The Genie

The Genie

(N.B. this should be read aloud)

It is dark and cold … so cold where I lie cramped and confined in my prison. How long have I been here? I do not know for time has lost all meaning for me now.

In my youth – my prime – I was tall and strong, and I wielded such power. I could lay the mountains low, split the earth asunder and bring down such a rain of fire, but now? Who knows? And how, I ask myself, not for the first time did I come to be here?

When Solomon, the prophet, decreed that all things on the earth should acknowledge the one true god, my fellow genii and I, in our great arrogance, refused and open rebellion soon broke out. Solomon sent his vizier against us and one by one we fell. In time I was thrown down and dragged in chains to lie before Solomon’s throne, but still my towering pride would not allow me to bend the knee. So, the prophet penned me in a copper bottle, sealed with lead on which there was a stamp that drained me of my power and threw it into the ocean’s depths.

At first, I was wracked with fear and swore that, if released, I would shower my saviour with great riches and bury him, metaphorically, in gold and jewels. A hundred years crawled past and fear gave way to despair. Now I promised that, on release, I would crack the very earth apart and reward my saviour with all its buried treasures. Four hundred years then passed, I gave up counting time, and despair was replaced with burning hatred. Now, I swore, if ever I’m released, I’ll kill the first man I set eyes upon.

And so I remain here, cribbed, confined, deprived of my senses. Oh how I long to see, once more, the rolling desert dunes, to smell the spices in the market place, taste sweet honey on my tongue, feel the soft caress of a silken robe and the burning heat of the sun on my upturned face. All that is left to me now is sound. All day long I hear the murmur and the susurration of the sea, the song of whales – their high pitched squeals and bass rumblings that make my prison walls vibrate. I hear at times the click of dolphins and the ‘tap, tap, tap,’ as something, I know not what, explores the outside of my prison’s metal walls.

I jerk awake, (how long have I been sleeping?), to new sensations. I hear the bottle grinding against stones. I have the sense of being dragged across the ocean’s floor, lifted up and shaken violently. I hear new sounds, the muffled mewing of gulls and a voice that mutters and mumbles to itself. Is it mine? And now, oh sweet release, a shaft of bright white light stabs down into the bottle as the seal is lifted.

I shoot from my prison, spiral skywards as a column of smoke and then regain my shape, stretch out my limbs, enjoying the luxury of movement. I marvel at the rush of things long forgotten, the beauty of the sunlight as it sparkles on the surface of the sea, the softness of the sand beneath my feet and the sharp smell of salt. I want to gather up the earth and hug it close.

The Fisherman and the Genie, from Tales from Arabian Nights, illustration by Joseph Smith.

And there, standing at my feet, I see a, half-naked, fisherman his dripping net draped over one shoulder, shivering with fear and all my anger comes roaring back. All I need to do is lift my foot and I can grind his worthless existence out into the sand beneath my heel.

But, then I remember just why I was incarcerated, I push my anger down, bow deeply and cry out.

“There is only one god and Allah is his name, and Solomon, the wise, is his great prophet.”

At that the fisherman’s mouth flops open, like a stunned fish. He gives me a puzzled look.

“Why do you talk of Solomon the wise?” he asks, “for Solomon has been dead for eighteen hundred years.”

Suddenly, the knowledge hits me like a thunderclap – I am truly free! “Then congratulations, little man,” I cry, “today is the day you die.”

“But why?” he asks, “I freed you from your bottle. You should be grateful and at least grant me three wishes.”

So, I tell him my story, right down to this moment, “but I will, at least, let you choose the manner of your death,” I say. A look crosses the fisherman’s face.

“Oh, great and magnificent genie,” he cries, stroking me with his flattery. “You truly are a great spinner of tales, the father of all liars, for how could someone so large as you fit into such a small bottle? Why even your little toe is far too big.”

“Ah ha little man,” I reply, stung by his jibe. “Watch and marvel at my skills,” and I change into a plume of smoke once more and wind back down into the bottle. Just as I’m thinking what an impressive sight it must have been … all goes dark as he snaps the seal back in place.

Bugger! That is where I’ve seen that look before, it is the look a fox that has found the key to the hen coop might wear. This is how I was caught before. How could I have forgotten that all men are sly … cunningdevious and never to be trusted?

And now he is telling me a tale about a Sultan called Yunan who kills a doctor. I do not know this tale, but pay it little heed as I am too busy cursing my pride and folly. “So you see,” he says as the tale winds its interminable way to an end, “Allah killed the Sultan for killing the doctor and I will punish you by throwing you back. What is more, I will warn all that I know who fish in this bay to do the same if they catch you. May you rot beneath the waves for ever!” At this I panic, I cannot bear the thought of this and so I whine and grovel to him.

“Punish me with kindness as they say,” I plead. “Set me free and I will give you great riches.” He binds me with strong oaths not to do him harm and then removes the seal. The first thing that I do on regaining my true form is kick the bottle far out to sea. As it disappears beneath the waves with an, oh so, satisfying splash, I see him piss himself with fear and I laugh.

There is a lake, not far from the city, fringed with desert sands, bounded by four mountains – a lake that teems with fish. Red fish, white fish, yellow and, blue fish flash and glitter beneath the water’s placid surface. I bring the fisherman to the water’s edge and bid him cast his net. He hauls it in and brings four fish ashore – one of each hue – and I watch him marvel at their size and colour.

“Take them into the city,” I say. “Present them to the Sultan and he will give you a great reward, but beware … do not fish here more than once a day. Now please forgive the roughness of my ways – after eighteen hundred years beneath the sea you are apt to forget good manners.” I stamp my foot, the earth gapes wide and with a, heartfelt, sigh; I sink into its depths.