It was late July as Hans stepped into the temperate waters of the Aegean Sea. He thought of the thousands of years of history in this part of the world as he waded into deeper waters. He was on holiday, visiting friends in Izmir, Turkey. He had never been to this part of Europe and was pleased to be here.
His foot embraced an object buried just beneath the surface of the sand. He thought it a rock at first, but the sharpness caused him to stop. He scraped the sand away with his foot, then bent over and reached down to the sea bottom. The sharp object was the corner of some kind of a handle, or so he thought. He put his hand through and around the object and pulled. Nothing happened.
He smiled to himself, thinking he had stumbled on an ancient treasure. He continued pushing the sand away with his foot. It was indeed a handle, attached to something. He wasn’t sure what it might be.
He knew he would never find it again if he went to shore to get assistance. He saw his friend, Ulla, sitting on the beach. Uwe, her husband, was nowhere in sight. He shouted, “Ulla, wo ist Uwe? Sag ihm, es soll zu mir kommen.” Ulla got up and shook her head. She didn’t understand. Hans repeated himself. She pointed in the direction of the food vendors down the beach. It was then he saw Uwe walking toward Ulla, holding a large box … lunch he assumed. He hollered to Uwe, gesturing for him to join him. Uwe gave the box to Ulla and waded into the water.
“What?” he shouted as he approached Hans.
“I’ve found something and need your help.”
Uwe laughed, “You’re acting like a treasure hunting tourist.”
“Perhaps. Reach down and tell me what you think.”
Uwe reached down, then stood straight up and grinned. “I think you’ve found something.”
“You think?” Hans did not trust his friend, the eternal prankster.
“I do indeed, but the tide will be coming soon. We’ll have to work fast to dislodge it.”
Twenty-five minutes later they pulled the object to a standing position. “It’s some kind of a jar,” Hans declared.
“It’s an Amphora.”
“An Amphora. The ancients used to transport wine and grain in these things. I’m surprised this one is so close to shore and in one piece. It appears to be sealed. Come on, let’s drag it to shore.”
“What have you got?” Ulla stepped into the water to give them a hand.
“Uwe said it’s an Amphora,” Hans gasped. He was out of breath from dragging the jug.
“Maybe it’s wine.” Ulla smiled. “Just in time for lunch.”
“Could be.” Uwe agreed. “It’s heavy enough.”
“I’m hoping for gold coins. Wouldn’t that be swell?” Hans laughed. “Should we open it?”
“No, let’s cover it with a blanket. If anyone sees it, we’ll have a crowd in no time. We’ll carry it to the car later.”
“Hadn’t thought of that.” Hans looked in both directions.
“Lunch is ready, might as well eat while we wait,” Ulla laid a blanket on the amphora and set the lunch box on top.
Speculation as to its content ranged from wine and grain to the gold coins Hans was hoping for. “The neck is large enough for coins.”
“Yes, but did you hear anything rattling around when we brought it to shore?”
“Hum, you’re probably right.” Hans was crestfallen.
As the afternoon shadows deepened, the three friends moved quietly toward their car. Ulla and Hans lead the way, each holding one of the handles. Uwe followed, holding the bottom of the Amphora. They kept it covered with a blanket until they placed it in the trunk of the car.
“What are we going to do with it? Ulla looked at Hans and Uwe.
“Open it up, I guess,” Hans smiled with anticipation.
“Outside would be best just in case it is wine. No need to have it spill indoors.”
“A wise decision, my dear.” Ulla smiled knowingly at her husband.
Hans grunted as they set it down in the garden, “Maybe it will be more valuable sealed.”
“Hans, where do you plan on selling it? eBay? If the local Antiquities people find out about this thing, they will be all over us claiming it belongs to them. No, I say let’s open it and see what we have.”
“I agree,” Ulla mused as she eyed the container.
“Okay. So, how are we going to do it? Carefully, I hope,” Hans continued to have value in mind.
As they inspected the sealed stopper at the top of the bottle, Uwe had an idea. “I’ve got a chisel. If we chip a bit of the seal, we may be able to gain entrance without damaging it.” No one disagreed. Uwe disappeared and returned with the chisel. An hour later he finished chipping around the sealed cap. He began again, only this time he inserted the chisel into the groove he had made and tapped the chisel lightly. A few more light taps and they heard a soft ‘crack’ and the sound of air being sucked into the bottle.
“It’s open.” Hans gasped as he placed his hand on the stopper and gently twisted it. “It’s moving.” He looked wide-eyed at the others. He continued twisting until it fell into his hand. “There!” he held it up.
Uwe looked into the neck of the Amphora, “Looks like …” He reached in with his thumb and index finger and began pulling. Suddenly the piece of cloth flew out of its own accord followed by a trailing gust of a cloudy red mist. Everyone gasped and fell backward. The amphora rocked on its side and rolled toward the edge of the swimming pool.
“Holy crap!” Hans shouted, “What was that?” Everyone scrambled to their feet and quickly moved away from the spectacle unfolding before them. The red cloudy mist continued to pour forth in ever increasing density and volume, forming a giant cloud over the Amphora.
“What’s that smell?” Hans sniffed the air.
“Sulfur.” Uwe backed up a few more steps.”
“Oh, my God?” Hans looked frightened.
As the red mist began to clear, the figure of a huge dark skinned muscular man began to appear. “Oh, dear God.” Hans gasped. “It’s the Devil, and he’s naked.”
“He certainly is.” Ulla moved forward a step.
“It has to be a genie,” declared Uwe. “He looks too good to be the devil. Hans, say something to it.”
“You say something to it.”
Ulla took another step forward, “Hello, big guy, who are you?”
The huge man turned with a jerk, put his fists on his hips, looked down, and grinned at Ulla. Uwe and Hans shrank back while Ulla stood her ground.
“Ah, iyi kadınım. Ben Ali Baba oluş oğluyum Elyas Rasti?” the huge man barked, and licked his lips.
“What did he say?” Hans whispered.
“He said his name is Ali Baba, son of Elyas Rasti. He wants to know who we are.”
“Well tell him for heaven’s sake.” Uwe shrank back farther.
“I understand Turkish but I don’t speak it so well. My English will have to do.”
Hans’ voice broke from the stress, “Tell him in any language you like but say something. I don’t think we want to keep him waiting,”
Ulla looked up into the fierce face of Ali Baba, “I am Ulla. The small and meek. We three found you in the sea.”
“Oh, Mistress,” Ali Baba fell to his knees, clasped his hands and bowed down. “It was you who released me from this wretched bottle.”
“No, it was them,” Ulla pointed to Hans and Uwe.
“Masters, I am indebted to all of you.”
“So, now what do we do?” Hans whispered.
“If it’s a genie, he should be able to grant us some wishes. You found the bottle. You ask first.” Uwe stared at Hans.
“I’m not going to ask him anything,” quaked Hans.
“Relax, boys. I’ll handle this,” Ulla rebuked them with her confidence. “So, Ali Baba, since you are a genie…”
Ali Baba stood up and growled, “I am no genie, I am Ali Baba son of Elyas Rasti, the merchant.”
“Yeah, yeah, we know all that, but can you grant any wishes?”
“Wishes? I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know,” Ulla snapped, “You were in the bottle, so you must be a genie.”
“Take it easy, Ulla,” Uwe whispered. “Don’t make him mad.”
“Cassim, my elder brother,” Ali Baba growled. “That son of a flea-bitten camel put me in this evil jug.”
“Why? What was your sin?”
Ali Baba rose even higher and growled, “There was no sin. May his bowels burn in hellfire for eternity. No … for two eternities.”
“Well, you must have done something to anger him.”
“I found a treasure and did not tell him about it.”
“He was jealous. I may have been richer than that old dried up chicken liver.”
“Nevertheless, here you are, trapped in a jug. Old chicken liver must have been very powerful to accomplish that.”
“No … it was his wife, that daughter of a scorpion.”
“Nevertheless, you were in a jug, so you must be a genie. And genies are supposed to be able to grant wishes.”
Ali Baba thought for a moment. “Let me find out. The dark angel who watches over me will know.” Ali Baba disappeared in a puff of red smoke.
Hans and Uwe came out from their hiding place, “Where’d he go?”
“He went to confer with a dark angel about granting wishes.” Ulla rolled her eyes.
“A dark angel? You’re kidding?” Hans gazed at the red mist.
“No, I’m not kidding. Evidently this dark angel watches over him. Lord only knows why.”
“Well, that’s what he said. I don’t know about you two, but I’m going to make something to eat. Who knows when he’ll return if he’ll return?” Ulla walked toward the house.
“We’ve got his jug,” Hans reasoned. “He can’t go very far.”
“You’re right.” Uwe smiled. “Let’s go eat.”
They both turned away from the amphora and walked into the house.
As the hall clock struck the midnight hour, Ulla sat up wide-eyed. She nudged Uwe.
“He’s back.” Ulla threw her legs over the side of the bed.
“What?” Uwe sat up with a start. “How do you know?”
Uwe sniffed the air, “You’re right. Where’s Hans?”
“I’m here,” came a voice from a shadow in the hallway door.
“Ulla, where are you going?” Uwe got out of bed.
“Where do you think? The garden.”
“Wait, we’ll go with you.”
“Ali Baba,” Ulla called out as she stepped into the garden.
“Mistress,” Ali Baba knelt down and bowed.
“Arise, oh great and wonderful Ali Baba.” She threw a sidelong glance at Hans and Uwe. “Tell me, are you able to grant wishes?”
“Yes, Mistress. I may grant one wish.”
“Only one? I thought the going rate was three.”
“Sorry. The dark Angel told me only one wish will be granted.”
“Only one wish?” Uwe crept up behind Ulla.
“Only one.” She groaned.
“Only one?” Hans joined Uwe.
“Only one.” Ulla turned to her companions, “I have a wish. Do either of you have one?”
“No, no.” Uwe gushed, “How about you, Hans?”
“No. Ulla, you go ahead.”
Ulla turned to Ali Baba and held up a piece of paper she pulled from her pocket. “See this?”
“This is a map of the Middle East. Here we are.” She pointed with her index finger. “We are too close for comfort to all the conflicts going on all through this area. My wish … I want peace. I want them to stop fighting one another and live in peace and harmony forever.
Ali Baba took the map, looked at Ulla, then stepped into the pool and knelt down.
“Oh, my God, he’s floating,” Hans was slack-jawed.
“How cool is that?” Uwe smiled.
They were silent as they watched Ali Baba floating in the moonlight on the surface of the swimming pool, meditating on the map. Finally, he rose up and approached Ulla.
“Mistress, these countries have been at war with one another for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Do you have any idea what it would take to bring peace to these regions? It would be a monumental task requiring countless souls to intervene and negotiate peace. No, I don’t believe this can be accomplished. It is out of the question. You ask too much of me. You’ll have to make another wish.”
“Well, that’s a nice kettle of fish.” Ulla stared at Ali Baba, then turned to her companions, “I can’t think of anything else awesome enough to wish for. Hans, you found the bottle. You make the wish.”
Hans frowned and hesitantly stepped forward, “Hi, Ali Baba.”
“Master,” Ali Baba bowed. “Your wish is my command.”
“Ah, yes. Well, we’ll see about that.” Hans paused as he prepared himself. After a minute of thought, he began. “Ali Baba, I’ve been married and divorced three times. All of my wives had the same grievances. They said I was insensitive, uncaring, and unable to satisfy them in bed. So my wish is to know and understand women in every way possible, along with the knowledge and technique to make their life in the bedroom a little bit of heaven here on earth.”
Ulla tried to hold her silence but finally burst out laughing. “I’m sorry Hans. It just struck me so funny I couldn’t help myself.”
“Very funny, Ulla. Your sister, Hilda, tortured me our entire marriage with her nitpicking on what I was doing wrong. If you can’t behave, you’ll have to leave.”
Hans turned to Ali Baba, “Well?”
Ali Baba bowed his head and retreated to the swimming pool to meditate. As morning twilight edged over the horizon, Ali Baba returned and stood in front of Hans. Hans found Ali’s pensive expression encouraging. Then a deep frown and intense gaze indicated he was about to speak. Hans held his breath.
Ali Baba looked beyond Hans and smiled. “Mistress, may I see that map again?”