When I went on holiday to India around five years ago, one of the things I expected to see the least was a beggar with a sign next to him written in English. "Pleese give change". That’s why it was surprising to see precisely that carved into a wooden board next to him, so in order to congratulate him for being so outstandingly educated, I chucked a few rupees into his empty cap. He could see I was a foreigner, thus also used English to talk to me afterwards. This was how our conversation went:
“Thank you, thank you for this money. May God bless your soul and heart. In return for your good deed I will give you one wish, young man. Use it wisely. Just no wishing for more wishes, or anything eternal, like infinite money. Anything else is acceptable.”
Almost laughing, I looked around me, to see if anyone else had heard his weird offer. This guy was pretending to be a real genie. There was nobody, as we were in the outskirts of a suburban area. It was strange that anyone would bother begging in that area; only around two people passed there every day. Nevertheless, I decided to not be a killjoy and played along with it. People around this area held a lot of spiritual theories, so I didn’t want to seem disrespecting.
For a moment, I raised my eyebrows. Then, I began thinking of a suitable wish. To be a billionaire? To have a Ferrari? A mansion? To be the king of England? Those were all normal wishes, which would give the impression that I was greedy. I knew that whatever I wished for wouldn’t come true anyway, so I wanted to take the chance to make him think I was a nice, unselfish person. I remembered how my parents used to argue all the time when I was younger, and how I wished I could tell if one of them was lying. Then, I remembered how I had been lied to pretty much the whole of my life.
“I’d like to always be able to know when people are lying. Somehow.”
“Then, young man, your wish is granted. Have a very good evening.”
What? That was it? You didn’t even bother to comment or break it to me that it was a joke? Or even bribe me for more money?
“Is that all?” I asked, rather taken aback.
“Yes. When someone is not telling the truth, a red flame will appear above their head.”
“Well, tell me a lie, then,” I said boldly, making a joke.
“I absolutely hate your hat,” he said, smiling a toothy smile, his eyes gleaming with humour. I nearly vomited out of shock when a red flame really did appear above his head.
"Holy mother-" I remember thinking, "Shit. Am I dreaming? This can’t be real, no, no way. What the fuck? Shit, why did I not wish for… (you can fill in the gap here with all sorts of material objects anyone would want)?
“I know what you are thinking now, young man,” he told me, “you didn’t believe me, did you? You are wishing you had chosen something else, are you not?”
I was speechless. He chuckled.
“You are like all of the others. But let me tell you something, you will not regret this. Because in the future, this wish will give you the chance to save your own life.”
My eyes thinned, though I was still convinced I was dreaming.
“And what exactly does that mean? That the wish will give me a CHANCE to save my life?”
“You were destined to die for a reason that only this wish can help you prevent. Without it, you will most certainly die. But with this wish, you have a chance to save your life. Whether you die or not in that moment in the future, depends on if you are clever enough to use the wish, and make the right decision.”
Alright. Not strange at all. I thanked him and walked away promptly. From then on, whenever I looked at anyone in the streets, the office or even a group of people speaking, I could spot the liars immediately. If someone lied, I could scare the hell out of them just by saying, "Bullshit. Tell me the truth." I was literally a kind of god. It turned out the old man really was a genie after all; just goes to show weird things can happen in different countries.
The reason that I remember this specific encounter now is that, in the past hour, I just had an argument with my wife. I accused her of cheating, and however much she denies it, we both know she did it. The red flame never lies.
In the end, in a fit of fury, I yelled at her.
“Well if you don’t want me, then I’ll go!”
“Alright then, you can leave,” she says, pointing at the front door. So, this command suddenly prompts me to think about the last thing the old man told me, after so many years. I start to sweat. Why is one of her hands behind her back?
Why is there a red flame hovering above her head?