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The Old Lamp
By Colleen Messina
1 Akbar put on a fresh robe, combed his auburn beard, and wrapped his head in a clean, saffron-colored turban. His walk was not just for fresh air; it was a business excursion to sharpen his mental acuity. He was looking for the most unusual pottery in Cairo!
2 Akbar made clay pots for a living, although he was always open to new professions. He was once a book dealer. Before that, he sold shish kebabs. He wanted to distinguish himself as the creator of the most beautiful pots in the city, but he had to know his competition. Business seemed to elude him, so he wanted to figure out how to draw more tourists into his shop.
3 Akbar walked past stalls selling hand-woven Turkish rugs, sticks of frankincense, and spicy, eastern food. The food vendors had strands of garlic hanging on greasy ropes from their canvas ceilings. When he turned a corner, he saw a proprietor of souvenirs with his wares arranged on a red blanket. Gold bracelets, pots, and skeins of silk littered the fabric like children's toys, and then something caught Akbar's eye. A burnished, gold lamp irresistibly intrigued him.
4 "How much for your crude, little lamp?" asked Akbar. He had learned to express his interests carefully in order to negotiate the best bargains.
5 The old man rubbed his chin. He smelled faintly like tobacco and oil. He seemed likable enough, but his eyes ignited with the zeal of making a profit.
6 "It is an antique. I couldn't part with it for less than 100 piastres," he said.
7 "That's too much. Thank you anyway," replied Akbar. He turned and walked away.
8 The old man, seeing his profits disappearing into the crowd, suddenly changed his mind.
9 "For you, the price is fifty piastres," he called. He was missing two teeth, and their absence left a black, gaping hole in an otherwise dazzling smile.
10 "Fine then, here you go," Akbar said as he tossed two coins to the old man. They clinked together as the wrinkled hands caught them with precision.
11 Akbar took the lamp back to his room. He tried to ascertain its value, but he couldn't because he had never seen anything like it. He couldn't read the engravings across its belly. Around the top of the lamp, where the lid fit, sparkled a thin line of red jewels. Akbar didn't know whether they were glass or rubies. Around the base was a line of turquoise beads alternating with tiny, luminescent pearls. The curved handle of the lamp felt oddly warm to his touch. He thought it would be quite beautiful if he polished it up a bit. He took the edge of his linen sleeve and rubbed the lamp.
12 Suddenly, the lamp felt hot, and Akbar dropped it in surprise. A thin stream of purple smoke came out of the neck, and Akbar fell on his knees. He had heard of magic lamps, but he had thought the stories were fiction. Akbar was a practical man. He wondered whether the merchant had left some smoking incense coals in the lamp.
13 The thin line of purple smoke grew wider and wider until it formed a human shape. Akbar watched in amazement as a man with a purple robe appeared before his eyes. Was he dreaming?
14 "You have freed me, and I suppose you know the routine," said the genie with a sarcastic sneer. His skin shone like a pool of molasses, and his turban looked disheveled. He had wild, crinkly eyebrows, and his chin looked like a piece of mutton sprinkled with pepper. Perhaps he had just woken up, but the unshaven genie didn't look happy.
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