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Free to Good Home. That’s what the sign read, in a curious, somewhat loopy antique scrawl.
A pair of eyes looked up appealingly. That the eyes happened to belong to an unknown creature in a dark box was neither here nor there.
‘Is it, uh, house-trained?’
The stallholder looked offended and made a great show of adjusting his jeweled turban. Even his pointy slippers curled beneath his long swooshy robe. ‘Effendi – is he house-trained? You ask me this! You could not ask for a better –’ he appeared to hesitate – ‘companion! You take him, yes? Good, I knew you would. Here – here is collar, and lead also, and favourite chew-toy. Sorry to have to part with him, you betcha. Goo’bye – so long – so long!’
The last so long seemed to linger in the air a moment.
A pair of clawed, for want of a better word, paws gripped the side of the box and a head was now poking out over the top of it.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’
‘M-rawr?’ queried the creature in the box.
‘Don’t look at me like that … What do you eat anyway? No, wait, forget I asked that … Pardon me, friend, but what’s his – name … ?’
The stallholder had gone. The stall was gone. There was only a lingering aroma of Persian carpets and sugared dates and a patch of bare sand stretching between stalls selling fruit and ornamental brassware to indicate that any other stallholder had ever been there.
Did you ever have one of those days?
The man from the brass stall sidled up, somehow contriving to walk about six inches shorter than his natural height. ‘Pardon me, O wanderer from afar, I could not help but observe thy charitable deed in giving a home to this poor, defenceless creature – pray accept this attractive brass lamp as a reward for thy goodness—’
There was a growl. A long, low, rumbling growl, followed by a rise in the temperature even on that dusty-dry desert day, and a hint of acrid smoke. The man from the brass stall eyed the box nervously.
‘Better luck next time?’ I suggested. ‘Don’t worry,’ I shifted my grip on the box and patted his arm companionably, ‘I’m sure the other one born every minute will be along directly.’
I looked down at my newfound pet again as the brass man shuffled back behind his stall, muttering. I smiled as I walked away, and bought a bag of dates from a young lady whose smile cheered me up. Every now and then I passed one down into the box, from whence there proceeded a muffled ’ulp each time I did.
‘I think I’ll call you Draggi,’ I told him, scritching behind his ears. His back leg tried to keep time with my scratching. ‘Seems like a good name for a dragon, don’t you think? By the way, just how big do you grow to?’
Draggi shrugged his shoulders expansively. Ah, well, a worry for another day.
I didn’t even notice the curious round heavy glass bottle with the deep, swirling smoke inside it until I got back home. The lamp-seller must have slipped it in there while he was distracting me with the Aladdin’s lamp. (That had to be it. It couldn’t be the girl with the dark eyes and the cheerful smile.)
Getting a dragon shipped back home wasn’t easy, let me tell you. For some reason, though, he held on to that bottle – but that is another story …Published in