The ruler, remaining seated slips out of his loafers, raises his feet minimally and pensively considers his wiggling toes.
– Well no, minister, not pecuniary, certainly not. The point is precisely that it be a token of goodwill which is not material. That it come from the heart where one of the most worthy deeds is setting aside one’s…. pride. You see?
– Of course, yes, but what exactly…. I do not mean to offend, dear Ruler but do you wish for me to go on my knees and bow to you? If that is really what it takes, well, I think I could live with that, I could do that.
The minister looks around carefully: they are all alone, there are no security cameras or windows. A little genuflection will not kill him, he has gone through much worse. And just to think of what it will be like with him resolving the hostage situation which will compensate him a thousand times over. A quick, dignified bow, a gesture of crosscultural understanding, yes, that is feasible.
The Ruler is staring very intently at his feet. Their marvelous scent is beginning to invade the small room. The minister has not yet caught on.
– Almost, Minister, almost. The bow is the first part. It signifies that you are willing to humble yourself. The second part is… literally setting aside your pride.
He wiggles his feet more animatedly this time, not wishing to speak the words or having to knock the minister over his head with the obvious demand. At last, transfixed but not horrified, the minister seems to get his head around what gesture is demanded. His mouth flaps open and close without a sound. Then he says
– You mean you want me to…
He gestures vaguely in the direction of the impatient feet. The ruler lifts his eyebrows, knits them together and shakes his head gravely.
– To actually bow down and then….
The serious nod continues in the same rhythm.
– Yes. Unless you wish to rekindle my interest in beef.
By the time the Ruler has said “interest” the minister is already down on his knees and bending over forward. Overwhelmed by the excellent scent of the approaching feet. Which look beautiful. Then his dry lips connect with the cool flesh and though this would be enough, the low point of his heroic undertaking, the minister, stupefied by the fragrance, cannot resist sliding his tongue out for a good three or four seconds. He wishes he could go on licking these feet forever, just lick them, sucky-sucky. Then snaps back upright into the seat in mortal embarassment while his lips have begun tingling.
But the Ruler, lost in contemplation, is just staring at the painting on the far wall which shows an old man in white robes with a white woolen skull cap and an ashen beard upon a face of bronze skin. The face is as craggy as the mountains in the interior.
During his flight back home the minister stares out at the sea below in silence. The secret agents do not say anything either though they exchange nervous glances.
The Ruler does not stick to the written agreement and so the hostage cows are not returned for the time being. But neither are they slaughtered. Their lowing can be heard in all parts of the Ruler’s mansion. The bodyguards had been hoping that this distraction would become a thing of the past. If there were a fight to the death between a minister’s agent and a Ruler’s bodyguard it would be uncertain who of the two would prevail.
The minister upon his return gets torn to bits and pieces by the media, both national and private. The first three days he neither holds a press conference nor makes any public appearances. Indeed he does not even talk to his wife who has gotten so frustrated that she has temporarily moved in with her sister.
The minister’s lips have been feeling infinitely heavy since that kiss. He has unsettling dreams of licking the Ruler’s feet amid a huge cow herd, every head of cattle wearing black sun glasses. Licking, licking, licking, to no end. In the mornings he wakes up soaked.
On his fourth day back home the minister makes his first trip to the Government offices. Now is the time for his burro council fellows to suck it. He stands up from the circular desk, looks at the six other ministers then wraps the wooden desktop with his knuckles. The two special agents enter the room carrying a cloth-covered box to the minister’s section of the circular desk. They put it down carefully. The other ministers shake their head in surprised pitty and amusement.
He grabs the red sash at the top and pulls back the covers, unveiling an arched, golden cage with an emaciated bird of prey flapping its wings weakly.
Distinctly not a Milvus Milvus, not the Ruler’s irreplaceable pet. Only an ill-feathered, scrawny sparrow. The thunder-struck minister opens his mouth to say something
– Ga…. Ga…. Ga…. Gagagagaaaaaah gagagagahhh…Gaga…
…is all he manages. Ever again.