Either you are sorting it out, or you are full of it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Charmer

I had a long day with politics, trying to sigh off a weight off a weight that sat on my chest. I had confided my fears in those closest to me, finding my views more scattered and fragmented than I realized. There was something I seemed incapable of grasping. There was an idea that lingered there at the intersection of all of these issues, but I couldn’t give it shape.

Eventually I fell asleep staring at the ceiling, contemplating the way the paint formed craters. I imagined that I was coasting over them in a microscopic dunebuggy. Before I knew it, I was dreaming.

I walked through a great baazar with men from all over the world, selling, selling: tangerines, pistachios, live stock, rose petals, tobacco, AK-47s, hairbrushes, Christmas lights. Everywhere there was haggling. A two-for-one floated here; a split-the-difference sang there; a let’s-build-a-relationship rose above; a no-no-too-expensive filtered below.

The sight of so much activity overwhelmed me and soon I sat down under a canopy to watch a snake charmer. A large group had formed. The charmer held the pipe and swayed with the deadly creature, letting the great hum emanating from his instrument soothe the entire scene. The hum continued without letting up. Fifteen minutes went by, and still he continued: the snake, the charmer, the crowd, the hum. I figured he had mastered a form of circular breathing. Eventually the snake allowed the snake charmer to pet its nose with the charmer’s nose, nuzzling it just so, as if writing his name on the scaley surface. The crowd watched breathless, but the charmer never ran out of breath himself blowing the whole time. It was as if he had stolen it from us.

When the spectacle was over and donations had been made, the crowd emptied out into the labyrintine market place, but I remained thinking about the spectacle. The snake charmer approached without me noticing and sat down next to me. He said, “What are you thinking about?”

“Oh, sorry. Nothing.”

“Really, you seemed distracted.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about politics lately.”

“Ah, yes. That.”

“It doesn’t matter. What’s your secret?”

“The secret?” he laughed. He looked in to my eyes for a moment, and then looked around the way one does when one wants impart something to someone, but isn’t sure whether others should hear.

“I’m afraid it’s the same as your politics, my friend.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“This taming of snakes. It requires a kind of absolute dedication. You see, I must play my pipe without stopping. If I don’t, the snake will bite me. It’s a steadfastness, a vigilance.”

“But you’ve got to have the antidote. Or at least someone in this great baazar could supply it.”

“For what? This snake and I have an understanding. It is my livelihood. It trusts me because I play to it, but break that playing, break that trust, and it’s over. An antidote is far too expensive for me. And besides, why would I want it? What else would I do anyway? I’m a step away from a beggar as it is. Everyone thinks I’m a madman. Who would feel comfortable in the presence of a snake charmer? Most men are comfortable living a life as far as possible from death.”

“So the two of you will be together forever? Or until one of you dies?”

“I suppose so. Snakes come and go, but I have no doubt one will kill me one day.”


“Of course. My hum will falter one day and the snake will become frightened and bite me. Then I will die, and the crowd will undoubtedly become frightened and scare the snake more. It will probably kill more people then. If things go well, there might be another snake charmer around looking for a snake. But there are fewer and fewer of us these days.”

The charmer’s face began to fade and I felt myself falling, then I woke up.

posted by ferret at 11:59 pm  

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