Um, read Part 1 first. Obviously.
The Wish Architect: Part 2 (written 2007; revised 2011)
That night, Noah decided not to return to his flat. Instead, he spent the evening inside his lamp, his body pressed up against the cool metal, his mind drifting in perfect solitude. In the dead of night, he ignored all protocol and appeared, unsummoned, from his lamp. Emerging in Terrence’s house, he wandered around in search of a cup of tea.
“Moab!” boomed the voice of his boss, accosting Noah by the photocopier.
“Hello, sir,” said Noah, shaking the older man’s hand. To his consternation, his boss also seemed to be growing a beard.
“Moses, my boy, sorry to hear about your client and all, but I believe this leaves you with some extra time on your hands?”
“Well sir, I actually have a lot of paperwork that I need to –”
“Excellent!” said his boss. “We have a young girl from a local school who would like to interview a Wish Architect. I thought you’d be an excellent subject for her. She’s waiting in reception.”
“Ah yes, well… ok, sir. What’s the name of the school?”
“Let me see now. No, can’t remember for the life of me. I think it contains the word ‘school’.”
“I see, sir.”
“Well, keep up the good work, Jose.”
Noah fought the urge to grind his teeth. He could feel another headache coming on.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Archer,” said the girl, taking the seat that Noah had offered her. He sat down behind his desk and smiled at her. She was small and wide-eyed, with long, blonde pigtails.
“That’s no problem,” Noah told her. “Sorry my cubicle isn’t very big.”
“That’s ok, Mr. Archer.”
“Please, call me Noah. And what’s your name?”
“I’m Jenny, Mr. Archer,” said the girl.
Noah laughed. “What can I do for you, Jenny?”
The girl glanced down at her notepad.
“What’s the difference between a genie and a Wish Architect?” she asked.
Noah thought for a while. “Well, Jenny, I guess they’re kind of the same thing, but most of us like being called Wish Architects, because if you say genie, people think of the wrong sort of thing.”
“Well, they expect us to live in our lamps, for a start,” Noah said. “Which we usually don’t. And they think of us as prisoners, which we find very insulting, because it’s our job. They also expect us to wear turbans all the time.”
“But you do!” said the little girl.
“Indeed,” said Noah, biting his lower lip. “Believe me, that wasn’t my decision. But not all companies require their employees to wear the full genie costume. Many Wish Architects get to dress in suits.”
“Is it a good job?” asked the girl.
“Well,” said Noah, “I guess so, as long as you don’t suffer from claustrophobia. You get to help other people. But it’s not rich and it’s not glamorous, so don’t make that mistake. I live in a very small flat all by myself. Also, you have to be permanently on-call when you have a client and they really don’t tell you about all the paperwork before you sign up.”
He watched as the girl hurriedly wrote in her notepad. After some time, she looked back up at him.
“Why did you want to become a Wish Architect, Mr. Archer?”
“I remember my teacher asking me that,” said Noah slowly. “This was a long time ago. We were alone in his classroom and he asked me why I wanted to become a genie.”
“And what did you say?”
Noah hesitated, then forced a laugh. “I said I didn’t know.”
The girl giggled. “Who was your first person?” she asked.
“You mean my first client?”
The girl nodded.
“It was someone called Jerry Goodman,” began Noah, staring intently at his desk as he remembered. “He wished for his life to be perfect. I said that his wish wasn’t precise enough but he told me to improvise. I was young and eager to help, so I did – even though you’re not supposed to grant wishes unless you’re crystal clear on the details. You have to fill out forms afterwards, you see.”
“Oh, I gave him everything. Perfect health, a ridiculous amount of money, a great…”
“A great what, Mr. Archer?”
Noah lowered his voice. “Um, a great sex life? Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, of course, Mr. Archer. I’m not eight.”
“Of course not. Well anyway, I gave him a great sex life, made him famous. Everything.”
“And was he happy?”
Noah scratched his beard. “No, Jenny. I don’t think he was ever happy.”
“Do people often wish for a great sex life, Mr. Archer?”
“Um, we should probably talk about something else,” said Noah.
They talked for a while about something else. Occasionally Noah would wait patiently while Jenny returned to furiously scribbling in her notepad. Eventually she closed it and stretched out her hand. Noah shook it, smiling.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Archer,” she said again.
“You’re very welcome,” Noah replied. “Are you thinking of becoming a Wish Architect?”
She shrugged. “Maybe.”
“How old did you say you were?” he asked, as Jenny stood up to leave.
The girl smiled at him. “I’m nine,” she said.
After Jenny had left, Noah spent a long time staring at the cubicle walls. It dawned on him that it wasn’t much different from being inside a lamp.
“It wouldn’t be very comfortable,” said The Beard. “Think of living inside a lamp.”
“I just want to help people, I guess,” said Noah. He looked at the floor. “You know, I want to make people happy.”
“But would you be happy, Noah?”
Noah shrugged. The Beard stroked its unruly mane.
“Noah, being in a lamp would be like being in a womb. You know what a womb is?”
“Yes, sir,” said Noah. “But don’t babies like being in the womb?”
“For a time,” agreed The Beard. “But eventually they have to face life outside. They can’t stay in their womb forever. It’s not an escape.”
“What would it be an escape from?” asked Noah, but The Beard had turned into Terrence, and he was forced to run from the blood.
“How’s your case going?” asked Noah, when he met Lucy in the lobby on his way home.
“I convinced her to wish for all her cats to live as long as her,” Lucy said, rolling her eyes. “I call that progress.” She pulled her fingers through her long, flowing hair. “Two more wishes and maybe I’ll get someone interesting next time. My back is seriously hurting though. I swear they’ve changed the dimensions of my lamp.”
The two of them walked through the large, revolving doors, out of the building, and onto the street.
“Did I ever tell you about Jerry Goodman?” asked Noah, as he dodged a large pedestrian.
“I don’t think so.”
“He was my first client. His very first wish – my very first wish – he asked for perfection.”
“What happened?” asked Lucy, her fingers brushing lightly against Noah’s arm as the two of them walked slowly down the street.
“I tried to give it to him. I really did. I gave him everything I thought he wanted.”
“And he shot himself in the head with a pistol.”
Lucy gazed at him silently, as if unsure what to say.
“It’s something that humans never seem to learn,” she began softly, watching him carefully. “That happiness isn’t a set of external conditions. It isn’t something you can find outside of yourself.”
Noah turned to her, his face suddenly etched in frustration. “Then what’s the point of my job?” he asked, his voice barely audible amidst the city’s rush hour.
They had stopped in the middle of the street, only vaguely aware of the stream of people flowing past them. Noah clenched his fists tightly together.
“I can’t make them happy,” he whispered, a note of desperation in his voice. “I can’t work out what they need.”
Evening was falling on the city skyline as Lucy hugged him silently. He leaned against her, his eyes stinging, and tried to blink away the tears.
Noah awoke, disoriented, in the middle of the night. He rubbed his eyes sleepily and rolled over so he could see his bedside table. His mug of unfinished tea sat idly by the glowing alarm clock. His first panicked thought was that it was one in the afternoon and he had horribly overslept. Shortly, he calmed down, collecting his thoughts in the eerie stillness that was only noticeable at night. It was bitterly dark and clearly very early in the morning. He rolled over again, confused, and closed his eyes. On the verge of falling asleep, a horrible thought occurred to him. His eyes snapped open and he sat bolt upright, listening intently. The eerie stillness was not quite as still as he had imagined. At the very edge of his hearing was a quiet, persistent vibration. He leaped out of bed and scrambled for his backpack. Inside, his pager was flashing silently.
“Oh, shit!” he said, out loud.
He flicked on the light switch and dived frantically for his wardrobe, squinting through the haze of sudden brightness. His foot smashed itself into the side of his bed, and, swearing furiously, he hopped around the room, trying despairingly to pull on his satin trousers. Smoke would continue to billow from his lamp for a good five minutes – hopefully keeping his new client in a state of general bewilderment – but if it cleared and he had failed to appear, the consequences would be dire. He took a deep breath and tried to gather his thoughts. He had not expected this at all. How on earth did anyone find my lamp so quickly? he wondered, as he vanished in a cloud of smoke.
He appeared, half-naked, floating under a starry sky. He scrambled to pull on his shirt and turban, acutely aware that he was far from the image of Arabic mystique that his company was trying to cultivate. Peering out from the dissipating clouds, he realised he was, once more, in a garden, with a woman kneeling on the icy ground.
“Good morning, Mistress!” he cried, throwing his hands into the air elaborately. “I have come to grant you three wish –”
He faltered, suddenly overwhelmed by the growing feeling of déjà-vu. He was back in Terrence’s garden, in an almost identical position to his previous appearance. The woman in front of him was now rubbing her eyes and staggering to her feet, just as Terrence had done. As he stared at her in confusion, his eyes became accustomed to the gloomy conditions and he knew, instantly, that he must be dreaming. Awkwardly, Lucy returned his stare.
“Um, Lucy?” was all Noah could say as he waited to wake up.
She smiled wanly at him. “Hi, Noah. Do you want to come down?”
He floated slowly to the ground. “I’m dreaming, right?”
“I’m afraid not. I’m really sorry, but you seemed so upset earlier, I wanted to help you.”
Noah continued to stare at her so she continued.
“I couldn’t sleep so I came to your client’s house to rescue your lamp. I was just going to move it somewhere more useful, you know, so you could find a new client more quickly.” She gave a short, humourless laugh. “I didn’t mean for you to find one this quickly though.”
“Why did you –”
“It was an accident! I fell over. Look at all the ice trapped in this crazy paving! No wonder your client died!”
“Terrence,” said Noah quietly. “His name was Terrence.”
Lucy nodded her head. “No wonder Terrence died,” she repeated. “Anyway, I must have accidentally rubbed your lamp when I fell. I’m really sorry.”
Noah looked at the house, tucked away in the darkness. Beyond it, a brooding cluster of trees surveyed him carefully and, on the horizon, the silhouettes of countless buildings rose out of the void, reaching for the pale night sky. When he spoke, his breath, like his lamp, formed clouds in the freezing air.
“As I was saying…” he began, clearing his voice. “Good morning, Mistress! I have come to grant you three wishes! Terms and Conditions apply!”
Lucy laughed. “Shut up, Noah,” she said.
“I’m serious, Lucy,” Noah said, walking towards her. “If you consult the regulations, you’ll find that you are, in fact, my new mistress, whether you meant to rub the lamp or not.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Lucy. “Genies aren’t allowed their own genies. You know that.”
“I’m not a genie,” said Noah shortly. “I’m a Wish Architect.”
“They’re the same thing!” said Lucy tiredly. “Look, Noah. I’m really sorry but I’m also very cold and very tired. We both just need to go back to bed.”
Noah ignored her and floated back into the air. “What is your first wish, mistress?” he asked, raising his arms.
“What is your first wish, mistress?” he repeated stubbornly.
“Noah, just shut up!” Lucy replied forcefully.
Noah glared at her. “What do you want?” he shouted. His voice reverberated through the night, shattering the crystal silence. In the distance, a dog began to bark.
Lucy stared at him, as angry as Noah had ever seen her.
“What do you want, Noah?” she shouted back.
Noah stared at her, startled by the question. He took a deep breath. “I want people to start using me properly! I want people to stop wasting their lives wishing for crap! I want people to – ”
“Noah!” shouted Lucy, cutting him off. “What do you want?”
Noah returned to standing in the snow. When Lucy spoke again, her voice was gentle.
“Do you remember yesterday?” she asked. “What I said, about happiness? I was saying it to you! It’s not that you can’t make other people happy. You can’t make yourself happy! For once in your life, Noah, think about it. What do you want?”
The air was still bitterly cold and yet, somehow, Noah felt warm. In the distance, the dog continued to bark, but its growls were lost amidst his thoughts. The sky was beautiful, completely cloudless, devoid of the smoke that would pour from his lamp. It was wonderfully, perfectly clear.
Noah half-closed his eyes as the clouds lifted from his mind. He looked at Lucy with sudden clarity.
Lucy smiled at him. “What do you want, Noah?” she asked.
He looked at her in wonderment. “You know the genie in Aladdin?” he laughed, throwing his turban on the ground. “I want what he wanted. I want to quit my job.”
Lucy giggled. “You always did love that film,” she said.
In the middle of winter, in the depths of the night, Noah Archer stood, surrounded by snow, wearing nothing but satin pyjamas.
“Thank you,” he said simply.
The girl he loved smiled at him. “So what now?” she asked. “Is that all? Can I go home?”
“Not quite,” said Noah.
He pulled her close and kissed her. Her lips were warm as she kissed him back.
The turban, already forgotten, was carried down the street by the wind.