[continued from contact]
He drew himself up to his full height, slightly taller than
I, and beamed at me as though we were old friends, "Good to
see you! I am Aarondell Livingstone."
"MacKendrickford," I instinctively returned the
introduction, "Robert Burns MacKendrickford, but," and
before I could adequately express my confusion he turned his
attention to the small bowl.
"I was afraid I'd lost you, my friend," he said to the bowl.
It was slightly larger than the palm of his hand and deep
enough to hold at least a pint of water. It seemed to be
made of brass or some similar alloy.
Turning his attention back to me, Livingstone explained,
"That small monkey at the map dealer's absconded with this
Tibetan singing bowl while I was examining one of the older
maps of this district. I gave chase, but the nimble beast
evaded me and climbed up out of my reach. My only choice was
to hire that tribe of children to lower me down onto the
roof of the stall from the adjacent building via a rope and
"But you could've been killed, man. All for that little
Then he pinged it with his forefinger and it produced a most
pleasing, resonant sound that stopped conversations all
around us and answered my question completely.
"So, you're from Scotland." Livingstone asked, almost
"How did you deduce that?" my voice dripping with sarcasm,
"Was it my name or the kilt that gave it away?"
Livingstone laughed gently, "Ayrshire, I'd say. Near
The smugness was drained from my countenance.
"I recognized your tartan. Just showing off."
We wandered around the market exchanging stories of our
travels. He was a collector of curios and eccentricities,
primarily Asiatic, but he expressed great interest in
visiting South America in the near future. In the exchange
of stories, he certainly got the worse of that bargain as I
hadn't logged nearly one-tenth the miles he had and my miles
were far more traveled.
He was gaunt and if he'd been much taller I might have
described him as gangly. His skin, while pale like mine, was
much more weathered. His hair was longer than fashionable in
Europe and unkempt, just like the short whiskers growing
from his chin.
As the sun began to set, we came to a small restaurant and
so decided to break bread together. In this case, some aloo
After a delightful dinner, Livingstone and I continued our
pleasant conversation over drinks, his a Darjeeling tea and
mine a jal jeera and scotch, when he noticed a bracelet worn
by the bonnie dark-skinned lass serving us. It seemed to be
made of copper and bone, but such intricate design work I
had never seen. He asked her something in what I am sure was
flawless Badaga and before I'd finished my drink the
restaurant had closed and we were following our waitress
through the humid night air.
"And just where are we going, Livingstone?" I asked.
"This young lady is taking us to visit her mother," he
replied matter of factly.
"Yes, of course, her mother gave her the bracelet last
month. It is my intention to meet the artisan."
By the time we arrived at the small home on the outskirts of
Madras, I was in some digestive distress and with my ample
girth, there was no hiding it. While Livingstone went inside
to speak with the mother, the daughter took me to the
garden. She knelt down and pulled a strange root from the
"Hold for me, please, sir," she said in accented English.
"What is this?" I asked, holding a yellowish tuber,
approximately the size and shape of a human foot, but with a
disturbingly high number of toes.
"Naad? What is it for?"
"For you. It takes demons. Demons in here," and she pointed
to her abdomen.
"Demons in here? Oh! Thank you, lass, but there are no
demons in here besides the ones delivered there by your fine
She snapped off one of the toes and handed it to me. "Here.
Put this near the demon."
Just as I was becoming concerned as to how I would put it
near the demon, the girl volunteered, "Chew."
I popped the naad toe into my mouth and chewed. It had
almost no taste and the texture of rotten potatoes. After a
few moments I noticed the distinct smell of bile filling my
sinuses but the "demons" were leaving my stomach.
"No swallow," she commanded. "Else demons never leave." She
presented me with a cup of water, "Spit here."
I did so and the naad caused the water to fizz for a moment
then turn a putrid yellow.
"Never drink demon-naad. Put with used water." She took the
cup and gave me the rest of the naad foot then walked off
behind the house to dispose of the foul concoction.
At the same time, Livingstone emerged from the house with
the mother and announced that we were leaving. I was
relieved, not just from the physical distress, but that we
would be returning to town. Then, with the mother in the
lead, we began walking out into the hills.
"Livingstone!" I cried, "The city is back that way."
"We're going out to meet the old woman who made the
"At this hour?!"
"Daife only works at night."
"Her name, man! My gods you really should pay closer
attention," he said in a rather condescending tone.
Before I could formulate a retort he asked, "Did the naad
ease your upset stomach?"
Gobsmacked, I just stared back into his piercing blue eyes.
"I note that you are carrying a partially used root. They
say it absorbs demons. Useful plant."
We walked for hours, climbing into the hills. There were
places where I couldn't tell if we were on a road, a path or
just in the brush. Only the brightest stars were visible
through the nighttime haze which only seemed to get thicker
as we crested each hillock.
I interrogated Livingstone about this Daife woman we were going
to meet. Apparently she was well-known in the district as a
sorceress, as likely to remove an illness as to place a curse.
Her jewelry was so exquisite because she was said to collaborate
with spirits. When I asked about her only working at night, he
professed ignorance but I had heard enough stories of spirits,
angels and devils, and the disguises of the later to be filled
with unease, despite being a man born in this modern age.
Suddenly the woman stopped and pointed to a glowing light in the
side of the next ridge. While she was speaking with Livingstone,
I deduced that the glow was coming from a fire within a cave there,
obviously our destination.
Then the mother approached me, seemed to draw something in
the palm of each hand with her finger and held my hand
between hers. That was when I realized that she would not be
accompanying us further. I'm not sure whether she was
bidding me bon voyage or bon chance.
It was not far to the cave. Along the path we found several
large metal barrels partially filled with water that smelled
like refuse from a knackers. Then we were standing in the
mouth of the cave, partially blinded by the light and heat
from the large fire around the base of another barrel in
which something was having its flesh boiled off. Through the
fire, smoke and steam I could barely make out an old woman
in the back of the cave, singing discordantly to herself and
obviously concentrating on something.
I was about to ask Livingstone what his intentions were now
when he entered the cave slowly apparently entranced and
stood right behind the crone for no short while watching her
work. She must not have heard him because she suddenly
screamed and grabbed a cane to prepare to fend him off. The
cane was quite a beautiful piece, as I remember, the large
moonstone in the handle seemed to glow in the fire light as
she held it betwixt herself and her perceived attacker.
Although I couldn't imagine him having any trouble subduing
her should she become aggressive, I still drew my dirk, just
in case. Sometimes things are not as they seem.
He began speaking to her slowly and calmly, but she did not
seem impressed. He would rattle off a long sentence and she
would respond with either a grunt or a single word. Then she
pointed her staff at a wooden chest, slightly larger than a
bread box. After examining the chest, Livingstone reached
into his pocket and pulled out a few guineas as payment, but
she wouldn't have any of it.
I didn't put my dirk away until we were both well down the
path amongst the barrels.
"What was all that about, Livingstone?"
"I'm not entirely sure. I believe she's mostly deaf, but she
gave us this chest full of her handiwork."
He opened up the chest and pulled out a bracelet not unlike
the one our waitress was wearing at the beginning of this
ripping yarn. The eastern sky was just lightening, so I
could see several other pieces in the chest and all of them
were beautifully well crafted.
"The tension back there was as thick as the odor of the
beast in the kettle. Why do you suppose she gave them to
you? Did she think you were a robber?"
And as I said that, I picked up a necklace made of fangs and
claws from which animal I have no clue. Then I felt a tingle
and the crackle of static electricity. Livingstone's eyes
widened and as my knees buckled I believe I remember seeing
a bright blue light. There was a struggle though I'm not
sure who was struggling. The smell of burning hair.
Confusion and the guttural screams of a primate.
The next thing I firmly remember was being flat on my
stomach in the dirt, Livingstone's knee in my back, my face
planted in the naad root and a substantial part of it in my
mouth. I rose rather unsteadily and he directed me over to
one of the large barrels.
"Spit!" he commanded and I was in no condition to disobey.
The entire naad root hit the tepid water and turned it into
a roiling mass of stench. Without a second thought, he
chucked the entire chest into the bedlam too.
It was dawn before I recovered enough to ask for an
Aarondell Livingstone's only reply was, "When Daife gives
you demons, make demon-naad."
-- Robert Burns MacKendrickford
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