FLASH Fiction Challenge 100 — Day 18
Fatimah missed her husband so fiercely that when the Djinn appeared before her at the well in the center of her little village, she didn’t hesitate to agree with his devil’s bargain he had proposed.
Fatimah and Hamid had lived in a tiny stone hut in a small village of goat-herders a half day’s ride from Tabuk. Their village, with its dozen little huts, sat on a grassy, mountain plateau that held fantastic views from each of its edges. To the west, she could see across the Red Sea to Luxor, where she was from. To the north, she could almost see the Mediterranean Sea, but her husband told her that it was just clouds, that the sea was too far away to be visible to them. At night, to the north and a little east, she could see the sparkling little fires of the shepherds there dwelled just outside the city walls of Tabuk. To the south, the Kingdom of Hejaz, the mountainous region that lies between the desert and the Red Sea.
Everyone that lived in the little village looked after the goats. After the navy had conscripted Hamid to fight in the war, she tended to their goats. The work was busy, but not overly taxing. Each morning she would walk with her goats to her corner of the grassy plateau, and she would read while they fed. At the end of the day, she would return home, make herself a little dinner of stew meat – if she had any meat, otherwise, it was onion soup made with the wild green onions that grew in abundance in the grassy meadow. The goats didn’t like the bitter onions. That was their life there, and, until the caliphate recruiters arrived and turned her world upside down, she had been very content.
The recruiters had told them the conscription term was for five years. But that had been seven years ago. Each day Fatimah cried as she felt the memory of her husband’s face and touch recede and grow dimmer.
She had heard rumors of the djinn but doubted they were true until he had appeared to her as she drew water from the well.
“Fatimah, you look so sad! You are surely missing your husband, the young and virile Hamid that used to tend these very goats here some seven years past. Is that not so?” he asked her.
Startled, she dropped the bucket, and it fell back into the well. She looked up and saw the djinn.
Growing up her mother had always cautioned her against engaging with such low spirits. She told Fatimah, to simply ignore these devilish spirits. But she found this advice impossible to follow. The other villagers’ husbands had already returned. Only Hamid was still at sea. Despite her mother’s advice, Fatimah spoke to the djinn.
“So what? What can you do about it, vile creature?” she said to him harshly. The creature looked wounded, but only for one fleeting second.
“What can I do about it? I can work powerful magic that will allow you to see him every night. When you sleep, you will see him as he is.”
Fatimah knew there was always a catch.
“And what would you get out of this deal?”
The djinn only smiles enigmatically. Fatimah sensed a trap and wonders if she should just return to her home now.
Finally, he speaks again. “I want nothing at all. Nothing until your husband returns that is. When he returns, upon the same night and every night afterward, after the sun has set, I will find you. Together, we will be transported to my underworld home. During the night, we shall lie together in my bed as husband and wife, but only during the night and only after your husband returns.”
Fatimah considers the creature. He is so small, so weak-looking, her husband with his broad-back and his tree-trunk thick thighs, could probably kick the scrawny creature clear off the mountain, she thinks.
She agreed to the deal. She even lets the djinn prick her finger, so their contract is signed with blood.
That night and every night after she sees her husband as he sails on the Mediterranean Sea. She sees him in battle and wakes up screaming. But the next night, she sees him again. He is older now, his beard fuller, his back even broader than she remembered.
Fatimah dreamt of Hamid every night. By the time he returned home four years later, she had nearly forgotten her deal with the djinn. Surely that had been a dream also, something she had imagined as her goats grazed, and she napped under the hot midday sun. But she was still nervous.
She readies herself to take her goats to the grassy corner of the field for the day when she hears a commotion from the center of the village. She goes to it. Several of the other villagers are greeting a man. She sees him, a stranger now outwardly, but his walk is the same. It is him, Hamid. She runs to him, falls weeping in his arms. They walk home together as he tells her of his travels. She nods her head. She asks him about the island with the coconut trees and the date bushes. His eyes go wide. How could she possibly know this?
Fatimah glances around. The sun is already nearly at its apex. The sun will set in less than seven hours. Perhaps the djinn was real. If a creature had the powers to connect her to him in her dreams, then it was not likely such a creature could be defeated by mere brawn.
They lie upon their bed. They had fallen into a well of passion as soon as they had entered the hut. The goats will have to wait, they both decide. Now, hours later, Fatimah, finds herself glancing frequently out their tiny window.
“Husband, I was foolish. I was missing you, and you had already been gone seven years when a djinn appeared to me by the well. He promised me I could see you each night in my dreams. That was how I knew of the island of coconuts and dates. How I knew where this scar came from,” she says as she traces her finger, slowly around his thigh.
Her husband is concerned.
“And what did he want in return? This loathsome creature?” he asks.
She falls into his arms again. Begging his forgiveness.
She confesses the deal she had made in exchange for the gift of seeing him. That she must leave with the djinn when he showed up after the sun had set.
Hamid looks doubtful. He was like her in this regard. He had doubted all such tales.
Finally, Hamid laughs one small nervous laugh. He says he forgives her. He would’ve likely made the same deal if he had been in her shoes. She makes the evening soup with the dried meat Hamid had bought on his journey home from the coast. They eat their soup in silence. After they finish the meager little meal, they sit upon their bed, waiting for the sun to set.