“So”, I said to my friend, “what’s this djinni thing all about?”

“It’s a genie, not a djinn.” His eyes were a bit feverish, darting here and there, looking for something they wanted to see but couldn’t. “And it’s tracking me.”

“Uh-huh. And you know this because…”

“Lots of hints. I saw it in a dream. And I think it left its handprint on a piece of toast yesterday.”

“And can I see this —”

He laughs, then stops when the laughter starts to rise to a shriek. “I ate it. I was, you know, distressed. Because it’s a powerful genie, and I’ve somehow done it wrong.”

“How come?”

“Well, genies are powerful. Didn’t you read the Arabian Nights? And I reckon this one must be extra powerful because it can hide from you and everyone else. The less I see it, the stronger I think it is. And… I don’t know. Maybe this house’s built on an ancient Syrian burial ground —”

“In Seattle?”

“— or maybe I said its name in vain, or worshipped some contrary creature, or broke the ineffable laws of the spirit world — do I sound like I know what’s going on? There are lots of ways to offend a genie, and when they get angry, it’s bye-bye.”

“What do you mean ‘bye-bye’?”

“Well, they can cause havoc in your life — natural disasters, illnesses, troubles with bank managers, fallings off the roof… er, rooves, things like that. Worst of all, when you die, they can clap manacles on your soul so heavy you don’t float to Paradise, but sink to the screaming pits of Gehenna!”‘

“Wh— where did you hear all this stuff?”

Suddenly he lowers his eyes, then whispers. “From a friend.”

“Well how does he know it?”

“He… I don’t know.”

“Oh. When did you start, um, feeling this genie was after you? Was it a bit after this friend told you about it?”

He looks up, irritated. “Of course it was. Do you suppose I go around looking for malevolent spirits on my own? It’s just that the genie explains so much. Like the time I was fired from that McDonald’s —”

“For sleeping on the job?”

“— it was the genie wafting sleep-dust up my nostrils. The genie made me do it! And when I nearly got run over by that car, it was the genie driving it!”

“Wait, didn’t you say you… you stopped to buy a lottery ticket after that because you were so shaken, and you won a hundred off it?”

He grins. “Well, of course the genie isn’t mad at me all the time. It’s a just little bugger, always nudging me in the right direction. It tracks me, sometimes punishes a bit, and sometimes gives a little reward. Probably was sorry for spooking me with the car and all. It’s an ineffable genie plan, you know?”

“Do I?”

“It is. I don’t know what it is, or what they want to do in the end, but I’m hoping I can stay on my genie’s good side long enough to get to Paradise. Then, I suppose, I’ll hear what this is all about. Personally I hope it’s something about dinosaurs.”

“Right. I gotta go.”

He smiles, wanly. “Oh, okay. Luck with your personal genie.”

“I don’t got one. I’m a Christian, remember? We don’t do this kind of shit.”

* * *

No, since it would be just silly if one invoked a giant spirit world to explain everyday probabilities, disasters and survivals, victories and losses — if one saw gods in toast or believed dreams and visions — if one accepted wild rumors from friends, friends-of-friends (foafs?) and ancient books without sufficient question, dismissing most but accepting one variety — if one needed an external purpose and an agent for every accident and achievement — if one defined something as unknowable, and them claimed to know plenty of it — if one lived in fear of things that don’t exist, or wasted one’s time trying to make up with the same.

Just silly, really.

One Response to “Ingenious”

  1. Bob O'H Says:

    Borges’ short story “The Lottery in Babylon” has a similar theme, but done more subtly (as was his way).

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