Five paces from the edge of the cliff, the little man who had been leading Silvana paused. “There,” he said, in his reedy voice, “the edge of this cliff – that’s the end of the world.”
Silvana frowned and looked at him suspiciously. “How do I know you aren’t trying to cheat me?” she asked. “How do I know you won’t just run off while I’m looking?”
The little man grinned, his beard wagging. “You could always use one more wish to make sure I don’t go,” he said cheerfully.
Silvana shook her head and darted out her hand, grabbing the little man by the shoulder. “Not so fast,” she said.
“Hey!” The little man squealed and wriggled, but Silvana’s grip was firm – as firm, in fact, as the trap she’d rescued him from an hour ago. “That isn’t fair!”
“Look who’s talking,” Silvana said. “You promised me three wishes for freeing you. You’ve got to fulfil those wishes.”
“All right,” the little man muttered. “So look at the end of the world and have done with it.”
Silvana stepped closer to the edge of the cliff and looked. The end of the world wasn’t very interesting. Just lots and lots of emptiness, with nothing to see, not even any stars. She quickly grew bored.
“Well, what now?” the little man demanded aggressively. “What do you want next?”
Silvana looked at him thoughtfully. “This isn’t going quite the way I expected,” she said. “I’d always imagined that you fairies were happy to give wishes to anyone who did them a good turn. But you aren’t happy about it at all.”
“It’s not so easy, giving wishes,” the little man grumbled. “You think it’s so easy? We only have a limited amount of magic that we can do, and wishes take up more of it than you imagine. So, what’s your next wish? Let’s do it and get it over with.”
Silvana went down on one knee and looked into his face. It was an even uglier face close up, with tufts of hair growing in random directions and a nose like the beak of a bird of prey. “Why are you so unhappy?” she asked.
“Unhappy?” the little man snorted. “I’m not unhappy. It’s you lot who are.”
“We are?” Silvana blinked, surprised.
“Of course you are. If you weren’t, would you want wishes? You’d be happy with what you had.”
Silvana thought about that a bit. “Do you know,” she said, “you’re right.”
The little man glowered. “Of course I’m right.” He kicked at the ground angrily. “All these centuries, I’ve been asked over and over for wishes. It seems to be all that people want. Do you suppose I haven’t seen everything that people want, over and over? I know everything they’ll ask for, and I even know how those wishes will turn out. But do they ever learn?”
Silvana looked at him. “Can you tell me something?” she asked. “Has anyone ever been happy with the wishes you’ve given them?”
The little man smirked. “Never. They ask for money or beauty or health, and afterwards they all wish they hadn’t. It doesn’t come free, you know.”
“I’m beginning to understand that.” Silvana nodded. “What were the wishes the last person wanted?”
The little man shook his head. “I can’t talk about that, but I’ll tell you this – his last wish was to have never met me in the first place. Now, what do you want for your second wish?”
Silvana smiled slowly. “Just this. I want you to be whatever you want. Anything at all.”
There was a brief pause. And then there was a puff of light, and something bright went leaping up into the sky. And from high up above came a shout of joy, shivering down Silvana’s spine and to the soles of her feet.
She didn’t regret the third wish at all.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014