A run, that was all I needed to clear my mind. When the pain of life weighs too heavy, a run is always needed. So I slid on my running shoes, tied up my long curls, and grabbed my phone and headphones. As I headed out the door I scrolled past my jogging playlist and turned on Toni Braxton, “Let It Flow”. It was the perfect song for the mood I was trying to reach, for the hurt I was running from.
The night air was cool, a perfect temperature for jogging, and the stars shone brightly in the deep blue sky. I took a deep breath and headed out. Forgoing my usual route, I headed left, at a moderate speed to get my blood flowing. Soon the beat of Toni, and the rhythm of my feet synced, regardless of the tempo of the song. I became one with the music and she crooned to my bruised heart.
I lost myself, as my troubles melted away. I barely noticed I had reached the park that, during the day, was usually teeming with people on their lunch breaks or enjoying a family outing. The park was a place of love when the sun was high in the sky. At night, it was empty. A void that mirrored myself. A place where predators lurked and unsavory deals happened. It was time to go home.
I rounded a large tree, to reverse my trip, and that is exactly what happened. I tripped. Normally, I am not a clumsy person, but who would have thought an antique lamp would be laying on the ground in a park? I crashed to the ground and twisted my ankle, an involuntary yelp escaping my lips. My headphones flew off and the screen on my phone shattered.
That was it. The breaking point. I could not even go on a run to clear my head without something bad happening. I sat up, wincing at the throbbing in my ankle and screamed out into the dark skies. I screamed until no more sound came out. I sat there, mad at the world. Mad at the phone call I received earlier. Mad at… life. It had been so wonderful for so long. This week, not so much.
“Excuse me,” a weak voice sounded behind me.
I turned quickly, expecting a drug addict or homeless person, but, what I found was something out of the books I read as a kid. A man, with dark blue skin, covered in tattoos, and dressed in strange clothes laid against the tree, the small antique lamp that I tripped over beside him.
“But, can you not scream that loud? If it is absolutely necessary, then can you take it somewhere else?”
“Who… who are you?” I asked.
“It isn’t obvious?” The man chuckled.
“Well, you look like a genie. Are you one of those cosplayers?”
The man’s chuckle turned into a deep laugh that ended in a coughing fit, “No, I am the real deal.”
“Genies aren’t real,” I said, skeptical.
“It doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. That doesn’t change it from being true.”
I paused at his certainty. At how sure he was of himself, but, I was a realist. I believed in things that could be proven. Science, not make believe, so he would have to show me.
“Prove it,” I said, tentatively rotating my foot and wincing in pain.
“Yeah, prove it.”
The man dressed in the funny clothes sighed. He held a hand out and the pain in my ankle instantly went away. I turned it left and right. I even stood and put pressure on it. It was like I never twisted it.
I looked at the man, amazed, and he started coughing again. He covered his mouth and when he pulled his hand away, specks of green blood shone in the moonlight.
“What is wrong with you?” I asked.
“I am dying, sweetie.”
“Dying? Genies die?”
“You don’t look like you’re sad,” I said, shocked.
“Because, I’m not.”
I looked into his silver eyes and contentment and resignation stared back. Who wouldn’t be sad about dying? Or afraid for that matter?
“Why?” I asked.
“I have been a slave to this lamp my whole life. I am grateful to finally be released from its bonds for a while.”
This was it. My heartbeat sped up when I realized the implications.
“So, do I get wishes?”
“Humans, always thinking of themselves,” the genie whispered.
“No, I am sorry, it is just that I found out—“
“I am use to it. You get one wish. The only rule is there is no way to get more wishes.”
“Other than that, I can wish for anything?”
“Yes, now, let us get this over with so I can go on to my next life.”
“It is said that genies are brought back as a new genie, but there is a period of a year where we rest in Bliss.”
I thought about that for a moment. A life of being chained to a lamp, granting wishes for other people only to get a year of reprieve. A year to themselves. It sounded horrible.
“What is your name, genie?”
“Liandrin, third of his name, from the ruins of Palestine. May I ask yours?’
“I am Amanda… um, first of her name, from Fayetteville, North Carolina.”
“You are a long way from home,” Liandrin said, as he began to cough again.
“I am, but tell me, what do you do when you are trapped in your lamp and have to wait for someone to find you?”
“I am in an eternal darkness. I sit and I wait.”
“That is horrible!” I gasped.
“It is what it is. It cannot be changed. So, your wish, will it be money? More beauty? Someone’s death or love? That is what most humans want.”
“You can kill people?” I asked, surprised.
“I can do anything, dear. Can we move this along? My year long paradise awaits.”
I sat and thought of the phone call I received. The shock that rippled through me when I found out my lump was cancerous. I thought of the hurt and pain that crashed through my body. This was a chance to fix it. To make me better. One wish. One to give me life. One to reverse the stages from four to none.
“I am dying,” I told him. “Stage 4 cancer. The doctor said my health will start declining soon. If I asked, could you save me?”
“Of course I could. If that is what you want to wish, then it will be done.”
“Wait,” I was not ready yet, I needed time to think this through. “How long do genies live?”
“We live for five thousand years and then we begin to die. Before we die, one last person has to get their one wish. I do not know how you were picked, all I know is that you are my last person in this lifetime. So, is your health your final wish?”
I’m a realist. I believe in life and death. I believe in happiness and sadness. Yin and yang, good and evil, black and white. The genie just threw gray into my black and white. Me dying, that was life. The way a genie lives, that is not life. That is slavery. Slavery like my ancestors.
A smile came to my lips as I realized my life was not perfect, but it was a life. A life that had been happy and fulfilling. What had the genie’s life been like. What happiness had Liandrin experienced for himself? I would not be selfish. I would not be greedy.
“My wish, is for you to be free.”
“One healthy body coming… wait, what?”
“You heard me, I wish for your freedom.”
“You would throw your life away, for me?” Liandrin asked. “A stranger?”
“I have lived. I had a full life. My parents have been a large part of it. I know what they would tell me to do if they were here. Slavery, I know about slavery and it’s horrors. I will not be able to live with myself, knowing in a year’s time, you will be re-birthed into it. Please, be free.”
I saw a tear form in the genie’s eye. A single tear that escaped and slipped down his tattooed cheek.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
With a snap of his fingers he was gone. The lamp laid, now vacant, by the tree Liandrin had been leaning against. I grabbed it, picked up my phone and headphones, and jogged home. I bought a plane ticket to Fayetteville and counted down the time when I could see my parents and tell them the story of meeting Liandrin the genie. The last story I would ever tell them. A fitting end to a wonderful life.