07 December 2011

Have You Red Marks?

As I recline here in my study, sucking Easy Cheese straight from the can, I am reminded of a delightful little story that I was told while on safari with some brothers from my lodge. Allow me to light my hookah and tell you the tale...

When the rains come in the bluest of June-times, the plaintains grow strong and the young children who pick them develop the most amazing hook-like prongs on the soles of their feet – all the better to scurry up the plantain trees and pluck the precious plantains from their leafy, frondy moorings. The hooks never recede in the most skilled plantain pluckers, and so they are destined to lead a life high in the lofty branches of the plantain metropolis of Saccu-saccu.

Squatpiler, a young plantain plucker of Saccu-saccu, hung upside down from a tall plantain tree one rainy afternoon, swinging from a branch by the hook-like prongs on the soles of his feet. Back and forth he swung, letting the moist jungle breezes blow between his knees. He had been plucking plantain all morning, he was weary, and needed to take a short rest. So it was that he found himself dozing off as he hung there, swinging gently back and forth.

Pitchee-caw ratcha!” cried a hairy little bletcher bird, black as the coal in Squatpiler's St. Swithun's Day stocking last year. “Pitchee-caw ratcha! Chee-chee cuka roo!” Squatpiler awoke with a start, for the cry of the bletcher bird could mean only one thing – the approach of danger. Swinging from plantain tree to plantain tree, Squatpiler made his way to a protected outcropping of branches, hauled himself upright and sat quietly, watching for the approach of whoever it was that had alarmed the bletcher bird.

A portly man in khaki safari wear and a pith helmet came slashing through the jungle undergrowth, hacking at the thick vegetation of the place that Squatpiler called home. The man slowed to a stop just under the tree where Squatpiler hid, and the plantain plucker watched him pull a pack of Virginia Slims cigarettes from his khaki purse that he called a “haversack”. The portly man was in the habit of calling the cigarettes “Old Dominion Slims,” but he was probably fooling very few people.

As the man stood and puffed away, the smoke rose to the lofty branches of the plantain tree where Squatpiler hid, and a ghostly white tendril snaked its way beneath his nose. The tobacco smoke tickled Squatpiler's senses and he quickly erupted in a massive sneeze. “Pelosi! Pelosi!” sneezed poor little Squatpiler (that is how they sneeze in Saccu-saccu). The portly man looked up and saw Squatpiler holding his nose.

I say,” said the man, “you really should sneeze into your forearm. Less chance of spreading germs, you know.”

Squatpiler sat silently in the tree, not sure what to make of the man in khaki.

I say, old boy...is that a plantain tree you're hiding in? Indeed it is! The very reason for my visit! Come down here this instant! I need to speak with you!”

Squatpiler could not speak a lick of English, but could tell from the man's grand gestures exactly what he wanted. He scampered down the tree and sat down on the ground, as he was unable to easily stand upon his hook-soled feet.

It was a tremendous tale that the man in khaki told to Squatpiler, a tale of dreams, a tale of hard work and a tale of eccentric canapes toppings. Sir Nigel Mumphrey Pitherington-Hackwich was this man in khaki, and he was the man behind the largest fried-plantain business in all of Somerset. What began as a small one-stool shop in Lamyatt grew into 64 separate fast-plantain dispensories all across the county, with three in Taunton, four in Wells and no less than eight “Plantain Palaces” in Bath. Nine if you count the one that closed unexpectedly due to a gypsy infestation. It seems that nothing goes with cider quite like a fried plantain, and Sir Nigel was there to supply.

Life was never the same for Squatpiler. He travelled far across the oceans with the man in khaki to a strange land. The years went by and he adjusted to his new home in the tropical botanical gardens of Shepton Mallet, scurrying up the plantain trees with his hook-soled little feet, swinging from branches high above the High Street, and tossing plantains down by the armload to the porters waiting below. He was never quite sure what the man in khaki was saying, as he never learned even a word of English. He never accepted payment for his work, as he would not have known what to do with a note or a coin even had he ever seen one. Needs were attended to, and he was never in want. Never in want, that is, until that one day when he took one misstep on a plantain branch and tumbled down, just narrowly missing the wall of the botanical garden and landing on a grassy patch outside, in front of a Vodafone store. He wobbled to his hook-soled little feet and tried to stand there as he looked into the window of the shop, looking at the wonderful smartphones on display. Something in the colorful touch screens and the entertaining apps called to him, and he was filled with a desire he had never felt before.

Pitchee-caw ratcha! Chee-chee cuka roo!”

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