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A deep, familiar voice called him from the entryway of his family’s manor, and Faruq smiled. He closed the book he’d been attempting to read, running a hand over the supple green leather before he put it down, and made his way out of the adjoining solar to greet his friend.
“Malik!” he cried, clapping the young man on his back. Though the guardsman was a few years older than him, Faruq had grown tall and gangly in the past year, and now they were the same height. “Thamina is in her room, I think.”
“Yes, I’ll go to her soon, but I’d like to talk to you as well.”
“I see, well come this way.” He lead Malik to the solar and bade him sit on the heavily cushioned bench that protruded right from the wall, then reclaimed his seat on the opposite side. He studied Malik, shaking his head in disbelief that they had become such good friends. Perhaps it was because he came by so often. Perhaps it was because of the doting kindness he showed to Thamina. Or perhaps it was because they were bonded by the secret of the wishtesting.
“How are you, my friend?”
Malik opened his mouth, closed it again and then sighed.
“What is it?” asked Faruq.
“Thamina…she has changed.”
Faruq’s heart beat a little faster. “How do you mean?”
“She isn’t as sweet as she used to be. In fact sometimes she says things that are rude, hurtful even. I don’t know, Faruq, maybe it’s a sign that as we grow closer she feels more comfortable speaking freely. Maybe I’m being foolish.”
“No, you are not,” said Faruq quietly. “I have noticed it too.”
Malik was quiet for a moment, hunched over and staring at his folded hands. “Then perhaps it’s an unfortunate side effect of your sudden elevation in life,” he said.
Faruq’s heart continued to thud. “I will talk with her.”
Malik looked up, his eyes full of gratitude. “Thank you, Faruq. No matter how I scold or reason, nothing I say seems to get through to her, but if she hears it from you too, maybe she will listen.”
Before they could talk further, his sister came into the room, and Faruq bowed out to give them some privacy. He took his book and retreated to the courtyard behind their manor. The sun was going down. When he wasn’t hard at work as an apprentice at his father’s carpentry shop, Faruq almost always made sure to get home before sunset. It was his favorite thing to sit on the bench right in the center of the garden and watch as the leaves become shivering black shadows against the blended pink and orange sky. Lately, it was only during these few blissful moments that he truly felt at peace, for while he basked in the glow of the sunset, he could forget the nagging unease that laced his thoughts from morning until night. Malik’s comment disturbed him more than he let on.
So he stilled his mind before the sun’s waning light, but that day his meditation was disrupted by his sister’s voice followed by Malik’s, far off but growing louder. Malik sounded agitated. A wall of potted ferns made a fence between the bench where Faruq sat and the path where the couple came to a stop. They didn’t notice him.
“Thamina, what do you mean by this? Do you realize what you are saying? Or is this a joke?
“No, Malik. Why would it be? In fact I’ve been considering this for a long time now. It just doesn’t make sense for me to marry you.I should marry a rich merchant’s son at the very least, though with baba’s connections, I could probably catch the eye of a relative to the King .”
Faruq’s mouth fell open, and so shocked was he that he sat staring, and yet he couldn’t have been more surprised than poor Malik, who gave no answer for a few heavy seconds. When he finally spoke, his voice was rough as bark. “But what of all we talked about? Our plans together? I don’t have much but, Thamina, all that I have…it is yours! I would climb the palace and bring you the Djinn if I could.”
“But you can’t.”
More silence until he said, like a plea, “Thamina, I love you.”
“I know you do, but a rich man could love me just as well.”
Faruq’s chest squeezed. He felt horrible for Malik, but under that was something more, a surge of that ever-present nagging dread.
With nothing left to say, Malik walked off, his sandals slapping heavily against the ground. He was gone by the time Faruq’s shock could thaw into anger, but when it did, Faruq jumped up from the bench, made his way around the fence of ferns and shouted at his sister’s back.
She turned and looked at him in surprise.
“Did you really mean all you just said?”
“Of course I did.”
“But..how can you be so heartless?”
She laughed a tinkling laugh. “You are so naive, Faruq. I wasn’t being heartless, it was the truth.”
“What man would be kinder to you than Malik, Thamina? He worshiped you like an angel.”
“And so too will another man with more money and better standing. Really, Faruq!” She tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and laughed again as she sailed back into the house.
Because of the wish he’d made a year ago, Faruq couldn’t argue with her.