It’s the classic setup: a guy finds a lamp.
There is a genie inside, of course. Three wishes are offered. But here’s where the story takes a turn. Instead of wealth, power and anatomical changes, the guy wishes for wisdom.
And with that the genie is gone.
40 years stretch out before they meet again. The genie is serving what passes for chili to line of homeless men. The guy can barely hold his bowl. He’s shaking with rage. And with palsy.
“Where the fuck were you?” he sputters. “I asked you for one wish, and you abandoned me.”
The food line keeps moving. The genie keeps serving. But the guy isn’t through. He’s just starting up.
The man lays out a litany of misery: poverty, ill-health, isolation, friends lost, trusts betrayed, business deals gone sideways. He’s been the target of thousand different depredations, and collateral damage of a thousand more.
He rages. Does the genie have any idea how useful it would have been to have goddamn a magical genie around? Does he know how many times he could have used the help? Does he even have the power to grant wishes? He yells at first. Then speaks. Then mumbles. Finally he stares down in to his bowl of cold chili and whispers what he knows. The world is an unforgiving, unfair place, and he’s all alone in it. There’s no magic.
Silence spins out between them. It settles like a blanket of snow.
Finally, the genie opens his mouth.
“Your wish is granted. What would you like for your second wish?”
The man gets it.
He has what he asked for, but not what he sought. His second wish is far more real. He asks for what has eluded him since he sought wisdom.
He feels himself emptying. The memories of all that has hurt him drain away. It’s confusing at first. He can’t define what he feels. Like a flavor only half-remembered from childhood, it’s delicious and mysterious. He wonders abstractly if he should be feeling guilt. But it’s not forbidden fruit. It’s joy. He feels good.
“Do I know you?” he asks the genie.
“No. You don’t know me.”
The man gazes into the genie’s fathomless eyes. They are eyes that have seen things. They are windows to an ancient soul. A soul that knows things. The man wishes that he could know things too.
“Are you sure I don’t know you?”
“No. You don’t know me. But I can give you anything you want.”
Anything? The possibilities grow and stack inside his mind until it feels like there is more inside of him than he can possibly hold. I’m a fool, he realizes. I’m happy, but a fool.
His smile grows as he opens his mouth to speak. He knows what he wants.
“I wish I was wise.”