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The madman on my doorstep
Out of all the public places to make a scene, this madman has chosen here. Of all the doorways to choose to sleep, this madman has chosen mine.
I watch through my window as a copper man flings some copper coins at the madman. We, he out there with his coppers and tomatoes and I in here with my frankincense and myrrh, both watch as the madman begins to dance, singing some romantic-sounding song in some romantic-sounding European language. A copper child throws tomatoes from their hiding place behind the copper man, shouting and swearing until the copper man drags the copper child away, throwing the madman a few more copper coins in apology.
Later, I am still watching the madman, frankincense burning away in a little pot beside me, as a silver man dragging a golden boy walks up to the man, and hand him some silver coins.
The madman seizes his bag and pulls a silver sword from the ratty old fabric. Throwing his head back, he slides the silver blade past his chapped lips, past his chattery jaw, and down his dry throat until the silver handle balances between his teeth.
The silvery man hands him more coins, crowing for him to do something different, something better. The man nods, retrieving the sword from its new-found sheath, switching it with an iron rod with a rag knotted to the end and a bottle. He opens the bottle, pouring a small amount of the liquid onto the rag, the stench penetrating the window, penetrating the frankincense. The madman sheepishly holds the rag out to the silver man. The silver man cackles, pulling a silver lighter from his pocket, and sets the rag alight.
The madman does all kinds of tricks: running the ruby flames over his arms; taking a swig of the foul bottle and breathing fire over the heads of the gathering spectators, shocking the golden boy and several other children; and he ends by swallowing the fire. The crowds cheers as he bows.
The golden boy steps forward, handing the madman a single gold coin. The madman drops his iron stick and hands the golden boy a series of iron chains. The golden boy and another child, a girl of bronze and emerald, wrap the madman up tight, locking the iron chains firm. And I and the colourful crowd watch the madman wriggle out of the chains, the iron falling to the floor.
All day, men and women and children of all colours and status visit the performer on my doorsteps, handing him different amount of different coins for him to do different tricks. By nightfall, the streets are empty, my frankincense has burnt down to be replaced with myrrh, and the madman is curled up in my doorway.
I open the door and hand the surprised madman a mug of hot water and dead leaves. He drinks it heartily, his nose blossoming pink. His ivory skin and cottony hair are caked in patches of mud, his violet eyes fluttering open and closed as he downs the drink.
He pulls a gold coin from his pocket and holds it out to me; “This, for a good night’s sleep. And a copper for another cup of tea.”
“Keep your coins,” I say, “Come on in.”
“That’s big of you.”
“I’ve had plenty of your service today. If a night’s stay and a cup of tea is your request, a night’s stay and a cup of tea I can give.”
The performer gathers up his bag and steps off his stage into a house scented with frankincense and myrrh.