The Djinn Who Lives Between Night and Day

By Bruce Holland Rogers

The djinn Al-faq lived in the crack between night and day. He rarely ventured out into the worlds of his fellow djinn, much less into the world of mortal men.

No one but God and Al-faq himself knew whether or not he was a faithful djinn, so the obedient sprits and disobedient alike thought of him as one of their own.

Djinn of both kinds visited Al-faq to tell him their stories.

Tayab, the djinn of ashes, came to the crack between night and day. Laughing, he called out, "Cousin! I have such a story to tell you!"

"What have you done now, Tayab?"

The djinn of ashes only laughed some more, so Al-faq said, "Well, come in, cousin, and have some tea. You must tell me your tale from the beginning."

When the tea was brewed, Tayab said, "Do you know the people of the red desert? The ones who live along the river?"

Al-faq gave no answer but nodded for Tayab to continue.

"The plague came to them," said the djinn of ashes. "Every house had its dead. You never heard such wailing! That was what drew me, cousin. The anguish of the living. All those lamentations carried on the wind...I know an opportunity when I hear one!"

Al-faq said, "Go on."

"From one house, I heard shrieks more terrible than all the rest. There a woman was tearing at her clothes, pulling out her hair. Her husband tried to hold her hands at her sides. He was crying, too, but not like her. His face was wet, but he was silent. Her arms and his were bloodied where she had scratched them. And her keening! Oh, I have seldom heard grief like hers. It was delicious," Tayab said, "because I was sure I could make something of it."

"Some mischief," said Al-faq. He sipped his tea.

"Better than mere mischief," said Tayab. "Now, listen. I sniffed around their house, and in seven places I found the shadow of the dark angel. Seven times during the plague he had entered and taken a soul. Children, I guessed. This woman had borne seven children, and now all of them were dead. When she was too spent to cry out, she whispered their names." He told Al-faq what the names of the children had been. "Her husband tried to comfort her. Useless. He said her name, and she would not answer. When he tried to meet her gaze, she turned away."

"His grief must have been as great."

"Perhaps, perhaps. Who can tell when they aren't loud like her, when they don't rend their clothes? So I waited until he was asleep. Her eyes were still wide open, though it was too dark for her to see. I knelt over her and I whispered, 'Mortal woman, I am the angel of the gate, and I have heard your prayers.'"

"The angel of the gate?" said Al-faq.

"It's nothing. I made it up. But I said to her, 'I will return your children to life if you will but keep faith with me.'"

"And if an angel hears of this?"

"But I didn't take the name of any angel, cousin. Didn't I just say that I made it up? I said to the woman, 'Get up. Go out. Walk west. Go until you can go no farther. I will give you a sign that your children have returned, but you must stay there by the sea, alone, with nothing. You must never speak again. You must never seek your children, for if you find one then all seven must die.'"

"And she agreed to this bargain?"

"She did! She got up without waking her husband. She took only the clothes she wore, and she walked! Day and night she walked! Out of the desert and over the mountains, all the way to the sea!"

"And you? Did you return her children to life?"

Tayab laughed. "Return them to life?" He held his sides and laughed some more. "Well, I did what I could, cousin. I did all that it was in my power to do. I came to her in the night and told her to look to the eastern sky. Stars fell from the heavens, and as each one fell, I gave it the name of one of her children."

"She believed you."

"Far better than believed me, cousin, and that is the sugar in the tea! I left her. And when I returned the next night, there she was within sight of the waves, sheltering in a cave in the cliffs! I said, 'Now, listen, mortal woman. I am no angel. I am a djinn. As for you, I have never met a greater fool, for I can no more restore your children to life that I can make the sun rise in the west. You don't need to stay here and starve beside the sea. Go home, now. Go home!'"

"And did she?"

"That's the wonder!" The djinn of ashes laughed once more. "She would not answer me, for I had told her that she must not speak. And she would not believe me, for I had told her that she must keep faith with the angel of the gate. So there she stayed, wordless, friendless, with only a cave for shelter, steady in her faith in a divine servant that does not exist!"

"But you exist, cousin."

"I do, to be sure," said Tayab with a grin.

"And did she starve?"

"Villagers by the sea found her. They bring her food. They think she is a holy woman." He laughed again.

"And what of her husband?"

"That's not my story, cousin. He still lives, I suppose, if he has not died yet."

"I wonder about him."

Tayab waved the thought away. "But what do you think? I took everything from her, even more than I intended! And now even if I try to return what I stole, she won't take it! Have you ever heard of thievery such as mine?"

Al-faq stroked his face with his long fingers and gave no answer. Perhaps Tayab expected none.

When the djinn of ashes had gone, Al-faq left his home in the crack between night and day. He went to the world of mortal men. It took him a long time to find the red desert and even longer to find the house with seven now fading shadows. The fields next to the house was overgrown. The man who lived there was hollow-eyed and thin.

Al-faq waited for nightfall. When at last the man fell into his bed, he moaned his wife's name. Al-faq leaned close in the darkness and said, "'Mortal man, I am the angel of the gate, and I have heard your prayers. As you feared, your wife, like your children, is dead. I will return them all to life if you will but keep faith with me."

"Yes?" said the man. "You can do this?"

"Get up," said Al-faq. "Go out. Walk south. Walk until you can go no farther. I will give you a sign that your wife and children have returned to life, but you must stay there by the sea, alone, with nothing. You must never speak again. You must never seek the ones you love, for if you find one, then all eight must die."

The man got up. He threw on his clothes. He took up his walking stick and set out at once. Through the night he walked. He walked through the next day. In time, he crossed the desert. In time, he crossed the plains. Al-faq, invisible, came behind him. When the man had walked all the way to the sea, the djinn waited for nightfall and then showed him eight falling stars in the northern sky. To each falling star, Al-faq gave a name.

"Remember," said the djinn. "Never speak. Never look for them."

The man's face was wet with tears. He nodded.

"Keep faith with me always, no matter what."

The man nodded again and smiled wearily. He made a gesture of gratitude, of blessing.

"No, do not bless me," said Al-faq. "I am not worthy."

At the nearest village, the djinn went from house to house and whispered in the ears of many sleepers: "There is a holy man beside the sea. Find him. Care for him."

Then the djinn Al-faq, who perhaps is a faithful djinn and perhaps is not, returned to the crack between night and day. And if the world has not yet ended, he lives there still.