Once upon a time, a poor young man found a battered old lamp inside a hole in the ground.
Since he was a young man who knew his legends, he rushed home to his mother with the lamp clutched to his breast, and began rubbing at it industriously.
Sure enough, there was a flash of light and a puff of dense black smoke, which set his mother, who had asthma, to choking; and, when the smoke had cleared, a short, fat genie stood before them, rubbing his back.
“What do you want?” this apparition asked crossly, blinking his rheumy eyes. “Tell me quickly, because my back’s giving me the gyp.”
“Food,” decided the young man, whose name was All-a-Din, because he made so much noise. “Food, Slave of the Lamp. And fast!”
“Not so fast,” said the genie. “I’m not a slave. Slavery’s illegal, or didn’t you know?” He shook his head sorrowfully. “I’m a contract worker,” he said, “and deserve respect. Now, what did you want? And say ‘please’ if you want service.”
“Food...” said All-a-Din, and added quickly, “...please.”
“All right,” sighed the genie, and vanished. After an interval so long that All-a-Din’s mother had just suggested they go out to a restaurant, he returned with a couple of covered plastic trays. “Here.”
“What’s this?” All-a-Din’s mother poked dubiously at the food. “It’s inedible!”
“Airline food,” shrugged the genie. “What do you expect? I have an arrangement with the airport service genies. We all help each other out.”
“I want you to get us gourmet restaurant food,” All-a-Din said firmly. “This stuff’s liable to give us heartburn.”
“Can’t be done,” the genie yawned. “Gourmet genies are non-Union. They don’t co-operate with us. Now, is that all or do you want anything else?”
“A house!” All-a-Din ordered. “Build us a house!...please.”
“I assume you do have building materials ready, all the brick and cement and wood, and you’ve got the architect's plans, obtained council permission and so on? Or did you think I’ll just, you know, grab the stuff out of the air?”
“Forget it,” All-a-Din snapped. “Just get us a lot of money...please. We’ll buy whatever we need with it.”
“As you wish,” the genie sighed, and vanished. A few hours later he was back. “Here,” he panted, handing All-a-Din a bulging sack of cash. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m outta here. This place isn’t going to be healthy in a moment.”
“What do you mean...” All-a-Din began, but the genie and the lamp had vanished.
“Never mind,” his mother said, counting money busily. “We’re rich!”
“We?” All-a-Din queried. “I got the damned lamp, I ordered the genie. I’m the one who’s rich.”
They paused, hands buried in the pile of notes, glaring above it at each other.
And that was just when the police entered, guns at the ready. “Hands up, bank robbers!” they shouted. "We've got you red-handed!"
All-a-Din and his mom got fifteen years each.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2010/12