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He was a vital man, a powerful character with a strange blend of different personae and demeanours. In one minute he might be a brute, then a joker, a child, a patriarch, a demon, a mentor, a madman. Ayoh-ha could be any one of the several spirits that protected the Rumoh Rajo, and make use of their various powers to heal, acquiring the might of a tiger, of a serpent, of an elephant. He had a beefy physique that exuded a thick scent of earth and wood. Although 76, he looked 20 years younger. Perhaps he fooled death with his spells. He was always wrapped in a sarong, often with a naked torso, and sat with his thick legs crossed over each other, so overstretched that they looked detached from his body. Concealed under his sarong he wore a string with an old coin and tiny lumps of wood fastened around his waist as a shield against evil. Each of his sturdy hands was adorned with three large silver rings, their gemstones possessing hidden properties and the power to summon the other world. But the most intense power emanated from his mouth, from his breath, able to sway both spirits and mortals. He was a gifted storyteller and sat ceremoniously addressing those around him from an invisible pulpit. He declaimed stories and myths that enthralled, words oozing from his dark lips that kept listeners spellbound, as if by osmosis his words seeped through their skin. Sometimes when I was alone with him, he would draw close to me, his stare cast on some object he rolled in his fingers, muttering cryptic obscenities and commands and repeating, “I speak the truth, believe me” – words that always left me unsettled.

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