Universal Medicine

by on January 9th, 2011
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The old brave levels three spoons of tea directly into the boiling water. A tiny bit slips over the edge, sending flames to lick the sides of the small black kettle. He closes his eyes, breathing deep the lackluster but newfound aroma of the simmering roots. His eyes catch a silence in the alternating glow of the late evening firelight. Painfully clear is the calming memory of daylight, of life, of war.

Three days ago he rode a great distance, stopping infrequently for droughts of water and to present the dried blood extending from the backs of his hands to his elbows. Ladies averted their eyes, not so much at the sight of blood, but in a vain attempt not to be seduced by the savage. He was handsome in his youth, with shorter hair than his brothers, coming to that awkward spot between his shoulder blades and the small of his back. His chiseled features led quietly up to eyes that held a quiet dignity only confused for vacancy by white men. Long since an old man, his handsomeness had given way only slightly to distinguishment.

When he rode into Narangett, a blacksmith stared, spitting tobacco to the dust below his feet. In doing so, the blacksmith did not miss a single beat of his iron. It was a ballet, a ballet of sweat, metal, tobacco juice, and blood.

“What business have you here?” The blacksmith’s eyes radiated cold.

The Indian gave no reply.

“Chief, I’m talkin’ to ya. What business you have here?”

This time the brave looked beyond the man hammering toward two horses prancing in the fenced in center of town.

“Crazy old red, get yer hide outta here if ya don’t want nothing.”

The Indian made a gesture, but by then the blacksmith had returned focus to his work. As he walked through the town oblivious to the surprise on varying visages, the brave thought about the corralled horses. He had never seen captive horses and he felt great empathy rising in his gut.

As the lawmen eyed him curiously, the brave ascended the four steps which led to Dr. Jos. Brown’s office. The doctor had just finished his lunch and an unknown creamed condiment lingered slightly on his mustache. The doctor was caught between a breath and a thought at the sight of the comely warrior. Unabashed, he arranged a few papers and an instrument or two on his desk before addressing the visitor.

“Hello friend, what can I do you for on this fine day?” The doctor’s patience ensured he would be the only living physician accepted in Narangett.

The brave attempted a smile in greeting, but was relegated to a gesture toward his midsection. Doc Brown indicated for the patient to remove his shirt, surprised at the modernity and still authentic savagery of the clothing.

“So, stomach hurts, does it?” Doc turned to his cabinet, grabbing something which looked cold to the brave.

“Let me see.” Doc motioned for the Indian to come closer.

After traversing every inch of the sun-soaked midriff, the Doctor extended two fingers and quickly pointed toward the ground. Doc Brown had realized he was not going to get a verbal response from his patient. The brave hastily donned his shirt. Returning to the cabinet, Doc made quick motions, obscured from view as his back was to the brave. He presented the Indian with a small satchel, natural in color with maroon stitching about large enough to hold a small fist. The brave cautiously opened the sack, revealing dark brown herbs and berries.

Doc Brown returned to his desk, shuffling benign papers as he sat. The Indian eyed the herbs for a long moment, looking up at the doctor with a gaze of both gratitude and caution. After a long pause, he approached the desk.

“Payment.” The one word was enough for Doc Brown to realize the old man knew English, but chose not to speak it.

Doc Brown closed his eyes and waved his arms, indicating no payment would be required. The old Indian knew no money would be accepted, even if he had any. The brave reached into his clothing as if to reach straight into his chest, producing a small but polished turtle shell. He placed it silently next to Doc’s right hand. With this, he was gone from the office.

The harsh amber smoke from the tea placed the brave firmly in his present. He spooned three servings into a hollowed drinking gourd, letting a fourth spill to the ground. After drinking about half of the mixture, he realized his stomach felt better than it had in many moons – a fortnight at least. He went outside to lie under the stars and think about the busy day ahead. As he drank the last of his tea, the brave knew tomorrow it was back to struggle; back to war; back to resisting the encroaching white man.

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