Cal was a catch, a 33-year-old lifetime bachelor, a full professor before he reached thirty, having published three acclaimed historical novels which accelerated his rapid climb in academia. Despite everything, he was modest, adored by his female students, and surprisingly, popular with his male students, also. Six-foot-tall with a muscular, make that toned body, he was a blend of several races giving him wonderful tanned skin all year long. Possibly, his most alluring physical feature was his barely perceptible Epicanthic fold. “At first, I didn’t notice it or just thought it was sexy,” was a common refrain from many women after meeting him for the first time. Cal was athletic (tennis, basketball) as well as an excellent chef and a regular on Saturday nights sitting in at the piano with varying jazz combos. Oh, and he was a genuinely nice guy, too.
Cal’s office was next to mine, so as the old timer, I took him under my wing, not that he needed it, but it gave me a chance to glimpse the movers and shakers from within the same time zone.
Jealous? Does it show? He was such a nice guy that envious would be more accurate. Did I mention intelligent? I learned more from just talking to him than from six years of masters and doctorate study. Just after second semester began, we were alone in my office. He’d snuck in and closed the door behind him. He put his finger to his lips to hush me. Then there was the usual clatter outside his office followed by the sounds of disappointment from the hordes as they departed.
“You are so lucky,” he started, “I envy you.”
He mistook my dumbfounded silence for modesty.
“Think about it. You can do your own thing without interruption. You’ve paid your dues and found your niche. You could have retired, but you are here by your own choice, and you could leave tomorrow, and no one could pressure you to stay. No one has outrageous expectations from you. You are you, and you’ve earned it. Pretty sweet.”
He was right about the expectations. I show up, teach my classes, reliable, but that’s it. I don’t even have any expectations for myself. “Well, thank you, I think, but your life looks pretty good to me.”
“That’s another thing about you, you always encourage me and make me feel better. Once again, thank you for that. Maybe that’s why I’ve come to you for help.”
“Easy to do. You’re doing just fine, Cal. You know, I’d help you if I could, but . . . .”
“I believe you.”
“What could I do? Trade places with you.? I don’t think anyone would mistake an old geezer –”
“Wait. Would you really trade places with me?”
“Sure, anything for a friend. You know a good makeup artist?”
“Better,” Cal reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a tattered scrap of paper. He handed it to me. “Do you read Sanskrit?”
I had an even dumber expression on my face.
“Never mind, this text is an extremely ancient dialect.” He took back the manuscript.
“No wonder I couldn’t read it.”
“You were holding it upside down.”
“Another reason, and I can’t even read modern Sanskrit.”
He gave me a look. “This paper predates European history, even way before the Pharaohs started building pyramids. This ancient civilization was based on magic, real magic. The emperors were always warring with each other, attempting to assassinate their enemies. One ruler whose name is lost to history had a mage who had a formula that could have two people switch bodies temporarily. The peasant who switched was under close guard, for the ruler did want to inhabit his own body again after spying in the perfect disguise to eliminate his foe.”
“Tell me how you got the formula . . . and pray, make it improbable.”
“I was doing some research in Calcutta. I’m in this disreputable place . . . do I need to go into more detail?”
“No, I got it. Believe it or not, I’ve been in some dives myself.”
“A dive is about three or five steps up. This beggar had this rag of a coat he was trying to sell, so he could partake of the merchandise. I had some coins, about 17 rupees, lying on the table, so I pushed it over to him. I didn’t want the coat, but he insisted. It smelled like it could follow me home, so I took it. I was going to pitch it when I felt something in the pocket. I thought maybe it was something he might need, but he wasn’t interested because he was already busy negotiating with a girl.
“And that was that scrap of. . . .”
“Okay, let’s say I’m curious. How painful was the body transfer?”
“Not at all. A few hairs, a little blood and some saliva plus drinking the potion. The two men would designate a set time to revert to their own bodies.”
I started laughing. “Good one, Cal. I was almost starting to believe you.”
“Tonight, come to my place about eleven. I should have all the women out by then. I’ll leave one. She can be the test to see if it works.”
I was going to refuse until he mentioned the women. I haven’t even had a good night kiss in thirty, thirty-five years. “I’ll see you at eleven.”
“Thank you so much. I’m so busy I can hardly get seven pages a night on my new novel. If you can’t bear it, we can reverse the spell immediately.”
That was seven and a half years ago. He cranks out an award-winning best seller about every four and a half months, and I could retire on the royalties of any one of them. My classes are always wait listed, my old platitudes have become bon mots, if I didn’t have this young athletic body, I would be dead instead just exhausted. Oh, and even sex has become boring. I’m more than ready to switch back, but Cal has disappeared. With each new novel, he leaves me notes that are effusive with praise and thanks. I could do worse, have before, and will again.