Posted by: Ariel | October 21, 2009

“The Fourth Wish”

Nothing is planned by the sea and the sand.

Jen’s shoes clack-clacked on the cracked sidewalk, her slight frame slipping in and out of the dimly buzzing shadows of the streetlights.  She looked around hesitantly and almost tripped.  “What the hell am I thinking,” she muttered to herself.  Most nights at this time, she would be in bed with a book, or at her favorite cafe nursing her usual and people-watching.  Tonight she had nothing to distract her from herself.  It was a whim to head down to the beach, and the more she thought about it, it was probably a pretty dangerous adventure.  This time of year, the beach was deserted at night.  It was too cold, too windy, and too far away from the warmth of the city.  And yet, here she was, the result of another ill-thought-out decision based on a whiff of something reminiscent of sea salt and the thought of the full moon reflected on the waves.

Each block she walked had been another decision, whether to turn back or continue forward.  The possibility of making a mistake weighed on her almost tangibly.  Someone could come out of that dark alley and kill her, or worse.  If only she had turned back one block earlier, she would have been safe.  Maybe she’ll make it to the beach, only to find herself shivering and miserable, wishing she was anywhere else.  An eternity of consequences stretched out before her on the dimly lit sidewalk.  Consequences she would have to live with.  She thought of the endless life after being viciously beaten by a drunk mugger, crippled, disfigured, and unwanted.  She thought of the endless life after seeing the moonlight flit perfectly over the waves, trying in vain to find a scene as memorable.  She thought of the endless life on the sidewalk after deciding never to stop walking.  But lastly she thought of the endless life in her apartment, alone, afraid to leave or even get out of bed, unwilling to shoulder the burden of choice.  And she kept walking towards the slow hissing of the waves.  “Finally,” Jen blinked, kicking her heels off and stepping onto the dunes.  The moon was flitting prettily over the waves, and as she walked slowly towards the ocean she whispered it again: “Finally.”  She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and suddenly decided to make her stand right there, in the sea and the sand, and she wriggled her toes into the cold wetness and let the wind whip her hair in every direction.

When she opened her eyes, the djinn was standing in front of her.  He seemed ethereal, as though he might be blown away by the next gust of wind, and his clothes rustled so that she was unsure whether there was anything inside them.  His hair floated in defiance of gravity, but his face was human, and his gaze solid.  His eyes were the color of the sand and the sea, and she lost herself in them, in their timeless familiarity.  A long time passed.  When he spoke, it was as quiet and inevitable as the backyard brook destined after many miles to become a mighty waterfall.

“I have come to grant your wish.”

She exhaled.

The djinn said, “I have come to set you free.”

She blinked.

The djinn said, “I have come to take away your fear.”

She whispered, “How do you know I’m afraid?”

“Everyone is afraid,” he said with certainty.  “They do not know the future, nor do they usually know the past.  They do not know others, and they know themselves least of all.  Doubt is, perhaps, the foundation of all fear.”

“And you -”

“Grant their wishes, yes.”  He smiled knowingly as if reliving a thousand jokes.  “You see,” he chuckled, “they actually believe they know what they want!”  He laughed like faraway thunder.  “Some live to learn from their mistake, and others, well, aren’t so unlucky.”

Her feet were gripping the sand so hard it hurt.  She briefly entertained notions of crying, or falling dramatically to her knees, or laughing, or running, or kissing him.

“But I can see that you are not like most,” he continued.  “You are well aware of your fear, and it is not of me.  You are only afraid of choosing wrongly.  You are here, so you must understand the mortal gravity of that choice, and every other.  But perhaps you also understand its inevitability.”  He held up a hand.  “Near-inevitability.  For the one true gift I may give is the one I once received, escape from the prison of doubt and reprieve from the weight of uncertainty.”  He motioned at the waves crashing on the shore.  “This is the clarity of purpose I can provide.  You are adrift, but I can give you direction and a steady wind.  You will forever unerringly find your shore.”

She stared at the waves crashing, ebbing, and crashing again onto the beach.  She saw them rise to majestic heights, lose their balance, and yet land time after time in the same familiar sand, in the caress of an age-old lover.  It was very relaxing.

He said with sympathy, “You will no longer have to seek out this feeling, it will be inside you.”

And Jen looked in the djinn’s eyes and knew it to be true.  But then she bit her lip and looked back at the ocean.  “The waves must crash forever,” she said.  “If there are rocks, and a ship, the waves must crush it.”

“Yes, of course.  In the captain’s case, that is just one example of the fatal consequences of decision.”

“But what if the wave should want to carry the ship to safety?  What if one grain of sand should want to fly against the wind?”

“Why would it?  If grains of sand were not governed by wind we would not have the beauty of the sand dune.  There would be pointless chaos.”

“Not every grain, and not all the time.  Just enough to be different.  Just enough to make a difference.”

He stared at her and said nothing.

“If enough grains had that power,” she mused, “they could build their own sand castles.”

“Or they could destroy others’ sand castles.  Without a common purpose they would be doomed to an existence without greater meaning.  Even with a common purpose they will find themselves at the mercy of uncaring waves, and in the end, subject to the mortality of time itself.  No matter which road is taken, no matter which method is used, the sand castle will fall.  And nothing will remain but wasted effort.”

“And a memory.”

“Is a memory worth more than reality?”

“A memory is forever, reality is only one moment.”  She paused, and continued, “the eternity of consequences is not a curse, it’s a gift.  It’s what we remember that has meaning, not the moment itself.  Our fleeting effect on the world, for good or ill, is all that can define us.  Unlike some, we are blessed with the awareness of this and the ability to change.  How could I give that up?  That precious gift, that unique responsibility?  My own eternal life.”

The djinn smoldered.  He swayed back and forth.  “You will be unable to see out of your own special darkness.  You will make dire mistakes, and be haunted by them, long after you are dead.  He spread his hands to encompass the beach, the sea, the city, the universe.  There will be no safe or easy road for you to follow.”

And as the tear ran down her cheek she said with more confidence than she felt,  “I know.  I will make mistakes, and I will pay the price.  But this will not be one of them.”

The djinn’s sonorous tone had a tinge of desperation as he asked, “Where will you go?  What path will you take from here?  Who will you become?  How will you choose?”

Jen looked around her slowly, at the moon shimmering on the restless ocean, at the brightly lit city beyond the cracked sidewalk, at the blurry darkness on the horizon.  She wiped the tears from her face and smiled.  She took the djinn’s hand and said, “I don’t know, I’ve never done it before.”  And as she led him step by step into the sky, their eyes shining with more than moonlight, grains of wet sand clung to their feet only to drop and twist in the air, forming parapets and little towers on their long journey back to the earth.

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