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Thamina was bossing him around again.
“Stop stirring your soup like that Faruq, it will get cold. And look how much bread you have. Next you’ll be asking for more soup because you can’t finish off the excess bread alone.”
Faruq scowled. “No I won’t. I don’t even want it. Mama’s soup is better than yours.”
He expected her to get angry, but she simply shrugged her shoulders and took his bowl. “More for me,” she said, pouring it into her own.
“Hey!” shouted Faruq. He darted a hand out to grab her hair but came up with nothing but air, for she’d dropped a sopping piece of bread in her lap and bent over with a screech to retrieve it. He moved to shove her, but at that moment a cat bit his foot under the table, making him howl.
“Stop all that noise, Faruq!” said his mother.
“But Mama, one of your cats just bit me!”
“Is that right?” she chuckled “Who is it?” she peeked under the table. “Ah! Junah, you’re just hungry aren’t you?” She tsked and fed the cat some bread. Faruq turned back to Thamina, who was contentedly slurping soup from her bowl. In truth Faruq enjoyed Thamina’s soup just as much as his mother’s. He’d simply been fretting over the wish when Thamina scolded him, but he couldn’t ask for seconds now, not after he said her soup wasn’t any good. So instead he positioned his knee and jerked it to the left, intending to knock her in the thigh, but just as he moved she shifted as well and he missed. Faruq let out a frustrated grunt. He just couldn’t seem to get a solid hit on her.
Suddenly, a terribly wonderful thought occurred to him, and he drew a sharp breath. His mother and father were chatting across the table. Faruq bit his lower lip and quickly swung his hand back to slap his mother’s arm, but at that same moment she turned and his fingers brushed just by her. His heart pounding, Faruq looked squarely at his father and aimed a kick right at his folded legs, and screamed when his bare toes were savaged by claws and teeth
“Another cat?!” he yelled.
Faintly, above the sound of his own blood thudding in his ears, Faruq heard his mother chiding him. Was it possible the wish had been successful in some way? He thought back, trying to remember the exact phrasing, and like a splash of cold water on the hottest day in summer, realization both shocked and soothed him. The wish had been a success, but not for him. The wording had specified his family, but not specifically himself. Faruq gripped the table, unsure whether he should be outraged or simply grateful that nothing sinister had happened to his family, in fact quite the opposite. As per the wish, they would live out the rest of their lives free of suffering.
What bad could possibly come of that?
* * *
A few more times that week, Abd-al Malik came back to see Thamina and, Faruq knew, to check up on them and make reports to the wish scribes. One day, when Faruq was in the market looking for dried meat for his mother’s stew, a rough hand grabbed his arm and turned him. It was the guardsman.
“I waited to find you alone, because I don’t want your sister to know about your foolish wishtesting. It would worry her.” He glared at Faruq.”What on Earth possessed you to do it?”
Faruq wrung his hands. “An old beggar’s wish almost a year ago has been very successful. I’d hoped to live in a manor like his, or even a palace-”
The guardsman burst out laughing. “A palace! The Djinn are not all powerful Gods, stupid boy. They can neither make kings nor displace them. That is the dominion of the almighty Ahura Mazdaa alone.” He shook his head. “You are summoned. Muwaffaq wants to speak with you. Follow me.”
“The wish scribe you spoke with last week. Stop wasting time. Come.”
They found Muwaffaq strolling the palace’s outer courtyard, sitting on one of the marble benches lining the pathway and sipping juice from a lacquer cup. Once again he wore all white with a simple red turban.
“Young wishtester,” he greeted, the delight in his voice evident despite its reedy texture. “Malik tells me you and your family are well…” He smirked at the boy. “And yet you seem to be…suffering a bout of nerves.”
Faruq kept his head down as he admitted that the wish had worked on everyone but him, then whipped it up at the wish scribe’s laughter.
“Yes, yes, it was an eccentric old goat who commissioned that wish. Practically on his deathbed, but he insisted on being exempt. He claimed his suffering was the divine retribution of God for his terrible sins.” The wish scribe waved a dismissive hand. “I’m pleased to know it was granted just as he desired. We don’t have much time, and it’s so gratifying to get a wish right on the first try.”
Faruq only stared at him.
“That is all,” said the wish scribe to the guardsman. “Take him back.”
* * *
The next day, Faruq’s father burst into the house shouting. “Everyone! Come here! I have incredible news!”
The family assembled around the house’s one small door.
“What is it, Baba?” asked Thamina.
“Ghanim is dead, and I’m now running the carpentry shop!”
Everyone gasped and his mother put a hand to her chest. “Oh my, that is incredible. But, what of his son? His wife?”
“Dead as well,” said his father.
“Oh,” said Thamina, and then, “Congratulations!”
“Yes a celebration is certainly in order!” cried his father. He reached for the purse at his hip. “Thamina, I want you to hurry and buy a haunch of lamb before the market closes.”
Faruq stared from his father to his sister to his mother, brow furrowed. “But, Baba…how did Ghanim and his family die?”
“Robbers,” said his father, “On the West Road.”
“Hmmm,” his mother hummed knowingly.
“As the senior craftsman, I’m overseeing things for now, but who knows, it could become permanent,” he said.
“Oh I hope so!” cried Thamina as she wrapped a scarf around her head. “Even I am getting sick of lentil soup.”
Faruq still frowned. “But…what about Ghanim and his family?”
“I just said they were dead, Faruq.”
His father looked thoughtful. “I can’t rightly say he will be missed, but perhaps you’re right. In that case, it is my duty to make the shop as successful as possible in his memory, isn’t it? And if we can eat meat every week so much the better.” He winked.
In the end, his father did inherit the carpentry shop and soon after they had meat almost every day. Their clothes became finer and the goods in their home nicer. First a dark, engraved table, then colorful woven curtains and finally soft beds for each of them.
Soon after, Faruq’s father breezed into their home after work one day, grinning from ear to ear.
“We have had a visitor today!” He cried, and grabbed his wife by the wrists, dancing her around the red and gold mat on the floor of their main room.
She laughed. “What has you in such good spirits, my husband?”
He let her go and plopped down on the red cushions Faruq’s mother had arranged in the corner. “A servant of the King came to tell us that the Queen saw one of our designs in the house of an acquaintance, and we are being commissioned to decorate a new guest room in the palace! We are rich, my dear!”
He jumped up again and enfolded his wife in a crushing hug which she gleefully returned. His sister rushed in from the back room where the two of them slept. She’d only heard the last part but began dancing and whooping all the same. Faruq beamed. This was what he’d hoped for all along! They would now move into a fancy house with servants, and live out the rest of their lives without care. Well, his family would, but surely they couldn’t just leave him behind. Take that, old Ayman. Satisfaction bloomed like a winter rose inside Faruq’s chest. The wish had been a great success.
What Faruq couldn’t know was that high up on the tower, inside her glass prison, for just a brief moment Marid stilled and ceased her silent screaming. Her golden lips drew together in a vicious smile.