Three pebbles, cool and glistening from the river, fell wet into his palm.
“Three wishes”, the crone said. “Choose carefully”.
He felt certain the wrinkled old woman was an Ifrit, a powerful genie. When she slipped out from the shadow of the bridge into the sunlight she shimmered like the heat on desert sand.
Omar cast a lustful gaze towards the palace and the minarets of the Caliph’s harem.
“I wish to enter the palace unseen, steal treasure and look upon the women in the forbidden gardens.”
He swallowed the green pebble. Flames without smoke or heat engulfed him. His bones shrank and his genitals were sucked into the flesh of his body.
“As a young girl you will be invisible in this world for men. You will be recognised as a palace servant and ignored to come and go as you please.”
He was angry. He did not want to be a girl. He made a second wish.
“I want to feast my eyes on the women in the harem, touch them, stroke them.”
He swallowed the quartz pebble.
This time the flames blushed red, stretched and rounded his body. His hips broadened and his breasts swelled and filled.
“You are now a body-servant, can come and go as you please. You will undress the concubines, soap their bodies and oil their hair, dry and powder their skin before they go to the Caliph’s bed.”
“Witch! You have tricked me again. I want the concubines to care about me and listen to me.”
He swallowed the black agate pebble. Weak flames trickled in yellow threads across his skin, thinning and wrinkling his flesh, bending his bones, dulling his sight and hearing.
The genie hovered beside him and laid a gentle hand on his mottled arm.
“No one will bother you now. You are old and of no concern. The concubines will pity you and confide their secrets to you, thinking you are old, wise and kind.
“But come. Give up this foolish plan which is of no concern to us. It is a long walk to the palace and the sun is fierce to old skin. Sit with me cool beneath my bridge, for you are bone weary.”
She drew him into the murmuring shade.
“We will talk together and watch the boatmen upon the water, the fishermen mending their nets, the children playing in the reeds and young lovers kissing and making love.
Bill West lives in Shropshire, England. He is a member of the Shrewsbury Scribblers Writers’ Group, I*D Writers’ Group and a number of on-line Writers’ Communities. His work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, FlashQuake, Mytholog, Heavy Glow, Right Hand Pointing, 21 Stars Review, Foliate Oak and other places.