The next evening, Faruq and his family once more sat down to a meal of lentil soup, and his sister, Thamina, was bossing him around again.
"Stop stirring your soup like that Faruq, it will get cold. And look how much bread you have. Next you'll be asking for more soup because you can't finish off the excess bread alone."
Faruq scowled. "No I won't. I don't even want it. Mama's soup is better than yours."
He expected her to get angry, but she simply shrugged her shoulders and took his bowl. "More for me," she said, pouring it into her own.
"Hey!" shouted Faruq. He darted a hand out to grab her hair but came up with nothing but air, for she'd dropped a sopping piece of bread in her lap and bent over with a yelp to retrieve it. He moved to shove her, but at that moment a cat bit his foot under the table, making him howl.
"Stop all that noise, Faruq!" said his mother.
"But Mama, one of your cats just bit me!"
"Is that right?" she chuckled "Who is it?" she peeked under the table. "Ah! Junah, you're just hungry aren't you?" She tsked and fed the cat some bread. Faruq turned back to Thamina, who was contentedly slurping soup from her bowl. In truth Faruq enjoyed Thamina's soup just as much as his mother's. He'd simply been fretting over the wish when Thamina scolded him, but he couldn't ask for seconds, not after he said her soup wasn't any good. So instead he positioned his knee and jerked it to the left, intending to knock her in the thigh, but just as he moved she shifted as well and he missed. Faruq let out a frustrated grunt. He reached out to pinch her, and at the same moment she flicked her hand backward, gesturing in conversation with their mother, and knocked Faruq's own hand right back into his face.
"Ah!" he yelled.
"Oh! Sorry, Faruq," said his sister, and she looked genuinely surprised.
Faruq squinted at her. Somehow every one of his attacks had missed the mark, as if she were under the divine protection of the Almighty himself or...
A terribly wonderful thought occurred to him, and he drew a sharp breath. Faruq bit his lower lip and positioned his fingers to flick his sister's arm, but at that same moment she turned and his fingers brushed just by her. His heart pounding, Faruq looked squarely at his father, sitting on a cushion across the table, and aimed a kick right at his folded legs. Faruq screamed when his bare toes were savaged by claws and teeth
"Another cat?!" he yelled.
Faintly, above the sound of his own blood thudding in his ears, Faruq heard his mother chiding him. Was it possible the wish had been successful in some way? He thought back, trying to remember the exact phrasing, and like a splash of cold water on the hottest day in summer, realization both shocked and soothed him. The wish had been a success, but not for him. The wording had specified his family, but not specifically himself. Faruq gripped the table, unsure whether he should be outraged or simply grateful that nothing sinister had happened to his family, in fact quite the opposite. As per the wish, they would live out the rest of their lives happy and free of suffering.
What bad could possibly come of that he thought.
* * *
A few more times that week Kadeen came back to see Thamina and, Faruq knew, to check up on them and make reports to the wish scribes. One day, when Faruq was in the market looking for salted meat for his mother's stew, a rough hand grabbed his arm and turned him. It was the guardsman.
"I waited to find you alone, because I don't want your sister to know about your foolish wishtesting. It would worry her." He glared at Faruq. "What on Earth possessed you to do it?"
YOU ARE READING
Wishtesters are the lowest of the low, the most pitiful beggars and crooks living on the fringes of society. And Faruq is itching to become one. Asking a wish of the Djinn, powerful beings who can grant almost anything the heart desires, is a privil...