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In the tiny village of Rigdi, a minute and remote society in India, life was the same for everyone. Well, nearly the same. They had different jobs and tasks around the village: farmer, merchant, jeweler-- but they all lived their lives more or less the same, except Radba. Radba was a short, slim man who lived somewhere in the thick jungle. He had yellowed teeth and a bald wrinkly head, with a crooked smile and his off-putting feature was that he was only seen when he came to town for water and supplies. Even when he did come, he only spoke to the shopkeepers that he was buying from. Radba was so strange that rumors circulated among the local children that Radba was a horrible nature spirit that changed form so that he could be seen in public-- he ate children! Everyone cleared the path for Radba when he came about, because nobody wanted to be eaten. But Bingdhe, a young boy whose father was a stonesmith wasn't completely buying the story. Bingdhe asked his father one day, “Father, do you know Radba, the old man who lives in the deep jungle? The other boys say that he eats children and that he is a shape shifting nature spirit.” Bingdhe’s father looked at his son disappointedly. “Well, is that what you believe?” Bingdhe questioned, “Father, I don’t want to, but it seems possible.” Bingdhe’s father, who’s name was Baghatta, stood up from his stool and motioned for his son to follow him. Bingdhe was scared of what his father was going to do next. Baghatta walked through the town and Bingdhe was followed and asked hopefully every step of the way, “Are we going to the market? The field? The-,” but his father interrupted him. “I am going to teach you a lesson.” Suddenly Bingdhe was frightened, he knew that he should be given chore upon chore and would likely be carrying water back and forth from the well into town for at least a week. But instead his father took him to a clearing with a humble home of stone and straw. Bingdhe had never come across this place before and wondered if anyone lived here. Yes, the chimney was producing smoke so someone must be around somewhere. Bingdhe kept hearing hissing coming from inside the house. Suddenly a six-foot cobra came from around the front of the house and neared Bingdhe. Now Bingdhe was definitely scared and turned to run from the place, but his father placed a firm hand on his shoulder to stop him. Bingdhe was confused. The door to the house opened and Bingdhe was more frightened than ever. A familiar face poked out. It was Radba! Radba ran out until he was a few feet from the snake, and he began speaking in what seemed like snake tongue, a long repetition of various hisses. The snake turned away from Bingdhe and began climbing up Radba’s leg. Bingdhe picked up a stick and advanced towards the snake, but his father took the club from him. “But father,” Bingdhe began. “It’s okay,” his father said. Radba chuckled and pet the snake, which then slid down Radba’s other leg and slithered back towards the house. “Hello Baghatta, what brings you to my parts?” asked Radba. “Apparently my son needs a lesson on what it is that you do,” his father said, “apperently you feed off of children.” Radba, rather than being offended, laughed at the thought. “Why, bananas and mangoes are hardly the texture or taste of a child's limbs, don’t you agree?” replied Radba. “I'm afraid that I am much less interesting then the person you have dreamed up. Come inside for some tea and I’ll show you what I really do out here. Bingdhe was red with embarrassment. How had he possibly believed the things said about this nice old man. They all went inside but Bingdhe almost ran straight back out. The house was occupied by at least four dozen snakes, slithering about the rafters and floor. There were cobras, pythons, vipers and just about any other snake that lives in the jungle, except they were all in Radba’s house! Radba just stroked them and spoke in what Bingdhe was now sure was snake tongue. Radba said, “The people in town didn’t like the snakes as much as I did, so I had to move out here. The snakes are our friends. We understand each other and care for each other.” Bingdhe was astonished, “So, you can talk to them?” “Oh yes,” replied Radba, “Born with it, not sure if it is a blessing or a curse, but I choose to embrace it.” “So what did you say to that cobra back outside?” asked Bingdhe. “I said, 'Can’t you see that this child is rotten from living in the sun instead of a burrow in the earth? He is no good for biting. He will taste of fire and will burn your tongue,” replied Radba. Bingdhe couldn’t tell if Radba was serious or not. “So lets have tea now, shall we?” asked Radba. They all agreed upon that. The tea was very good but it was a flavor that Bingdhe was not familiar with, and he ventured to ask Radba what it was. “Hmm, oh yes I remember, when a cobra sheds, it’s old skin is very easy to crumble in with the tea leaves. It adds a very earthy tone to the tea,” Radba replied. Bingdhe felt like he would be sick. He was eating cobra. He spat out his mouthful of tea and kindly told Radba that he was no longer thirsty. “Just kidding,” Radba said and Bingdhe sighed with relief. “It is just their tails. The top portion is no good.” Bingdhe was once again sickened by the thought of eating cobra. Radba could tell this by Bingdhe’s expression. “Relax, it is actually a rare mushroom that I cultivated in my small garden. If you’d like I'll send some with you when you get on your way.” Bingdhe was surprised by how fond he had grown of Radba, and felt even more foolish about ever believing those rumors about him. As the sun began to set, Baghatta announced that they should probably be getting home, and thanked Radba for his hospitality. As the two were heading away from the house, Radba stopped them and took Bingdhe to his garden to give him one of his mushrooms. “You are always welcome back if you would like.” Bingdhe thanked Radba and told him that he would definitely be back. In the many years to come, Radba became a local favorite of the children, for they all loved to play with Radba’s tamed snakes, drink Radba’s delicious tea, and listen to Radba tell funny stories. Radba was even welcomed back into the village and nobody ever said another word about Radba being a child eating spirit.

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