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Fantasy Fiction Speculative

I gulped enormous amounts of air, even though it belonged to a cave. A million fingers of musty air shaken with refreshing mold, a dash of stagnant water with twist of stale urine. It was awful, but anything that didn’t reek of oil, dust and seven centuries was fine by me. Boy it felt good to be out!

“Hi!” I said, smiling at the girl holding my lamp. She was in her early twenties, her scraggly frame supporting faded blue pants and a green t-shirt that was two sizes too big. Her hair sprang in every direction and were as curly as the ancient runes scratched on my lamp, which she clutched in her left hand. A red and brown backpack lay at her feet. She stared at me, her jaw agape, but eyes without shock, like she was expecting a genie to pop out.

“It is quite rude to stare, dear,” I said, keeping my voice gentle to not startle her.

She immediately shut her mouth. “I-I’m sorry...it’s j-just that, I wasn’t expecting you to be a -” she stuttered.

“A woman?” I asked.

Her cheeks turned crimson. “I’m so-sorry.”

I laughed. “It’s okay dear. If you’d like, I can change my appearance into a man. I won’t even count it as your wish.”

I snapped my fingers and my turquoise dress turned into light brown robes, a moustache tickled my nose and my hair receded into my scalp.   

“Eww…no. I like you better as a woman.”

“‘Eww’ is correct, dear,” I said, snapping into my original form, already liking this human. “So, you know the drill. I grant wishes. But unlike popular lore, you get just 1 wish.”

“1? Isn’t it supposed to be 3?” she asked.

“It was, but management changed the system. The butterfly effect was crazy!”  

“Oh. I don’t know what that means but okay,” she said, setting down my lamp on the cave floor.

“So, what will it be? You want a young fella to ask you out on a date? Or become the next Beyoncé? Or ace your exams? Want the perfect hair? Or nails?”

“Riiight.” The girl rolled her eyes. “Because that’s what all girls dream of.”

 “Ah…forgive me dear.” I raised my hands in submission. “I am sorry. So, tell me, what non-conforming wish do you seek, although I must warn you, that if you now ask me for money, I will be a tad disappointed.” I winked.

“Can I ask you a few questions before I make my wish?” she asked.

Ha! A patient human – this was new. Usually, they were so quick to ask for their fancy cars, cash, and the loves of their lives. I didn’t enjoy my interactions with them. The Zoronites and Bugaloos were far more interesting with their galaxy gossips and knowledge of latest scandals. Humans, to put in kindly, were quite tedious. But I hadn’t talked to anyone since seven hundred years although I wish I could obliterate the memory of my last interaction with them. It was a drunk man in front of a gorgeous genie – let’s just stop at that. But this girl looked sensible enough, I was curious…and bored.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Can you bring back a dead person?”

Ah, bringing back the dead – the 4th most popular demand after money, sex and love. “No, dear,” I said. “No magic can bring back the dead.”

She grimaced. “Yeah, I figured that, especially after reading Harry Potter.” The girl sat down on the floor, deep in thought. I let her be and looked around. We were in a cave with dark grey walls with tiny rivulets of water trickling across its length into depths unknown. The mouth was small, but I could see hills in the horizon dotted by green trees that held up a pink sky. I floated around, examining its nook and crannies, searching. I wasn’t disappointed. I found a large web holding its maker.

‘Mmmmm,’ I said as the juicy spider scuttled down my throat. Earthlings were dull, but the view and food were excellent as always.

“Gross.” I heard her say. I turned to find her nose crinkled as a shiver of disgust passed through her body. I laughed. “Never judge before trying, dear,” I said, wagging my finger. She obliged me with a half-smile and reached for her backpack.   

She extracted a small plastic bag from it and proceeded to open it with utmost care. I drew closer, intrigued. Out came a simple, white, cotton dress with a scattered pattern of faded blue flowers. It had a matching blue lace running across the neckline and the sleeves. She held it like it was made of fragile glass. “This was my mother’s,” she said. “She…”

Ah…a dead mother. I made an appropriate face of sorrow, searching for the right words. Death was tricky subject with these mortals, and I wasn’t going to start a debate. But they were so blind to the fact that it was such a gift. They never realized how fortunate they were to have some end in sight. But I reckon the beauty of living a life you know is going to end one day is appreciated only by those facing eternities.  

“I had no one in this world apart from her,” she said, snapping me out of my reverie. “It was always just us.” She stared at the wall, her voice far away. A tear escaped and she caught it, trying to be discreet. I did nothing. I had learned to always create space for grief, no matter how old the ache. I tried to imagine her mother. Judging by the girl, she must’ve been beautiful.

“She died five years ago,” she said, turning her gaze to me.

“I am so-sorry,” I said. “But like I said, I can’t bring her ba-”

“I know, I know,” she said. “That’s not what I want.” She held the dress in front of my face.

“Smell it,” she said.

“What? Why?”

“Just…please.”

I touched my nose to the dress and inhaled deeply. It smelled old. It smelled of a closed wooden cabinet. It smelled of disuse. And it smelled of moths. From its deep-set creases around the folds, I surmised that it had not seen light of day since a long time. It was falling apart.   

I looked up and raised my eyebrow.

She drew the dress back in her embrace. “This belonged to my mum. It was one of her favourites to wear in the night. It had always been just me and mum. I told you that, didn’t I? After she died, I was lost. Still am, honestly.” She looked up and shrugged, adjusting her t-shirt that kept sliding down her shoulders. “The day after her funeral, I was numb. I kept walking into her room and touching all her things. In the night, I did what we always did. Switched on my laptop and began to watch out favourite series – F.R.I.E.N.D.S. And while I did that, I took out this dress from her cupboard and cuddled it, the way I used to cuddle her. And it smelled just like her! It had her scent and it filled me up. I felt like she was right there, you know?”

I nodded.

“But as days passed by, the scent grew fainter and fainter till one day all I could smell was the drawer I kept it in.” The girl’s voice shook, and she paused for moment. “So, I put it back in the drawer and shut it, until I found your lamp.”

“So, my wish,” she said, locking her brown eyes with mine, “is for you to put her scent back in this…permanently.”

“Oh,” I said, my throat dry.

“And also,” she added as an afterthought. “Repair this dress so it never tears again, ever.”

“Dear,” I said, “that would have been possible…if I knew her scent.”

The rustle of the wind outside grew louder as my words seeped into her consciousness. I saw her eyes widen as comprehension gave way to panic.

“BUT YOU MUST!” she said, her voice bouncing from the walls. “You’re a GENIE! You ought to know!”

Even though I knew there was nothing I could do, I felt ashamed. Guilt coiled my chest as the girl babbled on – ‘I don’t have anything that smells like her…NOTHING.” She fell on her knees, head hanging in defeat. The dress sank from her hands onto the earth, mud instantly spreading a sepia tone over its carefully preserved blue flowers.

I knelt beside her and released its hem from her fingers. She let it go without struggle. I flicked a finger. The dirt vanished and all the holes filled in. I repaired it but made sure to not make it look unused. I placed it on her backpack. She sat on the ground, still, her index finger and thumb digging into her furrowed brow. I touched her shoulder.

“Why don’t you describe her scent to me. Maybe, I can recreate something close to it?”

She looked at me, a glimmer of a hopeless smile flicking through her tear-stained face. Her eyes darted from one end to the other as she sifted through her memories for clues.

“Well,” she said, after a few minutes, “she smelled like spices. She loved to cook. She would always be watching those boring food channels and jotting down recipes. I have probably a hundred diaries filled with them, all neatly-written in her gorgeous handwriting. And she also smelled of newspapers – you know, she'd read them at night saying 'who has the time during the day?' She was weird like that.”

The girl grinned at me and her body relaxed. Her voice tinkled and eyes grew brighter as she continued. “She never put any perfume, but somehow, she just smelled good. In the mornings, she would smell of her sandalwood soap - the only luxury she allowed herself. In the afternoon, she would smell a little bit of VapoRub because she was always, always catching a cold, irrespective of the season! And in the night, she smelled-” the girl laughed – “of anti-ageing creams! She’d always be applying them on her minuscule wrinkles fretting and lamenting!”

The girl chuckled to herself, remembering an inside joke. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, wrapping her arms around her. “She smelled...warm - like home; you know.”

Turning her gaze toward me, she frowned. “I guess even a genie can’t recreate that, right?”

I bit my lip, unable to meet her eyes. And before I knew it, I had enveloped her in my arms, startling her and myself. Her body went rigid for a few moments before it slumped against me, shoulders heaving up and down, dry sobs echoing in the dank space. We sat there, in silence, her tears drenching my arms, my dress and my heart.

The sun had almost drowned in the horizon when she let go of me. “I don’t want anything else,” she said, her voice quivering. “Oh, do YOU want something? Can I wish something for you? Like in the movie Aladdin, he wishes for the genie’s freedom?”

I grinned, “Ah, not really dear. I am not ‘imprisoned’ as such. This is…how do I explain it in your terms? This is …ah! Like an internship! A few eternities granting wishes and then, I can ascend the ladder.”

A smile cracked on her white lips. “Really? That’s not what I was expecting. Ascend to what?”

“I am not at a liberty to say, dear.”

Her lower lip pouted with disappointment. “Oh! Alriiight. Can I wish for you to tell me?”

She was a clever one, this one. “You could. But then, I would have to kill you.”

She regarded me and I smiled back. “You know, you’re pretty cool for a genie. Not that I know any other,” she said, extending her hand.

I shook it. “Thank you.” I held it for a few seconds before letting go. “Are you sure you want nothing? A big bag of gold, or pounds? An anti-ageing cream that actually works?” I asked, winking.

She laughed out, loud. It was a beautiful laugh.

She gave me a quick hug. I detected a scent of strawberry, old books, ginger tea, and a hint of a dusty library. She smelled…what was the word she had used? Ah! Warm. She smelled warm, just like her mother.  

June 29, 2022 13:16

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