The Underside Of Luck

A short story from my anthology The Bad Luck Tales

The sun feels like its lying on top of us. Tahr is getting tired, so I sling her onto my back. Her weight doesn’t bother me, it’s the heat that is unbearable. It is by the grace of Allah that we made it out of that caravan. The slavers were attacked by men of metal during their rest at night. I couldn’t see, it was so fast I could only think about finding Tahr. We held our breath imitating the bodies of the fallen. As the metal men went away. I gathered, water, and food from the dead, but that was days ago and the few drops of water I have are for Tahr. 

The sword from the slavers is too heavy for me, but we need protection. The desert can be an aggressive place, man and beast are your enemy out here. We have been traveling to a high dune in order to scout where we would go next. It saddens me to know that I would have to make Tahr walk up this dune. We do not have the supplies to take rests anymore. I stop at the foot of the dune removing my sister from my back then kneeling down to her eye level. 

“Tahr this hill is too great for my strength I cannot carry you to the top. You must walk with me.” 

I give her a few drops of water giving her believes of great strength, I tell her she’ll make it up the hill before me. The heat seems to punish only me while Tahr is unaffected by the sun. We reach the top of the dune only to see more sand. I feel Tahr tugging at my side.

“Brother Isa, where will we go now?” 

I keep staring out hoping to find something that wasn’t the truth. I don’t want to lie to my sister, I don’t want to tell her she isn’t safe. Before I get a chance to say anything Tahr is jumping and pointing. 

“Isa, Isa, look. There is a man walking.” 

I took it to be a mirage but she has had enough water. The man was now looking at us, he waved at us from the bottom of the hill. 

The man is dressed very light, he held no water or any bags to carry equipment. I told Tahr to stay behind me. I kept my hand on the sword. He waits for us at the bottom of the dune once we stood earshot he spoke. 

“Praise be to Allah for this is a glorious day. It’s not every day that strangers meet in the desert. Come follow me, you to must be weary.” 

I grip the swords’ hilt tighter.

“I thank you for your charity, but we do not know your name also how is it that you can survive out here without any water or food?”

 He laughs as he walks away. Tahr slips from my hold running toward the man. “Tahr, stop.” The man then turns around to greet Tahr. 

“Hello little one, my name is Ahmad, is that better Isa?” I heave the sword from its scabbard. 

“How do you know my name?” He’s now holding Tahr. 

“If I wanted to hurt you two I would have let the desert do it. Now please come, you two need the rest.” 

My efforts of putting the sword back into its sheath shows my inability with the weapon. I welcome the help but I do not like the unknown, he knows too much, we know too little. We walk over a small hill my mind is filled with disbelief, but my eyes drink the truth. An oasis is before us, we didn’t see it at the top of the hill. Now I really begin to worry. 

Ahmad has a camp set up in the heart of the oasis. He sits down while turning over two fish on his grill. He asks us if we have ever had Masgouf. He points to a tent, inside lays a chest with clothes that properly fit us along with two mats for sleeping. I exit the tent asking.  

“What do you want from us?”

 He doesn’t answer me, he just prepares our dishes. Tahr runs to the meal as she reaches for it the Ahmad puts his hands in the way of Tahr. 

“We must praise Allah before we dine for it is for him we give our bodies strength.” 

After we pray with Ahmad he gives us our dish along with two new containers for water. The nerves I’m on are becoming tense. Why would this man shower us with these gifts? I worry for my sister more than myself. The desert is harsh day or night, but Ahmad has whatever we need. We gather around his fire, he asks us why we were out in this desert. We told him about our village being attacked and how we were taken only to be set free by misfortune. 

“That is how we found each other wandering desert.” 

“You may have been wandering, I was not. I was looking for you.” Ahmad says. His gaze is fixed on Tahr. “Allah heard your prayers Tahr, Allah sent me to help you.” 

I stand up, I couldn’t believe it, I know what Ahmad is. 

“You’re a Jinn, are you not?”

 Ahmad looks up from playing with Tahr. 

“I’ve never reacted to the title, but you people have given it to us. Yes, I’m a jinn. Is that a problem?” 

I grab Tahr keeping her close to me. 

“I know of your tricks, what do you demand of us?” 

“Allah wants your sword, Allah demands your praise for giving you shelter.” 

“Why do you want my sword? You have no need for it.” 

Ahmad laughs. “Neither do you.”  

I could feel Tahr fear or was it mine? 

“What do you mean shelter? This oasis is not a home” He asks us to sit while he explains. 

“You will go west, there you will find a river, follow it. You will find a city protected by walls, this place will give you shelter and riches.” 

He tells us we could stay here for the night, but once we leave this place it leaves as well. He stretches his hand asking for my sword. I did worry about what would happen once he got the sword, but his power had already shown us what he can do, why would he need a sword? I give him my sword, he walks away from us slowly. He turns around to face us and the sword has changed shape. I’ve never seen anything like it, before and after he opens it.

Tahr’s eyes glow with intrigue. She reaches for it as he hands it to her. “I only ask for one thing little one, never open this inside a building it angers Allah. Foul luck will befall on anyone who does so.” He tells us it’s called a parasol. As Ahmad gradually walks away from the oasis he slowly vanishes with every footstep. We put down our bodies for rest, Tahr sleeps with the parasol. I awake before Tahr, as she sleeps I make ready our new supplies given to us by Ahmad, filling our canteens, packing the tote with khubz, when I make it back to the tent, Tahr is awake ready to travel. 

“Isa you don’t have to carry me anymore I want to walk.” I move over to her to take her hand. 

“How about I carry you until we reach the river? You can use your parasol to keep the sun off of me too.”

I put Tahr on my back, once she feels comfortable she opens her parasol. This walk is easier than the ones before it, not just because of the parasol. I’m rejuvenated by Ahmad gifts, even if we didn’t reach a river I knew that we could continue on. The sun is now in an apex as we cross over a sizable dune, we see the river. we have our resting point, we sip water while we eat our khubz. Once we finish Tahr walks alongside me following the current of the river twirling the parasol. 

The sun now stares at us as we walk with the river. I enjoyed seeing Tahr smile again. I worried that it was something that I wouldn’t see again. Looking forward I could see our destination, high walls that no metal men could enter. I tried my best to contain my want to sprint it simply leaked out in stride. 

“Isa I can’t keep up.”

I place Tahr on my back arriving at the gates of the barricaded city. We enter with a group of traders and travelers mixing into the town’s folk at the bazaar. 

I hoped we’d go unnoticed but the parasol caught the attention of the citizens. A small bearded man walks up to us introducing himself.

“Hello, my name is Umar. I’m a craftsman, what is that thing the girl is holding?” Tahr told him that it is a parasol and that a Jinn gave it to us. The man laughs in doubt.  “Children have such imaginations, but what I really want to know is if you would like to make a lot of money?”

The first three days that we stayed in the city of Nineveh Umar inspected the parasol trying to discover how to build one. Once he did we opened a store selling them. A month in almost every citizen had one. Travelers from all around came just to buy one. Umar and I sit in our shop, I look and see Tahr outside playing with other children. My joy has no limits, we have a home, wealth and respect from the people. Tahr is running inside. 

“Isa, someone is coming.”

 A pack of extravagant clad people gather at the entrance of the shop, someone is in the middle, a man enters. 

“Are you the man who sells the parasols?” I nod my head.

A woman with beauty that rivals Khadijah enters the shop, her voice is mellifluous.

“I’ve been seeing my people walking around with these parasols, I would like to have one of my own.” 

I take her over to the lot that we have made. She is unpleased with our selection.

“These are fine, but I was hoping for one with more color.” We’ve been using sheep skin most people are happy to have some shade from the sun, but I assume someone like her would like something more stunning. 

She introduce herself as Princess Mu’ammara she has some of her servants bring in materials that she wants for her parasol. She tells us that she will be back in two days’ time for it. As soon as she left Umar got right to it, he continues to work until the morning. The days past as slowly as they could. My thoughts dwell on Mu’ammara, I hope that we would get a chance to talk more. When she arrives her followers surround the front of the shop. Umar and I exited the shop with two parasols for her, the first one she enjoyed the pattern of the cloth, but didn’t like the weight. She hands it off to a servant. The second one she loves instantly, watching her move with it reminds me of when Tahr first got hers’

“Isa they’re beautiful. I cannot thank you enough.” A servant seems to sneak past me placing a heavy bag of gold in my left hand. “Isa I bid you farewell I shall tell my father of your talents.” She starts to leave I feel Tahr grabbing my side. 

“Isa tell her what Ahmad said.”

I had almost forgotten about the Jinn’s warning. 

“Princess Mu’ammara wait I forgot to tell you something important about your parasol. You must not open them inside a building, it angers Allah.”

She assures me that she was already in Allah’s good graces. She was encircled by her servant, but her parasol marks her location. More importantly her position of significance.

It had been a week since Mu’ammara obtained the parasol my thought still carry her. If I wasn’t working or playing with Tahr I thought about her. The night was quiet Tahr and I sat on the roof of our home looking at the stars. She has fallen asleep as I told her stories about them. A gust of smoke hits me in the face I fan my arms trying to remove the smoke from my sight. The smoke is gone and in front of me stands Ahmad. I feel fear, it has been too long since I felt this way. I didn’t know how to cope with it, Tahr is still asleep. 

“Why have you returned Jinn?” 

“I gave you one rule about the parasol, why did you see fit to break it?”

I’m confused. Tahr had stopped using her parasol as for myself I never picked one up. 

“What do you mean Jinn?”

He told us about Mu’ammara, once she had returned to her palace she chose to ignore my warning. While showing her parasol in her room to another princess hoping to make her jealous, the parasol hit an oil lamp that rested on top of her room burning her. 

“Her father wants blood he has sent men to come and kill you for what you did to his daughter.” My stare is on Tahr, she is unbothered while he speaks. 

“Then why are you here Jinn?” He moves over to Tahr kneeling down, he touches her hair while he speaks. 

“For her. She does not deserve to be punished for the crimes of ignorance. Once again you will follow the river take only what you can. You must leave now.” He vanishes from my eyes. I move quickly into our home packing the essentials for travel. I almost didn’t grab the parasol I know what had to be done I know how merciless the desert can be. As I was going to get Tahr she meets me at the door. 

“Brother what’s wrong?” I have to spare her the details. 

“Bad things have come, we must leave.” She cries silently knowing of my tone, the same one when I found her hiding under the body of a slaver. I didn’t leave a message for Umar. I believe if I did the Kings’ wrath would be directed toward him. Like many times before I sling Tahr onto my back ready to journey the desert once more.