We were back. In the town where it all began. How it should go on, I didn’t know. Unimportant yet, for my friend wasn’t well. The women in the village had sutured his wound, I had frequently kept an eye on it on the ride back, and he had tended to it. Nevertheless, it got infected. After seeing the doctor, he joined me in our hotel room to rest in bed.
By now it was noontime. But when I asked him if he wanted to eat, he shook his head.
"No, that’s all right. You want somethin?"
I said I didn't. There was time. I would come back to it in a couple of hours, though. It was important that he got stronger.
But it felt good seeing him not all too washed out. He propped himself slightly on his elbows, looked over to my bed, and I understood.
"You stay off your feet."
I brought him my pillow and helped him to sit up. He grimaced briefly when he had to move again. Lucky that riding had come to an end for the present …
Instead of looking for his canteen (we just had arrived, but his things were already in greater disorder than mine), I filled my own from the pitcher on the dresser and handed it to Vin.
"You're pretty bossy", he said, pretending to be indignant.
"I have to, so that you obey", I explained, but with a smile.
I then received the bottle from him and allowed myself a swig as well. Water. On the way we had drunk hardly anything else. Something stronger wouldn't hurt – but I shelved that too.
"Where you goin now?" My friend looked me over searchingly.
"If you need me. Here, I mean." It seemed strange to say it out. It was true though. I could go and see if there was any action in town. However, leaving him alone for that …
"I see." He smiled broadly. "In that case I'd like you to tell me somethin. A story. A fairy tale. Somethin or other."
I sighed softly. Hadn't he long since outgrown that? But then again … Special times, special measures. Therefore I agreed and made a move to come to him. He motioned for me to wait and moved over a little. I nodded my thanks, took off my boots and sat on the bed, leaning on the back post, with my legs stretched out.
I remained silent for a while, until I had made my decision. Then I pulled myself together and in my mind, I travelled to the south. Far away, and in days long gone.
"Fine, so here's an adventure of Compère Rabbit and Compère Bouki."
"Compère?" Vin's question came quickly, before I had really started. "That somethin like Compadre? Like Chico said of us all?"
"Yes", I confirmed. "Comrade or brother here and there …" And except for our young friend himself and the both of us … everyone he had called that was dead. Hell, a children's story starting us off on that. I didn't want to think about it. So I rushed to move forward. "Bouki, however, is another matter. Something between dog and wolf, bouki meaning hyena in an African language. But those were rather rare in Louisiana, so …"
We both knew all too well how and why Africans had come to the south. I didn't want to continue dealing with that, either. And with the preliminaries ticked off, I didn't have to.
"I get it. I'm already seein those two rascals." He pulled us on to less dangerous water. I gave him a lot of credit for this one. "Now, what happened?"
I got a bit more comfortable. And was momentarily distracted when he laid a hand on my foot. Unexpectedly pleasant. Warm … But back to business.
"So, once upon a time, there lived Bouki, Rabbit and their friend Opossum. Rabbit was a scamp. Sometime after work they ran out of water. Bouki and Opossum said to Rabbit: 'Let's dig a well.' 'Water?', Rabbit said, 'But I'm living on dew.' They dug the well anyway. And every morning it was dry, because Rabbit had stolen the water the night before. Bouki finally told Opossum: 'I'll make a woman out of tar and put it up there. That's where Rabbit gets the water, and he's very fond of young girls.'"
My friend laughed a little. I had to smile and went on.
"Well, he moulded a doll out of tar and sat it down close to the well. And then along came Rabbit with his water buckets. 'Hello, little lady', he said. She made no reply. He repeated what he had said. Still silence. And then he touched her and his hand stuck to her. 'Let me go, little lady.' Which she didn't. 'I'll hit you.' He slapped her and his other hand stuck to her, too. He said: 'I'll kick you, little lady.' She kept holding on to him, so he gave her a kick – and was stuck yet again. 'I've got another foot‘, he declared. Then he kicked her again and was yet again caught in the tar, unable to free himself. When Bouki and Opossum came, he claimed that he had come to fetch water for the very first time. And as he was a scamp, he asked them: 'Throw me into the water. Throw me into the fire. Wherever you please. Just don't throw me into the brambles. They would scratch me.' He did so for he knew that they'd throw him right there because of it. And when he landed in the bushes, what came from him was: 'Now I'm home'. He always bothered them", I concluded.
"Well, Rabbit wasn't muchly nice. Resourceful fella, though", Vin commented.
I nodded. Yes, this was probably what you could take from it today. As a child it had been mainly adventures to me. Him not exactly acting like a friend had sort of got lost along the way.
We kept quiet for a while. What I would've liked to do … My fingers were already halfway in my pocket, when I remembered that this was out of the question now. Years ago a doctor had nagged me about wounds healing worse if one smoked. Mine did so anyway, sooner or later. But this wasn't about me.
"If you want to, be my guest." He had seen it. No surprise there.
"Right, I'm going..."
I was about to rise when he held me down.
"No. Why not stay?“
I broke away cautiously and opened at least the window before I settled with him again.
It was true. Actually … I didn't want to leave at all.