Based on a true story. Because people keep asking me about the time I interviewed the devil.
Story: Yousuf Tilly
Illustrations: Amin Milani, freepik
No one really believes me when I describe how a little woman tossed five men across the room. I guess it belies expectations, but what happened that dark stormy night was nothing ordinary.
In all honesty, I got tempted into that midnight tryst when a pamphlet was thrust into my hand one bright sunny day. It read something like a superpowers wishlist.
“WANT BIG PENIS?” the headline yelled.
Who doesn’t, I cringed. I expected the next line to promise safe abortions but there were more interesting cures on offer. Things that bulged my eyes out of their sockets. Did I want to recognize my enemies or peer into the abyss of lost lovers? I didn’t know that was even possible, but the practical uses of the magic soon became apparent. Buried somewhere between winning a court-case and getting thin really fast was landing a job. I gasped. Mama Gladys, the witch doctor, had a herbal cure with no side effects.
I never did visit Mama Gladys because the unemployed can languish only upon time rather than money. But somehow her pamphlet acted like a cosmic magnet that kicked the universe into gear, and I was soon drawn into a series of coincidences that put me squarely in front of an elderly man who looked like anyone’s grandfather.
He was calm and gentle when he asked me what I was doing with my life. Of course I had no answers. I was a writer and that implied wandering around to find them. He on the other hand, I dared to whisper, was the magician. Perhaps he could tell me?
“I can only show you a direction,” he said.
My disinterest was clear. Yet another Easter-egg hunt for profound wisdom, I was not game for. He didn’t smile, didn’t frown. He simply got up to leave, and that was when the heebie-jeebies of being left to my own devices again overwhelmed me.
“Bhai!” I called out his name rather desperately.
Facing me with his back, he swung his walking stick up. The choice to get beneath his wing was all mine.
In a room at the back of his home, Bhai lit a candle and kicked my chair closer to the table. Before me was a stack of ordinary kitchen plates flanked by a saucer in which he dropped a few strands of saffron. By then the kettle began to howl and Bhai poured a shot of the boiling water into the saucer. When the saffron shards turned the water orange, Bhai put a feather in my hand.
“Write!” he growled, slamming a piece of paper from his breast pocket on the table.
“Where?” I wondered. The cryptic text was not a language I’d seen before.
His eyeballs skirted toward the plates, then sidled over to the door in which direction his feet followed. I was left in the dim light all by myself. The bars on the windows discouraged a nimble escape and, around me, the house creaked as loudly as the voice in my head.
“You fool!” my thoughts jeered at me.
I suppose for a writer struggling with his own words, writing someone else’s was not a bad start, so I got busy dipping the feather into the saffron well and copied the text. Not that there was more magic than labour in the task but it felt ominous enough to watching the saffron marks disappear into the plates. The writing was barely visible by the time I’d finished, and common sense too dissolved when I found Bhai again in the lounge. He was sitting in the dark, talking to himself, not at all embarrassed that I’d caught him.
“Take it here,” he instructed. From his breast pocket he fished out a scrap of paper with an address scribbled upon it.
“It’s late,” I squealed and took a step back, “I have to get home.”
“Don’t you want to see what you’ve done?”
“Done?” I gulped.
Bhai pressed the switch on the floor with his slipper and the lamp altered the mood in the room. He didn’t smile, he didn’t frown.
“Come back in eleven days,” he said after reading my face. It was the exact number of plates I’d written for him.
A week later I was watching the world dance in my garden. When I closed one eye the frangipani’s jumped left, then when I winked the other, they switched. It was all a lovely distraction from Anjoo, my landlord, who was at my door all morning. I slipped out into the garden which I knew was quiet enough to avoid paying the rent. Besides, my last encounter with Bhai was lingering in my mind.
Even as a writer, I could find no words for it. Who was this guy to think he knew what I was capable of, what I’d done? At first I thought it a clever strategy to weasel more free labour out of me but little omens kept drawing my attention. The humidity in the air for instance. No clouds were billowing up in the sky but the invisible warning of the upcoming summer rains was still clear. Something was about to happen.
That mysterious anticipation began the night I delivered the plates. I wasn’t in the mood for the old man’s errand but handed the package over anyway to a man who looked like a furniture salesman. Not the type I’d peg for believing in magic. I searched his face for clues as to what I’d done but got only a smirk before the door was shut in my face.
I stood on his dreadfully silent porch wondering if he’d just seen a sucker when a chilling scream echoed from within the house. I took that as a sign too, and mozied on over to the bar instead of home. There I emptied my pockets of all the coins found stuck between the cushions of my couch.
“Beer or whiskey?” the barkeep grunted.
Sugar was always a soothing medication for me. It transformed the dark drinking hole into a colourful adventure and I was reminded what life could be like without having to fight through every day.
“Geez if I had a penny for every time I heard that one,” the barkeep sniggered.
With a rag between his fingers, he pinched-up yet another glass to dry from the dishwasher. I meanwhile I followed his nod over to the end of the bar. There, hanging upon himself, was the leftovers of a man. His beard was growing out of his nose and most of the hair he had left sprouted out his ears. The hobo turned to me with a solemn face.
“Hell I’m pretty useful too!” the hobo drawled, then laughed so hard that his dentures fell into his beer.
The rude awakening threw me off my chair. I ran into the night. Fast and furious as those omens came, I preferred to rather not see.
And so, exactly eleven days later my pockets were still empty and I found myself at Bhai’s door again. It swung open before I knocked. Bhai stepped outside to tell me I’d arrived just in time. Then he pulled on his coat to take me on the distraction I was looking for.
We were back at the furniture salesman’s house in a jiffy. Bhai hobbled onto the porch and struck the door with his stick. As we waited, a sense of war hung about him, perhaps because the house felt like a mortuary inside. We took our shoes off at the entrance to a room at the end of a long passage while womenfolk on the other end huddled upon each other to catch a glimpse.
At first I guessed Bhai to be some sort of celebrity, but all eyes were on me. They were whispering from behind their hands but I didn’t need to hear those women. I could tell when I was being laughed at. It seemed there were some expectations I wasn’t fully aware of. Putting my shoes aside neatly, I wondering what I’d gotten myself into?
It was not pretty. As soon as I entered the room, I was forced to back-up against the door. Bhai was directing two grown men in pinning a frail woman to the ground. With eyes sunken into their sockets, she reached out to me for help. Me being too frozen to respond angered her and then the situation really got out of control.
Like a rabid dog she pried herself loose and turned on us. The man I met before was the first to get it. From the way she threw him against the wall I guessed he was her husband. Everyone called him Chota anyway, which means small. Her father was none too lucky either. He caught a perfume bottle with his face before she turned on me with drool hanging from her mouth.
“Focus!” Bhai shouted, throwing a bedsheet at me.
“On what?” I yelled. Was he really expecting me to tuck her in?
The answer was obvious though and I was forced to become the menace I was expected to be. I threw the sheet over her and, while she dawdled, we managed to draw her to the ground. Eventually a collective effort subdued her, each of us holding her fast at the extremities. She kicked around beneath the sheet before tiring out. Finally, she heaved a great sigh and her back collapsed into the floor. All was still.
Her attack was so intense that I hadn’t the nerve to ask if we were doing the right thing or not. So small a woman with such great strength however was proof enough for me to just let the morality slide. From then on I was ready to obey whatever Bhai commanded, in the hope of course that we wouldn’t get arrested for whatever this was.
But once things simmered it was obvious that Chota’s wife was not her usual self. He stroked her face trying to calm her down.
“Hush now Amina,” he encouraged.
“Go fuck yourself!” she screeched back, snapping her jaw at his hand so harshly that her father’s face dropped.
It seemed their whole family was being torn apart by her behaviour. I felt sorry for them, for Chota in particular. With a wife like his, perhaps a smirk was all he could muster. Here I was guilty of prematurely judging him.
“Who’s side are you on?” Amina suddenly turned to me. My fumbling set her off in another direction.
“Can’t you see what they’re doing to me?”
“I think they’re trying to help you,” I muttered, wanting desperately to be right.
“Help me!” she pleaded, tears welling up in her eyes.
Amina told me about how, many moons ago, she began feeling a dreaded turn in her tummy. From doctor to surgeon she was relayed in an attempt to figure out what was ailing her but little progress was made. The pain just got worse. She slowly weakened to the point where she couldn’t do the simplest things. Eating was chore and without someone to help her to the loo she would soil herself. There in her darkest moments, a distance grew between herself and Chota. She realized that he too had his own life and needless to say she felt abandoned by him. After giving him two children, she asked with a deep sadness in her eyes, if I too would not be livid?
At least I had Bhai to peg my hopes on, I thought. He was busy interrogating Amina’s father as to whether she’d consumed her dinners over the past eleven days using the plates I’d written. Bhai then reached into his breast pocket to draw out a little purse. From it emerged a ballpoint pen and several packages of folded paper. He gave Amina’s father the nod.
She screamed when her father determinedly drew her hand out from beneath the bedsheet. He ignored her pleading and put his knee on her wrist as he forced her palm open. I was as mesmerized as she was afraid.
“I need a doctor, not a spiritual nut!” she screamed, fighting her Dad off.
“He means well honey,” Chota quipped with that jaunting smirk on his face again.
Meanwhile Bhai whispered into thin air. Moving his lips silently, he selected a package from the dresser to unfold. Then with a deep breath he sucked the incantation back into his mouth and blew it over the contents of the little paper package. A pinch of it then got dropped into Amina’s palm.
Her pain inspired such a compassion in me that I felt compelled to push Bhai’s hand away and, in the process, knocked the package out of his hand. He swatted me away angrily but the package had already spilt all over the carpet.
“It’s just salt!” Bhai yelled.
Still I was glad that Amina’s tears dried out and the glimmer of a smile appeared. I was glad, that is, until I saw her face could contain it no more and she burst out laughing. Boy did I feel like a fool when I realized what was really going on.
“What do you mean it’s not her?” I asked.
“She’s possessed,” Bhai explained, “and you’ve just fallen for the oldest trick in the book!”
To salvage the exorcism, Chota got a glass of water. Bhai blew another incantation into it, then dipped a finger to anoint Amina’s forehead with. She fell limp and her father propped her up in his lap to pour the rest down her throat. Amina soon fell into a deep sleep.
Sweet indeed she looked then but what I couldn’t see was the inter-dimensional creature that possessed her. It was called a djinn. They were an abomination of nature fashioned out of a smokeless fire. It allowed them to take any form, fly great distances in no time and remain invisible if they wanted. It entered Amina through a vulnerability in her nape and had been pulling her strings ever since.
I sat back to mull all that over when my eyes found a photograph on the dresser. In it Amina was smiling over the baby she’d just given birth to.
“Happier times,” Chota said.
“Yeah, her face…” I muttered, unable to place what was different about it.
It was the ghastly truth of her illness. Indeed, doctors failed to diagnose what was ailing Amina and she endured months of blood tests, medication and hospitalization before anyone admitted they were at wits end. Amina was eventually sent home and, since she wasn’t levitating or doing any spider-walks up the wall, no one figured that she was all that time left unbeknownst in the clutches of the djinn.
Then she got strange. Often at exactly three AM, Chota was woken up by Amina standing above him on the bed. Sometimes she spoke to him in languages he knew she ordinarily couldn’t. She really frightened Chota when once opening the closet door to let the kids in. She kissed and told them that they needn’t be afraid of her. She hated them too.
That started the inquiry into a spiritual cure. Little did Chota know the corridors of spiritual power were littered with megalomaniacs and charlatans like Mama Gladys. Along the way he met a couple who paid handsomely for a special milk-bath which was supposed to repair their marriage. Bizarrely it did bring them closer together, but only because they resolved to never be taken for such a ride again.
“All these things that they do,” Chota said watching Bhai, “it’s not common sense.”
“What does he say?” I asked wondering whether I was going down that road too.
“He says the djinn is in love with her,” Chota replied deadpan, “that’s why it’s not leaving.”
Well that explained the spiritual beating with salt and holy water. Apparently organic things that didn’t ferment were deadly for the demon, but the damage to Chota’s family was done nonetheless by the time Amina’s dad found Bhai. A sort of malaise had come about them all. Chota especially. His marriage was in tatters and he felt quite useless in mending it.
There really wasn’t any time for pity though when Amina woke up. She stretched like a cat, scratching her claws on the carpet. Finding her teeth clenched, Bhai threw himself into action. He stuffed a ballpoint pen between Amina’s fingers and pressed them closed. She squealed and the djinn within quickly recoiled from hurting her. Since the holy water wasn’t working as effectively as it should, Bhai realized the djinn was more vicious than he’d thought. And while he prepared for battle I got up close and personal with the unseen.
“Humans, you enjoy torture don’t you?” it asked with a forlorn look on Amina’s face.
“Who’s asking?” I replied, determined not to fall for compassion again.
Turns out the djinn’s name was Balgobind, and it was a he. He came from the Drakensberg mountains where a tribe of their kind lived and bred. Like vultures, they fed on the bones of dead animals and human waste. Balgobind spat with Amina’s mouth to express what kind of life he thought that was.
And to think that was how his tribe lived for thousands of years. Among the magi who governed them were some who were hundreds of years old and still fit as fiddles. Still a waste really in Balgobind’s opinion. He found them stupid for cowering away in the mountains while the world changed around them. Life was for the living, so he left his family with only the hope he aimed to carve his future with.
“When you’re out there, bad things can happen,” he said.
“Why hurt this woman then?” I asked, “you two have that in common.”
“No. The day you don’t treat me as the devil is when we will be alike,” he barked.
My attempts to reason Balgobind into leaving Amina alone were a fool’s errand. He didn’t think he was hurting her at all, but I suppose a twisted sense of love would do that. I got the impression that he was sniffing me out too. Perhaps, like a psycho, he planned to catch me unawares and turn my own life upside-down. In a way I wished for it. Things weren’t exactly going as planned. Perhaps that was why distraction was as good as sugar for me.
In any case Bhai abruptly got up and left. I freshened up in the bathroom and found him blowing smoke circles on the porch thereafter. That sense of war was looming about him again. To his trained ears, all was not as it seemed.
Young djinn’s who have the courage to step out quickly become apprentices to cunning human witches and warlocks. Common motivations for using the dark arts are jealousy and malice so witches turn the powers of the djinn into money by having the demons destroy others for a fee. Witches made a living that way and naïve creatures like Balgobind were usually enslaved using inter-dimensional contracts. That was really why he couldn’t leave Amina. To Balgobind it was a job. And about that, curious I was too.
“So what exactly did I do writing those plates?” I asked.
“Can’t you see?”
“No!” I shrugged, then owned up to my confusion, “oh?”
“Only a fool lies to himself,” Bhai said in the cryptic way he did everything.
“Well what do wise men do?” I ventured for some clarity.
“They don’t ask stupid questions,” he replied blowing a smoke ring right at me. “They just open their eyes!”
With that he killed his pipe and followed the sound of crashing plates in the house. I trailed along, though I felt the same quizzical way people look at me when I tell them I saw a tiny woman thwart five grown men. It sounds like a tall tale but simple truths are so startling they need time to digest.
In the kitchen quite a commotion was ensuing. Chota flung the plates I’d written for Bhai angrily at the wall. Amina’s Dad tried calming Chota down but he was too old and Chota too mad.
“She’s not in her senses,” Dad tried explaining.
“How would you like it?” Chota yelled, grabbing his father-in-law by the face then, just as suddenly, puckered-up and kissed the old man on the lips.
“I was trying to comfort her,” Chota bawled while the gallery of womenfolk huddled into kitchen doorway to pass judgement.
A chuckle echoed from Amina’s bedroom and I surmised what had happened. Chota fell for another of Balgobind’s tricks. He thought he was kissing his wife and instead was humiliated. Bhai banged his walking stick on the kitchen floor to seize attention. He sucked his thumb, blew a spell onto it and pressed it into Chota’s forehead.
“Only a fool can lead himself into that corner,” he told Chota, “now go wash your face. We have work to do.”
With everyone thrown out of the kitchen I was sat down at the table to tear ordinary kitchen aluminium foil into squares. I did it with more enthusiasm than writing the plates. Watching this family being torn apart was the first inklings of a story I knew needed to be told. It was about Balgobind’s bad vibes, which infected everyone because all things yearn to survive. Evil was no different. It was just life. And so I planned to begin that story with the words ‘what is put out we get back!’
“So you’re not going to just beat the demon out?” I asked Bhai as he relayed instructions.
“If Balgobind was sent to hurt Amina as a job, then he was sent by someone. This is not a possession, it’s a crime.”
As the celestial detective, Bhai then sat Amina’s mother down across the table and pulled out the same ballpoint pen he used to torture Balgobind. With it he sketched a portrait of Amina’s life. I never knew she was only thirty-six years old, or that her maiden name wasn’t the same as her mother’s since she was adopted. A loving web of relationships life had woven around Amina came to light as Bhai scribbled the details on some paper. He then coded them as symbols similar to the text I copied for him onto the plates, then drew a ring around it. The sygil apparently addressed what Balgobind wanted, a pure soul.
Amina’s mother and I were left to sew the charm with a piece of black cloth Bhai gave us from his breast-pocket. I wrapped the sygil into the tinfoil and gave it to her.
“How do you know Bhai?” Amina’s mother asked.
“I don’t,” I replied, cautiously explaining that I thought I had something to learn from him.
“About us?” she snapped.
“About me,” I replied.
She had a scissors handy and cut the cloth around the package. Thereafter she began sewing it together while I watched. We chatted more about me since my family was familiar to her.
“You’re the one with a dream?” she asked when a bulb lit in her eye.
“Do you know me?”
“News travels,” she replied.
“Yes, I want to write,” I said folding my arms.
“Isn’t that what you’re doing now?” she said with a sudden stern look.
I didn’t answer. I took the little package off the table where she put it between us and got up to leave. She stopped me.
“Stories like these can ruin Amina’s life,” the mother said.
“If it’s the shame you’re talking about, Amina and I have a lot in common,” I mumbled.
I don’t know if we understood each other or not but, when I passed the jabbering womenfolk in the passage, I ignored their whispers about the sorcerer’s apprentice. It was easy. I was not him. I was me.
Back in the bedroom, I joined the circle surrounding Amina on the floor. The men wielded their proverbial pitchforks and I put the amulet in Bhai’s hand, who pinned it on Amina. She reached out and took her husband’s hand.
“Be strong,” she told Chota softly.
And for just that one moment the same Amina that smiled from the photograph on the dresser, the one from better times, shone through. Her eyes then rolled and Amina was lost to the depths again. Bhai’s torture methods didn’t bruise Amina. It was white magic, and he wielded it now by standing over her with his hand gripping her head. Looking to the heavens, Bhai chanted an ancient tongue that changed everything.
The room became chilly and outside the summer rains finally arrived with a thunderous clap upon the clouds. The water fell hard on the roof of the house, drowning us all in a vision neither of us wanted to believe. It was nevertheless right there before our very eyes. Amina faced us but she had somehow grown dark and contorted like someone else. Slowly her eyes opened, dazed and confused, then she snapped with rage.
“You pulled me off the couch for this?” an old woman’s voice screeched through Amina. “I was watching ‘Days of our lives’!”
I was gobsmacked. Amina had turned into the witchy woman who cast the spell on her. Apparently the witch’s body was still lounging at home but her wits were Bhai’s prisoner.
“So you’re the one meddling in my business!” she croaked. Bhai casually whispered another incantation that made her curse in Zulu.
“Undo the charm or else I’ll set your own djinn on you,” he warned the witch.
“You’ll never find that charm!” the witch mocked.
She didn’t waste any time either enunciating just how she was going to punish Balgobind for betraying her so easily. She knew just as well as Bhai that Balgobind couldn’t take the salt and cloves anymore. So much for being sent to terrorize Amina and her family. The witch promised to deal with him later.
“It’s not my fault!” Amina changed momentarily back to Balgobind while he argued with his witch. That many voices inside anyone can’t be good, I thought looking at Amina. But then she bent over into the witch being channelled through her again.
Thus began the negotiation over Amina’s life. From the sounds of it, the witch was being paid pretty well to hurt Amina and was unwilling to retract her demon until she’d milked dry whoever commissioned her to cast the spell. But Bhai was onto her devious scheme. When a demon is allowed to enter a human being it’s done with a charm. Somehow Bhai had discovered that the witch wound it using Amina’s period blood, nail cuttings and hair. He connected the dots and realized only someone in close proximity to Amina would have access to such discarding’s.
“You should be careful of your friends,” she told Chota.
“Oh that’s right, you’re too busy tending to your sick wife,” the witch said pulling a sad face on Amina.
Chota went red in the face and attacked her. He pounced upon Amina’s body and almost slammed his fist into her face when she taunted him.
“Go on, it’s not like you haven’t done it before,” his sweet wife’s face said in the witch’s voice.
We had to pull him back then as it seemed she’d hit a nerve. A dark secret was looming and I must admit, given the circumstances, I was hungry for that gossip. In fact we all stopped to search Chota’s face. But before he could say anything it was Amina’s dad, old as he was, who hooked Chota squarely in the jaw.
The witch burst into laughter as I, very reluctantly, was sent out for some ice. When I returned, the witch was gone and Chota lay unconscious on the floor next to Amina. I helped Bhai carry her over to the bed while the secrets of an ordinary home revealed themselves.
It erupted like a volcano! From the porch where Bhai and I gave the family some privacy, we could hear the argument getting louder than the summer rains storming across the lawn.
Initially I’d thought that Chota had been secretly beating his wife, until I heard him admit to being duped. By whom I stretched my ears to find out. His lover was the very woman who Bhai suspected of commissioning the witch to cast the spell on Amina. She was a socialite, the envy of all. Bold and unafraid of the whispers behind her back, she attracted Chota’s attention since his role as the dutiful husband was just too much to bear. In her he saw a guide as she was a woman whose notoriety came from disregarding the traditional roles imposed on her. I imagined that he must’ve even thought her to be rather brave to stand on her own feet. But her independence was unfortunately read as defiance and Chota’s lover was cast aside all alone. To save herself she drew him into her little world and, while Chota tried responding with chivalry, he hadn’t really looked where he leapt.
The sound of the rain provoking my thoughts, I remembered what Bhai told me earlier. It made sense now. What he meant by wise men opening their eyes to see was simply that life was full of fears and only fools pursue it without eyes wide open. With that understanding I found myself back at the drawing board. A story was definitely materializing in my mind but did I really want to write about someone else’s dirty laundry?
My dithering thoughts were however interrupted by Bhai. While Amina’s father and husband debated where Chota’s loyalties lay, Bhai swiftly emptied his pipe and jumped into action. It was something about Chota being accused of giving his lover strands of Amina’s hair that unexpectedly inspired Bhai.
Back in Amina’s room, and alone with Balgobind, Ahmedhai got me to kill the lights. He receded into the shadows to whisper into the ether again and that was that. I don’t know what he did or how but, by the time we left that night, I met Amina for the first time.
“What happened?” she whispered when coming to her senses. I hadn’t an answer and simply gave her some water to drink.
“You had a bad dream,” her Dad lied, but there it was, good love.
Who I and Bhai were she could not recollect. All she remembered was being stuck alone in a dark hole. More terrifying was that she could hear our voices, help at hand, but didn’t know whether they were real or not. Then, as she laid eyes on Chota, Amina propped herself up in bed to cling to him.
“I’ll be a better wife, I promise!” She whispered into his ear. A tear rolled down her Dad’s face as he watched.
After the rains the world was new. Bhai and I walked the long route home in the freshness of that summer night. It cleared my head and I found myself not in the company of a warlock anymore, but walking alongside a man who had followed his path even if it belied common sense.
His own decision to practice white magic was not an easy road but it was through those challenges that he earned his powers. It all began unassumingly with a great fright he got when just a boy. It was his first encounter with the djinn.
Playing truant one night he skipped out of bed with his brother to play in their backyard. When the trees began to shuffle unexpectedly, his brother was creeped out and Bhai was left alone in the garden. The curious feeling that he was being watched got the better of him and Bhai stepped toward the trees to prove it just a silly fear.
When the darkness shifted, he discovered the hideous creatures living alongside them. With its pronounced brow and yellow eyes, it drunk him in. Bhai was so close to the djinn he could see the hairs on its shoulders. He froze momentarily but decided there and then not to judge the creature as evil simply because he didn’t like the look of it.
When he showed his grandfather the singed tree branches where the djinn sat the night before, his talent to peer across the dimensional-divide was discovered and Bhai was initiated into the white arts. It was a tradition his family had handed down generation after the next to those who had the courage to see. Ever since, Bhai carried the torch.
He was a sort of spiritual cop taught to defend an inter-dimensional code of ethics. It relied on the principle that both humans and djinn were creations of nature and that life had to be respected nevertheless. Those who didn’t have the gall for such realities fell upon evil as a tempting aside, but all his years of experience had simply taught him that there was nothing to fear but fear itself. I understood then what it meant to follow my own dreams.
Out of the blue, he swung his walking stick up. I recognized the gesture as an invitation to get beneath his wings and smiled. He was telling me to make my own decisions.
“But what if everyone’s right…what if I am throwing my life away?” my dithering thoughts voiced themselves again.
“If you’re doing what you can in the best way you know how then throw your life away by all means. It’s the only way to grow.”
He didn’t need to say it but that was the direction he promised to reveal to me. As we walked together in silence I no longer questioned what I was capable of. Neither did I acquiesce to Amina’s mother’s plea. What happened that night was my experience too and to reveal it through my words was a way to show what the world looked like through another pair of eyes. If at all, it could help someone make sense of it all, seen and unseen.
When we got to his home Bhai stood in the doorway and pulled out an envelope from his breast pocket. I’d seen Amina’s dad give it to him, and from it he pulled out a few notes to pay my landlord. Sheepishly I put my fingers on it, but he pulled it back until I admitted that I needed it. Then he gave it to me. He too didn’t ask for money, but what is put out is what we get back.
I took that as another omen and set down to write my story. I also stopped looking for a job that night. Instead I travelled in search of more stories, throwing my life away recklessly because, well, time is all the living really have to languish upon. With Bhai I visited many more homes to tell the story of other Amina’s. Together, Bhai and I made a manual of white magic that could be passed down to the next apprentice who questioned if they had a place in this great universe.
Later on I also discovered how Bhai freed Amina that night with a mere whisper in the dark. When he learnt of Chota’s affair being so close to home, Bhai guessed that Amina was fed the charm that bound her. After all, enjoying the hospitality of family is one of the great boons of life. Amina’s own stomach was also a place where no one would look. The witch was cunning that way. Her spell was designed to disable Amina so Chota’s lover could have him to all herself. To fish the dirty charm out of Amina’s belly was however not the result of a magical spell. Bhai’s whispers in the dark were really conversations.
“Remember that dark creature in the tree at my home?” Bhai asked. I nodded. Who could ever forget staring into the supernatural?
“That djinn was my grandfather’s friend,” he said, “and is now mine.”
It turned out that, like humans, there were a few rotten apples but all djinn weren’t evil. Ancient texts say that secrets of the occult were divulged to mankind by the angels Harut and Marut who came to earth under the premise of teaching man to protect themselves from meddlesome demons. But mankind themselves abused that sacred knowledge and tempted the djinn for financial gain. Combatting that abuse was how white magic was born, as was the tradition established between both man and djinn who were interested in living peacefully alongside each other.
On some occasions they even won the epic battle between good and evil. Blagobind, for instance, had made his bed and now lay in it. Me, I walked into the night and never bothered looking over my shoulder again.
—– THE END —–
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