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A Welcome

By Jim Krusoe
"I wonder," the innkeeper inquired as we finished the generous meal he had so recently provided, "if you and your wife are aware of the quaint customs of this place to welcome strangers, and if you would be willing to participate?"

"Of course," I swiftly answered. "My wife and I are firm believers in encouraging local traditions wherever we may find them."

At that, relief seemed to sweep over his heavy face, and he led us from our table to a room we had not previously noticed towards the back of the inn, probably because its entrance was all but covered by a growth of ivy. The room was surprisingly large, and on its walls were the heads of various animals, not only the usual deer and bear and wild pig, but also dogs and mice and several species of birds, including crows and parakeets.

Then a door opened on the far side of the room and a stream of villagers emerged, in pairs, all utterly and shamelessly naked, moving in a kind of slow and stately minuet which we took to be in our honor. They danced well, despite their heaviness-the diet in these parts seemed to consist mostly of tubers-and at the end of their brief terpsichorean demonstration (the whole spectacle lasted no more than five minutes, and took place in total silence), each couple, for indeed the men and women were of equal numbers, fell to the floor and began the act of love. We stood there, not sure exactly what to do, when a red-headed couple up in front signaled, by means of pantomime, that we were invited to join in, so as rapidly as possible we removed our clothes (the innkeeper having discretely disappeared by then) and began to imitate their pleasure. Once finished, the villagers regained their solemn expressions, and, as we put on our clothes, they vanished the way they had entered.

On returning to the dining room we found that the innkeeper had set out a small dessert of ripe pears and some brandy "compliments of the house," and when we asked him to join us he explained that according to local custom the only time the villagers were allowed to procreate was-according to some law or another-in the presence of strangers. Indeed, he said, they had built this very inn, had constructed the road from it down to the civilized world, had put up the signs that advertised low rates, all in order to attract unknowing citizens of somewhere else who ordinarily they would have abhored, their xenophobia being that acute, so we might come and guarantee the future of their race. And now, the landlord added, that we had fulfilled our purpose, our lives quite frankly meant less to them than dirt, no, not even dirt but something hateful, a rat, a worm, a tick or louse, some insect, that finding one wouldn't even think before he'd caught it between his finger and his thumb, and squeezed.

We paid our bill, and, as you can well imagine, quickly left, uncertain in those circumstances if any tip was called for and if so how much.

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