Monday 29 June 2020

The Homeless Man and the Jinn

by Mason Bushell

black coffee

Rupert Hutton was homeless. He’d been a wealthy businessman until a couple of years ago. Now instead of a nice comfortable home, he lived in a doorway with a single duffle bag of possessions. He was no victim of recession or joblessness; his fate had been much worse. He could handle wearing his stinking, scruffy suit. Even his long unkempt hair and itchy beard weren’t completely unbearable. No for Rupert it was cold, harsh rain which left him miserable about his situation.
This evening like most, Rupert had gone to the park. It was drizzling but a few stars were beginning to peak through the clouds. Rupert liked to walk among the borders and enjoy the lights of the city twinkling around him. It was especially nice after dark as nobody else would be there. Mr fox was about rummaging in the bins for food. Rupert smiled at him and perched on the marble side of the wishing fountain. He loved the gentle light shimmering from the fittings beneath the water - creating a soft relaxing glow. He’d often sit here and reminisce over the life he once had. Rupert had a secondary purpose for his visit. Checking the coast was clear, he slipped a hand into the water and scooped a handful of coins from the bottom. Many people came and tossed a coin into the fountain to make a wish. Rupert was well aware the coins were collected by the city council and used to make the councillors ever richer. Knowing this, taking a few to buy coffee wasn’t so wrong, was it.
Leaving the park, he crossed the road to his home. He always stayed in the Top-Boy fashions doorway of a night. It was deep and had a good roof covering against the elements. Reaching the recess, he let out an anguished groan and shook his shaggy head. The space wasn’t his anymore; a young man and his girl were hunkered in a sleeping bag inside now.
“Please, leave us. We have nothing but each other,” said the drawn, sad-looking man. He reached into the sleeping bag and drew a large flick knife. “Please, just go away!”
“Okay, take it easy! I know the feeling of having nothing, friend.” Rupert raised his hands and took a calming breath, “Look, you can have my doorway. I just want my bag, that okay?”
“Y-yeah sure, okay.” The man put himself before the girl and watched suspiciously.
“Thank you.” Rupert reached into the doorway and retrieved his duffle bag from a dark corner. The old army-issue bag was filthy and had a tear where the zip was coming away. It still did the job and would continue to do so for now. “Good luck, friend.” Rupert left as quickly as he could.
Rupert could have cried over losing his doorway. He felt homeless all over again, as he walked along the dark, cold street. Taking an alleyway, he came up behind some shops and sank against the wall between large rolltop bins and a pile of black bags.
“Damn you! Why can’t you just let me have the little I have and leave me be!” he let out a sob and wiped away the tears which flowed into his scruffy beard. Digging into his suit jacket pocket he found just one large coin. Looking into the pocket, he realised a new hole had robbed him of the rest of the change he’d collected from the fountain. Placing his shaking hands over his face he sat back against the wall in silent, wretched tears. He didn’t know how long he sat there disconsolate and heartbroken. It was only as his melancholy abated, he remembered the large coin. Holding it in his dirty hand he saw it was no currency at all. It bore the image of a demon surrounded in flames. He bit on it. ‘It’s solid metal,’ he thought. ‘Maybe I can sell it for a little real money.’ Peering closer he saw and read the inscription around the demon. “Funny thing. I’ll wait until morning and try and sell it,” he decided having laid back against the wall and closed his eyes in the attempt to sleep.
Something thudded among the black bags – a rat most likely. The rubbish began to glow orange; exuding heat as something smashed within the bags. Rupert snapped upright in time to see a bag catch fire as a little red-skinned and muscular man dived from it, rolling under the bins.
“Marvellous! Thank you very-bloody-much for summoning me into a pile of rubbish!” he said in a strangely deep voice for his five inches of height. He stalked out from beneath a bin and snapped his fingers; extinguishing the burning rubbish. Disaster averted, he folded his arms and glared at Rupert.
“I… er my apologies.” Rupert blinked, rubbed his eyes and shook his head - he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The little man had torn denim shorts and a woolly, blue beany hat on his head. “Wha — err. What are you?”
“I’m a Jinn, and I’m having a bad day. First Doris throws a bucket of vegetable peelings at me this morning and now you summoned me into the bleeding trash!” The Jinn took a breath and wrinkled his nose. “Phew! You haven’t had a bath in a while. Are you a vagrant?”
“Same thing. Well, you summoned me. I guess you’ll be wishing for money, a house on the beach and a holiday in Vegas, right?”
“I actually had all that once.” Rupert’s eyes welled with misery again.
“Really?” The Jinn summoned a little armchair and some popcorn. Both appeared with a click of his fingers and a flash of red glitter. He sat down and wriggled into a comfortable position. “Okay. So, what happened?”
“I was a well-paid insurance company manager. I had who I thought was a lovely wife in Gerri and a son and daughter. I was so proud of those kids.” Rupert fell silent; tears left track marks through the dirt on his cheeks. He rummaged in his bag, took out a photo of his family and looked at them with a sigh.
“Here, have some tissues.” The Jinn made a pack appear in mind air. He watched Rupert take them and dry his eyes. “Sounds like you had it good. How’d it go so wrong?”
 “Thanks. I … Erm. I had to be away from home a lot to work - that was the trouble. I’d leave Monday morning and return Friday night most weeks. One Friday two years ago, I got home to discover a nightmare waiting for me. My home wasn’t mine anymore. Gerri had waited for me to leave on the Monday. She packed our family out of the house, sold it and all my belongings leaving me with nothing.”
“What! Wow and I thought Doris was a pain in my backside pheeew!” the Jinn whistled in shock. “I mean that just plain nasty.”
“I know, right? I stayed in my car that weekend. Monday, I went to work and I’m summoned to the general manager's office. Gerri has reported me to the police accusing me of assaulting her. Damn it, Jinn. I would never touch a hair on that woman’s head. I loved her and my kids so much...” Rupert paused to take a breath and stop himself shaking with anguish. “My company couldn’t have anyone on any form of charges working for them and so my manager fired me on the spot.”
            “Despicable!” The Jinn sat opened mouth on his armchair. His popcorn spilt and forgotten around his feet through his growing anger at Rupert’s predicament.
            “I tried to fight but Gerri had found a new man and screwed me over rotten. I fought everything but lost. While I was acquitted of the assault, I ended up homeless, jobless and worthless in days. I’ve been like this ever since.”
            “I’m so sorry, you suffered so much. You know, the only thing worse than your situation is having to travel through countless dimensions looking for your boxer shorts.” The Jinn stood and started pacing. “So, how much do you want to get out of this situation?”
            “About as much as you really wanted to find your underpants apparently,” Rupert managed a small grin.
            “Those boxers were the most comfortable pair I ever had. And … Why the hell are we discussing my boxers?” The Jinn glared at the homeless man.
“You started it.” Rupert pointed a dirty finger then sighed. “Anyway, I can’t get out of this. I can’t have a job without a home and a rubbish-strewn alley doesn’t count. I don’t want to wish for piles of money either. I don’t deserve that.”
“Good, I can’t conjure you any money anyway.” The Jinn vanished his chair and stood tall. “Are you any good with mobile phones?”
“New-fangled contraptions,” Rupert mumbled. “I hate them.”
“Oh good - that makes two of us.” The Jinn grinned. “Time to learn all about the curse of mobile devices.”

The following morning Rupert did the best he could to tidy himself up. He took up a newly made sign that read ‘Make a donation and I’ll solve all your mobile device problems.’ And headed for the high-street. He sat in a good position not far from a mobile phone shop and started plying his new trade. To his delight, he was soon unlocking contracted phones, teaching tips and tricks, removing tracing software, installing apps, and fixing broken phones for many people.
“There we are, sir. Now your phone will install any app from any platform you desire.” Rupert said to one man wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase.
“Thanks.” He took back his phone and turned to leave.
“Excuse me. You didn’t make a donation.” Rupert pointed to his sign and the bucket he was collecting in.
“Tough luck, beggar.” The man smirked and made to walk away. It was then his briefcase flopped open spilling paperwork everywhere.
Rupert scooped up and returned some of the papers. “Rough justice, friend. You were greedy and you paid for it in seconds,” he commented. 
“Think yer funny do yer.” The man stuffed his papers in his bag, turned to leave and his belt broke and his trousers fell to his shoes.
A lady screamed having gotten an eyeful of his boxer shorts. “You dirty man!” she belted him with her handbag and dashed away.
“Ouch! That Karma really is kicking your arse today, isn’t it?” Rupert stifled a grin and looked up at the Jinn sitting on the very top of a lamppost.
“What are you up to, beggar?” the man turned on him.
“Me? Nothing. Oh, and I’m not begging. I’m offering a service and excepting donations for it.” Rupert listened to a young man then took his phone. He tapped away on it for a few moments, making it work again. The owner paid him five pounds for it and left as a car pulled up to the curb.
“Smart arse!” The man bent to restore his trousers. He turned to leave again and wham! the car door flew open, knocking him on his backside.
“Damn! You are having a bad day!” Rupert grinned as he took and fixed a tablet for another few pounds.
“I don’t know what this is, pal, but I’m getting mad!” the man took out his wallet and threw a ten-pound note into the bucket. This time the Jinn let him leave with a big grin on his face.

When night fell, Rupert had amassed quite a sum of money. He counted it with a smile on his face. “I want to thank you, Jinn. This is amazing and it was so rewarding earning it myself.”
“It was equally as much fun ensuring you got paid.” The Jinn was sitting on his shoulder now. “You did good, but we’re not done yet either.”
“Oh really! What’s next?”
“That depends on how much you want to grow and be successful from here.”
“So long as I can work for it and earn it - I’m willing to do anything to get it.” Rupert beamed at his pile of money. “I still can’t believe this.”
“Well, you should. All I did was impart some knowledge and you did the rest.” The Jinn created a shower of sparks with a snap of his fingers. “I didn’t even use any magic.”
Rupert went back to work on the high-street fixing technology for the rest of the week. By the weekend he’d amassed enough to rent a little room and buy a new suit. With a haircut and shave, he looked like his old self. The Jinn taught him more every day and pointed him in the right direction. By the end of the month, he’d gotten himself a job in at Gadgi-Tech computer and phone store as a technician. He surpassed his role in a week and soon had the managers position. It was then it happened.

Rupert was reprogramming a tablet while talking to its owner. The Jinn was sitting on a shelf of laptops, tablets and phones which Rupert had gotten ready for customers to collect. He’d made himself invisible to everybody except Rupert and was enjoying watching customers browsing the aisles of technology.
“There we are, sir. Now it works as intended.” Rupert gave him a smile and sent him on his way. Rupert was a new man in his suit and tie and well-groomed hair. He looked up swore under his breath and looked to the Jinn. “On no, Jinn you have to help me. That’s Gerri, she’ll ruin everything!”
“Relax. Be nice so she can’t get you fired and it’ll be fine.” The Jinn rubbed his hands together and lay in wait.
Rupert took out a laptop and read the repair order label on the case.
Gerri dressed in a simple black skirt, a cream t-shirt and a regular coat browsed a while.
 Rupert couldn’t help following her with his eyes until she spotted him and came over. To Rupert’s shock, she had tears in her eyes as she arrived at the counter.
“Hey, Ruppy. I didn’t expect to see you again. I heard you were living on the streets. I’m really glad you’re not,” she said.
Rupert locked his eyes on the laptop; reading the blue screen that appeared. He hated the fake affection in her voice. “Gerri. Can I help you?” 
“Oh, Ruppy. I made a terrible mistake two years ago.” Gerri leaned on the counter evocatively.
“You want that USB cord?” Rupert bit his tongue while trying to diagnose the boot issue on the laptop.
“No, I want a second chance.” 
Rupert was seething. He took a deep breath forcing himself not to rise. “I’m working. Are you buying that cord or not?”
“Look, I met a man who made me and the kids feel so loved. He made me sell our home and live with him. I —”
“I don’t care, Gerri. Slither back to him if you like.” On the desk, the laptop began rebooting itself without a hitch.
“I can’t; he kicked me out for a younger model. Me and the kids live in a two-bedroom flat now. You can visit them if you like.” Gerri delved into her handbag and produced her phone. “What’s your number? I’ll text the —” Red smoke started issuing from her phone.
“What about the restraining order?” Rupert turned his back and smiled at the Jinn.
“Oh, don’t worry, Ruppy. I’ll have it lifted for you.” Gerri swore at her phone. “Can you fix this?”
“No, it’s fried.” Rupert hid a smirk.
“Shame. Please, Ruppy. Me and the kids really need you.” Gerri scratched her nose.
Rupert watched her scratching it for a long few moments. “Got an itch?” he asked as she scratched again.
“Yeah, a really bad one.” Gerri continued to rub at her reddening nose.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t lie then.” Rupert put the repaired laptop away. “You’re not ruining my life twice. However, if you agree to lift the restraining order, I’d love to spend time with the kids again. Maybe I could have them come to my place once in a while too. Beyond that, goodbye, Gerri,” Rupert decided to leave his desk and get away from her.
“But, Ruppy. I still love you and we can get back together.” Gerri put her hand on his shoulder as he came around the counter.
“No, you love money. Goodbye.” Rupert shrugged her off and walked into the first aisle.
“But I love you, Rupargh!”
Rupert spun on the spot in time to see smoke erupt from Gerri’s skirt. She leapt about a foot in the air, screamed and fled the shop at top speed. “Jinn, what did you do?” Rupert asked with a little glee about him.
 “She was a dirty rotten liar. So, I set her pants on fire.” The Jinn said it without emotion but couldn’t stop his face lighting up with a big grin. He hadn’t done that in a while.
“Thanks, Jinn. Shame she left without paying for that USB cord.” Rupert burst out laughing as he headed for the canteen.
“Well, she’s dealt with. You have a new, happy life. My work here is done.” The Jinn looked pleased with himself walking along the tops of computer screens on the shelf.
“I want to thank you for your help. You allowed me to get a decent life back. To get my confidence and smile back. I’m eternally grateful to you for that.” Rupert said.
“Don’t be, you did it. I just gave you some information and an idea. You did the hard work while I had a little fun. Remember this to everyone you meet, ‘Anyone can do anything if they just work hard enough to achieve it.’” The Jinn levitated into the air. “It’s been fun, Rupert.”
“It has, good—” Rupert smiled. The Jinn had vanished in a shower of red glitter. Shaking his head with a grin, Rupert left for a sandwich. He was going to keep working, he had his eyes on the general manager's chair now.

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