Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Gentleman Traveller

Here's the next instalment of Folk Tales of the Sea People...

The Gentleman Traveller, July 2014

The Gentleman Traveller

In a town not far from here, which was close to the coast of the human-land, there once came a strange-looking traveller. He looked so strange that, as he strolled into town, everybody stopped and stared at him. Two boys, Hai and Kai, swam sneakily after him as he strolled through the streets. The traveller had arms and legs like a human, but his hands and feet were webbed like a frog, and instead of a mouth he had a beak. When he removed his hat (which he did before knocking on the door of the inn) the nosy little boys saw that the traveller had a bald patch upon his head, shaped like a dish.
“A stranger!” said Hai.
“A strange stranger!” said Kai.
The innkeeper came to the door to greet the traveller.
“Forgive my intrusion,” spoke the strange traveller. “I wish to stay in your fair hotel, should you have room for a small and humble wayfarer.”
The innkeeper had been working inside, so he had not seen the traveller coming. He had quite a surprise when he set his eyes upon the traveller, and swished his tail nervously as he watched him. “There is room, but you must tell me your name, and from whence you came.” said the innkeeper.
“Of course, friend!” exclaimed the traveller. “My name is Kashanbo. I travelled here from the rivers of the human-land in search of giant sea-cucumbers.” 
Kashanbo’s reply satisfied the innkeeper, who nodded and motioned for the traveller to enter.
Hai and Kai watched from the corner of the inn. Before Kashanbo went inside, he winked at them and many bubbles emerged from his behind. The two boys laughed and Kashanbo went into the inn.
“A funny stranger,” said Kai.
“A gentleman stranger,” said Hai.
They agreed that they liked this stranger, and would follow him about his travels in their town.

Kashanbo dined at the inn and made polite conversation with the innkeeper’s daughter. He charmed her with his gentlemanly manners and entertained her with stories of his homeland, and the girl giggled until her gills hurt.
When it became late, Kashanbo politely excused himself from her company with apologies for taking so much of her time. He retired to his quarters, and the innkeeper and his family were very satisfied indeed to have such a courteous and refined visitor at their lowly inn.

The next day, Hai and Kai waited for Kashanbo to leave the inn. They spied on him as he walked east through the town, and swam low on their bellies through the nori fields as Kashanbo wandered. The traveller was a weird sight, for he swam in a manner that seemed quite awkward to the boys, but propelled himself through the fields as though he had a tail and fins just as they did.
“Where is he going?” wondered Kai.
“What is he wanting?” wondered Hai.
All at once, Kashanbo sped forward and disappeared over the crest of a hill. The two boys raced after him, and found him sitting on a rock, a cucumber in hand.
“Your sea-cucumbers are quite delicious,” said Kashanbo, without looking at the boys. “The humans send me their land-cucumbers, but the sea-cucumber is quite another thing.” He ate the cucumber thoughtfully, the boys watching in curiosity.
“Tell us about the humans!” exclaimed the boys. They’d been warned to keep away from the water’s surface, for their town was near the land where humans had come to dwell. Humans were dangerous, they had been told, but Kashanbo the traveller appeared to know them well.
Kashanbo smiled and began to walk again. “The humans have hands like you and legs like me, but on each foot they have five fine little toes, and although we can breathe their air, they cannot breathe our water.”
“Tell us more!”
“They build their houses far and wide and everybody wants to be bigger and better than everybody else. They are not modest, but they are hard-working and often send food to me in my humble home,” Kashanbo explained.
The two boys were enthralled. “Tell us stories of the humans!” the demanded, tugging on Kashanbo’s arms.
The traveller held their hands and they walked through more fields, and he told them many stories about life on the human-land and the silly things that humans did. The boys thought he was like a kind old grandpa, but Kashanbo was no bigger than they, and his face was only as old as their fathers’. Kashanbo was very strange indeed, but he was also very nice. The boys decided they liked him.

At the end of the day, the three returned to the town, where Hai and Kai’s mothers were waiting. They gave the boys a great scolding for being gone so long.
“We were very worried!” said Kai’s mother.
“We were very concerned!” said Hai’s mother.
Kashanbo stepped forth. “I apologise for keeping your sweet sons away from home, dear ladies,” he said meekly. “I am a lonely wayfarer, and your lovely boys kindly kept me company as I wandered the beautiful lands about your fine town.”
“Oh, how fine!” exclaimed Hai’s mother.
“Oh, how lovely!” exclaimed Kai’s mother.
They agreed that their sons did not deserve such a scolding, and invited Kashanbo for tea. He joined them for their meal and when he left for the evening, he invited Hai and Kai to swim with him the day after.

The next day, news had spread about Kashanbo’s stories of the humans, and Hai and Kai were accompanied by their friends. They swam after Kashanbo as he walked to the south, a little shoal of boys and girls filled with curiosity. Kashanbo ate two cucumbers and told tales of the humans, and they learned that the humans were very superstitious and thought of their kind as Mermaids. Kai and Hai thought this was very silly.
Once again, the naughty children were in trouble for not telling their parents of where they were going. Kashanbo was invited to eat a meal, and as before, he asked the children to join him for his next travels.

The day after that was much the same, but this time, Kai and Hai’s friends had invited their friends too. A clump of nosy boys and girls followed Kashanbo as he explored west. He ate three cucumbers, and told them about the strange clothes of coloured cloth that humans wore when they were dry. When he parted from the children, he invited them to join him the following day.

Come the day after that, friends of Hai and Kai’s friends had invited their friends too, and now every child in the town swam along with Kashanbo in a grand procession. This time, Kashanbo went to the north, where he ate four whole cucumbers. He told the boys and girls about the strange houses that humans lived in, and the odd food they liked to eat, which Kashanbo said was akin to eating the herbs that garnished a meal.
The people of the town had become used to the way their children followed Kashanbo, and he was indeed very kind and gracious in answering the many questions the young boys and girls had for him. They spoke of him as ‘the gentleman traveller’ and when the group returned after supper, no children were scolded and no fins were spanked.
“Can you tell us more tomorrow, Kashanbo?” asked Hai.
“Please tell us more tomorrow!” said Kai.
Kashanbo paused at the door of the inn. “Tomorrow, I must travel alone,” he told the group of children. “Please wait patiently, for I shall be but one more day, and then shall be the day I find the giant sea-cucumber. If you would kindly promise to be quiet, for the giant sea-cucumber is very shy, you may accompany me the day after tomorrow.”
The children whined and complained, hoping that Kashanbo would change his mind, but the traveller was quite firm. “Your mothers and fathers are missing your company,” he said. “Pray give them my best regards when you return home.”
Unwillingly, the children drifted off, disappointed that they were told to wait.
Hai and Kai swam together, for they were neighbours, and talked of Kashanbo’s words. “Let’s follow him anyway,” said Hai.
“Yes, we’ll follow him. We can creep after him,” agreed Kai.
“He won’t see us.”
“He won’t suspect a thing!”
The two boys grinned at each other and went home.

The next day, Hai and Kai crept out very early to wait near the inn. They hid behind the grocer’s sign, and from there saw Kashanbo step outside. They followed the traveller through the town, hiding behind rocks and in reeds here and there.
Today, Kashanbo didn’t go east. He did not go south, nor did he go west or north.
Today, Kashanbo swam up.
He swam with great intent, and he swam very fast. He did not notice the boys, and they had to swim with all their might to keep up with him.
Eventually the traveller surfaced from the water, close to the coast of the human-land. Kai and Hai watched him swim up and down, searching. Then they saw a sight that made them clutch at each other in delight: a real human!
Hai and Kai edged closer, trying to keep out of sight. The human was just like Kashanbo had said, with arms like them and legs like him, but with toes on their feet. The human was small, smaller than Kashanbo, and the boys realised that this human was a child. The child was dressed in a colourful cloth that covered his body, but he had rolled up the cloth on his legs and as they watched, the human child sat down at the water’s edge and stuck his feet in.
Kashanbo, who had been crouching beneath the water ever since the human child arrived, leapt upwards and grabbed those two feet with their wiggling toes. The child screamed, but Kashanbo quickly dragged him under the water. What happened next frightened Kai and Hai so much that they could not move or speak. Kashanbo ate the little child up, all save a single leg.
“Such a sweet little child, so delicious and young,” Kashanbo said to himself. “I’ll save but a morsel for my journey to the fine town below.”
After that, Kashanbo seemed quite full, and fell asleep against a rock, holding the leg tightly.
When Hai and Kai regained their senses, they swam back to the town as fast as they could.
“Where have you been?” demanded Hai’s mother.
“What have you seen?” demanded Kai’s mother.
“Oh mother, mother, we followed Kashanbo and he went to the surface and ate a human child!” exclaimed the boys.
Their mothers became very angry.
“How dare you tell such stories!” said Kai’s mother.
“He is our gentleman traveller, he would not do such a thing!” said Hai’s mother.
“Go to the surface and see, for he is sleeping against a rock with a belly full of human child!” said Hai and Kai.
“Nonsense,” agreed the mothers.
But the innkeeper, who had overheard, believed there to be some truth in the boys’ tale, and taking his eldest son and his brother, went to the surface. They saw the sleeping traveller and they saw the human child’s leg with its foot and its five fine little toes, and they knew that they boys had told the truth.
The three men returned to the town and told their wives and families, and soon the whole town had heard about what the boys saw.
“What should we do?” they wondered.
Before they could decide upon anything, Kashanbo strolled back into the town. The human child’s leg was nowhere to be seen. The traveller greeted the people warmly, not seeming to notice the strange and worried ways in which they looked at him.
Stomach still filled with the human child he’d eaten, Kashanbo retired to his room.
The people could not think of what to do, for Kashanbo had only ever been polite and gentle within their company. They did not like to think that he might have a single bad scale upon his body.

In the morning, only Hai and Kai waited outside the inn, for their curiosity was insatiable. Kashanbo did not go east, nor south or west or north, but today sat very quietly at the edge of the town. He appeared to be waiting.
 “What is he doing?” wondered Hai.
“Why is he waiting?” wondered Kai.
The two boys watched from a distance. They did not want to be eaten up like the poor human child. The men and women from the town had followed too, and sat half-hidden in reeds and behind coral.
All was silent through the town, as the town watched Kashanbo and Kashanbo watched, very intently, a gap within the weeds.
After a long time, when everyone had started to give up hope that something might happen, the weeds began to rustle.
Cautiously, a giant cucumber floated out.
Kashanbo sped forward and grabbed the cucumber with his webbed hands. It struggled and he bit into it viciously.
The town watched in stunned silence was Kashanbo ate the giant cucumber entirely. He ate and ate and ate, until every last morsel was gone.
When he was done, Kashanbo stood on a rock and looked around at the townspeople. “I have sampled the giant sea-cucumber your land is famed for, and it was the most delicious dessert. My visit to your fine town has been splendid, and I have enjoyed your company and your courtesy, your fields and your foods. I pray that my presence has not disturbed you fine people too greatly.” He put on his hat. “Good day, fine people! It has been a splendid feast!”
With that, Kashanbo swam up, up and up, away and out of sight.

The traveller never returned to the town. Over time, people reminisced about his strangeness, and his pleasant company and his stories. They tried to forget the more gruesome memories of his stay.
“He may have been strange,” they said. “But he was a gentleman.”

What did you think of the gentleman traveller? For Kashanbo, I borrowed the kappa of Japanese folklore. :) 
Other stories from Folk Tales of the Sea People can be found here.

No comments:

Post a Comment