One day, Aladdin’s mother decided to clean the palace.
It had been a long time since she’d done any cleaning, because the ring Aladdin wore generally did everything she’d ever need to do – cooking, cleaning, and all of it. In fact, it was getting on Aladdin’s mother’s nerves, because it had been so long since she’d last been able to do any work by herself. If she even suggested it, Aladdin would fly into a temper.
“I didn’t defeat the wizard and marry the Sultan’s daughter,” he would say, “so that my old mother would have to wear her fingers to the bone working like a drudge. Sit back and rest! I’ll get everything done.” And he would go away, rubbing at his ring, and the next thing she knew everything would be done.
In fact, the royal life was getting to Aladdin’s mother. She really didn’t like it too much. She’d spent her life among people in the slums and marketplace, chattering with her neighbours, yelling at stray mongrels and mischievous urchins, working from dawn to dusk, and it had kept her fit and active. Now she felt old and fragile, forbidden to do a lick of work. She was sure it wasn’t good for her.
Besides, she didn’t like Aladdin’s wife. The princess was a nice enough girl, she supposed, but she had seen the young woman stare at her more than once with a strange expression, as though considering something, some course of action. Once or twice she’d found them talking and they’d jumped guiltily on seeing her and obviously changed the subject. Several times she’d thought that her daughter-in-law would be very happy if she died and left Aladdin with nobody else in his life but the princess herself.
“That’s not going to happen,” Aladdin’s mother said to herself. “I’ll have to make sure it doesn’t happen, by staying nice and fit. If only they’d let me cook and clean a little, that would be enough. But...”
But today, Aladdin and his wife, the princess, were off visiting the Sultan in his palace, and the old lady had the palace to herself. The temptation to do some honest dusting and mopping was too much to bear.
“I’ll just do the storeroom,” she said to herself. “It would take days to clean the whole palace, and by then the first parts would be dirty again, but the storeroom I’m sure I could manage before they came back.” Without further ado, she tottered off to the storeroom, which was lined with shelves full to bursting with the treasures Aladdin had gathered over the years.
“Just look at all this,” Aladdin’s mother grumbled, looking at the precious vases and statues worth a Caliph’s ransom. “All polished and dusted and not a thing for me to do.” Seeing a battered old oil lamp in the corner, she picked it up and stared curiously at it. “What a strange thing to be left in a treasure chamber. Still, it needs a spot of cleaning, it does.” Happily, she took a rag and began rubbing at the metal.
There was a flash, and a rumble like thunder, and a huge genie appeared. “I am the master of wind and wave,” he said, “but slave of the lamp and the owner’s slave. What would you have, mistress, what would you have?”
When Aladdin’s mother had stopped gasping for breath, and discovered that the genie was real and still waiting, she had an idea. “My son and his wife will soon be back,” she said. “Turn me into a fly, so I can listen to them talking and find out what she really says about me.”
“So be it,” said the genie. There was another flash and the old lady was turned into a fly.
It was fun being a fly. She could buzz through the air, for one thing, and cling upside down on the ceiling with her six legs. With her huge compound eyes, she could see very nearly in all directions, and her sense of smell was so good she knew what was in the corner of the larder in the kitchen, many rooms away.
Down below on the ground floor, she heard a door open. That would be her son and his wife, returning. Happily, she buzzed out of the storeroom and downstairs, riding on a current of air.
A moment later, with incredulity and joy, she heard what they were saying.
“Dear husband,” the princess said, looking up at Aladdin with adoring eyes. “Your mother’s birthday is tomorrow.”
“Are you sure she doesn’t suspect the surprise party we’re planning for her?” Aladdin replied.
“No, I’ve been very careful. I didn’t even ask to measure her for the new dress we’re making for her, the one spun from moonbeams and sunlight. I estimated her size as best I could from looking her over when she wasn’t noticing.”
“That’s wonderful,” Aladdin said. “Poor old lady, she does deserve some fun once in her life.” They paused at the entrance to the princess’ room. “The musicians, snake charmers, jugglers and acrobats will all be here, as will the choicest pastries and meats, made for the angels themselves. She will be so thrilled!”
“Yes,” the princess said, “and it’s just tomorrow evening. What a wonderful time she will have.”
“Well,” Aladdin said, “I have a couple of things to do before dinner. I’ll get them done and get back.” Kissing the princess tenderly, he turned away.
The princess sighed happily and entered her room. Maybe her mother-in-law would finally learn to love her, she thought, after the party. At least she would be happy.
Smiling, she looked around her room. It was perfect, the result of the greatest of genie magic, everything just as it should be. There was just one flaw, she noticed with a frown of distaste: a large fly, crawling on the wall near her mirror. She hated flies.
Quietly, moving slowly so as not to scare the insect into flight, she reached for her fly swatter.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2013