One fine Sunday morning an old man who’d worked hard as a day laborer all his life and still did odd jobs now and then was walking along the beach near his humble hut when his left foot stubbed a hard object. He stooped and used his hands to dig out what looked like an antique oil lamp, you know, the kind shaped like a slipper out of the Arabian Nights? The lamp was rusty and encrusted with sand, so he took it down to the water’s edge and rinsed it, then rubbed it on his pants to dry it – and soon it looked a lot better, even shiny in places. As he angled it into the sun to make it flash he felt the lamp vibrate gently. Wisps of mist began to emerge from the gracefully curving spout - kept swirling and expanding and condensing. In a few moments they had taken on the outline of a human shape, a large male figure with broad shoulders and a dusky round face.
As the old man watched, this silhouette condensed further until it seemed almost as solid as a man of flesh and blood. The large apparition with the broad shoulders and chest wore a sort of bolero jacket of shiny velvety green with golden seams: Very nice looking, thought the old man. To go with the bolero, there were wide-cut cargo-style pants, also of a glittery green fabric, ornamented in fancy curlicues of golden brocade, held up by a richly embellished belt that shone like gold. Fancy fella, thought the old man.
One of the ears on the big, round, hairless head sported a hoop that flashed golden in the sunshine. The entire face of the genie –for such this thing must be, the old man figured – was one big smile, and the big brown arms were casually folded over the bare chest. "Good morning, sir," said the genie in a low, soft voice that resonated with good cheer, "and what a fine morning it is, wouldn’t you say?"
"Aye, sir," replied the old man, "that’s for sure. Me name be Pibald but lately folks have taken to calling me Baldy." He cut a rueful grimace, running a hand over his balding pate, accentuated by a thin fringe of white hair. "So you’re welcome to call me that, if you like."
The genie let out a soft, melodious laugh, as he rubbed his own bald head.
"What a fine name this fine morning, sir. I wish they’d call me that. But seeing as how Pibald is already taken I’ll stick with my own natural monicker, which is Harun." He raised the big index finger of his huge right hand, wagging it at the old man. "But don’t you go getting ideas about calling me Hairy or anything like that, if you catch my drift."
Along with these words he cut such a threatening face that the old man burst into laughter – in which the genie joined. Well, they were getting along famously, weren’t they.
The old man was still chuckling when, suddenly, the genie’s big round face was only inches away from his own. At this proximity it was an impressive, nay, a positively daunting sight. The old man blinked and drew up his shoulders. He was not easily frightened, but this was different!
"Sir," said Harun the genie now in that same soft, resonant voice, "I thank you for liberating me from that old oil lamp. It has been a long time since I beheld the light of day. Indeed, my spirit was withering in there. I don’t know how long I would have held out if you hadn’t come along."
"Oh, well, now, don’t mention it," said the old man who had very little formal education but a good, kind heart to make up for it, "I had no idea you were in there. We got lucky."
The genie drew back a little, regarding the old man with a quizzical frown.
"We? We got lucky? How so, sir? I mean that I got lucky is obvious, but how did you get lucky, if you don’t mind my asking."
The old man lifted one hand – the left: heavy, work-worn – turning it on edge as if to indicate something that is self-evident.
"You don’t meet a big, friendly young fellow like yourself every day of the week, or even every year. Once in a lifetime maybe, like this morning. I’m enjoying your company, lad. You strike me as a young man on the go, yet you seem to have all the time in the world. That … that …"
The old man shook his head, "… ah, all that green and gold, all that glitter and shine, why, it just makes a fella feel good."
Beaming even more expansively now, the genie said, "Well, Baldy, I believe I’m about to make you feel even better."
He drew himself up to his full, impressive height, assuming a downright monumental pose, thundering, "I grant you three wishes," then let his voice dwindle to its normal, mellifluous volume. "Anything within reason, of course. I’ve done this before, you know, and some folks are positively outrageous in their demands. One fellow wanted to be master of the world, I mean seriously. I told him that, while I might be able to arrange such, it would take me three, four years of hard work to accomplish, using all my strength and powers of magic. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So I told him to go back home, relax, I’d contact him when I’d arranged everything, which would take a while."
"So," said the old man, "are you working on it?"
Guffawing, the genie threw back his head, tilting backward from the waist, letting huge heaves and swells of laughter work their way through his body up into the bright morning air. This be one big, merry fella, the old man was thinking as Harun leaned forward and gave him a big fat wink.
"Do I look like I’m working on it?"
Now it was the old man’s turn to roar with laughter, only it turned into something more like an appreciative wheeze, due to the countless cheap cigarettes he had smoked in his life. They were having a jolly old time, weren’t they.
"Well, then, sir," said Harun, "what is your first wish?"
The old man smiled a little.
"Easy as pie. From now on I’d like to get a good full night’s sleep every night, I mean uninterrupted sleep, not up five, six times, to pee, no more twisting and turning in the wee hours, just good old old-fashioned sleep. And no more coughing, just plain sleeping, seven, eight hours every night, can you arrange that?"
"It’s done, sir," said Harun. "How about your second wish, then?"
The old man held up that same hand, the left, apparently the more eloquent of the two.
"Not so fast, young man. We can talk about that in the morning over breakfast – if there’s anything to talk about, that is. Meanwhile, how about a cuppa coffee? How long you been cooped up in this lamp, anyhow? You must be starving. There’s a nice little eatery this way, fella by the name of Jim runs it, we …
Behind him the old man heard a rustle, a strange sound that reminded him of long ago, when he was a young man, when girls wore raw-silk sarongs that rustled when they moved, as they let them fall. He turned to see what it was. There, in the sand, spread over a low table, was a red-and-white checkered tablecloth laden with delicious food items on gleaming tableware. On it stood a silver carafe from which emanated fumes in stylized arabesques, carrying the delicious scent of freshly brewed coffee, Harun grinning as if there were no tomorrow.
"Thanks for reminding me, Mr. Baldy, sir. I do believe you’ll find these victuals to your liking, and the coffee I assure you is positively superb."
The old man wasted no time sitting down and soon found himself partaking of a truly delicious breakfast, especially the coffee, with its delicately persuasive bouquet and the dusky, mellow aroma. Harun, too, dug in for all he was worth, clearly determined to make up for lost time, getting ahead of the breakfast-imbibing game. After a goodly hour or so – much longer than Pibald allotted to the frugal breakfasts of toast and coffee he usually prepared for himself – he got to his feet with a friendly, "Thank you much, son, have a good day, and I’ll see you in the morning, I hope." With that, he briskly strode away, up toward the dunes, never looking back, so he didn’t see that the moment he turned away, the genie had disappeared, and all that elaborate breakfast setup along with him.
That night the old man slept like a baby, a full eight and a half hours, feeling refreshed and full of pep as he bounced out of bed. So delighted was he that he stormed down to the beach without bothering to have even a cup of coffee, never mind the toast, also hoping of course the genie would be there to serve up another delicious breakfast like he’d had the morning before.
Sure enough, there was Harun, a big smile on his face, sitting in the sand, his dusky skin sleek in the morning sun, his green and gold attire ashine and aglitter. When he saw the old man coming he literally rose, like a cloud, his legs tapering to a wispy, swirling point, as if he’d just emerged from the lamp, which latter, however, he’d tucked into his broad golden belt.
"Top o’ the mornin’ to ya, lad," called the old man, "what a sight for sore eyes ye be. I slept like a babe in me mama’s arms, you kept your word, and for that I thank you."
"Good morning to you too, sir," beamed Harun. "I’m always true to my word, so how about breakfast?"
"I was hopin’ you might suggest that, son, but tell me, what you been up to since yesterday?"
"Nothing much," said the genie, as a very similar tablecloth appeared, this time green-and-yellow checkered, laden with delicious breakfast foods. "Taking care of business, you might say, looking after this and that, tying up loose ends."
"A rolling stone gathers no moss," said the old man, sat down and started imbibing some scrumptious toast soaked in golden brown butter, then sipping, eyes closed, from a cup of the same wondrously tasty coffee.
"Well, sir," Pibald heard the genie say, " now what might your second wish be?"
The old man couldn’t bring himself to open both eyes, so he opened only one, to peer at the glittery young man. Very deliberately he set down the cup, then allowed the other eyelid to ascend, making his kindly gaze full and complete as it came to rest with tremendous warmth and goodwill on the genie’s shiny round countenance.
"Why, sure, kid," he drawled, "as if you hadn’t just taken care of my most pressing problem – tossin’ and turnin’, sleepless nights. I wonder if you fully appreciate what that means."
Grinning, Harun shrugged.
"Probably not, I sleep like a log and light as a feather. So, what might your second wish be?"
"You’re not in a hurry, are you?"
"No, I suppose not. Still …"
Pibald took another sip of coffee, squinting at the genie.
"Well, then, think back seventy-odd years, the great tsunami, were you around then?"
"I was. Not here, but I heard about it, of course, watched it on TV."
"So, well, I was a boy then, I scrambled across the dunes, up into those hills. This beach here …"
He jerked his chin, indicating the graceful curve of beach and sea.
"… littered with corpses and debris. I was lucky, but my parents drowned, both my sisters drowned. I’ve been an orphan for seventy-three years. Can you change that, if that’s my wish?"
The genie slowly shook his head.
"That’s beyond my power, Pibald. It’s too complex. I’d have to change history, karma, the run of the world. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. It would totally scramble everything, uncontrollably, with disastrous results – if it were possible, which it isn’t. Can’t you think of a wish for the future? That’s much easier."
The old man heaved a deep sigh.
"My family’s been on me mind ever since I woke up this morning. I can’t think of anything else. Can’t you just take me back there, ten minutes before the first wave. I could warn my parents and my sisters, others, they would live. That wouldn’t affect the world very much, would it?"
Again Harun shrugged.
"Probably not, but we don’t know. I could do it, if that’s what you really want. But you should think about it, take some time, give it due consideration."
"I’ll sleep on it," said the old man, "let’s meet here again tomorrow morning, if that’s alright with you."
"At your service, sir," smiled the genie, drifting to his feet. "Your wish be my command."
They were becoming good friends, as anyone could see.
That night the old man had a dream. He saw his father and his little sisters down on the beach, playing in the shallow water. His mother had found herself a shady spot under a tree, watching her brood, a happy smile on her face. Pibald started running toward them. As he got closer, his mother turned, the smile still on her face. She put two fingers to her lips, sealing them, shaking her head. But Pibald couldn’t stop himself, moving closer. Now a stern expression was on her face, her lips shaping silent words: Go-a-way! One hand made shooing motions, shooing away an intruder … Pibald woke with a start, the echo of his sobbing groan still in the air. He checked the dented old alarm clock on the rickety banana crate by his bed – just over seven, again he’d slept eight hours. But that dream!
By eight he was walking down the path to the beach, where Harun sat in the sun, smiling, waiting for him, wishing him a good morning, inquiring after how he’d slept.
"Eight hours again, thank you very much, and I had a dream. I saw my parents and my sisters… well, I don’t think going back in time is such a good idea. They seemed very happy where they were – a Sunday morning on the beach, it looked like."
"Oh?" went the genie.
The old man shrugged as he sat down to the sumptuously laid-out breakfast, this time on a green-and-pink checkered tablecloth.
"My mother shooed me away."
"Oh, well," smiled the genie, "just a dream. Maybe you don’t really want to go - a blessing in disguise, surely. This way you still have two wishes left."
"That," nodded Pibald, starting to butter a golden-brown slice of toast, "has occurred to me."
Pibald and Harun spent the next few breakfasts talking about Pibald’s dream and eventually agreed it might mean that Pibald’s parents and sisters had reincarnated – it had after all been more than seventy years – that’s why they didn’t want him to disturb them. This made a lot of sense to both of them. Supposing you’d gone back there, Harun mused, well, imagine how that would have upset their karma through time. Yeah, Pibald agreed, better not mess with that … they were getting along famously, the old man and the genie.
A week went by, two, before Harun brought up the matter of the second wish again. He did so discreetly and charmingly, after having visited Pibald in his modest cabin, noting that the roof needed fixing, with the rainy season not too far off. Well, Pibald had said, I can take care of that, it’s been leaking since last year. Besides, I’m keeping an extra bucket or two around. So Harun graciously offered to fix the roof, which he did in a jiffy, in fact, in what had to be record time, like not quite a second - in the twinkle of an eye, to be exact.
"By the way," he said, brushing his palms one against the other, as if after a big job well done, "this was not your second wish, in case you’re wondering."
"I know, friend," Pibald smiled, "I wouldn’t waste a precious wish on something I can do myself, believe me."
They smiled at each other. They were getting to know and like one another. Surely they’d become friends.
A few mornings thereafter, well, some weeks might have passed, Pibald himself brought up the matter of the second wish, with Harun gesturing in surprise as if to say: I thought you’d never get around to it.
"I think I know what my second wish should be, kid, but can I try it out on you first, see what you think?"
His true nature being kind, the genie shrugged good-naturedly.
"Sure, go ahead."
"Well, last night I’m sitting in front of the cabin watching the sun go down over the sea and I’m thinking how nice it would be to hear the patter of little feet, kids playing, laughing, screeching, you know? Now me, I never married, and as you can see it’s too late in the game, but you, well, you’ve got a long life ahead of you, so I was thinking …"
Harun raised a hand, and a very commanding hand it was indeed, so Pibald broke off in what would have been the middle of that long sentence if he’d ever gotten around to finishing it.
"Understand this, friend, I’m over three thousand years old."
"That just goes to show ye," Pibald said, all the wrinkles in his leathery old face curving upward, "ye can’t judge a book by its cover. So I was thinking this here strapping young Harun fella, he’s got a long life ahead of him and wouldn’t it be nice if he could hear the patter of little feet on my cabin floor, then we could both hear it, what do you think of that for my second wish - if I should choose to make it my second wish."
The genie raised his massive shoulders, scrunched up his big face, let his shoulders droop, started smiling, segueing effortlessly into the sort of booming, belly-shaking laughter he often indulged in, while the old man was thinking to himself: No bloomin’ way this kid be three thousand years old! And when Harun had recovered from his laughing fit, he asked Pibald was he suggesting he, Harun, should get married, because if he was, he could forget the whole thing, it wasn’t going to happen.
Now it was Pibald’s turn to laugh, or rather cough, then point out that lots of little feet in the world pattered without the benefit of matrimonial vows having been exchanged by their parents, so, well, while he had originally thought in terms of marriage for Harun, there obviously were other alternatives, however, still and all, marriage being a fine custom through the ages, even a three-thousand year old drifter like he, Harun, might benefit from a relatively short stretch, say sixty, seventy years, in a state of betrothedness and how could he ever know he wouldn’t like it if he’d never tried it, how?
"Well, sir," Harun suddenly affecting a more official, not to say officious tone, "let’s get back to basics here. Are you asking me whether I would grant you this wish if it actually were your second?"
"The answer is No, I wouldn’t, for the simple reason that it would affect a second party in a way that might be construed as painful or destructive to that party by that second party, namely me. So the answer is no, I wouldn’t."
"Okay," said Pibald, "then how about pouring me some more of that delicious brew, if that’s not asking too much."
That customary grin spread over Harun’s face.
"I trust that’s not your second wish, young man," he said, "I wouldn’t want to take advantage of your gullibility."
And once again it all dissolved in smiles and sunshine and getting along famously this fine morning on an orange-and-ochre picnic blanket spread upon that far-flung shore.
Another week went by. One morning when Pibald strolled down to the beach after a full, uninterrupted, eight-hour night of blissful sleep, as he crested the swell of dunes, he saw there was a woman with Harun - a lass named Aisha, it turned out, a very beautiful young woman, with long black hair, eyes the color of emerald sunlight and skin the color of sun-kissed amber. After Harun had introduced Aisha to Pibald, all three of them sat down to another sumptuous breakfast, discreetly avoiding the obvious question as to who she was, where she came from and when and where she and Harun had met. And even more strenuously avoiding other, less obvious, but perhaps even more important questions the old man might be pondering.
Actually, Pibald was quite content to let this matter rest, quite happy to see a young woman with the genie, and indeed delighted just for his own sake, to be in her company, for Aisha’s bearing could only be described as regal, and her conversation as of the utmost discretion and charm. Harun, on the other hand, seemed to have lost much of his natural boisterousness, acting meek as a lamb. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the dusky hue of his complexion, Pibald could have sworn he saw the genie blush several times that morning. This also pleased the old man, since he sensed it showed at least a potential for romance developing between these two youngsters, though, of course, it was quite possible that this Aisha, too, was three thousand years old and all thought of romance thus quite illusory and absurd, for who’d ever heard of such ancient people, much less of them marrying and having children, or even just having children, with or without the benefit of matrimony.
Still, the old man soon proved to have been on the right track with his thinking and scheming. The following morning, Aisha was still or again with Harun, and they all again sat down to another wonderful breakfast, this time on a pink-and-blue checkered picnic blanket. What especially charmed Pibald was that Aisha laughed at his jokes, or rather, that she laughed at his feeble attempts at humor, as if they were inspired jesting, which made him feel the way he remembered feeling half a century ago, that is to say, recklessly happy or happily reckless.
"I think I’m going to get myself a boat," he smiled a few mornings later, setting down his cup, "sail out to Stonethrow Island, look around."
"Oh, what a wonderful idea," Aisha smiled, "will you take me along?"
The old man shook his head: "Nope. Sorry. Maybe later, but not on the first trip."
"How ‘bout me," Harun challenged. "I could help you with the sail, hold her steady."
"Nope, not you neither. Which doesn’t mean you can’t hold this charming lady here … uh … steady - a much more pleasant task, I’d say."
Aisha gave out bell-like peels of laughter so perfectly pitched it set the very cockles of the old man’s heart atremble. Harun rolled his eyes. There was just a touch of wanton power in the way he moved his mighty shoulders, and his voice reverberated with a hint of thunder.
"Well what would you be doing then, yonder on Stonethrow, old man?"
"Oh, moseyin’ around, scouting the place. I know a shady spot on the south-west side there, maybe watch the sun set. Nothing like it up and down this whole coast, believe you me."
Again Aisha erupted in that celestial laughter of hers. Pibald had the feeling she knew exactly what he was driving at. Indeed, he and this wonderful young woman were fast becoming secret friends before the very eyes of Harun, the genie - if such a thing be possible, which it surely is when a young woman’s budding love needs an ally of the heart. A staunch old heart, Pibald thought to himself. A staunch old heart warmed by the prospect of preparing a nest for these two lovebirds, a nest on Stonethrow Island, where they could enjoy each other’s company and no one to disturb them day in, night out.
Just then, as Pibald sat there, scheming, a small miracle occurred – for no sooner had he tooled this wish in his heart than it manifested on Stonethrow Island, where a cozy cabin appeared, bedecked with garlands that made it invisible to all eyes save Harun and Aisha’s, and Pibald’s, of course, though the old man knew none of this as it was happening.
Harun got to his feet, in that wafty, drifty way he had. Aisha reached out to him and he pulled her up. To a casual observer all this might have looked rehearsed but Pibald knew that it wasn’t rehearsed at all. It was only the age-old harmony of lovers. Nor did it surprise him to see those two beautiful threethousand-year-old children drift lightly down to the water, wade in, pitch forward and, with leisurely crawl strokes, begin to swim toward Stonethrow Island, only a stone’s throw away as the crow flew if there’d ever been a crow in this here neck of the woods.
The rains came. In the wink of an eye Harun built an annex to Pibald's cabin, including a large veranda where the three spent many hours watching the steady downpour veil beach and ocean, radiant Aisha's eyes turning turquoise and dreamy and distant as the baby grew and began to stir in her womb.
Never had Pibald been as happy as now. So happy it seemed to sap his strength. One morning he was too weak to get up. Aisha brought him breakfast, helped prop him up, sat by the bed as he tried, almost failed to lift the coffee cup. "Will you look at this," he growled, having spilt some coffee, "weak as a newborn ... ooopsadaisy ..." They shared a laugh on what was not quite a slip of the tongue. The fact was Pibald had a good notion he was dying, even had dreams about it.
In all his dreams there was a newborn baby. He saw the baby's face but couldn't tell whether it was a boy or a girl. One suddenly rainless morning - Aisha had strolled down to the beach - Pibald mentioned these dreams to Harun, wondering what the baby in all of them might mean. The genie let out a big laugh - his laughs seemed to be getting bigger as Aisha expanded in girth. This particular burst of laughter actually made the hut tremble.
"Well, Sir Baldy, that's easy. You're in two minds about it. You don't know which you prefer, a boy or a girl. And frankly, neither do I ..." "Now, Mr. Genius, there you're totally off, I know precisely which I prefer - a girl, the reason being I've always wished for nothing more than my own baby girl, my own daughter, and nothing would make me happier than if Aisha and you had a daughter."
Astonished by the vehemence of the old man's outburst Harun shook his big head.
"Okay, but what if it's a boy?"
The old man lifted one hand, the left, feebly, as if this required a tremendous effort.
"If it's a boy it's a boy, I'll be happy, too, but ... now look, maybe it's time I made my second wish, you remember I have two wishes left, don't you?"
"As a matter of fact, I thought you'd forgotten. I've talked to Aisha about this. I've told her that in all my long, long life of granting three wishes to people, you'd be the first not to make all three wishes - not counting a couple of times there were unforeseeable developments and some disruptive accidents, but you'd be the first and only one to have forgotten to make the second wish after making the first. So, please, go ahead, make a wish. Restore my faith in human consistency."
"Well, okay," said Pibald, "here goes nothing. I wish the baby that Aisha is carrying in her womb right now, I wish that baby were a girl, I mean my wish is for the baby to be a girl. And while I'm at it, my third wish is that I live long enough to hold your baby daughter in my arms. So there. I hope ..."
"Pie, Pie, Pie," rumbled the genie, "I thought we'd been through this. Fixing the gender of a baby in the womb is quite beyond my powers and outside my province, which goes as well for extending a man's lifetime. And even if I could, I don't believe I would decide for this baby to be a daughter, that would be much too big a karmic responsibility. The same goes for guaranteeing your life in expectation of our baby. But look, why is this even coming up? In the normal course of events there's more than an even chance the baby will be a girl, those are good odds, if you ask me. As to whether or not you will live to see and hold our baby, well, we're talking six weeks here, Pie, six weeks. As far as I'm concerned you're just going through a late-life crisis, you're struggling a little to get your second wind, that's all. Come next monsoon we'll all be laughing at this as we listen to the pitter-patter of little feet on your cabin floor. I know whereof I speak, sir. I wasn't born yesterday exactly. So you still have two wishes." He frowned a little. "And stop asking for these cockamamie things that aren't grantable, will ya."
The old man rolled his eyes. "Cockamamie, cockamamie, what kinda language is that, Harry? Where'd you pick that up?" And they laughed (at least Harun did, Pibald's laugh being not much more than labored wheezing) so the cabin trembled – so they didn't even notice Aisha stepping in, staring in wonder and amazement. It was plain to see they were getting along famously, the three ... uh ... the four of them!
The old man was dying in earnest. The question was, would he die before the baby was born. Aisha and Harun were doing their best to make Pibald comfortable, while also preparing for the birth of their baby, which was growing stronger by the day. Time seemed to have slowed, days lasting an eternity. The old man didn't speak much but looked happy enough.
Having chosen not to confide in Aisha, only Harun knew how Pibald really felt. Being a genie, he also knew the baby was a girl, just as Pibald wanted. And he knew Pibald would live to see her, but the complex fabric and stringent rules of his job as a genie strictly forbade sharing this type of information with mortals. Difficult as the situation was, it was exacerbated by Harun having chosen to live with Aisha as man and wife, and, more difficult yet, having committed to fathering a child, which might - nay - probably would end his life as a granter of wishes to people. It would also end the excruciating fear of small, confined spaces he had developed over three thousand years, much of this time spent in bottles, oil lamps and other such places of confinement for genies. A mixed bag, clearly, yet more than compensated for by Aisha, who had woken his heart to the mysteries of human love. It should be mentioned that Aisha had secrets of her own.
Well, a couple of doctors came - one herbal, one drug-oriented - and went. The local shamanita came and went, telling Harun the spirits were all in agreement, Pibald had to cross over, so there was nothing more she could do. Still a couple of weeks shy of the delivery date, it didn't look good for the old man, when Aisha’s water broke and shortly thereafter she went into labor. Assisted by a midwife named Kuna it took her less than three hours to give birth to a healthy baby girl who was wailing at the top of her freshly discovered lungs to let the world, and Pibald, know she had arrived.
So, while Kuna severed the umbilical cord and helped Aisha clean up the baby, Harun went to tell the old man. He found him sitting up in bed, face flushed, eyes shining, eager to hear the news. The genie let out one of his booming laughs.
"A girl, Pie. Congratulations!"
"I knew it, I knew it," rasped the old man, sounding at least ten years younger. "When do I get to see her? And Aisha, she okay?"
"Mom and baby are fine, as is Kuna. They're just cleaning up a little, then it's showtime. Grandpa!"
Grinning, Pibald sunk back into the pillows. Soon Harun noticed the old man was breathing deeply, evenly. Too deeply, too evenly. The genie pulled up a chair and sat down. When he looked again, Pibald had closed his eyes - now there seemed no breathing at all. Harun half rose, leaned forward, put his lips near the old man's nostrils and mouth. No trace of atman, which in Harun's world meant breath or divine breath. He got up and went back into his and Aisha's bedroom, where Kuna was just wrapping the baby in a white cotton blanket.
Aisha lay there, smiling. He leaned forward and kissed her, gently, happily. "What about Pie," she whispered, "how is he doing?" "Fine, just fine," Harun whispered back. "He wants to see the baby."
She moved her head in a minimal nod. "So show her to him ..."
The old man lay as Harun had left him. Safely cradling his daughter in one mighty arm, Harun again checked for breathing. There was none. Gently he pulled up Pibald's left arm and arranged it so he could place the baby in it. Pibald seemed unconscious, more likely dead. As Harun transferred his daughter into the cradle he had shaped with Pibald's arm, the baby let out a fierce scream that tapered to an ululating wail. Pibald's eyes flew open, his arm moved protectively around the package on his chest.
"There she is," Harun smiled, "noisy little thing, isn't she?"
As he said this, the baby abruptly stopped crying.
"And smart," Harun added proudly.
For a short while, not even a minute, Pibald said nothing. His eyes started closing again, but not quite.
He whispered, feebly, "Harun ..."
The genie moved closer. "Yes. I'm here."
"My second wish ..."
"Go ahead," Harun smiled, "please!"
"... stop lying!"
"That's your second wish, for me to stop lying?"
The old man's whisper was barely intelligible now.
"Granted," smiled the genie.
"My third wish ..."
"... can you ... pass a wish on ... to ... somebody else ..."
The old man's lips trembled but he said nothing. His eyelids were trembling, too. Gently, Harun took the baby from him.
"Mr. Pibald, sir," he said in a low, sonorous tone, beaming his voice directly at Pibald's left ear. "Who were you going to give your last wish to?"
The old man whispered something, alas so faintly, Harun could only make out two i sounds.
"Who, Pie, who?"
Now he heard, "I-ji ..." and one more time, "I-ji ..." Then it was over.
They had incinerated the old man's body. A fisherman had taken them out to Stonethrow Island, and there they'd spread the ashes, then sailed back. Pibald had joked about wanting his ashes spread on Stonethrow Island. "That way, if there's another tsunami, I’ll be the first to get it – and I won’t mind!
They'd named their daughter Iji, after Pibald's younger sister whose name was the last word he had spoken. Of course it made no sense to them that he should have tried to pass his last wish on to his sister, drowned in the tsunami these seventy-odd years ago. Harun believed that when Pibald said Iji he hadn’t been thinking about his last wish anymore but was traveling back in memory to his beloved Iji, or maybe looking forward to meeting her on the other side. Aisha had seen this as a powerful omen and so they had named the baby Iji.
Little Iji was their love and delight, a smart child with a strong will of her own who began to shape words when she was only a few months old. The first word she spoke distinctly was Iji, which was natural since she heard it many times every day. But the second word she shaped a couple of weeks later astonished her parents. One morning, slowly and clearly, she said, "Pibald." This was strange indeed because, while Aisha and Harun often spoke of the old man, they usually called him by one of his nicknames, mostly Pie or Sir Baldy. Only after saying Iji and Pibald did Iji get around to saying Mom and Dad, and from there she rapidly expanded her vocabulary – as well as her toddling range.
Which was all very well and good. However, one day - in Pibald's old room, which they still hadn't changed much - Iji found the large manila envelope in which the old man had kept all his photographs. Rummaging through them she picked out one that showed Pie as a boy maybe twelve years old, with his two sisters. The picture had been taken on the beach, not far from where the cabin stood, against the rise of dunes, in the evening sun. Pie stood in the middle, his arms around their shoulders. All three were smiling in the soft golden light off sky and sea.
Iji carried the picture into the kitchen and laid it on the table where Aisha sat enjoying a cup of tea. She climbed on a chair, propped herself up with one arm, resolutely pointing at the smaller of the two girls in the photograph, she who stood to Pibald's left. "Mom, who is that?" "Oh, that's Iji. And that's Uncle Pie when he was a boy. And that, that's Oji, his older sister. So that's Iji, his younger sister. We named you after her. That's why your name is Iji."
Iji said nothing, picked up the picture, carried it to the door, held it to the light. She brought it back, handed it to Aisha. "Iji, that's me?" Aisha was about to say, No, that's Uncle Pie's sister, but changed her mind. Instead she nodded, lightly, not to put too much emphasis on it. When Harun came back, she waited until Iji had gone outside to play, then she told him what Iji had been doing, how she had acted with the photo and what she'd said. Harun smiled. "Maybe our Iji is Pie’s Iji, reborn, could that be?" Aisha shrugged. "Who knows, seventy-three years is a long time. Aren't people reborn faster than that?" Harun shrugged back. "It all depends, I wouldn't know."
Now Aisha shook her head, frowning. "You've been around for over threethousand years and you don't know? Haven't you learned anything?" They chuckled a little. "That's the whole point," said Harun, "I've never been reborn. In all those threethousand years I've been either cooped up in a lamp or out, working on wishes. But what about you?" "Me?" Aisha scrunched up her face. "Yes, you," Harun laughed, "you've had a baby, you're a woman. Aren't you human?" Aisha shook her head. "It all depends, I wouldn't know."
They chuckled some more. "Depends? On what?" "On you," Aisha laughed and got up. "If you're a man I'm a woman. Are you a man?" The genie caught her with one of his huge arms as she strode by. He brought his face close to hers, the way he'd sometimes done with Pibald. "I'm man enough to admit I don't know." She allowed him to hold her. "Well, can't you find out?" "I could," said Harun, "that would be easy." "How?" "I'll grant you a wish. But only a little one, a simple one. One that doesn't count for much." She pulled back a little, frowning. "How can you do that, grant just one little wish?" Harun grinned the big grin that made him look like the happiest man or genie on earth. "I've got some credit coming. From way back."
Aisha gave him a quick look, stood back. "All right," she said, "I wish you and I and Iji were on Stonethrow Island, in that little hut where we spent out honeymoon." "Okay," said Harun, "granted!" But they still stood right where they were, in the large front room of the spacious annex that he'd snapped into being a couple of years ago. "Well?" said Aisha. Harun laughed. "Easy as pie. Gran-ted!" Again nothing happened, they just stood there staring at each other.
Over Aisha's shoulder, Harun saw Iji come sliding down from the crest of the big dune a little to the side of the cabin, where she liked to play. "Ah, here comes Iji!" Calling out to their daughter, he bustled past Aisha and stepped out onto the porch he had re-tiled after Pibald died. Aisha came up behind him. She laid a hand on his mighty shoulder, squeezing it affectionately. She put her mouth close to his left ear, whispering, "I guess you are a man." Harun's eyebrows went up to where they would have touched the hairline if there'd been one. "I guess that's it," he rumbled. "I guess that's what I am now."
That instant all three of them stood on Stonethrow Island, right in front of the honeymoon hut no mortal eye would have been able to see, Harun throwing up his arms in consternation: "I must be slipping!" Aisha would have none of that. "You got us here, didn’t you? So there was a slight delay. You’re such a perfectionist!"
To test himself, Harun ordered up a big picnic lunch, which arrived – though not instantaneously, the way it should have. Still, he figured Aisha was right – what did a minute or two of waiting matter. Who knew what was going on out there in the wish-granting realm, maybe a change in management or infrastructure. Harun winked magnanimously, first at Aisha then at Iji. A smile started spreading over his big round face. This was his family and here they were, picnicking on Stonethrow Island, who could have asked for more!
They watched the sunset work its magic, then retired to their cozy hideaway as darkness fell. Soon all three of them were fast asleep in the big bed that came with the premises Pibald had conjured - unwittingly and innocently (well, maybe not quite so innocently!). There, the genie had a dream - he was lounging on the side of a dune above a beach watching a peaceful scene one sunny Sunday morning many many years ago. How did he know it was a Sunday? Well, he just knew, as you do in dreams. And how did he know the people down there were Pibald’s family – his mom and dad, his sisters Oji and Iji and of course Pie himself, though not the Pie Harun knew but Pibald the boy? Well, it was just the idyllic scene Pibald had described to him a few times – the perfect Sunday morning family outing just before the tsunami struck.
And in this dream, Harun remembered. With huge strides he was down on the beach, by the tree where Pibald’s mother sat, scooped her up with a sweep of one big arm, rapidly drifting down to where the sisters Oji and Iji were whooping with delight as they chased Pibald along the water’s edge. One – two – three - scooping up all three kids. Finally he bore down on Pibald’s father who turned to face the genie, flashing a big fisherman’s knife. Harun kicked a broadside of sand in the man’s face, swept him up, plucking the knife from his hand with his bare teeth and spitting it out, then carrying the entire family up beyond the dunes to the hills, and further up, to set them down on a high ridge overlooking the ocean, heaving a big sigh of relief, which is when he woke from his dream - not in their bed but outside the hut, with Aisha and Iji clinging to him, Iji crying out, "Daddy, daddy …"
"Iji … Aisha … what …?"
Aisha caressed his face.
"Poor, poor Harun, where on earth have you been?"
"Been? I had a dream … a dream of danger …"
"You’ve been gone for hours. You just vanished. Look at yourself – you’re drenched … and … you’re trembling like a leaf!"
"I saw …" he shook his head, "…Pie and his family …"
He pulled away from them, staring.
"We’ve got to get … back …"
"I need to know …"
He shut his eyes, tight, tooling the command for them to return to Pibald’s cabin. Nothing. Again he tried - hard. Nothing happened. And again. He opened his eyes - they were still on Stonethrow. Then he put his arms around them - Aisha to the left, Iji to the right – walked them to the hut. In the morning, without Harun attempting to summon breakfast, and long before the sun marked noon, they swam back to shore, Iji proudly clinging to her daddy’s stalwart neck.
©Peter Edler 2005