people all the people with big bellies banging bigger drums
they beat down on you they beat the pulse into your shoes
shoes that are made for walking you to lands and other seas
see those seas of see those seas that you've seen on the big screen
stealing sheep - shut eye
His brother-in-law might have called this running if he were here. More likely he would express his utter disappointment in Salim, then convince Salim's family to disown him. On bad days, the nights where Salim is sleepless in his taxi, he thinks the former might be true. He's lost in a land far away from home, running from the only thing he knows here.
He shifts himself more comfortably on the front seats and closes his eyes. It would be better just to sleep. But it's hard not to think, when there is so much silence around him. Only crickets, only wind. He shivers in the cold and thinks of losing his home, except it's not him, and it's not his, and then he thinks of losing that home again and again, of a millennia spent alone.
The grandmothers came here too. The jinn's words keep echoing in his head, until they assimilate into Salim's thoughts, until the voice becomes his.
When he closes his eyes he can almost see it, the city lost beneath the desert, Ubar gleaming bright amidst the sands. Civilizations fallen, the relics of a people long forgotten. Are gods relics, too?
He remembers a poem from his English classes. A series of poems his tutor had particularly liked, brought back with him in hardbound leather and antique copies from abroad.
I met a traveler from an antique land.
Relics of a bygone era. History with its frame of reference destroyed.
Abruptly, he remembers the red hot gleam of the eyes gazing into his own. Remembers how his palms had settled over the jinn's cheeks, gently pulled him close. Solid heat beneath his fingers. Something alive, struggling to live, the feeling of burning flame beneath a veneer of human skin. Not a relic of anything.
His thoughts derail- pondering upon pondering, it's strange to wake in a world not quite his own. Reality shifted by the breadth of a hair, finding everything the same but changed; the world tilted on a different axis.
The night is cold, even through the thick blankets Salim had found in the back of his cab, stuffed in a supermarket plastic bag. He shifts again, and turns back to sleep. This time, it works better.
The young woman at the convenience store counter looks pallid and thinned out. It's the sort of look Salim is perhaps used to, having found it on his own face in the mirror more often than not.
"Business trip?" She asks, eyeing the taxi parked outside on the curb, before- perhaps- deciding she doesn't care.
"I'm looking for someone," he replies.
She sighs. "Roadtrip, huh."
Salim shrugs evasively. He's not entirely sure what a roadtrip is.
There are only several rather ratty twenty dollar bills left in his pocket, and he holds one out almost before she finishes ringing up his items.
"Do you know where you're travelling to?" Her eyes flicker over him again, still managing vague disinterest in tandem with overt curiousity.
He shakes his head.
"That kinda roadtrip huh." She examines him a little closer, and hands him his change. "You should try Wisconsin. All sorts there."
Salim blinks. "Do you know how I can get to Wis- Wisconsin?" He fumbles over the word, uncertain where it is and how long it might take him to get there.
She hardly misses a beat. "Just take the route you've been taking- main road, you'll get to a sign-post in a couple hours. You'll arrive by tomorrow."
"Great," he says, with feeling. "Thank you."
Later, when he finally checks, his change is missing several dollars. But he finds he doesn't mind. Perhaps it was payment.
The next day he pulls a gun on a dead woman and feels lightheaded, insane while he does it. He's left Salim somewhere else, misplaced that identity with the sample case and suit. Now it's a ghost with mannerisms following him, the whisper of its history half-formed and misshapen. He asks if the leprechaun has ever met a Jinn, and his hands don't shake.
Later, when it's night again, when he's stopped the cab and Laura is taking a smoke outside, he sits in the taxi and touches two fingers to his chest, feels the steady beat of his heart. He thinks he must have gone mad. And still. There is nothing terrifying in that, not the definition of madness, nor how it feels in him- as if the Jinn had touched Salim and left some of his fire there, burning under his skin.
He knows the definition of detachment now. Remembers New York and how it had been the same as Oman, going through the motions, day after sightless day. That weight he hadn't known was there, and now it's gone.
Still, it briefly occurs to him to imagine his sister's reaction. His hands return to the steering wheel and he wonders what she would say, hands flying to her mouth in utter horror. But all that goes through his head is something horribly generic, horribly fake- what on earth are you doing brother, what are you dressed in-- and he can't picture her response at all. He can't picture her ever seeing him like this. Recognizing him.
He wonders if he's been disowned yet. Disappearing just like that, with a thousand American dollars and that hotel room that must have cost just as much. It's been weeks, after all.
He doesn't want to think about it.
But- well, it is maybe chance, some kind of coincidence that the woman and the leprechaun choose his cab. If he hadn't met the jinn, would he have noticed? The odour of death on her skin, the unnatural pallor of her face. The coins the man conjures from nothing. Even if he had noticed, would he have just struck it off as nothing-?
Looking outside, at Laura's back, he wonders what much else he has missed, forgotten, left buried behind in the realities of his old world. The ifrit in that beaten-up taxi in New York. The dead woman walking with a leprechaun from Ireland. Maybe the world he used to live in was only half-real, and otherworldly things walked on its surface and left barely hidden footprints on his people's history.
What else has he walked past, never realizing the truth to.
Even the thought is not unsettling as it should be. He feels separate from that person now, from that Salim. As if he's been trying to fit all the edges of him inside a shell that wasn't his at all.
He feels like a ghost that someone made real.
A little piece of an interlude.
When Salim was fourteen, he was a little in love with his best friend. In fact, he'd spent his early twenties alternating between convincing himself he was never in love (just uncertainty, he'd been a child after all), and wondering why he'd never confessed.
Perhaps it would have been easier if he'd just confessed.
He doesn't remember how it had happened, not by now. But he remembers being kissed and not being surprised. Just accepting it. Accepting everything. Somewhere behind school, nobody else around, the taste of dates they'd eaten earlier, lukewarm coca cola- he'd shivered despite the heat, uncertain and terrified, and then they were staring at each other and one of their friends had found them, hadn't realized what had happened and then. It was as if nothing had happened. Salim hadn't been certain what to do after that. Had went home later and slept.
The next day, Tariq had found him and all the carefully crafted words on Salim's tongue- the ones he'd planned during the night, unable to fall asleep- had fallen apart. Sorry, Tariq says. I just wanted to try it, you know. Didn't mean anything by it. You understand.
So all his words, everything Salim intends to say, dissipates. The heat is stuffy and he shrugs it off with a laugh, a reassurance- he doesn't even need to try and already the heartbreak is somewhere unreachable, compartmentalized and locked off. And then it's like nothing ever did happen.
But still. Love. He'd finally come to terms with it when he was maybe twenty six, more than a decade since he'd last spoken properly to Tariq. Whenever it is mentioned in passing- his sister on the veranda, eyes fluttering shut and wistful- his friend at work, talking of his wife- it brings back the memory of dried dates softening on his tongue, candy sweet and sticky on a hot day in May. With time, he'll forget everything else, the shape of Tariq's face, the inflection of his voice. Just the heat and the taste. The taste he imagines love has.
Since he arrived in America, he finds he's forgotten even that.
He leaves Laura and Sweeney, and heads towards the House on the Rock. He's never heard of it before. It's a tourist attraction, apparently. 'Brings in people from all over'. He nods at the gas-station worker, and supposes that he's not so different from a tourist after all.
He gets directions from a farmer and shouts from the window of his taxi- he's never shouted at strangers before, and Laura and the leprechaun must have rubbed off on him. He's no longer so cold, sleeping in his taxi at night- and his dreams are no longer of Oman, but rather of America's roads, of coins and treasure and sometimes of red flame and dark skin that felt as though there was fire beneath.
When he ends up missing his Jinn, arriving at the House on the Rock and finding it empty- he's not so surprised either. He spends a moment wondering if he's disappointed, and finds that he's not. Whatever it was- a meeting, it must be over now. There's only a couple of families, tourists with children and the occasional pet. There's even a little girl holding a cat on a leash.
Tourists, his mind supplies, even as he finds himself searching the crowd- and he supposes all the gods must have left already. Or perhaps some of them are still around- his gaze follows a little girl seemingly separated from her family, the misshapen outline of her beanie that almost seems to be hiding horns- and looks away before she can spot him.
He still spends an afternoon there.
There's the niggling thought, the question of what he's meant to do now, where he's meant to go. He dismisses it for the curiousity of playing a musical instrument in one of the rooms stuffed full of them; he examines the mannequins and the dolls and the carousel that doesn't stop running. There's a room full of books but the windowpanes are cracked and the books are dusty and water damaged.
He finds he doesn't like the House on the Rock much.
It feels as if he's in a land not quite America, where everything is dimly lit and nothing is ordered- a child's playground, a child's collection. No care for the things scattered about, careless and disorganized. He touches a violin in a music room and wonders how long since it's been played. He flips through a dusty book and wonders if anyone who comes appreciates this.
Perhaps it is a little too much for him, and he leaves before it can get dark.
But something about that afternoon keeps sticking in his memory. A thought winding around his memory. It's not something he can quite articulate. All those items. Gathering dust, gathering neglect.
Nothing much changes, despite the fact his destination is even less clear than before. There's still a little while before the money he had saved up runs out. He unrolls his prayer-mat in the mornings and includes Laura and Sweeney in his prayers, eyes shut and forehead pressed against the worn fabric.
He supposes he's on a road trip.
In the end, it happens when he's taking a nap in his taxi one day, parked off the road and settled into his seat. The smell of heavy perfume and underlying rot is still in the car, right in the seat next to him- corpses have a smell that doesn't go away. He remembers someone saying that, doesn't recall from where. But by now he's almost used to it. He might even call the smell nostalgic if it weren't such an unpleasant odour. He crosses his arms and leans back, eyes closed and trying to ignore the sun.
There's a knock on the plexiglass window. Salim blinks awake, fuzzy and blurry-eyed.
"Yes?" He asks, because he hasn't yet figured the art of telling strangers to fuck off. He's picked up one too many things from Laura and Sweeney- uncouth speech isn't one of them. There's a silhouette over at the passenger door, who as he rolls the windows down comes over to the front of the taxi. Salim looks up, and startles.
"Are you taking passengers?" The Ifrit curls his mouth in an easy smile. "I'd like a ride home."