Lee took a second to gather his thoughts. He looked into the cabin and noticed the unlit lantern. Moonlight flowed through the small window and onto the table where the lantern was. The stove was glowing orange but with much less intensity than before. Then he began:
I once knew an Arab sheik who made his fortune from petrol, or gasoline, as you call it. This isn’t the stereotypical way that Arabs make their money. In the U.S., as you all are aware, the stereotype is that Arabs make their money from the oil in the ground. They ship out the crude for it to be refined elsewhere, which takes a lot of value out of the Arab economies. A similar thing happened in America, when it shipped raw materials to Japan and got finished products back, which it had to pay more for.
Rather than leave money on the table, my friend decided that he could refine the oil into gasoline and sell it for a better price. He wasn’t wrong, and he became one of the wealthiest men in the Arab nations. He wasn’t anyone special. He wasn’t overly generous, but he wasn’t stingy. He was just a regular guy like us.
Now, I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I was sitting with him at his home, which he had opened up to the breeze off the desert. It felt cool against my skin, and the iced drink in my hand did well to quench my thirst. The palm-leaf fan blades overhead turned slowly. We were just relaxing and doing our best to keep from getting overheated. When the doorbell rang, my friend sat up and waited for his servant to come tell him what it was. The servant walked to him and whispered something in his ear.
“I’m sorry, my friend, but it appears I must deal with the person at the door,” he said.
“No problem,” I said and took a sip of my drink. “I’m well cared for here.”
He got up and walked out of the room. When he came back, I could see that he was agitated. My friend wasn’t the sort who would betray his emotions, so I had to ask him what was wrong.
“There is a bum who has arrived at the door, and I must let him in. It’s a matter of desert courtesy, and I have plenty to serve all, but I don’t like him. I have never met him, and yet, I still don’t like him. I don’t know why.” My friend paced back and forth in front of me.
“He can’t be that bad,” I said. “Besides, your servants will watch him.”
“I just feel as if I have invited the devil into my home,” my friend snarled.
“If that’s the case, we better keep on our toes and not make any deals,” I tied to make the joke, but it fell flat. “At any rate, what hospitality are you supposed to extend to him?”
“Our custom is a meal, a place to wait out the heat of the afternoon, and transportation to the next destination. We may also offer a second meal depending on the schedule and time of day.”
“Well, that doesn’t seem like too much,” I said.
“I know, I know,” my friend spat. “That’s part of the problem. I should be able to give to this man freely and out of kindness not just out of obligation.”
“Well, let’s go to the meal and I’ll see what it is about this man that you can’t tolerate.”
“Lunch is in an hour. Until that time, he has been given accommodations for rest and refreshment,” he said.
“Great. Then sit on your chair and enjoy the rest of your drink with me.”
He sat down and fidgeted in his chair the entire time. Even his drink didn’t soothe his nerves.
After the hour passed, a servant came in and told him the guest was at the table. My friend sighed and got up. “Let’s go eat.”
He followed the servant and I followed him. When we got to the doorway, he paused, “Look at him sitting there. There’s no reason for me to feel such disdain for the man.” He motioned for me to look through the beads that covered the opening.
The man at the table was bald and dressed plainly. His eyebrows seemed to be sculpted so they pointed down toward his nose. His eyes were bright and feral. His nose was bulbous. He opened his mouth to pick at his yellowing teeth and looked greedily at the food on the table. There was something distinctly unpleasant about the man, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. It was as if we had entered the uncanny valley.
I turned back to my friend and shrugged my shoulders.
“Right. Let us go and dine like the gentlemen we wish we could be.”
We entered the dining area and had a delicious meal. The man was awkward in his interactions, and his voice was pitched at a sound that was grating, but there was nothing to hold against him besides his appearance. He ate quietly and with great skill. He made the right toasts at the right time, and he was gracious in all his actions.
When lunch was over, we all stood up and my friend offered the stranger a room for the time between lunch and dinner.
The man declined and stuck out his hand. My friend shook it, and they walked the door. My friend offered the man transportation to wherever he was going and the man declined again. Then the man said, “Sahib, you have given me such good hospitality and such a good meal. I feel I should grant you a wish. Not all have treated me the way you have. What would you have for your reward?”
My friend chuckled. “Well, traveler, I would have my business continue to grow year after year.”
“Done, Sahib. Experience success in business for the rest of your life.” The man walked out the door and into the desert.
My friend turned to me and laughed again, “We may have just met a jinni, my friend. We did well to treat him the way gentlemen should treat others regardless of their station or appearance.”
We went back to the room where we had previously been lounging and didn’t say anything more about it. “I can’t tell you if the stranger was a jinni or not. I can tell you that my friend’s business has continued to grow year after year, even through recessions. That could be because of his business acumen and ability to invest, or…” Lee stopped talking and shrugged his shoulders.
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