Faruq started to shake, fighting to remember what he’d just read not a minute ago. He wondered if his forgetfulness was the work of the the Djinni thrashing above him.
“Get on with it,” said the wish scribe, impatience deepening his sandy voice. Faruq closed his eyes, but that only heightened the poke of the machete digging into the middle of his back. He snapped his eyes open again, scrambling through his brain for the words. Finally he opened his mouth.
“I wish…” he whispered, and as he spoke the words came flooding back.
“I wish for my family and those of my bloodline to never again have any form of suffering.”
Instantly Marid ceased her writhing. She placed her golden palms flat against the glass and fixed Faruq with her lit-coal eyes so that he became transfixed with fear, and in a voice like air and moonlight she spoke one word.
A second passed with the Djinni’s stare penetrating the boy to his insides, another second gone, and then she took up her flailing again, bumping and squeaking inside her glass prison. Faruq let out his breath. He felt no different. Slowly, he turned to face the wish scribe, who smiled in smug satisfaction, gazing up at the Djinni.
“See how the madness leaves her when granting a wish? It’s in the very nature of the Djinn to serve man, truly.”
“Is…is it done?” asked Faruq.
“Just as she has spoken. Come, my boy, it is time for you to leave. Go home and, perhaps, live a life free of suffering. I will give you an escort.” He gestured to one of the guardsman, the same one who’d led him inside, and the man stepped forward, scowling. Panic seized Faruq. There would surely be questions if he turned up at home with a royal guardsman on his tail.
“That’s all right, I can get back on my own,” he said. “I know the way very well.”
“Oh no, my young friend. I insist. And from now on we’ll be monitoring you and your family very closely. We need to know if the wish was a success after all.”
He smiled and Faruq suspected it should have been sympathetic, but he’d seen starving stray dogs fighting over scraps of meat who managed to look more sympathetic than that.
“The man who requested it is sick and dying, you see,” the wish scribe continued. “So we don’t have much time.” He clapped Faruq on the back, so hard the boy winced at the sting of it. “Let us go!”
* * *
All the way back he relived the bite of the wish scribe’s slap, and as he labored under the hot sun, sweat running into his eyes and down his back Faruq fought tears. This was suffering! It was clear the wish had not worked in the way intended, and he had no idea what trickery the Djinni had employed. He found himself dwelling on the story of the widow and her three dead children, knowing now that he should have considered how the wishtesting could affect his family if something went wrong. The finery of the palace and the success of old Ayman could no longer eclipse his fear, and he wrung his hands and worried at his lower lip the whole way through the market, hurriedly leading the guardsman.
Even at his quick pace it took almost an hour to reach the southern end of the market. His home was a mere ten minutes’ away when a high, female shriek cut through the air, followed by male shouting. A man and a woman ran up to them, jingling with wealth. The man’s eyes flashed and his face was almost as red as his fine outer cloak. The woman had black streaks on her face where the kohl around her eyes had run from her tears. Faruq’s eyebrows rose, surprised at seeing such a fancy couple in his part of town.
“You must help us,” ordered the man. “That scoundrel has stolen my wife’s purse! Let us go after him and get it back!” He emphasized the last three words by jabbing his finger in the direction of a shabby figure darting away into the emptying market.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you-” the guardsman began, but the woman cut him off.
“You must!” she cried. “He’s getting away! Help us or the King will hear of this.”
The young guardsman hesitated a moment, and then rounded on Faruq. “You stay here,” he said before running off after the couple. And for one full minute, Faruq did stay. Pure indecision held him as surely as if his legs grew straight from the dusty earth. But at last, with a jerking motion like he was tearing his feet from the ground, he bolted off in the direction of home.
“Mamaaa!” he called as he bounded up the hill-side road to his house. He couldn’t help himself: The word burst from him the same way a blow drew a scream of pain. The sandy yard in front of his house was empty save for a bucket that someone, likely Thamina, had been using to wash clothes. “Mama!” he called again, ducking into the dark entryway of his home. He dashed into the main room and froze. His mother sat on the bed, slumped against the brown brick of the wall with her thick legs sticking out before her. Some garment that she had been mending, a scarf or a veil, dangled from her fingers.
Her eyes were closed.