Series 2: “The Djinn” Part 5 A child of fire

Published: November 26, 2014
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The midwife took me away to a distant village and left me under a tree, in a basket. My foster parents took me up into that tree.

The midwife took me away to a distant village and left me under a tree, in a basket. My foster parents took me up into that tree. The midwife took me away to a distant village and left me under a tree, in a basket. My foster parents took me up into that tree.

Hercules ‘filtered’ through the kitchen wall one day, but it was not his unconventional entrance or his massive djinn like physique on that occasion that made me stare at him blankly. It was that I was not used to seeing him anywhere except in the study. When I inquired so, he shrugged and walked around the kitchen, peering at the various appliances, finally stopping at the toaster.

“What’s this?”

I allowed myself to reflect briefly on the irony of someone as powerful as Hercules being stumped by a kitchen toaster before explaining and offering to toast some bread to demonstrate, but he took the slice of bread from my hand and held it over his open mouth. I thought he was going to eat it; instead a flame shot out of his mouth.

The smell of burnt toast filled the kitchen, the charred bread fell to the counter and my mother walked in the door. I darted forward to hide Hercules from her view. Although given his size that day, that ought to have been a physical impossibility, but to my amazement, I succeeded. After a few pithy observations regarding the carelessness of grown sons who forgot bread in the toaster knowing its thermostat no longer worked, and injunctions to clean up, my mother turned around and left the room again.

“She didn’t see you!” I exclaimed.

“Neither did you until a few months ago,” he pointed out reasonably.

I opened my mouth to argue, but closed it again. It was true.

He nodded.

“Tell me, do you remember when we first met, and you objected to my attire?”

“I still do,” I said apologetically.

I gestured towards him.

“You’re okay now, but when you’re smaller, the bikini, the veil…”

“But you accepted that I had a right to dress as I liked, that you reacted strongly because one rarely questions something one has always done, and condemns something new.  Didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did,” I agreed.

He had made me realise that was so.

“You were amazed that I could read minds, but within moments you had accepted it and were pushing me to read yours.”

“Yes,” I agreed again.

“In fact, my taste in books was harder to accept than that I was a djinn and talking to you, even stranger than my ability to conjure things out of thin air. You accepted without demur that I was the starving man Bernice Patterson saw on the carpet, that I could appear and disappear as I wished. When you left, you were pondering not over any of that but on how you too could make a difference by means of your writing. Did you not?”

“I did, Hercules, but why are you telling me this? You know it. I know it, its reality. All I asked you was why my mother didn’t see you.”

“Reality, is it? Is that why most people disregard these things? Perhaps it is only what you perceive that is reality? Are all those people that we spoke about, the ones who were killed, burnt, condemned to death because someone said they committed blasphemy, perhaps none of them were, or are real because no one gives them a thought?”

“Of course they’re real. But I hadn’t thought about them until…”

“Yes, until I pushed you to. At least, that does not make mine a pointless exercise, even if you think it was. After all, no one appreciates being forced to think. But does that make these people an illusion till then? That is a dangerous idea, my friend, it leads to delusion. So many people, with separate realities and everything else an illusion makes an illusion of reality itself… but what a compelling, what a terrible illusion it is! It leaves just too much to the imagination.”

An image flashed through my mind, too wild to be entertained for long, of everyone with bubbles on their heads, like goldfish bowls inverted…

“My mother didn’t see me either, but in a different way.”

He said this so quietly that I wasn’t sure if I’d heard it.

“What?”

“My parents were childless, until an old woman who was good with spells and amulets, gave my mother a staff and asked her to twirl it in a pit lined with dry leaves. She said she would then conceive a child at the end of that month.”

“What a stupid…”

There was both humour and pain in the look Hercules gave me.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…”

“My mother agreed but in her desperation for a child, she twirled the stick a bit more enthusiastically than she had been advised and in the wrong direction. Fire came out of its end and the leaves ignited. My father was terrified. He said it was an evil omen. They decided to give away their child if one was indeed born of such methods.”

“And?”

“My mother fell pregnant with me but she never saw me. I was indeed born of fire. The midwife took me away to a distant village and left me under a tree, in a basket. My foster parents took me up into that tree. Yes, my parents were human and my foster parents were djinns. They brought me up and they told me this story.”

I didn’t know what to say, but Hercules understood, I think.

“When someone does what my parents did, it is only because of something beyond their control. I have learnt this. Like you, they were unable to accept something outside their ken. It is a prison you live in. I wanted to break down the doors for you.”

Suddenly, I understood why he had come down that day, why he looked the way he did.

“You’re going?”

He looked around, and then smiled at me.

“I have been here a long time, and I don’t mean to go yet. But yes, a person can go in more ways than physically move to a different spot. What I came to do was to remind you that sometimes we forget what we are taught, that we can change ourselves inwardly. It makes a difference. You see, what we achieve inwardly changes outer reality.”

I smiled back at him.

“You said that?”

“No, Plutarch did. Know him?”

And then he disappeared. I never saw him again.

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Rabia.Ahmed

Rabia Ahmed

The author is a freelance writer and translator.

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