The djinni was seated high on the summit of an eerie windswept peak of the Adrar des Ifoghas massif, deep in the Sahara. She was thoughtful, she was lonely, and she was angry. Sila they called her, the humans did, because she was beautiful; dark flowing hair, piercing eyes. To them she was ageless – although she did in fact age; the djinn are also born, grow old, marry, have children and die. Much slower than the humans who are so frail, but nevertheless time too bears down on them, sometimes mercilessly, relentlessly, placing layer after layer of adversity one atop the other in the longs lives of the djinn.
They had been created at the beginning of time, one of the three sentient beings made by God to mirror his own trinity. While God was the Father, the Son and also the Holy Spirit, His creation also was three. One created of pure light that were called angels, one of clay from the ground that was humanity and the final, the djinn, of smokeless fire. Three, the number of perfection; ice, water and steam; past, present and future; birth, life and death.
Sila was angry because she had been deceived, then humiliated, and finally she had been scorned. She hated being alone; but poor choices are the devil’s companions. She smiled; the devil, Iblis, Shaytan. She was angry at him more than any other.
“If only I had not listened to that serpent,” she said, and then laughed at herself. The serpent, most people do not know that the djinn are shapeshifters. Like fire, which can slip through keyholes and overcome whole forests, the djinn are not bound by clay like the humans with whom they commune. Clunky, ugly, cumbersome, clumsy things – those. “You will bow down to man,” God had told Iblis. Really? Us, prostrated before those strange creatures? “What prohibits you from giving obeisance to that which I created with my own two hands?” Um, how about pride, self-respect – even decency.
“If anything, we are superior to these insipid humans,” Sila was addressing God out loud, not that she thought He was listening. It had been millennia since God had considered the djinn. “We, who are beautiful. Who burn clean and bright, who have power of our own – it is they who should have been subservient. Alas, wise one, you made a mistake.” Not receiving a response, not that she expected one, she began to walk down the hill toward the cave where she had lived the last millennium. The wind had picked up, heat ruffling her auburn hair as it rose from the desiccated valley below.
“Then we were cast down,” she continued her mumbling to nobody in particular. “Declared in rebellion. Denied the pleasures of heaven – imprisoned upon this miserable planet to commune with the humans we refused to venerate. They wonder why we seek out the lost lands where we may stay alone? Abandoned villages; towns that died, inhabited only by us – though the humans call us ‘ghosts’. What a farcical notion. The vast desert expanses, where we commune seldom; and when we do only with the Arabs. We even entered their religion, more so than the Hebrews; than the Christ followers.” She continued on her descent. The hill was steep and craggy, sand and dust and heat. She almost slipped, catching herself on her palm, scratching it deeply on a rock. The dark purple blood of the djinn spilled onto the ground, hissing and bubbling. “Drat,” she said, finally entering the darkness of her cave. Her home. On the walls were some of the precious items she had protected over the millennia, reminders of her sojourn on this cursed planet. A book from the House of Wisdom that she enjoyed, pre-Islamic Arabic poetry from when they worshipped the djinn without dissembling, with enthusiasm even. A brass snake once held high to end a plague; an apple with one bite out of it. More. Odds and ends really, on a shelf beside the bed, the washbasin – as if fire needed cleaning.
“Hello there,” a voice from out of the dark, and she spun.
“Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“What are you doing here?” Sila asked.
“Where else would I be?”
“Oh Iblis, what do you want? I have no time for your games.”
“Why? What are you doing?” He looked around. “You don’t seem particularly busy.”
“How would you know? In fact,” She said before he could respond, “I was just reminiscing about the old days. You know, when you got us thrown out of heaven?”
“Me?” he said, feigning innocence.
“Yes, you. ‘Come with us’ you said. ‘God will recant, He will ask us back to live with Him’.” She spat.
“Well, who would have thought He would be satisfied with only angels,” he said, mouthing the word as if in great disgust. “A boring lot those, no personality. No wit, no joi de vivre. ‘Praise ye’ here and ‘Glory’ there, I assumed even He would become bored.”
“Ya, ‘oops’.” Sila had sat down on her bed. “Stuck here, living in caves eating bats when we should be communing with the heavenly beings, traveling the stars.”
“Touché. But wasn’t my revenge glorious?” Iblis said, looking over at the apple on the shelf. “We, bow down to them? Let me show you the mettle from which they are made,” and he let out an evil chuckle. “Not too bright, these humans. And not too adept at philosophy, are they? Throwing away their perfection…? Only took a few simple arguments – and that was for the girl. The man? Dumb as rocks; withdraw sex – all that it took. Perfection, for a twenty second burst… Ya, make us the deferential ones… At any rate, since you like to throw blame around, whose fault was it that we are stuck here? Hmm?” Iblis asked.
“You are really going to blame me?” Sila said. “After all you’ve done? One bad idea after another?”
“You want to talk about ideas. Who decided to procreate with these revolting terrestrial creatures? Riddle me that?”
“Didn’t He say we should worship them? Well, I led my ladies to worship. Temples, harems, goddesses; I filled ancient Greece with our presence, our glory.” She said proudly. “We did not slither away to hang from trees looking to trick unsuspecting humans. He wanted veneration? We gave Him a whole new religion…”
“You gave Him,” Iblis said. “A bunch of freaks. Half man, half horse. One eyed monsters. Multi-headed beasts. Shrill singing creatures; weird fish-women – at least the better half of woman on that fright. Giants. He was so angry He even cancelled our congress. My only chance off this wretched orb. A decent meal; an angelic massage; news from the outer planets. Now we’re stuck here for good; claustrophobic, that’s what earth is for me, and you thought they were easy to fool four thousand years ago…? When they were at least closer to the beginning, entropy and all that. You should see these idiots today. Isn’t even a challenge anymore; there are even those who come looking for me because they know who I am. As if they want to pick a fight with Him; as if that’s a fight that anybody in their right mind would pick. Foolish – arrogant; full of themselves and empty as a plastic bag that they throw on the side of the road because they forget they are stuck here too.”
“Iblis,” Sila said, exasperated. “I am becoming weary. What are you doing here?”
“Me?” Iblis said. “Oh, right. Not much. Just making trouble,” he said, standing to bid farewell to Sila. She stood, curtsying slightly as he exited the cave. As he was about to take flight, the djinn can travel in the blink of an eye to anywhere; alas, due to the fall, ‘anywhere’ is restricted to the suffocating and messy planet they were stuck on, he turned, “There is perhaps one thing.” “Just name it,” Sila said “if it will get you out of here.” “Since you were the reason we were expelled, I thought, maybe, well it’s just an idea, a thought really. A Hail Mary, no pun intended. But what if you were to, I don’t know – apologize?”
They all knew how the fall had happened; commiserating as they did each year at Kaf Adjnoun, the djinns’ dark tower in the Fezzan. Reciting the old poems, teaching the stories to their young, repeating the legends and commiserating about what could have been, what had been actually. But they did not know, and thus never talked about the future. What was there to say? There had been no solution offered – when God had thrown them from paradise. No second chance. No restitution allowed. Could this really be a way? Might it be in fact that simple? Is it possible that, after so much time, after such tribulations as the djinn had endured, all that God wanted was – an act of contrition? Slowly the old djinni bent down, taking to her knees as she had seen so many humans do, for so long in so many lost corners of the world. “Dear God…” and she began to pray.
***This is a variation of an old magical creation story in Arabia.
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