
                separation.  (Why are women always so pathetic?  One day I will carefully
                explore that subject.)
                        "Does your son have to grow without father, too," she asked.
                        I didn't see anything wrong about that.  I had never missed my Father.
                How could I ever miss a person I never knew?
                        And so I left.

* * *

                        Now, I'm on the Earth again.  I spent a whole year on the ship.  A lot
                of work, many unslept nights, but also a lot of pleasure.  Yet, the time spent
                on a ship runs much more slowly than the time spent on the Earth.  Some
                strange longing gets upon you and you start liking all the things that have
                always annoyed you.  Is it then strange that I spent hours and hours thinking
                about my son and about Sellena...
                        I lost Sellena.  I knew that since the moment I left her.  Seven years is
                a whole little life for a woman of twenty two.  Besides that, I'm going to
                Orion very soon.  After Orion I am going to Vega, then to Betelgeuse, then
                who knows where...  When I finally come home she will not be alive any
                more!  Maybe it is the best solution not to visit her while I am here.
                Anyway, it will certainly be the best for her.
                        And what about my son?  Have I lost him, too?  He is seven now.
                Does he look like me?  Does he prefer to play alone, too?  Does he miss
                me?  But, how can he miss me, he doesn't even know me!  And yet, he is my
                son.  I must not lose him!
                        And I knew pretty well how I could keep him...
                        I ran like mad from store to store looking for a multicolored cloak that
                could cover my black uniform.  All the time, there was a picture of the
                Great Wizard in front of my eyes.  The picture of my father!   Did I really
                need so much time to comprehend?

* * *

                        He was sitting on the bench and reading a book when I found him.
                        "Are you Latto IV," I asked him. "I am looking for you."
                        The small shaggy head rose and deep inside his clear, black eyes I
                found a flash of incomprehensible identifying.  At that very moment, I
                became sure that one day my son would also start sailing through the
                unknown paths of the Universe, and that I would, too--like my father and my
                grandfather before him--have enough time to search for him and to find him
                somewhere among the stars...

                        Dragana Konstantinovic
                        Translated by the author
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