It’s not what you think. The cartoons have it all wrong. You probably think there’s a bunch of velvet pillows and a hookah, but it’s not like that at all.
When I enter the lamp, I’m not really anywhere. I don’t shrink into some small being and sit there in silence until someone rubs the lamp, releasing me from the tiny chamber and gigantic boredom of how every many hundred years have passed since my previous master.
When I enter the lamp, I am not aware of anything until the next time I am summoned. It’s as short as a blink every time. It doesn’t hurt. One moment I’m standing there breathing air and wondering if humanity will ever learn anything ever. The next minute I fly down a tunnel into darkness and silence. And when I emerge, it’s more like I bloom than anything else. I unfold into myself, onto my legs, and I stare into the eyes of a bewildered human.
You see, most people don’t realize that they have their hands on a magic lamp. Often enough, it’s a servant who was tasked with cleaning the recovered artifact. That’s always fun, because the poor and indentured can be fairly creative with their three wishes.
Of course, no one ever realizes that the wishes are cursed until it’s too late.
One old man in particular, his name was Barbar, he nearly had a heart attack when I appeared before him! He screamed like a child who had just seen her pet rabbit get eaten by a lion! His dark skin peaked and he fell to his knees all but weeping.
“What-what-what..?” He stammered.
“You have summoned the genie from the lamp!” I said calmly, my baritone rich as a pharaoh’s birthday cake frosting, “You are not hallucinating or dying. I have traveled through the ages to appear before you today and grant you three wishes. You may wish for anything you can imagine, but be careful. You will receive what you wish for, so make absolutely sure you want what you say and that you say what you want.”
“Wishes?” Babar asked timidly.
I nodded. “Yes. Many ages ago a powerful mystic crafted me from a collection of errant energies, scraps of spirit and will, powerful dreams, tatters of curses, broken hearts, and, yes, unfulfilled wishes. He molded me into this wretched creature to give poor servants like you a chance for a brighter future.”
This was half-true. The mystic did mold me from all of those things and attach me to an old lamp his mother-in-law had given him which he didn’t particularly favor. However, he did not care for poor people; he did not care for people in general. He knew people were generally selfish and greedy and short-sighted and impulsive and seldom paid the price for their solipsism. So he crafted me as a means by which man might usher himself toward his inevitable demise with a little more facility and urgency.
I am a joke, and not to be redundant, I am a trap.
So when this little old man stopped cowering and realized I was as real as any other magic, he uttered his test wish–everyone has a test wish.
“I wish for a sausage for lunch,” Babar said.
So I gave him one. Of course it was raw which disappointed him. He poked at it with his pinkie finger and grunted disapprovingly.
“Not cooked?” He asked.
“Perhaps you should have been more specific,” I said through a sharp smile.
“Can I wish for more wishes?” He asked. They always do. Once one wish is used up and they realize that maybe two wishes won’t give them everything they ever dreamed, they start looking for solutions to the diminishing wish problem, which gets funnier every time, believe me.
“No. You have two more wishes. What is your next wish?”
“I will need some time to think about it,” Babar said. “I don’t want to waste a wish if I only have two left!”
I stared at him and smiled as warmly as I was able. “You can do a lot with two wishes,” I said.
He sat down on the dirt floor then and shut his eyes. This was the first time I had ever seen someone in his position do this. I didn’t mind, though. It was more time to breathe air and enjoy the passage of time.
Time came in through the window and swirled around us. Time mingled with the other artifacts he was to polish and clean. Time kissed every wrinkle on his face and washed his hands and feet. Time held us there in that room as Babar sat and thought what his wishes would be. Time gave to me and took from him and then he stood up and looked me in the eyes which is not something many humans ever did.
He was a surprising one indeed!
“I wish you knew what it was like to be human,” he said.
And suddenly I did know what it was like to be human. I had memories of childhood and parents who had loved me before they passed on. I had memories of love and heartbreak and I had scores of insecurities amassed from years of rejections and manipulations. I had hopes and dreams and jealousy and rage. I felt time as both a blessing and a threat at the same time. For the first time in my existence I pitied my charge, the poor man Babar, and the pressure of his final wish; it was a key that could unlock any door yet provide no direction for the journey on the other side.
I knew that no matter what he wished for at this point, it would bring him no solace in the world.
And he knew it too.