A Djinn By Any Other Name

Twilight kissed my cheek and slipped away through the window. Peace demanded payment as Night descended, laughing at me. Mesmerized by the palms in the courtyard, I stepped onto the balcony and watched as indigo velvet began to cover my world. Clutching my rent cheque, I slipped down the stairs lightly, my feet sinking into the grass between the trees. I could feel Anam Javed’s djinn fall into step with me. On the other side, I imagined Anam’s dadi, whispering in the dark, even as the djinn tried to slip its arm through mine. Anam wondered if such stories could be true.  

Wind swept through the palms and a frond glided gently to my feet as I stood in the courtyard, taking shelter between the trees. I picked it up -- an omen of peace in a dark and frightening world. Only recently arrived in Phoenix, I was weary from the struggles of the life I had left behind.  Light caressed the tops of the palms and filtered down toward me, illuminating Anam’s ‘black, oily night’ that I too, had experienced in childhood.  

I had felt the presence of Jaini high in the mountains of Iran and in summer especially along the shores of the Caspian, but as Anam is fully aware, the djinn is a shapeshifter that passes effortlessly -- unseen to the untrained eye -- through passport control. I felt it first in the full light of day, along the banks of the St. Paul river in Liberia. There, the drums of abiyifo (practitioners of witchcraft), reverberated across the river, and I could feel their pulsating insistence beneath my feet. In Africa, the djinn are the Gbahali, spying on us from the cover of water -- better known to the world as the crocodile. Gbahali also masquerade as mamba, the fastest snake in the world and among the most deadly.

Certain that mamba now hung above me from the low-lying branches of olive trees, I looked around anxiously now. Everyone knows that mamba is a trickster, much like the coyote here in the desert I have chosen. The trickster, the shapeshifter that is djinn, is all of these, and more ancient than any civilization, owned by none, and answerable to no one.

Quickly now, I padded along the grass of the courtyard, my mind battering my heart into submission. Mamba watches me from deepest memory, crocodile follows my every move, and yes, djinn, also called Jaini, dogs my steps as surely as the coyote does today. ‘Yes, Anam -- such stories are true,’ I whispered into the wind, hoping my message would be carried to her in Melbourne. Softly, the moon indulged me and the way forward was bright and clear.  I dutifully slipped the cheque into the night drop. I had gone to pay my rent -- to pay the djinn.  

*Jaini: Farsi for "djinn"