Chapter 1 : Coming to Take You Away
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“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the HPFF premiere of 'I am the Walrus'. We've really got a smashing program for you all tonight, but before we begin we have just a few announcements. Here to deliver said announcements is a rock legend who needs no hollow flattery. Ladies and Gentlemen, Stubby Boardman!”
“Hel-lo H-P-F-F! We're really excited you could all make it tonight because we've got one hell of a show for you. But, before we can carry on with the first chapter the author, Renegade Niffler, has a few messages she'd like to pass along. So, here we go: First, she would like to thank CessZ for so patiently answering all of her questions, ahoythere for issuing an awesome challenge, the Beatles for producing legendary music, and everyone involved in spreading the urban legend about Paul McCartney's death for spreading the urban legend about Paul McCartney's death.
“Second, she dedicates this story to people who continue to see Elvis in laundromats, Chinese buffets, and bowls of cornflakes worldwide.
“Finally, 'I am the Walrus' lyrics were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
“And now, without further ado... I am the Walrus.”
Coming to Take you Away
It was cold. There was no other word to describe it. Though people had been trying to pass off crisp, or chilly as suitable adjectives, there was no disguising the fact the lingering summer weather had come to an abrupt end, and it was now piercingly, nose-drippingly cold. Rolf snorted as he wiped his jumper sleeve across his face, and then zipped up his jacket. He shifted closer to Luna on the decrepit bench, immediately wincing as new splinters dug into his legs.
The cold seemed ironic amidst the fiery autumn display in the park that the Ministry had chosen as the International Portkey Departure Site for the day. It was nearly deserted, save for a middle aged couple huddled together on a bench about forty feet away. Every once in awhile, Muggles would come shivering by for a nice autumn stroll, only to be driven away by Muggle Repelling Charms. This provided him with a quiet environment in which to ponder the mass of papers in his lap. He had to keep one hand pressed down on them at all times to prevent them blowing away; this precious stack of copied press clippings, magazine interviews and biography pages was more important now than ever. Most of them had been printed between 1979 and 1981, all of them concerned one man: Stubby Boardman, lead singer of the Hobgoblins, the greatest band of all time.
On top of his collection sat the mysterious letter he had received two days previously. It had come with an article cut out of an Indian newspaper about a recent Stubby sighting in Delhi. The fact that someone sent this to him was nothing out of the ordinary. All of his friends knew about his Hobgoblins fanaticism, and often sent him things for his collection. What was mysterious was that he had never been to India, and didn't know anyone there. He held it up, for what could well have been the thousandth time, and once again read its only four words, “This one is real”. Despite hours of comparing it to old letters from friends, his attempt to place the handwriting had utterly failed. He had no idea who had sent it.
The article, compared to other Stubby sighting articles, was peculiar as well. For one thing, it had come from a highly reputable newspaper. The title read, Missing Rock Star Spotted in Delhi and the article told coherent stories of three separate Stubby sightings that had taken place within a twenty four hour period. Each account was basically the same, three different women recognized him while out running errands in a flower shop, a bank, and a restaurant respectively. All three women described him as having long black curly hair past his shoulders, and wearing a dull grey cotton kurta. The whole thing had an alarming ring of authenticity that had sent Rolf into a frenzy of packing and making arrangements for the trip to India to seek out his greatest hero.
The more he looked at the letter, the more he could see red flags waving in front of him, desperately trying to alert him to the fact that this whole cockamamie trip was an intensely bad idea. He nervously checked his watch. It was ten o'clock, twenty minutes before departure. Shaking his head, Rolf tugged his rucksack closer and began to pack away his stack of Stubby. He had made up his mind two days ago, he wasn't about to change it now.
About five minutes later an elderly man wearing plaid trousers with a floral print shirt, safari hat and monocle led his wife into the park, helping to support her as she stumbled through the grass in a black cocktail dress and heels. Almost immediately behind them came a frightfully skinny young man whose hair stuck out in every direction. He had such a bewildered expression that Rolf wasn't entirely convinced the boy knew quite where he was. Finally a rotund wizard in scarlet robes Apparated into the area, dropped a rusty pail on the ground, and pulled out a roll of parchment.
At the arrival of the Ministry official, Luna tucked away the copy of Magical Plants of Southern Asia she had been engrossed in, and stood up for a stretch. The official began to make his way around to process the travelers. Rolf grinned and shook his head slightly at Luna, who was stretching her body in every conceivable direction, all while breathing in long loud huffs. He was still amazed that she had agreed to come so easily, which made him all the more grateful for her company. She gave him a contented smile in return as she finished her stretching.
The official strode up to them, his scroll at the ready. “Your papers please?”
Rolf rummaged around looking for the document he had received when he reserved their Portkey, while Luna promptly presented hers to the official. With one final tug he freed the crumpled slip from the bottom of his bag and handed it over.
The man looked them over muttering to himself, “6th of October, 2008...passage paid.” He briskly handed the papers back to them. “Your wands please?”
Rolf gave the man his wand. The official slowly passed his own wand over Rolf's, two small strips of parchment popped out the end.
Luna cocked her head quizzically to one side, “When you think about it, that's a rather silly method of identification, isn't it?”
“What do you mean?” the man demanded as he affixed one of the strips to his scroll, and handed the other to Rolf.
“Well, while wand and wizard do often have a mutual connection, a person's identity is not dependent on the wand itself. I mean, suppose Rolf and I traded wands, that would not mean that I was Rolf, nor that he was me, but in fact I would still be myself, and he himself. Unless of course you're operating from a worldview in which an individual is merely an effect of the process of individuation, and cannot be conceived of apart from a collective whole, in which case there is only a limited need to identify us at all.”
The Ministry official scrunched his brow an blinked several times before he growled, “It is not my job, nor yours, to decide for the Ministry what methods of identification are best. My job, is to follow the standard procedures as instructed. Now, your wand please.” He extended an open palm, waiting.
Luna calmly continued, “Another thing, what would happen if my wand broke while I was abroad, and I had to replace it? Would I be considered to be someone else when I returned to England?”
The man's cheeks were now approaching the same color as his robes. “Look, that Portkey is going to leave at precisely ten twenty with or without you. If you would prefer to go with it I suggest that you give me your wand!”
Luna shrugged as she finally placed her wand in his hand. “You know, you might want to try making a gurdyroot infusion with a little bit of charglepaw essence later. That always helps me when I'm feeling cranky,” she suggested with a gentle concern as he hastily completed her wand check. “I have some here in my bag that you're welcome to if you don't have any at home.”
The Ministry official eyed her suspiciously, then turned to Rolf as though waiting for him to confirm that this had all been a practical joke. Rolf greatly enjoyed watching people experience Luna for the first time, and ordinarily he would have had some fun at the expense of the man's bewildered frustration. In this situation, however, it seemed wise not to let things escalate, so he simply looked back at the man with an ignorantly straight expression. Finally he just huffed and stalked away toward the rusty pail. “Everyone gather round, ninety seconds to departure!” he announced.
Rolf checked his bag one last time to make sure everything was secure, and then pulled the straps up over his shoulders. He glanced over at Luna. After a brief exchange of nods they started making their way to the Portkey with the others. “Sort of an odd assemblance of characters, don't you think?” he noted half under his breath.
“We're all just people going to India.”
“Right you are, love,” he assented, closing his hand around hers. “Right you are.”
The group crowded around the rusty pail claiming their spots. Out of the corner of his eye Rolf caught a glimpse of a Muggle woman rapidly pushing a pram away from the park.
The Ministry official stepped back a few paces. “Everyone on the Portkey now. Three, two, one.”
With a terrific yank they were away.
See how they run like pigs from a gun see how they fly,
The clank of the Portkey on the hard stone floor could hardly be heard above the din. No sooner had Rolf collected his balance then two men ushered the group out from the antechamber they had landed in into a cavernous hall. For a moment he just snapped his head from one end of the chamber to the other unsure where to go, and increasingly bewildered by the sight before him. Great marble columns, exquisitely carved, arched up to a forty foot ceiling, and were barely noticeable against the overwhelming tide of people that flowed through the hall. It seemed that every inch of the place was filled with travelers coming and going, lovers exchanging tender good-bye's or joyful greetings, and children tugging on their mother's arms or simply running around. Rolf suddenly noticed that he was breathing out of his mouth and his pulse had quickened slightly.
“Over there I think” Luna calmly suggested, pointing at a large sign that hovered high over the crowd. It flashed the words 'International Arrivals' in English, French and German, before shifting to three languages with alphabets he didn't recognize.
They slowly elbowed their way through the masses until they came to a queue that was forming just below the sign. There they quietly stood, hand in hand, both continuing to drink in the chaos around them. At the front of the queue stood three small booths manned by men in elaborate uniforms of orange and green. When his turn came Rolf stepped up to the one on the far left, leaving Luna to wait for the next available space.
The man in the booth gave him a bored smile. “Welcome to India. What is your citizenship please?”
“I have dual citizenship, Austria and Britain, but I'm traveling on a British Passport.”
“Your papers please?”
This time Rolf didn't need to fumble around for his travel documents, as they were still sitting at the top of his bag.
“And what brings you to India, Mr. Scamander?”
Rolf blinked repeatedly, stunned by a question it seemed he should have been expecting. How on earth was he supposed to explain the purpose of his trip? Realizing his lengthy pause was growing more suspicious by the second he blurted out, “Er—just on holiday with my girlfriend.”
This seemed to satisfy the passport control as he merely nodded and continued, “How long will you be staying?”
His mind raced, searching for another acceptable answer. He somehow suspected that, “I have no idea” would not suffice. “Well—er—I—ah—at least a week. Perhaps longer if need be—er, if we're really enjoying ourselves, that is.”
The man's eyes locked with his for a moment. “Mm-hmm. What sort of things are you planning to do here?”
These questions were not supposed to be difficult. Why had he not anticipated any of this? He swallowed hard and absentmindedly rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh, you know, typical tourist things. Food, shopping. I hear there's some amazing—er architecture.”
“And where will you be staying sir?”
His heart was positively hammering in his chest, now acutely aware that this was an answer he should have had ready not only to appease the official, but for his own sake. “Ah—we're not entirely sure yet.” The man had now furrowed his brow quizzically, so he rushed to add, “Our first choice turned out to be completely booked this week. Could you recommend a nice hotel?” He hoped that last part gave a casual feel to his bumbling reply, though he couldn't help expecting guards to show up any minute to cart him away.
“Directly adjacent to this building you will find the Visitors Center, they will be able to assist you in finding suitable accommodations. Do you have any other questions?”
“No. No sir. Just looking forward to settling down in a room for the night. Traveling can be so exhausting, you know.”
“Indeed. Very well then, on behalf of the Republic of India I hope you enjoy your trip.” He slid the papers across the counter back to Rolf, who collected them with trembling hands.
Luna had only just stepped up to her passport control so Rolf took a seat on a nearby bench, slightly relieved. Relieved, that is, until it suddenly occurred to him that she would more than likely have no apprehension about answering the man's questions with raw honesty. This thought inspired both nagging fear and a strong yearning to eavesdrop on them. He was more than a little curious about what would have happened had he actually said, “We've come here in search of a long lost rock star based on a tip from an anonymous letter.” From the looks of it, it would have yielded a fine blend of suspicion and confusion. 'Oh no, why is she pulling out a strand of dirigible plums?' Well that seemed to have done it; She was now handing over her rucksack to be searched.
Rolf leaned back against the bench, trying to ignore the little voice inside him that was hoping they would find something illegal in their search, and send the both of them back home. Not that he could blame the voice really. After all, here they were in a foreign country on a trip he had spent only hours planning, with nowhere to stay, and nothing to go on in their search. Drying his clammy hands on his pant leg, he looked up to find an unfazed Luna walking over to him unaccompanied, and the little voice gave a defeated, “Damn!”
“A-All set then?”
“All set. Shall we go then?” She gestured towards the massive glass doors with an eager twinkle in her eye.
“As long as you're sure you don't want to hang around here for an hour or two.” He managed to emphasize the lameness of this joke with a weak chuckle.
Luna cocked her head contemplatively and answered, “No. I think I'd much rather get out there and see what the city is like.”
He stretched his mouth into the best smile he could manage over his nerves. “Well, off we go then.”
Two more men in orange and green uniforms were there to hold the grand front doors open for them, and they stepped out into the heart of wizarding Delhi. The sheer enormity of his first glimpse of the city slammed into him full force, knocking the air out of his lungs. The crowd in the customs building seemed like an intimate afternoon tea compared to the one out here. Rolf was sure that if he put every person he had ever laid eyes on in one place their numbers wouldn't have come close to this. He was only vaguely aware of following Luna down the pavement, as his mind tried to process the sights around him. The staggering multitude simply carried on with their affairs, browsing through the outdoor market, chatting with friends, dining in cafes. Several carts miraculously made their way through the streets, pulled by donkey like creatures with elongated, flaming red ears. They had colossal heads with knobbly horns and long robust snouts, that dwarfed their petite bodies, and served to break a path through the solid mass of people.
He glanced back over his shoulder and saw the Visitors Center several buildings behind him, but continued following Luna, who was strolling pleasantly along, her face lit with delighted curiosity. Her hand slipped out of his as she moved in to get a closer look at some of the vendors' wares. Still feeling as though the crowds were pressing in on him, he stumbled back into a hot stone wall. Even the buildings seemed to be attacking him. The boxy structures towered up over the streets, and looked in some places as though one had simply been stacked on top of another by magic. The stone walls were painted in a myriad of cheerful pinks, purples, greens, and blues. A vast network of staircases wove its way in and out them, occasionally shifting, rising or falling. Rolf's heart was pounding in his ears. He felt small and frightened, like the time he had lost his mother in Diagon Alley as a child. Only now, knowing the gentle voice of his Mutti would not call out to him, the panic just swelled inside him unrestrained.
At last Luna returned to his side, and he exhaled gratefully, steadying himself on her dancing grey eyes. She now had a long garland of yellow and red flowers draped over her shoulders.
“So,” she chirped, “Where do we begin?”
His mind reeled momentarily at the worst possible question his only comfort could have asked. Across the road his eye caught on just the thing he needed right then. So he took her by the hand and led her out to the place where so many great men before him had gone to sit and think: the local pub.
He stepped over the threshold and stopped cold, causing Luna to walk straight into his back, both as good as blind in the pub's dim light. Slowly a long narrow room came into view, pleasantly glowing with orange and pink lamps. A long wooden bar stretched down one side, a single row of small round tables down the other. On each table, and every few feet down the bar, stood gracefully elaborate hookahs. Rolf spotted two unoccupied seats at the far end of the bar. There were two older gentlemen seated next to them, deeply engrossed in conversation, but otherwise the corner was, mercifully, calm.
“Namaste,” the bartender placed her hands together in greeting, rattling the stack of bangles on her wrist. “Would you like something to drink?”
'Finally, an easy question.' Rolf straightened up on his stool to get a better view of the rows of bottles behind her. “Do you have any mead?”
“Yes. Let's see,” she began, looking down the bar toward the taps, “we have one import, Jiggins' Olde Porlock, and we have our own spiced house mead.”
“I'll take a pint of Jiggins' please.”
She turned her sunny smile to Luna, “And what can I get you my dear?”
“I think I'd like to try one of those please,” she answered, indicating a tall smoking purple glass in front of a man four or five seats down.
“Certainly. I shall be right back.” With a swoosh of her hefty black plait she was off to get their drinks, returning with impressive speed.
Rolf had no idea what was in Luna's glass, but whatever it was it smelled of moldy old books, and made her eyes nearly pop out of her head when she tasted it. She pushed it out a few inches away from her. “What an interesting little pub,” she observed, looking around at the various tapestries that hung from the walls. “Is that a Bengali Gold?”
The tapestry nearest Rolf was off centered by a large yellow dragon. “Yeah, I think it is. Look, you can see the 'S' shaped horns.”
Just then the man next to her stood up to leave, knocking over her drink in the process. Luna yelped and jumped off her stool as the smoking liquid ran over the edge of the bar.
The man reached out to steady her. “Oh, I am so sorry miss. Here, I will clean you off.”
No sooner had he pulled out his wand than the bartender appeared to assist him in the siphoning effort.
“Please miss, allow me to by you another drink,” he entreated her.
The bartender placed the now empty glass into a small tub. “Would you like another of the same?”
“Just some tea I think, please.”
Luna thanked the man as he laid a gold Tanka on the counter, said a quick good-bye to his companion and left the pub. The barmaid gingerly set the tea in front of her.
“So, what do we do now?”
Rolf drew a long sip from his pint. “Well, I suppose we ought to pursue the small matter of finding a room for the night at some point. Otherwise, I'm not sure. Perhaps we ought to look for the places where the original sightings took place.”
“Hmmm,” she mused, staring down into her tea. “Did the article give the names of the businesses?”
“No,” he sighed, acknowledging the death of his one idea. Now that he thought about it, he figured there must be dozens of florists in Delhi, not to mention hundreds of restaurants. Plus, banks were not typically too keen on disclosing information about their clients. “What do you think?”
“I've been wondering what Stubby might have been doing at a florist, a bank and a restaurant all in one day. That might give us a clue.”
He nodded slowly, stroking his chin. It certainly was a good question, one that he had not considered. He took another swig of his mead, thinking.
“Pardon me for interrupting, but did you just say Stubby?”
Both of them jumped at the unexpected intrusion on their reverie. Rolf turned to the man whose friend hand upended Luna's drink. “Yes. Yes we did.”
“There was a newspaper article a couple of weeks ago about this man, was there not?” He placed a few bronze Drachs next to his empty glass as he slid over onto the stool next to Luna.
“Yes. Do you know anything about him?” Rolf inquired eagerly.
The man shook his head kindly. “No, I am afraid not. The name just sticks with a person I suppose, and it is not the first time I have heard it mentioned in here.”
Rolf could feel himself deflate after this reply.
“You seem rather disappointed. Have you come here looking for him?”
“I'm sorry, Mr...”
“Oh, I am sorry. Where are my manners? My name is Kanwal Dubashi,” he stated, offering his hand to Rolf who gave it a firm shake.
“Rolf Scamander, and this is my girlfriend, Luna Lovegood.”
“Pleased to meet you Miss Lovegood.”
Luna started to extend her hand but quickly retracted it when she noticed he had lowered his. “Likewise, Mr. Dubashi.”
Kanwal grinned, “Please, call me Kanwal. Now, you were saying?”
“How did you know we were here looking for him?”
He shrugged nonchalantly, “It was simply a lucky guess.”
Rolf exchanged a glance with Luna. “Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me everything Kanwal?”
Kanwal considered the two of them for a few moments before answering, “Forgive me once more, but my wife is expecting me for dinner shortly. Perhaps you would like to join us? Then we could discuss it at our leisure. She makes the best Cikana Masala in the city,” he finished with a wink.
Rolf sat back to consider his offer for a moment, when Luna chimed in, “That sounds lovely.” Then turning to Rolf she added, “I am rather hungry.”
Now that they were talking about it, he realized he was quite hungry as well. Besides, they were not likely to find any better leads any time soon. “All right then. It looks like you've got yourself some dinner guests.”
Kanwal explained that his flat was some distance away, so he lead them out of the pub and to the nearest underground station. He paid the attendant six silver Karshapanas for the three of them, and then moved out onto the platform to wait for the train. Seeing no benches Luna and Rolf conjured chairs for themselves.
“Rolf, why don't you do one for Kanwal?”
“Why me? You know mine always come out with the stuffing all crackly,” he protested.
Luna shrugged. “Well, at least they're not all wobbly like mine.”
Rolf turned to look at Kanwal, who was patiently standing beside them with a benign expression. “I take it you're not great at Conjuring spells either, eh?”
“Rolf!” Luna scolded him half under her breath.
He looked at her with shocked confusion. “What?” He snapped his head back to find a slight blush creeping into Kanwal's cheeks. Looking over Kanwal's button up shirt and trousers something clicked into place, widening his eyes. “Wait. Are you...?”
His shy smile said it all. “A Muggle? Yes, I am. My brother, the man you—hem—met back in the pub, is a wizard, as is my wife. A witch, that is.”
“Oh, I'm sorry I—“
Kanwal held up his hand, “It is an easy mistake to make I am sure.”
Rolf cast Luna a sidelong look as he conjured another chair. “How did you know that?”
“I thought it was obvious,” she said with an amused grin.
So they sank down into the chairs with an audible crunch. “Oh well. At least it's more comfortable than standing,” Rolf consoled himself.
The three of them quietly watched as people milled about on the platform. Rolf did a triple take as a cow casually strolled past, but seeing that he was the only one who was alarmed by this, he decided that there must must not be anything unusual about it. He also concluded that the pub must have had a powerful cooling charm in place in order for him not to have noticed how uncomfortable his jumper was in this weather. He managed to wriggle himself out of it without elbowing any of the passersby. He had forgotten that he was wearing a Mrs. Skower's Magical Mess Remover t-shirt underneath, so he quickly put his jacket back on over it. The shirt had come free with a case of the cleaner, and was comfortable, still Rolf was embarrassed to be wearing a piece of corporate propaganda.
waiting for the van to come
Corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday,
man you've been a naughty boy you let your face grow long
At last their train arrived, and they stood up to board the first car. The train was nearly packed solid, but the three of them managed to squeeze their way in to one of the handrails, grabbing hold just as the doors closed. High overhead hung a map labeled “Ajiba Jila”. It showed a sprawling labyrinth of streets, with tendrils snaking out in all directions, which, they seemed to be at the center of. As the train began to move, so did the large purple dot on the map marking their location.
'Ajiba Jila.' Rolf repeated the words to himself a few times before asking, “Kanwal? What does Ajiba Jila mean?”
“Ah. It is what we call the Wizarding section of Delhi.”
The train plunged forward at terrific speeds, but the crowd was thick enough to keep them all steady. After awhile Rolf even found he could hold his balance without the handrail. The only drawback was a gentleman in their vicinity whom Rolf hoped, for everyone's sake, was going home to have a bath. He wrapped one arm around Luna's shoulders, drawing her closer, and she gratefully turned her nose in toward his sturdy chest.
“Just how large is the magical population here Kanwal?” she asked.
“In Delhi? Approximately thirty million. There are roughly 114 million witches and wizards in all of India.”
Luna surveyed the other passengers carefully, and Rolf smirked, knowing what she was thinking before she said it. “People here must really like to have sex.”
If Kanwal had been taken aback by this, he concealed it well. “I suppose that is a fair assessment.”
Thankfully the odoriferous man got off at the next station, and the remainder of their ride passed by uneventfully. Rolf watched as their dot moved up one of the northbound tendrils on the map, to the last station. This area of the city seemed to be primarily residential, with only a few corner shops here and there. The trio trooped up three flights of stairs, finally arriving at Kanwal's flat.
As they closed the door behind them a musical voice carried out through the flat, “You are nearly late Kanwal, dinner is on the table.” A petite woman with large round eyes stopped abruptly in the living room doorway. Her face broke into dazzling smile. “You did not tell me you would be bringing guests,” she admonished him as she rushed forward to greet them.
“This is my wife Shruthi. Shruthi, this is Luna Lovegood and Rolf Scamander,” Kanwal introduced them. “I assured them they could find no finer meal in Delhi than right here.”
“Namaste. Please make yourselves comfortable.” She directed them to a set of chairs near the front door, and invited them to please also remove their shoes and socks. She then scurried off to the back of the flat, returning several moments later with a basin of fresh water and several towels.
Rolf had only gotten as far as untying his boots, hesitating at the thought of what might be in there after a day of walking through the hot city. Something about Shruthi's insistence, however, discouraged him from arguing any further, and he removed them. Shruthi gently washed their feet, and as she finished asked her husband to show them into the dining room while she cleaned up. Though he felt rather weird about it at first, he had to admit that the washing was very relaxing, and the hardwood floors felt wonderfully cool on his newly refreshed feet.
The dining room was simple and cozy, decorated with rich paisley wallpaper, and a polished mahogany table in the center. Upon Shruthi's return she immediately pulled out her wand, multiplied the food on the table until there was far more than enough to feed the four of them, and filled Rolf and Luna's plates. Rolf looked down with uncertainty at the spicy smelling brownish orange dish before him, until he noticed his hosts watching him expectantly. Luna had already dived in, so he followed suit.
The first thing he noticed was how tender the chicken was; The second thing was that a burning sensation was quickly rising in his mouth with an intensity unlike any he had experienced before. Tears began to spill down his cheeks, try though he might to blink them back. Through his watery haze he could make out Luna groping for her water goblet. Her tongue was thrust forward in a heavy pant, desperately trying to get air across her wounded palette.
Shruthi's gasped and dropped a piece of bread back down onto her plate as she noticed the considerable distress that her guests were in. “Dear me, I didn't even think. I am so sorry. Kanwal, quickly, see if we have any Tasalli Ausadhi.”
Rolf gulped down as much water as he could while listening to Kanwal clattering around in the adjacent kitchen. He returned, hastily uncorked two small vials, and handed them over.
“There, that ought to make your meal much more pleasant,” he reassured them.
The potion had a consistency rather like congealed milk, but it instantly extinguished the fire in his mouth. He dabbed his eyes with his napkin before resuming his meal, which he now found to be perfectly delicious and not at all painful.
“So, are you here on holiday?” Shruthi inquired politely.
Rolf took a drink from his goblet before answering, “In a manner of speaking, I suppose.”
“We're here to look for Stubby Boardman,” Luna clarified.
“Oh?” Shruthi looked over at her husband with pointed interest.
“Yes, and I was hoping Kanwal might tell us what he knows about Stubby,” Rolf replied.
Kanwal nodded in concession. “I know only what I read in the article, though I must confess that you are not the only ones to come here looking for him.” He continued before Rolf could ask him to do so, “I overheard two men discussing it in Gopi's, the pub where we just met, a couple of weeks after the article was printed. I picked up only that they were getting frustrated at their lack of success, yet they still seemed quite determined to find him.”
“What did these men look like?” Rolf asked through a mouthful of food.
“They were sitting at a table behind me. I did not look at them. Judging by their accents I would say they were both British.”
Luna swallowed and spoke up, “Did they say where they had been searching?”
Kanwal gazed at the ceiling thoughtfully. “The only place they mentioned specifically was a Synagogue just beyond the southern tip of the Ajiba Jila.”
Rolf ate in silence for some time after this, completely baffled by that last bit of information. Who else besides him would be crazy enough to actually come here looking for him, and how had they heard about the sightings so quickly? More puzzling still was how on earth a Synagogue entered into this. While Shruthi's cooking did not disappoint, this excursion was not turning out to be nearly as fruitful as he had hoped.
After they had all finished eating Kanwal helped his wife clear the table. He could hear the two of them talking animatedly in what he assumed was Hindi. Kanwal came back alone with steaming mugs of chai, and sat down.
Kanwal stirred a few extra spoonfuls of sugar into his before speaking. “Now Rolf, perhaps you would be willing to indulge me by answering a few of my questions?”
Kanwal continued to stir contemplatively, as though wondering where to begin. “I am curious about why this Stubby went into hiding in the first place.”
“No one really knows for sure,” Rolf explained, “When he dropped out of the public eye in 1980, he was easily the most famous wizard in all of England, and quite possibly the world. His band, the Hobgoblins, totally changed the face of music. Their ingenuity and songwriting mastery has not been rivaled to this day. Even the magnitude of their popularity was in itself revolutionary. People thought their music would live on forever, but,” here he paused to sigh, “one day he just disappeared after a concert without a word to anyone. A fan had thrown a turnip at his head during the show, which many people claim is what drove him away, but I think there must have been more to it. In any case, no one has seen him since then.”
they are the eggmen,
I am the walrus, goo goo g' joob
Kanwal folded his hands on the table, nodding. “I see. And why is it that you wish to find him?”
“That's a good question.” Rolf took a sip of his chai, carefully considering his response. “Well, I guess the mystery itself has a pretty powerful allure, but it's more than just that. I have loved Stubby's music for, oh, longer than I can recall. His lyrics were insightful, and often spoke to some of the deepest corners of my being. Though he has never known it, he has always played a sort of heroic role in my life. When I heard he had been sighted it was like some piece of my soul was crying out to meet its kin, and so I came searching without hesitation. Wow. That all sounds so much weirder when I say it aloud.”
Kanwal grinned. “It is understandable. Now, have you considered a guide to aid you in your journey?”
“Ooh, that's not a bad idea Rolf. It is a very large city.”
Before Rolf could respond Kanwal put up a hand to cut in. “I do not mean within the city my dear. Surely you have noticed that Delhi is a poor place to hide? No, if this man Stubby wishes to remain out of the public eye, he will have left by now. India is a vast and diverse place. Outside of the cities you will find few English speaking people.”
Rolf looked him in the eye with raised eyebrows. “Am I to assume we won't have to look very far to find a suitable guide?”
“I think, as they say, you have got me. As it happens, I have taken the semester off from the University where I teach to do some independent research, and was indeed going to volunteer myself to guide you. I am fluent in seven different languages and am sure I could be of assistance.”
Rolf was certain that Kanwal was still holding something back, but somehow he was also equally sure he was a friend. Plus, if he was being honest with himself, the thought of getting out of this sardine can of a city was highly appealing. “What do you think, Luna?”
Luna smiled placidly at both of them. “I see no reason not to accept. Did you have a destination in mind, Kanwal?”
“As a matter of fact I do. I am not sure if it will amount to anything, but there is an area not far from here where men have gone to hide in the past. I think we should begin there. In the meantime, Shruthi and I would be honored if you would be our guests for the night. By now she should have the bed ready, and a hot bath drawn for you.”
Luna closed her eyes dreamily. “Mmmmmmm.”
Rolf nodded. “I think what she's trying to say is, we are grateful for your hospitality. Oh, but there is no need for us to take the bed, we'll be fine setting our cots up out here.”
“You will do nothing of the sort,” Shruthi insisted as she entered the room. “And I will not hear another word about it. The bed is freshly made, and the bath is ready. I was not sure how you liked it so I left a few bottles of oil out on the counter for you next to the towels. Make yourselves at home, and I will trust that you will let me know if you need anything at all.”
“Thank you. Both of you.” Rolf agreed wholeheartedly with Luna's sentiments regarding the bath. If tomorrow was to be anything like this day was, there was nothing he needed more right now than rest and relaxation.
“There you have it Ladies and Gentlemen, the first installment of our exhilarating tale.
“Before we move on, the author would like to share a few other tidbits with you. She informs me that a few of the terms used in this story were derived from Hindi using something she calls 'Google Translate'. Ajiba Jila translates into English as strange district, and Tasalli Ausadhi translates as calming potion. Also, having no real knowledge of it, she would like to apologize to any Hindi speakers if she butchered your language.
“Well, we hope you all enjoyed yourselves this evening, and will join us next time for the second thrilling chapter.”
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