In a strange city, I met a man in a marketplace who tried to sell me a magic snake.
It was morning still, and the marketplace was busy with people. Bustling, I suppose. But the space of the man with the snake was empty but for me and the man and his lone box.
Home of the snake.
The snake, for its part, was not much to look at, but the man plunged forward with his pitch anyway.
“Twenty thousand rupees,” he said, “for the snake that does dog tricks! He can roll over. He can fetch. He will wag his tail on command. Twenty thousand rupees. Don’t tell anyone else I made you this deal.”
There was a problem with the snake, however, and the problem with the snake was this: He was very hard of hearing and in the noise of the marketplace was unable to hear the man’s orders. There could be no demonstration.
I thanked the man for his time, said, “Khuda hafiz!” and began making my way down to the next booth when he called out, “Wait! That’s not all!”
He said, “This snake can talk! He will whisper in your ear secrets of the places he’s been! And you can send him out on missions to spy on your enemies. Only ten thousand rupees and he is yours!”
I scratched the snake’s head and thought about it – I mean, half off a talking snake? – but decided against it yet again. I turned to go and was not surprised to hear the words, “Wait! That’s not all!”
“This snake is an escape artist!” the man told me. “He can move things using only his mind. He can diagnose most terminal illnesses. He knows thirty-five different love spells.”
“And he’s yours – if you can believe this – for just five thousand rupees.”
In the end, I purchased a dupatta off the man for 700 rupees and he threw the snake in for free.
I named the snake Gerald and kept him near me for the rest of my trip. Gerald was a good snake, although in the short time I knew him, he never showed any propensity whatsoever towards magic or conversation. I let him go near the airport before I left to fly home.
I still have the dupatta.