Once upon a time, O Reader, there was a man in Samarkand who was smitten by a woman. So much in love with her was he that he could not sleep or eat, but only thought of her, night and day, until he almost withered away with the force of his affliction.
Sad to say, though, the woman concerned would not even deign to acknowledge that he existed, for she was a great and proud lady, and he was but a commoner with neither nobility nor property to commend him; and he was a black man besides, while she was fair as the full moon. If he fell at her pretty feet, swooning with love, words of adoration on his lips, she would kick him away. If he would still importunate her, she would summon men with staves, who would beat him until he could hardly move, and then throw him into the gutter, like so much rubbish.
And so the man was filled with despair, and so were his friends.
“There is but one thing for you to do,” they told him. “You must give her up, forget her, or you shall surely die.”
“I cannot give her up,” the man replied. “I would even rather die than forget her. I worship the ground her dainty shoes have trodden. I would give up my soul to be allowed to kiss the hem of her robe. But I cannot forget her.”
“In that case,” his friends said, shaking their heads sorrowfully, “no mortal can help you. Only a jinni can.”
“And where can I find a jinni?” the man asked eagerly. “Tell me, and I shall surely go.”
“You must travel to the deserts of Arabia,” his friends said, after consulting each other. “There, in the very heart of the desert, where there is no noise but the howling of the wind, the jinn live. And there, if anywhere at all, you will be able to find one to fulfil your desires.”
So the man left Samarkand with a caravan, which at length came to Baghdad, the greatest city in the world; but he did not tarry there for even a moment. Travelling on, he eventually came to Arabia, and, moving on from caravansarai to caravanserai, he finally came, alone, to a place so dismal it was hard to believe that it knew aught but the presence of Allah.
All around him the desert stretched, to a horizon shrouded in haze; and the ground was eroded rock so parched that it did not even give place for a blade of grass to take root and grow. But along with the wind, which howled ceaselessly, he heard voices, and the words they spoke mocked him and jeered.
“Here is a man who has come to seek us,” they laughed. “And he will die of fear when he realises that he has indeed found what he was looking for.”
“I will not die of fear,” the man responded boldly. “I did come looking for you, but I am not afraid, and I will not die of fear.”
“Then flee,” the voices said. “Flee, before we kill you.”
“You may kill me if you wish,” the man responded boldly. “But I will not flee until you have granted what I wish, for I will die anyway without it.”
“So what is it you want?” the voices of the jinn sussurated. “What is it that you value more than your own life?”
“I love such and such a lady,” the man said. “And it is her love I want.”
“Is that all?” the jinn laughed. “Are you not going to ask for gold or diamonds, or life for ten thousand years?”
“No,” the man replied. “All I wish for is the love of this lady. And I will not go until I have secured it.”
“We cannot give you her love forever,” the jinn said, “for, though we may work it that she will love you for a moment, when her eye falls on someone better suited to her desires, she may love him instead.”
“Then,” the man said, “make it so that I will be with her always. At every moment, whether she wakes or sleeps, I wish to be with her, so close that I hear every beat of her heart and the sound of her breath, as long as we both should live. And, also, make me white as the full moon, or whiter; for she does not love black men.”
“Are you certain?” the jinn asked. “Perhaps that will not make her love you.”
“I will take the chance,” was the reply. “If I am so close to her, she will love me forever. I am certain of it.”
“So be it,” the jinn said, in their multitude of voices. And where the man had been standing, there was not even a shadow.
So the man was borne in a trice to Samarkand, and he became so close to the woman that he heard every beat of her heart, and the sound of every one of her breaths. At all hours, whether she woke or slept, he was with her, closer than anyone else could possibly be.
Long, rippling, translucent white, he had become a tapeworm in her belly.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2017