The market in the center of Nutooka was filled with native people buying local fruits, nuts, fish, vegetables, fowl, pig’s feet, eggs of all sizes, and rice from dozens of vendor stalls. Some of the sellers had occupied their sites for many years, and were situated under large shelters made of wood and bamboo. Others were more temporary, yet even they had canvas awnings to protect from the noonday sun. Terrence Dechantagne walked past the area where raw foods were available and through the portion of the market where the smells of roasting chickens and stir-fried pork assailed his nostrils. Beyond that, merchants sold hand-made rugs and bolts of unusual cloth. And beyond them were tents where native prostitutes plied their trade, offering whatever sexual services a man would pay for, usually at prices that wouldn’t have bought a decent drink in the great city of Brech. And beyond that was the vendor for whom Terrence had been looking.
A large grey and black striped tent stood near the edge of the market, and in front of it was a table covered with animal furs, piled more than a foot thick. One would have thought the old, withered, native man, with the long, thin grey beard, big round bald head, and gap-toothed smile was a seller of furs, and he probably did sell a few now and then. But animal furs were not his stock and trade.
“Dechantagne,” said the old man. “You look good. Not like the last time I see you, eh? Then, you look like Guma eat your heart.”
“Oyunbileg, I’m surprised to see you,” said Terrence. “I thought you’d be dead by now.”
“I’ll be here long after you,” said the old man, smiling again to expose all four of his yellow teeth. “So, you want to see, or what?”
“Yes. I want to see.”
“Two hundred marks,” said Oyunbileg.
“Fifty marks, gold,” said Terrence.
“Dechantagne, you’re a good friend, so I give it to you for one hundred. You know I have to bring it all the way from Kutambata.”
Terrence fished a small, black, cloth bag from his shirt pocket and tossed it to the old man, who opened it and poured the contents into his palm. There were exactly ten gold decimarks. Terrence had brought no other money with him from the ship. Maybe this time, he would be able to stop after just one. Oyunbileg reached below the table covered with animal furs and pulled out a tiny cylindrical bottle, made of dark indigo glass. It was only about an inch long and a half-inch in diameter. He handed the bottle to Terrence, who held it up to the light.
“It’s full!” said the old man.
“You go inside. In back. Nobody will bother you.”
“If somebody does bother me, I start shooting.”
“Yes, yes, I remember.”
The little old man pulled open the tent flap behind him, and Terrence Dechantagne stepped around the stall table and through the opening, which was then closed behind him. Inside, a young native woman, Oyunbileg’s daughter, was washing herself with a sponge and water from a wooden bowl. She was naked from the waist up. She stared at him for a moment and then went back to what she was doing. He stepped past the young woman and walked to the back of the large tent and sat down cross-legged on a hand-woven rug. He looked at the tiny vial in his hands, his eyes already starting to water, and pulled the stopper from its mouth. Placing a finger on the tiny opening, he overturned the bottle to moisten his finger with the milky white liquid inside. Then he reached up and rubbed the liquid directly onto his left eyeball, and then his right. He had just enough awareness left to recap the bottle before he began to see it.
He was sitting cross-legged, though he was no longer in a tent, or in Nutooka, or in Enclep. He was in the middle of a great field of purple flowers that stretched ahead and to the left and right as far as the eye could see. Each flower was a foot tall, with a blossom as big around as his hand, with five purple petals, each almost the same color of indigo as the little bottle he had purchased from the old man. And in the middle of each flower, where normally one would find the pistil, was a very human looking eyeball. Terrence stood up and turned around. Twenty yards away was a small yellow cottage, with a green roof and door and two windows with green shutters. And to the left and the right of the house, and beyond the house, the field of purple flowers stretched away to the horizon.
As Terrence walked toward the house, the flowers leaned away from him as if to get out of the way, though he still stepped on many. He walked up to the green door of the cottage, and knocked on it. He was just about to knock on the door again, when it opened. And there she was.