The Genie from Fez strode the streets, enjoying the morning and pretty much minding his own business, which he had to do given he was from out of town, when he noticed a man and his donkey nestled into a driveway in Rue Rouget de I’Isle. The donkey was hitched to a small cart into which the man had collected an assortment of recyclable materials which he later sold in order to eke out a living. They were sheltering out of the rain which had descended on the city at no notice after the day had dawned bright and clear. Genies are impervious to rain and cold, so he had not really noticed the downpour.
‘Strange’ he thought to himself. ‘A Mercedes, perhaps, in this leafy burb, but not a donkey and a cart.’ So he turned aside to have a closer look.
‘Good morning’ he introduced himself to the driver, who was lying on his cardboard mattress beside the cart. A mattress with Guerlain printed on its stickers. ‘Unusual to be in this part of town? Thought I might see you around El Hank or Hay El Hana. But downtown?’
‘And it would matter to who?’
‘Ah, I forget my manners. Let me introduce myself. I’m the Genie from Fez.’
‘And I am Mustapha and I have a sense of humour too. No good thing ever came out of Fez so I know you’re pulling my leg. Best leave the donkey alone while you’re at it eh?’
The Genie from Fez had a fine sense of humour as well and roared with laughter. ‘Righteo Mustapha I’m in the business of granting wishes. But none of that fairy tale stuff. Not three or any other number. Just one. And you don’t have to rub any brass trinket. You think I could fit into one of those? Who came up with that idea needs his head read. All the bread and pizza we eat I am hard pressed getting into a Grande Taxi these days. Umm, where was I? Oh yes, you get just one wish granted. Mind you the fairy tales are true in that you can’t request one wish becomes multiple wishes. Pulling that one on me would make the one wish null and void so it’s only fair to warn you.’
Now Mustapha, an opportunistic sort of chap, was prepared to believe pretty much anything life threw at him, even a tall man who woke him and claimed to be a genie. ‘This wish.? Do you want it from me now? And is there a time limit on this?’
‘How much time do you want?’
‘A week to think about it.’
‘Come now, a week? Really. A genie’s got things to do and places to go. How about twenty four hours? And no, there is no time limit on it. It won’t run down or expire after a certain period of time. That’s partly why these things are so dangerous, so be careful. I’ll drop back here at the same time tomorrow and we can sort out this wish of yours. Oh, by the way, I don’t do love.’
‘Don’t do love?’
‘You know, happy bliss forevermore with the woman or man or donkey of your dreams. Settle down, I’m joking, I’m joking. But no marriage or elopement or anything complicated. Nil on affaire de coeur okay. I’m a genie, not God. Not sure he gets that right himself anyway.’
Mustapha was nonplussed. Love was not his priority right then. Staying alive was the main thing. He scrambled into his cart and made to leave.
‘Is it okay to ask my friends? For ideas that is?’
‘Excellent suggestion. Twenty four hours is not much time and many human heads are better than one and a donkey. Oh, best not mention I’m from Fez. Keep it hypothetical.’
‘Yeah, was thinking the same thing. Don’t want my mates thinking I am completely crazy.’ He flicked the reins and the cart rumbled off out of town.
‘Let’s imagine a genie says he can grant you one wish. What would you ask him?’ Mustapha sat with half a dozen friends huddled against the cold wind against the corniche that ran along the beach front. He could get grazing down here for Afra at no cost and there was always rubbish to sift through. And just up near the light-house he could park his little cart and settle down in it for the night without anyone hassling him. Sometimes on cold nights the residents in these slums would invite him to sit by their smoky little fires. Such hospitality in the poor was never replicated among the rich. The men sipped their café and smiled at each other. Here was a pleasant game.
‘More wishes’ suggested a young lad. He thought it a clever answer. And it is indeed, the first time it occurs to you. None of the men said anything.
‘Sorry, the genie has some rules. Rule number one is that you can’t turn one wish into many. Nice try though son.’ All the men nodded.
‘You wish that you could marry a princess with unlimited wealth and a father that does not mind that you own a donkey called Afra. Or that you own one at all.’ The men laughed.
‘Another rule – nothing to do with love, marriage or anything of the heart. The genie has some limits to his power.’
The men groaned. ‘Really? What sort of genie is this? Where did he say he was from?’
‘Let’s just say he can grant one wish. And these two are the only limitations. What would you suggest? What would change your life around here for the better?’
‘Can we ask for happiness?’
‘I guess so? But would happiness be enough on its own?’
The men rumbled and finally agreed happiness couldn’t exist in a vacuum. The boy suggested it could but it would be handy to have some clean water too. ‘But that’s two wishes isn’t it?’ he asked, a little wistfully.
‘No, not if you are careful son. If clean water will make you happy, well ask for clean water. But see, happiness needs to focus on something. Or someone.’ The boy’s face brightened and the men, so prompted, started to drop their ideas into the ring.
‘A new Mercedes. You could run a taxi service from the best hotels and the airport. Then you can earn enough to buy a house and find your true love. And have clean water’ he added, patting the boy on the shoulder.
‘A company with lots of cars driving all those wealthy visitors to and from the airport.’
Mustapha thought about that for a moment. ‘And end up in a war with all the other taxi drivers.’
‘They could become your drivers.’
‘Lots and lots of ships transporting goods from all your companies to places all over the world.’ The backdrop of the port and a horizon dotted with ships had prompted the idea.
‘The most educated man in the world, knowing all things. Then you could teach at the Grand Mosque and have a dry bed and the respect of many.’
Mustapha thought about that. It had some merit though he was never one to warm to clerics or teachers. But he didn’t dismiss the idea altogether. That Grand Mosque on the horizon represented a world he didn’t fully understand. He and his friends had always wondered that the city could erect such a magnificent structure at nearly a billion dollars in expenditure but not fix the sewers at this end of town.
‘A donkey that never gets sick or dies.’ The men hooted with laughter and Mustapha joined in.
‘A nice house with an endless supply of good food and drink and a big garage for at least, let’s say, ah three new Mercedes. Or maybe those new Audis we see blasting around town. They sound great.’
‘An Audi dealership.’
‘An airline that owns an oil company and a hotel in every city in the world. You could travel wherever you want whenever you want. When it’s cold here you could go to warm places.’
‘And take you friends with you’ they laughed.
Mustapha thought that idea had merit too, especially since he could leave the running of the businesses to someone else. He was not confident that all that responsibility was what he really wanted however. But he liked the idea of travelling with his friends.
‘To live forever.’
Not like this thought Mustapha, though he kept his mouth shut. Who was he to comment on where God had placed him? He was supposed to be grateful.
‘A big villa in the centre where you can keep your mother.’
‘Yeah, near the hospital, with endless medical insurance.’
A good idea. Mama was always ill these days and there was no doctor he could ever afford to take her to. Like his Papa it was likely she would die in pain when her time came. Who was God that he allowed such passing?
But the more they teased out the answer to the question posed by the genie the more they all realized their wishes were hollow, though none would admit as much. Without being able to request anything to do with love they soon found their heart’s desires were well, rather empty. What were all these things if there was no love? In the end they let the conversation ramble to a stop. Mustapha wasn’t going to push it any further than he had to. He had learned the wisdom of his friends and all he had learned was that they were as baffled about the options as he was.
‘Well, time to get back on the street.’ The rain had stopped and he would get out and about and make the most of the rest of the day. If he timed his run well he would be back in the city centre as the sun dropped. He needed to park before it was too dark. With no lights it was too easy to be struck by inattentive drivers. Afra could not take any more knocks than she had already, and without her he had no idea what job he would do in this town. He climbed up into his cart and they clipped off down the boulevard towards the city centre. He retired for the night on his Guerlain cardboard and finally was lost in a dreamless sleep that offered him no answers.
The Genie woke him just as he had the previous morning but this time he had a hot café crème and croissant which he handed over without saying anything. The Genie from Fez had his own café crème and croissant and they sat and ate and drank together in silence until they were done.
‘Well Mustapha, how did you go? Glean the wisdom of the ages from your friends?’
‘They might come from the rough end of the coast but they are not stupid you know. At least none of them come from Fez.’ Mustapha was offended.
‘Keep your hair on Mustapha m’lad. When you have been offering up this opportunity for as long as I have you come to realise wealth and status have got nothing to do with the sort of answers that people invent. People from all stations get into tangles with what I end up granting. Trust me, you don’t want my job Mustapha – you spend your life looking over your shoulder in case you meet one of your disgruntled connections who thought they had worked out the solution to their life’s troubles.‘
‘Fair enough. But it was tough to work out an answer if you can’t do love, as you so delicately put it.’
‘Simple really. When you reduce the opportunity to one wish, well that forced us to consider the single purpose of our lives. And when we did that none of the answers we came up with were satisfactory. At least none of the answers that focused on things we might own or have.’
‘I can see you did glean some wisdom from your friends Mustapha. Too many focus on that. Look around this town of yours. How many are devoted to the material things and how many to the spiritual things. What happens when prayers are called?’
Mustapha nodded. ‘That city plaza is a good example of what happens isn’t it. A thousand people there and ten with their mats out. But I can’t criticize. I haven’t been on my knees in years.’
‘Well I’m sure we could spend all day talking about why that is the case. But I need to be on my way. A Genie from Fez spends as little time in Casablanca as possible. Local genies can get a bit put out when we turn up on their turf. They think we are a bit, you know, rustic. Some Casablanca genies have got tickets on themselves. Anyway… righteo Mustapha, I can discern you have worked out an answer. What’s it going to be? And for goodness sake I don’t want to hear anything about a rejuvenated donkey, okay?’
Mustapha died an old man with a smile on his face and in his heart, surrounded by children he thought he would never have. No one ever had a bad word to say of him. His friends were legion though they never received a penny from him. They gathered around him for the warmth he shed on their lives and the light that he shone on each of their days. It was a warmth and character that not even the Genie from Fez could resist, who hung up his tile and moved city and house to a rather swanky apartment just up from the Hyatt, bought the latest BMW, imported some fine single malt and smoked the best Cubans. (It was Casablanca after all). Mustapha was one character he found irresistible and from whom even he drew strength. And was one he certainly did not have to watch out for over his shoulder. He still loiters around the Medina. The Genie from Fez that is, though for understandable reasons he won’t admit to his origins if you press him. Look out for him in the narrow laneways of that place late at night, sipping a hot café crème by himself. He will be thinking about Mustapha and his answer, musing as he goes ‘Clever lad that donkey cart driver. Should have found him earlier. Found love but never asked for it. Clever lad.’
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