Thursday 23 June 2016

A Chance At Life

The first birds of the morning were just beginning to chirp when Jeris came out of the hut where she’d spent the night and started down the path towards the valley.

The hut had been draughty, with a floor of hard-packed earth and logs for walls, with lots of chinks to let the mountain wind in. It had been an abandoned trader’s storehouse, not a dwelling, and a heap of coal still lay against the far wall to testify to its purpose. Jeris had had only her cloak to wrap around her for warmth and her bag to act as a pillow, but she hadn’t complained. There was nobody to complain to, and no point complaining; she was here of her own free will, and had known what to expect.

At least, she’d thought, as she’d wriggled round trying to find a less hideously uncomfortable position on the floor, she’d not been compelled to spend the night in the open, on the mountain slopes, though she’d have done that too, if necessary. Even more fortunately, she could spend the night here alone with no fear of being attacked. After all, that was why she could come here at all – the war was over.

Down in the valley, she would be in the Enemy’s territory, and she could now go there with no consequences at all, because the war was over.

The morning sun was a wash of gold on the peaks, but the path at her feet was sunk in heavy purple shadow, and Jeris kept her eyes on it. She had no desire to twist an ankle, or, worse, break a leg. Even though the war was over, it was still possible to lie on the mountainside until she died of hunger or exposure, and she’d come too far already for that.

A little while later she came to a chasm splitting the slope. Far below, there was a gurgling of water, and she saw the morning light reflecting on spray as the rushing mountain stream pounded on rocks. There had once been a bridge here, but someone – from which side she couldn’t tell, nor did it matter now – had destroyed it. The ruined ends stuck out from either side, like amputated fingers that were still trying to meet. Someone had since laid a simple log of wood across the broken centre, and she crossed over that, crawling on all fours because she could not trust her balance. She was not athletic, and had had no experience in this kind of thing.

Far behind her, the streets of the cities must still be filled with rejoicing at the end of the war, and the manner in which it had ended, but Jeris had no interest in that. She had much more important things on her mind. If asked, she would have said she was on a pilgrimage, but it was even more than that.

It was almost noon, and she was well down the mountain, before she came to the first enemy village. It was deserted, the doors of the houses left open, the patches of flowers outside already wilted and drooping. There was a small temple, inside which she could see the idol of one of the enemy’s rude gods. She did not enter, but drank from the fountain outside the temple. The enemy’s temples always had a spring or a fountain nearby, and these would never be poisoned, so the water was safe. After that she sat on the steps to eat a little of the food in her bag. There was very little food left, but then she hadn’t that much further to go.

It was mid afternoon, and she had almost reached the valley, when she came to the second enemy village. This was also the first time she saw one of the enemy. She had, of course, seen the prisoners who had been paraded in chains through the streets of the city, with the populace jeering and pelting them with stones and refuse; but this was the first time she’d seen one of the enemy during her journey, and in their territory besides. The war was over, though, and the enemy was just sitting on the side of the path, on a rock, staring at her with no expression at all.

Goblins, or orcs, her people called them, and other names beside. The enemy on the rock was a young male, immensely sturdy of build and twice as broad as one of the men of Jeris’ own people, though a head shorter. His high cheekbones made his face so broad that his eyes looked tiny, and his neck was so thickly muscled it seemed as wide as his head. But his mouth hung slackly, and when Jeris stopped to look at him, he merely stared as though through her. When she, obeying a sudden impulse, snapped her finger next to his ear, he turned his head slowly towards the sound, but made no other movement at all.

She left him sitting there and went down to the village.

This village was much larger than the previous one, almost a town. Here, there were some of the enemy, and for the first time Jeris realised how utter, total and devastating her own peoples’ victory had been. She saw more of the men, some stumbling around, some merely sitting by the side of the street, staring with vacant eyes. A woman knelt by one young man, a woman who by any standards – even by those of Jeris’ own people – would have been pretty – and she was spooning food from a bowl into his mouth with one hand while wiping away what he dribbled out with the other. She saw Jeris, leapt to her feet, and disappeared into an alley between two houses.

All around, Jeris could feel watching eyes, as she walked down the street. The silence was total, the normal noises of a village having stopped, and she felt as though the entire place was holding its breath waiting for her to leave. Once, she looked over her shoulder. At the far end of the street behind her, she saw a small knot of women, standing together, watching her. As soon as they saw her turn around, they scattered like disturbed ants.

She went to the temple, washed her face and hands in the fountain, and drank some water. She was suddenly far from hungry and had no desire to touch what remained of the food in her bag. There was an old priest standing beside the temple. Jeris saw his white hair and wispy beard, and thought his age might have protected him, so she went to see if she could talk to him. But he was just as slack-jawed and empty-eyed as all the other men she’d seen.

It was at that moment that something hit her. It was a sharp blow on the leg, a searing pain just above the knee, and sent her stumbling back with a cry. She just managed to keep her balance as the child came at her again, the sharp piece of broken wood in his hand raised to strike once more.

Someone screamed something, a single word. It was, naturally, in the enemy’s language, so she couldn’t understand, but the message was clear. An instant later, a woman had thrown herself out of a house and clutched the child in her arms, pulling him away though he struggled. The woman pulled the piece of wood out of his hand and threw it away, looking up at Jeris with fear-filled eyes.

“No hurt him,” she said in Jeris’ language, though the words were so thickly accented they were almost undecipherable. Jeris’ people said the enemy didn’t have mouths capable of handling human speech. “He young, no understand.”

Jeris didn’t say anything for a moment. She looked at her leg. There was a small spot of blood on the cloth, but it didn’t seem to be spreading, and the pain had already diminished to a dull ache. Maybe it would hurt again later, but for now it would be all right.

The woman had pushed the boy inside, and now she stood, looking fearfully at Jeris, her back defensively to the door. “You please not punish?”

“I’m not interested in punishing anyone,” Jeris said slowly and clearly. “But I need to meet your High Chieftainess, the Kw’an. I don’t know where she is. So I need a guide. Do you understand?”


“The Kw’an, yes,” Jeris repeated. “I’ve come to your country to meet her and her Council. I need someone to take me to her.”

For a long moment the enemy woman looked at Jeris, and then abruptly nodded, head jerking like a pecking bird. “My daughter go.”


They reached the enemy capital the next morning. The guide, a young girl with a distinct facial resemblance to the boy who’d attacked Jeris, had spoken not a word the whole way, not even in response to questions. Jeris didn’t know if it was because she didn’t speak Jeris’ language or because she didn’t want to answer. But when Jeris had offered her the food remaining in her bag, she’d turned away and refused to touch a morsel of it.

If the village had been bad, the city was much, much worse. The Enemy had not been defeated so much as destroyed. The streets were almost deserted except for a few hurrying women, some of them with children in tow – and, of course, except for the silent, slumped shapes of men, sitting where the attack had taken them, or where it had led them to wander. Eventually, what remained of their families might make arrangements to carry them back home, or maybe the Kw’an would have some kind of hospice set up where they might live out their lives. For now, they were just inanimate lumps of flesh and bone and destroyed minds.

The Kw’an’s palace was a nondescript building opposite a temple, and the guide pointed to it and walked away without a further word. Jeris tidied herself up as much as she could at the temple spring before she crossed to the door of the palace, where a woman guard was standing watching her.

“Kw’an,” Jeris said. The guard nodded quickly and stepped back, as though Jeris, with her soft body and traveller’s clothing, her total lack of weapons, frightened this hard-muscled warrior woman with her heavy spear and her studded armour. But then Jeris’ people’s victory had earned her the right to inspire such fear.

The Kw’an herself was waiting for Jeris in the Council Chamber, a round room with seats all around the walls and a large throne-like seat at the end far from the door. She got up as soon as Jeris entered and walked towards her, hands clasped together.

“I don’t know who you are or why you’ve come,” she said. Her command of Jeris’ language was excellent, without a hint of an accent. “We have surrendered unconditionally, we signed the treaties, and we have no means of defending ourselves. There is nothing more we can do. Or,” she added, “have you merely come to gloat? You have that right – we cannot deny it to you.”

Jeris studied the woman. Even in her soft flat shoes, she was tall for one of the Enemy, almost as tall as Jeris herself, broad of frame and still strongly muscled, though she was past middle age. Her greying hair spilled from beneath the edges of the velvet cap of office she wore, and the cap itself was worn, the metal ornamentation round its edges tarnished. Her face was grim with worry.

“Please summon your Council, Your Highness,” she replied calmly, seating herself and trying not to wince at the pain in her thighs and calves. “I will tell you everything when they are here, or not at all.”


The Council had once comprised twenty members, but fully half – the men – were, of course, missing. The rest arrived in ones and twos, and looked at Jeris with mingled curiosity and fear. At last the Kw’an nodded.

“They are all here,” she said. “You can begin.”

Jeris stood up and looked around. “You know as well as I do how this war has turned out,” she said. “I’m not here to talk about that, but to tell you some things about what happened on our side. And then I’ll tell you who I am, and what I came here to do.”

Nobody said anything. She had not expected them to.

“I’m not going to justify the war,” she said. “I’m not going to claim that we had to start it to save ourselves from you. In fact, I’ll admit that a lot of us knew from the start that you had no reason to attack us, and that you probably never would. But those of us who knew it had no voice in the government or the Royal Court.

“There the claims were always the same. Your very existence was a threat to us, an intolerable threat that had to be crushed before it was too late. There were almost as many you as of us, and moreover you had the strategic mountain heights from which you could sweep down on to our helpless plains. Your warriors lusted after our riches and our women, and so on.” She looked around, and added defiantly, “And, of course, you weren’t really human. You were something less, worse than apes. You were goblins and trolls.

“And so the demands for war kept building, and the people kept being fed tales of how deadly a threat you were, and how war – war at once, war to total victory – was the only way we could save our lands, our women, and our children. The only problem was, of course, that such a war, given that you actually had almost the same numbers and occupied the mountain heights, would have been terribly costly, and probably ended in defeat and failure.”

“We already know all this,” one of the Council said. “Why tell us this again?”

“Quiet,” the Kw’an ordered. “Let her talk.”

“So the Court,” Jeris continued, with a nod to the Kw’an, “summoned the royal magicians, the astrologers, the psychics, and the scientists, and anyone else who might be able to think of a way to strike such a blow that you would be compelled to sue for peace. The magicians took to their spells and cauldrons, the astrologers to their star charts, the scientists to their laboratories, and what they did there nobody knows. It didn’t matter anyway, because none of them came up with anything.

“It was a different matter with the psychics. They got together and they made their experiments, first in the abstract and then in reality. By then, the demands for war had become so great that the Court had started sending raiding parties up into the mountains to capture some of your outposts, so there were prisoners to experiment on.” She saw a shudder pass through the Council. “Yes, and you know what they came up with. It was the Weapon – something they created purely with the power of their combined minds.

“At first, not even the King believed that this Weapon was possible. Everyone thought that the psychics were exaggerating, or simply making the whole thing up. So the psychics had some prisoners brought to the Court, and – right in front of the royal throne – did that to them.” She didn’t need to specify what she meant by ‘that’. “Everyone saw the light of reason, in fact, everything, vanish from their eyes. When the chains were removed from their wrists and ankles, they just stood there. The psychics told the guards to put weapons in their hands, and they still just stood there, as though they’d never held a sword or a musket before.”

“How do you know all this?” one of the Council asked.

“I’ll come to that. The point is that at that moment, everyone realised we’d won the war. The only thing to be decided was exactly how overwhelming a victory we should have.

“The King, and a good part of the Court, wanted a total extermination of your people. Everyone, man, woman and child. The psychics said they could do it, too. But there were some people who objected. Among them were the royal priests, who said that you, too, were godly creations, and it would be a sin to wipe you all out. And then there were the business people, who said that they would miss out on profits if they could no longer trade with you, which would also mean that the kingdom's tax revenues would suffer. And then there were...others...who protested, not on religious or commercial grounds, but simply in outrage and horror that a Weapon like this should ever even be considered for use.

“So, finally, they reached a compromise. The psychics would destroy the minds of all of your males who were capable of bearing arms – that is, anyone who wasn’t a very young child, or a very old man. Eventually, the children would grow up, and your race would be able to continue. But that would be in the distant future, and by then we would be much stronger and be able to deal with any threat that arose. And so,” she said, “it was done.”

There was a long pause. Jeris looked around them, from face to face, and walked up to the Kw’an in her big chair.

“You want to know who I am,” she said. “So I will tell you. My name is Jeris. Princess Jeris. I am the only daughter of the King of our people. You want to know how I knew what happened in the Court. I knew because I was in the Court when the prisoners had their minds destroyed.” She knelt on the floor before the Kw’an. “I begged on my knees in front of the throne for your people to be spared. The King could not refuse me altogether, for I am the blood in his veins, the beating of his heart, the singing of breath in his lungs. He could not refuse me, but he did not spare you either, as you have seen. I could not succeed in saving your people, but I did what I could.

“Only, of course, I knew it was not enough. And so I decided what I had to do. I had to come here to speak to you. So I came here in secret, leaving clues that I had gone quite another way. They will not look for me here.”

“What do you want?” the Kw’an whispered. Her lips were white.

“We may have won the war,” Jeris said, “but we have sown seeds of hate so deep that we will never root them out. On my way here, I was even attacked by a boy who was maybe four or five years old.” She pointed to the black splotch of dried blood on her thigh. “That boy, if he lives, will grow up still filled with hate for my people, and who can blame him?” She swept her arm around. “Your entire people, a whole nation, reduced to women trying to feed and clothe and take care of their men, who have not even the minds of newborn babies any longer; and on top of that to grow food, take care of the children, repair your buildings and roads and bridges, and somehow stay alive – why should they not hate us? How could they not? And when you have become strong enough again, will you not seek revenge?” She paused a moment. “And when you do, my people will wipe you out. There will be no mercy then.

“So I have come here to offer you an alternative. You can take your revenge, right now. Take me out of this building, to the street outside, and do to me what you will. Call your people, those who can come, here, and let them watch while you kill me, in whatever way you see fit. Only make sure that whatever you do to me will be enough to reduce your people’s hatred towards mine.” She smiled a little. “It will be revenge, too, because, as I said, I am the one my father loves more than anything else on earth, and I am his only heir.”

The silence in the chamber was so great that Jeris could barely hear them breathing.

“Well?” she asked. “I am offering you life – take my life and ensure your people’s survival.”

The silence stretched out further. She looked around them again.   

“Your people’s survival,” she repeated. “Isn’t that what you want?”

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

Tuesday 21 June 2016

By Divine Right!

Let's see how many liberal hypocrites, zionazi Hasbarats, and antitheist racists accuse me of being a "racist" and/or "anti-Semite" for this.

Monday 20 June 2016

The Jinni and the Jinniyah: A Lamplit Love Story

There was once a jinni who lived in a lamp.

The lamp was very old, of course, and also very dirty. Why was it very dirty? It was very dirty because anytime anyone attempted to clean and polish it, the jinni was obliged to come pouring out of the spout and fulfil their desires. So the lamp never actually got cleaned, and as the years and decades went on it became dirtier and dirtier.

This wasn’t something the jinni liked, because nobody likes living in filth. Also, nobody had lit the lamp in decades, because nobody uses oil lamps any longer. So the lamp was not just dirty on the outside, it was all sticky inside with half-burnt oil, and furry with dust sticking in that half-burnt oil. And there was a lot of dust, because the lamp had been left on the top shelf of a shed for so long that nobody even remembered that it was there.

The jinni was not happy about this situation at all, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He became morose and hardly even bothered to go out. He became, in fact, so morose and reclusive that the other jinn all became concerned.

“We have to find some way to make him happy,” they said to each other. “Or else he’ll become embittered and you know what that means.”

They all knew what an embittered jinni could do. Instead of giving wishes, he could actually punish some unwitting human who set him free. It was not behaviour that the jinn liked, because it gave them all a bad name, and jinn already had a bad enough reputation without wanting to make things worse.

So they all went to the jinni of the ring, who was the jinni of the lamp’s only friend. “What can we do for him?” they asked.

The jinni of the ring thought for a little while. “I’ve got it,” he said. “I’ll introduce someone to him.”

“Whom will you introduce to him?” the other jinn wondered. “And just what good will that do?”

“You’ll see,” the jinni of the ring said. “Just wait, you’ll see.”

So it was that a couple of days later, the jinni of the lamp was disturbed by a loud knocking on the lid. It was the jinni of the ring. “Come out,” he shouted. “There’s someone who wants to meet you.”

The jinni of the lamp had no desire to come out, but the jinni of the ring kept insisting. Besides, nobody had actually wanted to meet him for years and years. So, moaning and groaning all the while, he crawled up the lamp spout and poured himself out of the lamp, and out, and out.

In these degenerate days, almost nobody even believes in jinn, let alone has seen one, so you can only imagine what it looked like, inside that dark little shed, as the jinni of the lamp came pouring out in a cloud of ruddy smoke spangled with stars. He was tall as the roof and as broad again, as strong as the mountains, as handsome as the sun on a minaret in the dawn’s first light. He was so awe-inspiring that any woman seeing him for the first time could not help falling in love.

And that is precisely what happened. The person whom the jinni of the ring had brought along with him saw the jinni of the lamp and fell instantly, hopelessly, in love. Only she wasn’t a woman; she was a jinniyah, whom the jinni of the ring hastened to introduce.

“This is the jinniyah of the blue mountains,” he said. “She would love to meet you.” And then he didn’t say anything more, because he didn’t need to. All he did was go quietly away, congratulating himself all the while.

When the jinni of the lamp and the jinniyah of the blue mountains had finally found their tongues enough to talk to each other, they soon found they had so much in common that it seemed they’d known each other since the start of time. They both found pleasure in the same things, like the moonlight on the desert dunes and the wind in the leaves. They both intensely disliked careless chattering humans who could only think of their own gratification. They both disliked mixing with other jinn, and only made friends reluctantly if at all. They both had become increasingly reclusive as time had gone on and had come out into the world less and less. And only now had each one of them suddenly realised how lonely they had been.

Then the jinni of the lamp suddenly grew aware that a dusty little shed was no place to stand talking to the jinniyah of his dreams. Turning, he gestured courteously to his lamp. “Won’t you come in?” he asked.

And that, of course, was where he made his mistake.

Later, after she’d left, still crying and telling him that she’d never ever be able to be with him, no matter how much she was attracted to him, if he was so dirty, and she’d never been able to stand anyone who was the least bit dirty – later, as I was saying, the jinni of the lamp went sadly to find the jinni of the ring.

“Only now have I realised how lonely I have been, and how filled with yearning for a little love and affection,” he said. “Only now that I’ve found and lost her do I understand how much I love her. I’ve got to get her back.”

“Calm yourself,” the jinni of the ring said. “Let me go and talk to her, and ask her what’s wrong.” So he did.

The jinniyah of the blue mountain was just as miserable. “I love him,” she said. “But I can never be with anyone who lives in such a dirty lamp. Isn’t there something you can do?”

So the jinni of the ring went away to think. After much thought he came to a decision.

“Look,” he said to the jinni of the lamp. “I can solve your problem, but you have to do exactly as I say. Will you?”

And the jinni of the lamp, who would normally never, for an instant, agree to what anyone might tell him, nodded meekly. “I will.”

“See that you do,” the jinni of the ring said, and gave him his instructions.

“What will you do now?” the jinni of the lamp asked.

“Go and look for the one we need,” the jinni of the ring told him. “I have just the right person in mind.”

 He always did.


The jinni of the ring, unlike the jinni of the lamp, had no problems with his accommodation. His ring, being old and valuable, spent all its time in an airtight safe deposit box, where there was no dust and nobody ever disturbed it. So he could do as he wished, secure in the knowledge that nobody would be likely to call for his services if he chose to spend most of his time roaming about.

Leaving the other jinni to go home to his dirty old lamp, he flew through the side of the jewellery box in which the ring was enclosed, and then through the safe deposit box, and past that to the city. Flying invisibly through the air – for jinn are invisible except when they wish to be, as far as human eyes are concerned – he reached the narrow, congested old quarter of the city, where he soon found a den of thieves.

Yes, dens of thieves still exist, and often you would never know that they were thieves to look at them. The most successful of them wear business suits and make policy on television, and people tell themselves they’re honest, or at least that they are less dishonest than the Other Guy. Dens of thieves are everywhere.

This particular den of thieves, however, was of the old school. Heavily muscled bouncers with thick facial stubble stood guard at the door, while scrawny little criminals with bad teeth negotiated deals in the corners over imperfectly washed glasses of bootleg liquor, under such thick clouds of tobacco smoke that the jinni emerging from his lamp might have been lost in the haze. Even the prostitutes avoided the place, because the thieves there never had anything but crime on their minds.

It was going on midnight when the jinni of the ring floated through a ventilator into the den. The ventilator, of course, had been closed, because the denizens of the place didn’t much like fresh night air, but there was enough of a crack left over for the jinni. If he’d wanted to, he could have come right through the wall, but jinn try and save energy when they can, like you or me or the cat sleeping on the sofa.

The jinni looked around for a moment, and then went right over to the darkest, most smoke-shrouded, corner of the den, where sat the scrawniest, most unshaven criminal in the place, who had the worst teeth besides. This thief had been waiting for a contact who was to buy the loot from his previous night’s depredations, and was getting more than a little tired of waiting. It was only because he had almost no money left that he hadn’t gone already.

Actually, the contact wasn’t going to come, and for an excellent reason: before entering the den, the jinni of the ring had ambushed him outside, dragged him into a dark alley, stripped him down to his underwear, and tied and gagged him with his own clothes. The terrified criminal was now still lying where he’d been trussed up, and would stay lying there until the morning, when he’d be found and liberated by a beggar looking for scraps to eat. Of course, the beggar would first relieve him of the money which he’d been carrying to buy the loot, and good thing, too.

Don’t judge the beggar. He deserved something good to happen to him, and this was the best thing that had happened in years.

Meanwhile, the jinni took the appearance of the contact and sat down next to the thief. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said. “I’m afraid I had a better offer than yours, and bought something else with the money.”

The thief was furious. “Here I’ve been waiting all evening, and I’m all but broke, and you dare tell me that you aren’t going to buy my goods? I’ve a good mind to cut your fat belly open for you.”

The jinni of the ring, in the guise of the contact, raised a placatory hand. “Don’t carry on so,” he said. “I don’t want the goods you have, that’s true. But I’m willing to pay double the amount for just one item, which I want you to steal for me.”

“What’s this item?” the thief said suspiciously.

“Right at the end of this town, where the highway begins,” the jinni said, “there’s a farm.” He gave the address. “Behind the farmhouse, on the slope up to the blue mountains, there’s an old shed. Inside the old shed, my sources inform me, there’s a lamp I want to acquire. You are to steal this lamp.”

“What’s so special about some old lamp?” the thief asked. Now, boys and girls, you see why you should actually read? If only the thief had read a few books, he’d have known what was going on. But he’d never even heard of jinn, let alone the story of the lamp (which, as we know, is no story, but only we and the jinn know that). “Why don’t you just buy a new one? Who uses lamps these days anyway?”

“It’s just got sentimental value,” the jinni of the lamp said, in as unconvincing a tone as he could manage. “My grandfather used to own that lamp, and willed it to me when he died. But one of his friends, an unmitigated rascal, seized it for his own. For all these years, I’ve been looking for it, and now I’ve found news of it. So I want you to steal it for me.”

The thief nodded. “All right,” he replied. “I’ll do it. Double the money, you say?”

“That’s right,” the jinni of the ring said. “Triple if you do it tonight.”

“I’ll go now,” the thief agreed. “You wait for me here. Don’t forget to pay for my drinks, too.” And without a further word, he left.

As soon as he’d gone, the jinni of the ring disappeared, oozing through the wall behind the table, and followed the thief. This worthy made his way to the farm, jumped over the back wall, and made his way to the shed. It was, of course, locked, but the lock was old and rusty because the shed hadn’t been used in so long, and the thief’s set of tools made short work of it.

This is not to say that the lock would have survived had it been stronger and newer. The thief might have been the scrawniest, most unshaven, and with the worst teeth in the den, but as a thief he was good. He was also very, very greedy, and this was exactly what the jinni of the ring was counting on.

The jinni of the ring watched as the thief looked around the shed, at all the boxes and crates and odds and ends filling it, and picked up and put the lamp in his bag. Then he began trying to break open one of the boxes, in the hope that there might be something in it worth stealing.

The jinni of the ring had, of course, no intention of causing any loss to the farmer, except for the rusty old lock which needed replacing anyway. So as soon as the thief raised his crowbar to break open the box, he began barking, exactly as though a huge and ferocious dog was rushing from the farm towards the shed.

The terrified thief forgot all about breaking the box, and – pausing only to snatch up his bag – rushed down the hill to the farm wall, jumped over it, and began running back to town. Where in the town did he go? To the den, where his contact was, he thought, waiting? Of course not – he went straight home, to see what was so special about this lamp and how much he could profit from it if he kept it for himself.

He really was a very greedy thief.

“It’s so dirty,” he muttered, looking at the lamp in the light of a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. “I can’t even make out properly what it looks like. Maybe it’s made of gold or something. I’ll need to clean it up properly and see.”

This was exactly what the jinni of the ring had been waiting for, and what he’d warned his friend the jinni of the lamp about. As soon as the thief took up a rag and an old toothbrush to clean the lamp, the jinni of the ring rushed down into the spout. There he made himself solid, like a tiny little plug, and sealed the spout up tight.

The jinni of the lamp, of course, couldn’t help trying to come pouring out as soon as the rubbing began. It wasn’t his fault – it was in the terms of his binding to the lamp, so he had no choice in the matter – but at each rub, he threw himself at the spout, only to keep coming up against the plug formed by the jinni of the ring.

“I’m sorry,” he said to the jinni of the ring. “I’m doing my best, but I can’t help myself.”

“You’re doing fine,” the jinni of the ring assured him. “Remember what I told you: you’re only to try and leave the lamp by the spout, as always. Don’t, for the sake of Sulaiman ibn Daud, Harun al Rashid, and whoever it was who wrote the One Thousand And One Nights, try to leave by any other way. That’s all.”

So the thief scrubbed and rubbed and polished, until the lamp was perfectly clean and sparkling on the outside, and then looked at it, utterly baffled. “It’s just a battered old brass lamp,” he said. “Whatever did he want it for? Maybe he was telling the truth and it’s just a family heirloom? No, that’s impossible. There has to be something special about it, some treasure.” Then he had a brainwave. “Maybe whatever makes it so precious is on the inside?”

So he opened it and cleaned and cleaned all the oil and the dust until it was as clean inside as out. The poor jinni of the lamp, of course, beat and battered to pour himself out at every rub, but the jinni of the ring kept the spout sealed tight; and the jinni of the lamp did exactly as he’d been told and didn’t try to leave the lamp any other way.

“Bah!” the thief exclaimed angrily at last. “There’s nothing special about it. He just made the story up in order to get rid of me so he could escape and not have his belly cut open.” With a furious curse, he flung the lamp out of the window, whereupon it landed in the middle of a little triangle of scrubby grass which was called a ‘park’ by the people who lived there. And there we leave the thief; he doesn’t deserve a moment more of our attention.

Even before the lamp had hit the ground, the jinni of the ring had rushed out of it, and at the speed of the wind he flew to the jinniyah of the blue mountains. Grasping her by the hand, without even giving her the chance to speak (or, truth to tell, to put on any clothes, because she’d been sleeping), he dragged her to the lamp and thrust her towards the spout.

“It’s perfectly clean now,” he said. “It’s clean, inside and out. A palace fit for a king...and a queen, too.”

And so the jinniyah of the blue mountains crawled down into the lamp, where the jinni of her dreams was waiting for her with open arms; and people who have any taste and sense of delicacy know well not to interrupt lovers when they find themselves reunited, when they’d despaired of ever seeing each other again.

And what of the lamp? Well, early in the morning, a little girl was out in the street. She was a very poor little girl, who had only one ragged dress and nothing on her feet. But she was a nice and pleasant little girl for all that, with a good and generous heart, and it was her birthday, though only she knew it. And she knew that nobody else would remember it, not even her mother and father.

“It doesn’t matter if nobody gives me anything,” she said. “My parents are too poor to even think of a present, and it would be cruel to remind them that it’s my birthday.” And then she saw the lamp lying on the grass, glittering in the first rays of the morning sun.

“What a beautiful lamp,” she said. “Why would anyone throw away such a lovely thing? Never mind, lamp,” she said, picking it up and hugging it to her bony little chest. “You’ll be my birthday gift. I’ll take care of you and keep you nice and clean and pristine.”

But that, as they say, is altogether another story.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

Sunday 19 June 2016

After the War is Over

Here I lie on the ravaged stones
The cold of night in my derelict bones
The sky full of stars that care nothing
For the aftermath of defeat and victory.
Does it matter who won or lost?
It's I who always paid the cost.

Civilian or soldier, friend or foe
Winner or loser, today, long ago,
I still have no face, no name;
The flags will fly, the sun will burn
Women weep, and the planet turn –

And soon enough, someone else will lie
After another war, under the eyeless sky
Remember me, or choose to forget
It’s all the same – I’ll be dying yet.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016