A Tall Ship Tale #59: The Red Badge of Curry

Another entry from Paul DeAnguera.

From the wisteria-scented shade of a massive stone colonnade, the Legume’s officers looked curiously down the broad avenue. Beyond the rows of lotus towers and carved sandstone temples of the Kmer Empire, the god-king’s procession was approaching. First came the soldiers, their helmets and lances glittering in the tropical sun. Silk banners and standards followed, caressing the hot wind. Next came the musicians, many of whom were bonzes, or Buddhist monks, from various nations.

“What a great civilization this is — er, was!” Professor Peabody enthused. It was easy for the time-traveling sailors to forget that everything they were seeing had happened seven centuries ago.

“How did they get to be so great?” the First Mate asked.

“Some historians think that the original population was having too much Funan bed.”

A bonze soloist, walking ahead of the rest, played a jazzy slidehorn number which had onlookers dancing at the side of the road. The hip bonze connected to the Thai bonzes. The latter were attempting to play vegetables instead of musical instruments, and appeared to be in some difficulty. Sir Hillary, disguised as a monk, marched among them, fumbling in embarrassment with a large white onion.

A troop of waiting-women in flowered robes came next, displaying precious objects of silver and gold. Then spears and shields, and jeweled carriages, and ministers of state shaded by long-fringed parasols riding elephants with gilded tusks. Last came the biggest elephant of all, upon which King Suryavarman II stood swaying with his precious sword in his hand.

Sir Hillary’s Thai bonzes, having finished their part in the procession, turned aside into a courtyard. They passed beneath a statue of seven-headed Muchilinda and entered a gallery which led to the palace kitchens. “The King loves to eat tomatoes in his curry,” their priest explained. “But, he hates tomato seeds. We are to demonstrate the harmony of Buddha with all living things by removing the seeds from his highness’ tomatoes, by means of meditation.”

“Now, how does that work exactly?” Sir Hillary inquired. The priest smiled and brought forth a thin, hollow reed from his saffron robe. He broke off a piece and handed it to each bonze.

“Push the reed carefully into the tomato by the stem so it will leave no mark. Exclude all distractions from your mind and become one with the living, fertile fruit. Follow the lines of the aura of its spirit with your mind and you will find the seeds. Maneuver the reed to each seed in turn and suck it out. And now, may I introduce the head cook!”

The cook was clearly not a very patient man. Unceremoniously he handed them each a plump, aromatic, delicate tomato, then stood back and glared at them with his hands on his hips. “No, no! You’re doing it all wrong,” he exclaimed, rescuing a dripping tomato from a fumbling bonze. “Another Thai! And you, thumb-fingers — give me that. Do you think it’s a coconut? Another Thai!”

“But, they’ve never done it before, and look at the great effort they’re making,” the priest implored. “Why don’t you give these fellows a second chance?” But the cook was adamant, and shouted:

“If at first you don’t suck seed, Thai, Thai again!”

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