The old man squinted through the veil of rain that covered the streets of Bombay, past the gate into the mansion beyond. Huddled, the shaman craved the solace of his home, with his old, aching body shivering under the thin blanket he had wrapped about him. The guard came back, wearing the expression of disdain that must’ve gotten him the job in the first place. — He’ll see you now, old man; the thug spoke in his perpetual annoyance. — I am indebted to your master’s generosity.
Soon he’d find himself in a wide hall, decked out with what must’ve been trophies of a generation of safari, with pelts and mounted heads lining the walls and softening the hardwood floor. The monsoon rain was beating on the window at the far end of the room, and the dim sunlight only served to emphasize the shadows that lengthened and coiled unnaturally on the walls. There was a flickering lamp, an antiquated kerosene contraption placed on the hardwood desk, which managed to shine on the woven hands of someone sitting at the far end. Even if the hands were thick, they still betrayed their age with scars and liver-spots on the decidedly Caucasian tan. The shaman, in contrast, was a Hindu down to his salt-and-pepper beard, with dark, bottomless eyes that sought out his host’s face in vain, as he accented his head in quiet respect. A gesture offered a tall-backed chair, the invitation was accepted, and finally the master of the house spoke. His voice was low, rumbled, laced with arrogance beyond measure.
— It isn’t often that someone like you comes asking for an audience with me. I will forego any such annoying questions as towards your nature, I expect you to return this courtesy.
— I already know what you are, sire, there’s no need for riddles.
— Then indulge my curiosity, and be mindful of my failing patience, why do you seek me out? The soft tinning of silver against china emerged from the shadow across from the desk, with a sweet aroma masking, for an instant, the lingering smell of preservatives for the corpses all about them. Accenting his head once more, hands flat against one another at his chest, the magician replied,
— I will be as brief as my humility allows, sire. The farmers of my village find themselves with the burden, a beast that prowls through our fences and into our chicken-coops at night. The dogs are so terrified of it they refuse to bark, and not one night goes by where our fragile livelihood isn’t diminished even further by it.
The soft ringing paused momentarily; the rain overtook the room with its beating against the windowpanes.
— I presume you will tell me why I should give a damn, tea?
The cup was already held across by one of those powerful hands. The shaman, once more nodding with courtesy, took it.
— Thank you, and forgive me, yes. We, at the village, have known about Arasha, the tigress that lives in the mountains two day’s walk from our homes. She hunts along the banks of the river, never ventured near our fields. This was a harmonious arrangement, which we respect, especially while she was with cubs.
–Sugar? His host interrupted
— Two, if you please. Now, if I may, there was a foreigner that came to our village briefly, a few months ago. He left not long after, and then we found that Arasha was conceiving.
— Ah, I see now, you’re from Rishid, in the eastern prefecture. I remember that stranger you speak of, he came to me, asking for my favor to travel through there. It’s pleasing to know he found your region so welcoming.