THE MOTORWAY GENIE
A long, long time ago, a hundred Moorish horse-riders set out for the battlefield ready to repel the infidel. One of the horsemen was called Yusuf, a very knowledgeable man in the arts of war. When he was very young, on leaving Africa, one of his uncles had presented him with an opaque, blue-green bottle telling him, “When you are in a tight spot, uncork it, and what’s inside will help you.” Yusuf’s life was never far from danger and on more than one occasion when he found himself in a not very promising situation he thought of the bottle. But when the danger had passed the bottle still remained uncorked. That day, the battle was especially difficult and the moors knew that they were not going to win. At the closing in of the evening, Yusuf was attacked and stabbed, and fell from his horse. It was already too late to uncork the opaque, blue-green bottle and after a short while Yusuf died, and the secret of the bottle stayed with him. And so it was. The years passed by and the bottle rolled beneath a huge stone that after some time was covered with earth and moss.
It was on a Sunday in October when Lydia and her husband decided to have lunch at a picnic spot. They had been married five years now and were about thirty years old. Everything would be perfect if there were two children in this house, was the thought that tormented Lydia lately. Their house was too much of everything, too tidy, too clean.
“Now that we have all the material things why don’t we have a child?” she asked her husband.
“I want to rest and enjoy the house before having children. There’s time,” Lydia’s husband said to her. To herself she called him, the ‘dead loss’.
“I’m thirty years old and I don’t want to wait any longer. It’s not fair for us or for our children.”
Lydia’s husband, even though he was used to this argument from his wife, was always annoyed by it. “Well, I don’t want children here ruining everything that it’s cost me so much to get. So forget about it. I don’t want to hear any more.”
And switched on the video without looking at Lydia’s face, who until that moment had never felt such repugnance towards him. But she was angrier with herself for having put up with him without ever having confronted him. She should have done. Sitting in front of her mirror Lydia spoke to her own image. Now it’s too late to change him, these matters have to be dealt with from the start or never. I see that the situation isn’t going to change, either I go or I stay. Sooner or later something will happen. Things can’t stay this way for ever.
In spite of their arguments the couple often went out in their huge silver-coloured car in which it was forbidden to smoke, drink, or eat. When Lydia saw her husband cleaning the interior, and passing a cloth over the exterior window before they left, said to him, “You love that car more than you love me. I don’t receive so many caresses.” The man didn’t respond he simply got on with his task. “Where are we going?” Lydia asked.
“Where there are shady trees and a picnic spot, but we aren’t going to stop there but a bit further on.” Lydia was happy just to observe the countryside and think about sitting under a tree and sleeping. The picnic area was full of Sunday visitors and Lydia and her husband went as far away as possible to avoid the noise of cars and screams. “And you want a child. You see, there is no peace and calm with them around. How can you eat happily with a hoard of children disturbing?”
Lydia didn’t say anything, she knew it wouldn’t be like that and that he was always looking for an excuse to put her off.
They stopped beneath some trees that gave a pleasant shade. Not far from where they had parked they saw some excavators and some notice boards announcing that there would soon be a new motorway there.
“They have to destroy everything. What will the people who run the picnic area do?”
“I suppose that it’ll become a motorway restaurant with a petrol station.”
Lydia said to him, “Is it really true what you say about having children?”
The man with whom she had spent the last five years of her life looked at her and answered, “If you continue to carry on like this I’ll go for a walk. I’ve come here in search of peace and quiet, not to fight with you.”
Lydia was angry, “You never want to talk. What’s the matter? Are you afraid that your arguments have no basis?” She received no answer, because he had already gone. The excavators with their big spades had no right to be there and Lydia saw with consternation that some flowers and plants had been ripped up. Very carefully, she picked up some plants that still had roots and placed them in the boot so that later they could be planted in the pots she had at home. She was wandering around when she spotted a violet coloured flower, she wasn’t sure what it was but she went to rescue it. Although she used all her strength she was unable to pull it out from the stone where it was growing. She got out of the boot the spade for snow and after sweating a bit she managed to separate the flower from the stone. When she put her hands into the earth to pull the plant out with its roots her fingers touched something else. It was an opaque blue-green bottle and it was very dirty.
How long has it been there? she thought while she was walking to the car. Lydia put the bottle with the plant into the boot and shut it. As soon as her husband returned from his walk the two picked up their things, got into the car and went back to the city. Lydia said nothing about the bottle.
Once Lydia had the plants in their new homes and placed in different spots on the balcony, she picked up the bottle and went to the bathroom. The ‘dead loss’ was concentrating on the television and she knew that she had enough time to have a bath and investigate the bottle.
“If only it could be opened and cleaned it would be much prettier.”
But even though she tried with all her strength it was all in vain, Lydia could not pull the cork out. I don’t want to break the bottle so I’ll put a bit of oil on the cork and leave it for tonight and see if by tomorrow it’ll be easier to open. She put the bottle in her wardrobe out of ‘his’ sight and went to bed.
The next day Lydia arrived home after a day at the office, changed her clothes so as to feel more comfortable. She had two hours to herself before her husband’s arrival. After a cup of coffee she went to the wardrobe and took out the bottle. Lydia took hold of the cork and began to move it gently. Little by little the cork left the bottle and at the same time smoke spread out into the air. It was like a blue cloud, till it reached the ceiling and then appeared a head and then the body of a moor. Lydia remained motionless. “Who are you?” she asked him.
“I am the genie of the bottle and I’m in a bad mood. For years and years I have lived peacefully, then a short time ago things around me began to move. If you want, I can bestow on you three wishes, but as I haven’t practised this since my youth I don’t know if I still have the faculties, so it might be better if you ask for just one wish, just in case I fail, for that’s the worst thing that can happen to a genie.”
Lydia looked at him in sheer fascination. “Is it true that you can give me what I want?”
“Yes, of course. Well, I hope so.”
“How do you know my language?”
“It’s a gift we genies have,” said the genie from the ceiling. “By the way if I grant you this favour will you take me back to where you found me?”
“What do you want?”
“To return to my bottle and be reburied. I like a quiet life and as genies are not in fashion these days I prefer to be put back into my bottle and returned to the soil. Then I can sleep until a better moment for genies arrives.”
Lydia nodded agreement with her head, but she heard the front door key turning in the lock and said, “Hurry up, it’s my husband, he doesn’t know about the bottle and won’t understand anything at all. I’ll let you out again when he isn’t here.”
The genie slid slowly, slowly towards the bottle, making himself smaller all the time, until at last Lydia could put the cork in the bottle and put it back into the wardrobe.
During dinner and all the evening Lydia was unable to concentrate on what her ‘dead loss’ was saying. She looked at him and on many occasions she thought, Who is he? Who am I? We are two strangers. What do we know about each other? She thought about the genie in the bottle. What a strange creature! Let’s see what he says when I tell him my wish.
That night Lydia didn’t have enough time to go to the wardrobe and in fact she spent the night awake.
The next day when she arrived home from work she opened the bottle again. This time the genie didn’t seem to be in such a bad mood. “Well, have you thought about your wish?”
“Yes,” Lydia said nervously, but at the same time she was determined. “I want a baby.”
If the genie was surprised, he didn’t show it.
“Well, it’s a bit out of my league. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer a holiday or a fur coat or something like that?”
Lydia said, “I can assure you I only want a baby!”
The genie, seeing that the woman was fixed on having a baby, put his head to one side and for several minutes appeared to be reflecting on the matter. At last he said, “I’ve got it. But you need to return me to the bottle so that I can build up my strength. This is not a normal thing for us.”
Lydia picked up the bottle and the genie disappeared inside it. Once the bottle was safe in the cupboard Lydia went to prepare the dinner. It was Tuesday.
On the following days she was very careful when getting out clothes or shoes from her wardrobe not to annoy the genie, and even on closing it to avoid shutting the door with a bang. If her husband noticed anything unusual he never made any comment.
Friday came and with it a grey sky with the promise of rain and cold. Lydia’s husband wanted to go to the farm with some friends.
“It’ll be very boring for women,” he said.
“All right,” she replied. “As the good weather appears to have finished I’ll stay at home. When will you be back?”
Lydia helped her husband pack his case and sent him off with, “Have a good weekend.”
She tidied up the flat a bit and then settled down to read. Lydia wondered whether Saturday night or Sunday morning would be better to see the genie. How many days did he need to gather up his strength. She relaxed happily in the armchair with a very hopeful weekend before her.
On Saturday morning to avoid thinking about the genie too much, Lydia did the shopping and had lunch out. In the afternoon she went to the cinema with an office friend. After the cinema they went to a café where they enjoyed coffee and cakes. As the weather was so bad the two women said goodbye at the door of the café and each took a taxi home.
Lydia shivered on arriving home and switched on the heating.
What was it emotion or fear? She wasn’t sure and put on a thick pair of socks and immediately felt better. She hadn’t thought about the genie all day and asked herself what he could be doing there inside the bottle. She switched on the television and watched a film when it was over she switched it off and went to her bedroom. The moment her head touched the pillow she was asleep.
What’s that noise? Lydia sat bolt upright and switched on the bedside table lamp. The noise was coming from the wardrobe. Lydia opened the wardrobe and took out the bottle. It was three in the morning and Lydia was no longer sleepy but wide awake.
“About time, too,” the genie said, coming out of the bottle. “What do you think you were doing?”
“You told me you would have to be in there for several days to get your strength up and so I left you there.” Lydia looked at him directly.
“Are you ready?”
“Close your eyes and hold out your hands.”
Lydia obeyed and felt her body penetrated by a warm air ages old making the darkness disappear from her most intimate parts. At the same time she had the sensation she was floating. All of it was an event inside and outside her. Lydia wasn’t thinking of anything, all her concentration was on it being a success. It was her only opportunity.
Without a word he returned to his bottle. Lydia went over to the bottle, went closer to the bottle and whispered, “Thanks.” And replaced the cork firmly.
Lydia opened her eyes and then rubbed them. It was seven in the morning. She felt as if she had never slept so well in her life. Outside it was still raining, she put on her dressing-gown and went to the kitchen to make breakfast, and listen to the radio. It was Sunday and the day ahead seemed long, silent, and grey. For the first time for a long time she wanted him to come home even if it was only to fill an armchair.
On hearing of her pregnancy the husband had gone mad and told her she would have to take it to a nursery. On hearing this, Lydia replied, “Go if you don’t like it! But I do, and I’m not going to put the baby in a nursery.”
“And how are you going to survive?”
“That’s my business and the baby’s.” (And the genie’s, who had promised that his son would never go without.)
Some weeks later Lydia separated from her husband. She never spoke to her husband again and he was soon cast into oblivion. Her new life became stronger and stronger.
During the pregnancy the bottle had stayed in a suitcase in the wardrobe of her new flat and Lydia continued working. The genie had kept his word, and in the summer when Lydia held her much desired son in her arms she knew that she had to keep her part of the bargain. The bottle was still with her and she had decided to return it to where she had found it at the most propitious moment. That day had come and Lydia went to the inauguration of the new motorway. How much had changed in such a short time!
The ribbon was cut and the motorway was declared open. Lydia walked over to one side until she found a quiet spot where nobody would think of going.
“Thank you,” she said to the bottle at the same time shaking it gently in her hand, “Thank you.” Near a tree and under a nice big stone Lydia buried the bottle just as she had promised the genie. A deal is a deal.
From his Moses basket the baby looked at his mother and she gave him a kiss before starting up the car.
Whenever people asked her who the baby looked like, Lydia always answered, “He looks like his father.”
© Copyright 2016 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.