I was in Mali, I was in Djenne, when I met him. He was there in front of the mosque selling string. Selling magic string.
My Malian colleague was deep in discussion with him, and money exchanged hands. When I asked what was on offer, I was told it was string. It was magic string to cure bad backs. One simply tied it around the waist against bare skin and there it would do its business until your back felt better, so much better. Really, I said. How very interesting, I said. Tell me more, I said.
I asked the seller how the string's magic had been procured. He and my friend both gave me a sharp look. It appears that was a terribly impolite question; after all, everyone knows that magicians don't reveal their secrets.
And so I asked the next best thing -- if there was a money back guarantee. And the seller peered at me straight in the eyes and said, Yes. Yes, there is. And so it was that I dug in my pocket and I paid for my string. My very own magic string.
In the days to come, morning after morning, night after night, my Malian colleague exclaimed that his back -- his aching back -- had never felt better. It was remarkable. Why, he was positively nimble.
And deep inside my bag, safely in a pocket, there my string lay, waiting, just waiting, one day to do its magic. For me.