Amadis the octopus seller had never tasted an octopus. A long time ago he lived on the banks of the Campisi—but that was a long time ago, and he doesn’t live there anymore. Nowadays I hear he lives in a deflated balloon in Mongolia somewhere, but I don’t tell stories in the present, I tell them in the past. Amadis the former octopus seller who probably lives in Mongolia is a lot less interesting than Amadis the octopus seller who lives on the banks of the Campisi.
So a long time ago he lived in a fish stall by the Campisi. He didn’t sell fish because I don’t think octopi are fish. He sold octopi. The fishers and fish traders came to him from a haul in the Campisi and he’d buy their octopi and sell it to the people who ate octopus for fun.
But he never ate the octopi himself because when he did his face grew red like a blackberry and his tongue green like a coconut and his breath constricted and felt like fire in his lungs. So he tried to avoid eating octopus.
One day, a cold August evening when the hurricanes had just finished and left the Campisi bloated and fertile, Amadis the octopus seller had finished like the hurricanes and was closing up his shop for the night. Behind him the Campisi roiled and turned, the houseboats sinking up and down like an upset stomach, growing obscure in the green purple twilight made golden as the sun fell.
Then a woman was before him. Her octopus hair was shaking and trembling like the river behind them, and her head was tattooed all over, visible beneath the tentacly hair, with octopi tattoos and stencils of squid heads. Her dress was loose and bright maroon and swung in the wind around her legs.
“Evening,” she said, her voice quaking, but not in fear. Quaking with power.
“Hello.” Amadis the octopus seller replied, not disconcerted in the least. Only yesterday a man had come by for octopus hearts for his little boy who had the head of a tiger shark and only wanted sea creature hearts to eat. And last month a very old woman bought an entire adult octopus, suckers and all, and ate it right in front of him. She was totally bald and her head was covered with bristling, slightly moving barnacles.
“My name’s Amadis the octopus seller. Can I help you?”
“Yes,” she said. “I need to buy a squid.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” he said back. “I sell octopus.”
“Ah, excellent,” she brushed a squirming tentacle hair away from her shoulder. “That is what I need.”
Amadis the octopus seller stared at her for a moment, then shrugged. “All right then. What kind? Size? Color? Type? Gender?”
“The smallest you have. Don’t care about anything else.”
“Okay,” Amadis the octopus seller bent and pulled out a little greenglass jar out from under the cabinet. Inside was a tiny live octopus the color of a rotten banana. It was moving about the jar, smaller than your smallest finger, with its tiny orange eyes flitting this way and that around the greenglass jar.
The tentacle woman gasped and murmured, “Glorious.”
“Ah, how much?” she said.
“Three Honest Tears, ma’am. The fisherman brought it yesterday, the smallest thing I’ve ever seen in my twenty years in this business.”
She scoffed. “Three Honest Tears, man? Come on. I’m a bartering woman. Be serious.”
“I am, ma’am. Can I know your name for bartering purposes?”
“Sylling Bell,” she said offhandedly. “I’ll give you ten Silver Hours, and that’s the best I can do.”
“Sylling it is, then. And ten Silver Hours is enough for the greenglass jar alone, ma’am, if you want that instead.”
She looked over her shoulder. The purple tentacly hair curled and uncurled around her shoulders. “Pu--lease. I’ve got one Tear. That’s it.”
“A Tear and three Hours.”
“Tear and two.”
She handed over a little square black-glass jar with the lid off, and Amadis looked inside, then exchanged it for the little greenglass jar. She smiled at him with a knowing glance and slung the jar around her neck on a silver chain, tucking it into her billowing maroon cowl.
“Thank you, Amadis. You’ve no idea how much this means to me. We will meet again.”
He looked rather confusedly after her as she left the Market, her bright dress easily visible until she disappeared among the foggy crowds.
About six years later, in monsoony March, with many a profitable sell in between, Amadis was thinking of that strange octopus woman whose name was oddly familiar.
As he was daydreaming and watching the tan rain flood down on the hunched houseboats on the Campisi, a slam in front of him made him jump. A woman in a large loose green dress slapped a little green jar down on the counter in front of him. A scowl adorned her face, fringed with wriggling turquoise tentacles that seemed to be her hair.
He was so shocked he could barely stammer, “I’mAmadistheoctopussellerhowcanIhelpyou?”
“I need,” the woman said, breathing heavily through her nose, “to buy a squid.”
“Ah. Well, I don’t sell squids.”
She straightened up and leveled him with a glare. I can’t say what she really looked like—the shape of her nose and so on, because Amadis told me he has forgotten. All he remembers, apparently, is that her eyes were the exact shade of the woman who’d bought the octopus in the little greenglass jar years before. Yellow. With a tinge of dangerous red.
“I sell octopi, for those who have a taste.”
“Ah, glorious,” she brushed a squirming tentacle hair away from her shoulder. “That is what I need.”
Amadis stared at her for a moment, then shrugged. “All right then. What kind? Size? Color? Gender? Type?”
“The smallest you have. I don’t care about anything else.”
He shook his head, amazed, and reached into a little square drawer and pulled out a red glass jar with an octopus inside, smaller than the knuckle on your smallest finger. Its yellow, red-tinged eyes flitted about and fastened on the woman.
“May I have your name for bartering purposes, ma’am?” he asked, twisting his suddenly clammy fingers around the jar.
She slapped down three Honest Tears, took the red jar in her hand, and said, “I think you already know my name.”
She swirled away and was lost immediately in the brown sheets of rain. Amadis watched the place where she had disappeared for a long, long time. Then he picked up the square black glass jar she’d left, and put it where the red jar had been.
And that’s the end of the story. Someday, I expect, I’ll trek to Mongolia and find the former octopus seller and read it aloud to him in his old age, the story I wrote from his golden memories. I think he’ll like that.