"I am counting to 50," the girl cried.
André ran to hide.
He was ten years old and he spent his vacations at the beach with his parents and Fotini, his six-year-old sister. They were playing in the dunes this morning. They were with a group of friends of around their own age who they'd met quite by accident on the beach. They were playing hide-and-seek.
So, while the girls counted, André went as quickly as possible to find a good hiding spot. He saw a hollow in the dune, jumped in the sand, let himself roll for a moment and then froze.
When you play this game, once you think you're out of sight, you don't move and you observe what's around you. André discovered a den of some kind, a fox or rabbit hole, among the beach grass that danced in the wind. In the half-light, at the bottom, something was shining.
Curious, André went closer on all fours. He saw a globe the size of a mandarin orange. He stretched his arm down and carefully reached with his fingers until he could grab it and pull it out into the broad light of day.
The globe seemed to be made of glass or crystal. It was very light. It seemed hollow. He could see that inside it there was a great deal of silver-coloured thread all in a tangle. He thought it was pretty so he slid it into his pocket and went back to play with the others.
That evening, he had dinner and took a shower. It wasn't until he was in bed that André remembered the globe. He got up, took his shorts and fished it out of the pocket. His room in this holiday rental was very cramped. He put the globe on the table. The curtains were closed. It was dark in the room. The boy went back to bed.
Suddenly, he noticed a light or, I should say, a glow. He sat up in bed. It was coming from the globe. It was completely lit up, like an electric bulb. But, of course, there was no wire that connected it to an electrical socket.
He was more than a little curious, fascinated really. Our friend got up and went closer. He was about to touch the globe when the silver threads started to move slowly on their own. They made themselves into a shape that looked like the number one, then into a two, a three and so on up until the number thirty-three. At that moment, a thick brown smoke came out of the globe and rose up to the ceiling.
André, a little scared, backed away. The plume of smoke divided into two, that separated, then interwove with each other, and finally, above the globe, formed into the face of a man.
The boy thought of Aladdin's lamp and the genie that showed himself to the fisherman. The face that appeared looked to be like someone from India, and the face was thin with a pointed goatee. Two dark eyes now looked over our friend, who kept quiet, at once curious and afraid.
"Hello," André murmured, between clenched teeth.
"Don't be afraid. I am perfectly friendly. I am a wizard, a fakir. A terrible monster trapped me in that globe. But you found it and, for that, you have become my master."
The boy didn't say anything.
"You don't seem to understand. I am a wizard, a fakir. I will make anything you ask happen. You can ask for anything. I will obey you and your wish will be granted. However, pay careful attention. You cannot talk about me to anyone. And no one can see or hear me."
"That won't be easy," André said quietly. "With the smoke and your giant head."
"That won't last long. Starting tomorrow, all you need to do is to rub the globe ... maybe you can keep it hidden in your pocket ... and then you speak your wish quietly. I will make it come true. What is your name?"
"André," the boy said very softly.
"Very good, André. I want to become your friend. You can call me Fakirami."
The boy didn't say anything. He thought he was dreaming.
"So there we are," Fakirami continued. "We've started to get to know each other. Don't you want something tonight, before going to sleep?"
"No," our friend answered, a bit overwhelmed. "I don't need anything. Well, if you had a candy, I wouldn't say no."
"Perfect. I will make your wish come true."
Fakirami's face disappeared into the globe, the smoke too. It all went dark.
André started to wonder if he had just been dreaming. Then he turned towards his bed. He saw that it was covered with a layer of several inches of chocolates, caramels, hard candy of all colours and all kinds, gum, marshmallows, everything he could want.
He had to use both hands to push a good amount of it onto the floor to make room so he could get back into bed himself.
From this day on, André's life was different. He could ask the wizard for whatever he wanted at any time, day or night. All of his wishes were granted.
"Fakirami, I want a Zorro costume."
He obeyed right away.
"Fakirami, I'm thirsty. Give me some lemonade."
A glass of lemonade appeared in his hand just like that.
"My ball just rolled into the ocean and the waves are carrying it away. Bring it back to me."
The ball left the water and returned to his feet.
"My little sister Fotini would like that doll that she saw in the store."
The doll appeared in André's arms so he could give it to his little sister. He loved her a lot.
"Fakirami, my friends and I are thirsty. Get us each a big vanilla and chocolate ice cream.
A dozen vanilla and chocolate ice cream cones soon appeared and André handed them out to his friends. They were a bit curious, a bit surprised, but also happy. His vacations went by like a dream.
The school year too.
André was starting grade five. Fakirami did his homework, helped him in his classes by whispering him all the answers. With the globe resting on his desk at school, the boy barely had to move his lips and the text from the dictation would correct itself and the calculation was done on its own.
Our friend became a perfect student. Ten out of ten, twenty out of twenty, a hundred out of a hundred. No fraction, no calculation, no dictation, even the most difficult, was too hard for the wizard to do.
The year went by, as much a dream as could be. And then the summer vacations came around again. Once more, he found some friends and played a long time with them, on the sand of the beach and in the dunes.
On day, as before, André was running very fast. They were having a good game of tag. The boy caught his foot on a root and rolled down the dune. He ended up back down on the beach. He got back to his feet and kept running because the person who was "it" was coming after him. A few minutes later, he realized that the pocket of his shorts was empty. Fakirami’s globe must have fallen out when he took the tumble down the dune. His friend had disappeared.
"Faki…" André murmured.
But he put his hand over his mouth and stopped himself from speaking, just in time. He had to keep his secret. His awful secret.
"Hey guys, you know that globe I always have on me? I lost it. C'mon. Help me find it. Be nice."
They all went back to the place where the boy had rolled in the sand down the dune.
But the wind was blowing and Fakirami's globe had fallen into a hollow and had been covered in sand. It was now invisible.
André returned to the house, desperate. Noticing his distress, his parents wanted to help him. His dad very kindly accompanied him back to the dunes after dinner, flashlight in hand, to look some more. Unfortunately, the sky became overcast and a violent storm broke out. They had to return to the house.
"If you like," his dad offered, "we can go to the big toy store tomorrow and you can pick out whatever you like."
But another globe would never have a friendly wizard inside. The boy understood that he'd never again receive another gift from Fakirami.
More than that, for a few months now, it wasn't really the fact that someone did his homework, explained his lessons or gave him gifts that interested André. Quite simply, he was happy to have a friend with him, this friend, at the bottom of his pocket. His happiness came from feeling his friend close by, from being able to talk to him and have him at his side. That was what he liked the most. As ever, the friendship wasn't anything more than a fantastic exchange of looks, being part of an ongoing conversation, and having secrets with someone.
That very night, the storm continued beating upon the coast. The wind blew powerfully upon the ocean. The powerful waves were high and the trough between them deep. One, stronger than the others, crashed upon the shore, covering it with its wash. It reached the place where Fakirami had been lost. As it drained back into the ocean, it carried the globe into the eye of the storm.
Oddly, despite its weight, it didn't sink to the bottom of the sea. It stayed, as though undecided, between the two waters.
A fish, quite big, but particularly greedy, opened its jaws as large as possible and swallowed the globe. This fish soon found itself caught in a fisherman's net. Despite the storm, the fisherman had courageously set out to sea to try to catch something nice that morning.
The next day it rained from dawn to dusk. On the coast, often when it rains for a full day, it will keep on raining the next one. André's parents suggested to their two children that they go down to the port to watch the fishing boats come in.
"Maybe," Mom added, "we can take advantage of being here and buy a few nice fish for dinner tonight."
André and his little sister Fotini watched the sailors unloading their catch from the boats. Suddenly, one of them set a large crate on a stall in front of Mom and the two kids. The fishmonger, whose stall it was, advised André's mom on what the best cuts of fish would be for lunch and for dinner, some cod.
"Okay," she replied. "I'll buy them from you, ma'am."
When the fishmonger tried to cut the codfish in two, her knife met with a strange resistance, a zone that was tough to cut. She got out a saw but still wasn't able to gut the fish. She scaled the underside of the codfish and was very surprised to find a globe with silver threads, there, inside the belly of the fish.
A little boy was hanging around the fishmonger. She called him and gave him the globe. André, left his dad and mom there with the excuse that he needed to stretch his legs. He followed the boy along the docks of the port.
"Can you give it to me?"
"Nee," the boy replied. (He spoke some other language.)
"Please," our friend insisted. "It belongs to me. I lost it yesterday. The fish must have swallowed it."
The son of the fishmonger shrugged his shoulders.
"If you give me back the globe," André promised, "I'll give you the most wonderful gift you've ever had in your life. You can ask for anything at all and you'll have it."
André expected that Fakirami would grant his wish, of course.
The boy looked at the globe for a moment. He turned it so the sun reflected on it. Then, he decided that it was ugly and threw it into the water beside the docks and ran away.
André leaned over the edge of the dock. The water glistened with a sheen of oil. Between the hulls of the boats floated dead fish and lumps of rotten fruit.
If he had known how to swim better, I really believe that our friend would have leaped into the dirty water to get Fakirami back before returning to his parents. But he had never really learned to swim properly.
The outgoing tide carried Fakirami's globe slowly towards the big bridge that crossed the mouth of the river. André understood that he wouldn't get another chance to recover his friend.
As it was, coming across him a second time seemed to him like a series of unbelievable coincidences. He had to do something.
The globe was floating gently in the current. It was going to pass under the bridge. It would disappear into the ocean forever, taking Fakirami with it. André climbed up onto the railing of the bridge and waited there.
When he saw the globe reappear, he gathered up all his courage and, forgetting all caution, jumped, holding his hands out towards his friend. He held onto the globe in the cold water and cried out:
"Fakirami, get me out of here. I don't really know how to swim."
He found himself back on the beach.
His wet and dirty clothes made him shiver but he held the globe with his friend in his hands.
"Fakirami, dry me off quickly. I'm cold."
André's clothes became dry in a second. He ran to find his parents.
"Ah! You got your globe back," Mom said. "That's good. Come on, we're going back to the house."
His parents had no clue of their son's big secret and so they didn't understand why he'd been so unhappy or why he was happy again now.
That evening, André put the globe on his bedside table, before going to sleep. Now, for the first time in a year, it lit up all on its own. The numbers, made by the silver threads, slowly counted up from one to thirty-three. The smoke came out, divided in two and Fakirami's face reappeared.
"I didn't call you," André murmured.
"That's true," the wizard replied. "But I must speak to you. You lost me."
"Yes," the boy agreed. "But I found you again. You don't want to be my friend anymore?"
"Yes," Fakirami responded. "I still am and will always be your friend. I will continue to do everything you ask of me but, from now on, there's a risk that people will see or hear me when we talk. I will have to come out of the globe for each of your wishes. Still, no one can see me, no one can hear me, and you must never speak of me to anyone. If someone sees me or hears me, or if you talk about me to someone, it will result in a great ordeal for you. Be careful ... find a place to hide before summoning me."
The handsome face of the wizard disappeared into the globe, as well as the smoke. The light went out.
Life continued happily for André. When he asked for a favour from his friend, he hid behind a wall, behind a hedge or lay flat on his belly in the dunes or behind some furniture at the house. Fakirami came out of the globe, granted his wish, and then returned to his container.
The boy couldn't use his friend in class, of course. Everyone would have seen and heard him. But at home, it was still possible to get his help with his homework and with studying, if they were careful about it.
That day, André was working on his homework. Fakirami's globe rested on the desk, lit up by the desk lamp. The fakir, quite visible, explained a calculation that our friend didn't understand.
But our friend had not properly closed the door to his room. It was a little ajar. Fotini, his little sister, went by in the hallway. She heard a voice that she knew wasn't her brother's. Curious as any little girl might be, she pushed open the door and saw the wizard's face.
"Who is that man?"
The two children heard a sound like a crack of thunder and Fakirami disappeared.
André turned around and shouted at his sister that she was a nosy brat and that she had no business coming into his room. She started to cry. Mom came in. André broke into tears himself, quite sure that he'd lost his friend for good. His body shook as he thought of the ordeal he'd been told about. Through his tears, the boy recounted the whole story of his friend, now vanished.
That evening, the globe lit up once again. André's was excited. He hurried over to it. The numbers counted up from one to thirty-three. The smoke emerged and divided in two. But now, a long snake appeared instead of Fakirami. André backed away, terrified. The snake whispered:
"Don't be afraid. I have been sent by the wizard. Listen carefully. There's still a chance to get your friend back, to find him again, but you'll need some above-average courage. Tomorrow morning, on the way to school, you'll see a white cat on the sidewalk. It'll have been sent by Fakirami. Follow this cat, even if it leads you very far from home, and try to stoke its head three times.
The snake disappeared, followed by the smoke. Then the globe itself vanished.
The next morning, our friend left for school. He saw the cat and ran after it, to stoke its head. But the cat kept its distance. Each time that André ran, the cat also ran. Each time that the boy walked, the cat walked. When André stopped, it stopped. It went on like this all day. The animal led our friend out of the village. By evening, tired and hungry, André was finally able to touch the head of the cat and to stoke it.
"Excuse me for having made you walk so much. I have been sent by the wizard. I brought you here because I had to. You see that house, near the woods over there?”
André had left the village a while ago and found himself on a dirt road in the middle of a farmer's field.
"Knock on the door. They'll welcome you in. You can sleep there. Tomorrow morning, go into the forest, following the dirt road, over there, to the right. You'll get to the edge of a large river. You must cross it. If you search a little, you'll find a small boat. Get in it."
And the cat disappeared.
Our friend went up to the house. He knocked on the door, at first gingerly and then with more energy. A voice, a little grating, a little high-pitched, told him to enter. He opened the door. A disgusting smell filled his nostrils. It was filthy in the house and the terrible smell was inescapable. A woman dressed all in black, like a witch, with a cantankerous and grouchy attitude asked him what he wanted.
"I was told I could sleep here tonight."
"Very well, go upstairs. You'll see a room. Sleep there."
André thanked her. He mounted the narrow wooden staircase and opened the only door there was on the landing. He found himself in an empty room, cold and dirty. He could only see a little straw on the floor.
The boy sat against the wall, near a window that was covered in dust and cobwebs. He was hungry. He hoped that maybe, if he asked, this woman might give him something to eat.
He got up and went down the stairs.
"Excuse me, ma'am. Please, would you happen to have anything to eat? I'm so hungry."
"On top of it all, I have to feed you too?" the woman answered. "What a nuisance! Fine, sit yourself down."
The boy pulled himself up to the table. The woman brought him a crust of bread.
"Take it and go back up and sleep."
The crust of bread was as hard as a rock. In places, it was green with mould. André, though he was hungrier than he could believe, could only gnaw two or three times at it before he put it to the side. He lay down against the wooden wall. He felt quite alone, far from his home, far from his parents but above all far from his friend. He felt tears falling onto his cheeks. Quietly, he said,
"Fakirami, my friend, where are you? I want to see you again. I feel so alone and so far from you."
He fell asleep.
The next day, he woke before dawn. His stomach growled with hunger. He got up, quietly went down the stairs and left the house without asking for anything more. He followed the dirt road into the forest. It was a bit muddy here and there and led him quickly to the edge of a large river.
A bit further on, he discovered a small dingy tied to a tree along the shoreline. Our friend untied the knot, climbed aboard, and sat down. The boat left the bank and floated towards the middle of the river.
Just then, André noticed there were no oars. Oddly enough, the rowboat headed upstream against the flow of the water instead of drifting with the current. The ride on the water lasted till noon.
As the boat drew alongside the other bank, water started to pool at the bottom of the hull. It had sprung a leak. As we've seen, our friend did not know how to swim very well and so jumped to the shore. The rowboat disappeared just like that.
The boy set off following a path leading up towards a high mountain that he could see from afar. Along the way, he picked a few blueberries to stave off his hunger a little.
When he arrived at the foot of the mountain, late that afternoon, he found a curious statue. It was of a man who seemed to be showing something, with his finger pointing to the horizon. Looking more carefully, André could see that the statue was indicating the peak of the mountain itself.
"Are you a friend of Fakirami?" he asked.
The stone statue did not answer.
André walked away. When he came back, the statue had disappeared.
He then followed a path that climbed the mountain and led to the peak. The sun was setting.
The boy saw that it wasn't a mountain like the others, but a volcano. The ground there was made up of large black rocks and hardened lava. At the bottom of an immense hollow crater was a lake. No paths led down there but André made his way by sliding from rock to rock. For his efforts, he got a bit scratched up.
Finally, he came to the opening of a cave. He took three steps and then stopped. The snake that had come out of Fakirami's globe the night before last, before leaving home, came to greet him.
"Well done. You've come. Your courage is inspiring. You must now go into this cave. It's slippery so be careful. Inside, you will encounter snakes and other frightening creatures, such as spiders, scorpions, giant bees, bloodsucking mosquitoes. The heat will be suffocating. At the end, you will find a gigantic cavern. At the centre of this, there is a lake of boiling water. Above all, do not touch the water. You'll be terribly burned."
Our friend listened with rapt attention, not a little shocked.
"You'll see a little island in the middle of the lake. On this island grows a horrible monster, Fakirami's captor. I say that it grows there because its feet and legs are two trees and its body takes the form of a giant red beating heart. It has a hundred arms, like branches. Finally, on top of all of that, you'll see a head that looks just like a human head. It can turn it around and around, like a top. I don't really know if this monster is plant or animal. A hybrid being certainly."
"How horrible," André murmured.
"Its legs are made up of tree trunks, including roots," the snake repeated. "So it can't walk or run. Still, there, on the ground, between the two trunks, is the globe that you must get back if you want to find your friend. Be careful of the monster's hundred arms. Each of them has a poisonous hand."
The snake stopped talking, then it added:
"To help you, I will give you a magic sword."
The snake then opened its mouth and, quite literally, vomited out a long sword. It came out between the snake's fangs, with wisps of smoke rising off it.
"There you go. Take this finely sharpened weapon. It will cut all and everything. When you find Fakirami, if you can summon up the courage, you must say a magic word. You must say exactly the opposite of Fakirami, in other words 'imarikaf'. Don't forget that," the snake emphasized. Good luck!"
And the snake disappeared.
André picked up the sword. It was heavy. To test it, he struck a rock. It split in two. So, with this mighty weapon, he plunged deeper into the cave.
The boy advanced into the half darkness. The first cave, horrible and frightening, terrorized him. The threads of the giant spider's webs brushed his face and froze him with fear.
The cavern went deeper, becoming a long, windy and, above all, dark corridor. The boy felt his heart pounding harder and harder in his chest. He gripped the sword in his two hands. He passed many strangely coloured snakes, giant insects that buzzed around his ears, creatures covered in spikes, all of which fled at the sight of his sword. Still, one of these beasts managed to scratch him on the arm.
For Fakirami, and for him alone, the boy, hungry, tired, terrified, continued his descent towards the hellish place where his friend was still imprisoned. When we have a friend, we go the distance, we try the impossible to help them.
Soon he arrived, covered in sweat from the stifling heat, and found himself standing before the boiling lake. Sixty feet from him, was a little island with this frightening monster, half tree, half human, planted right in the middle. André saw the globe between the two trunks that were its legs. He saw the red heart of the monster beating. He would have to pierce it with his sword. But how could this be done?
He could see nothing that would serve as a boat. It was impossible to swim; the water was boiling! While he was standing there on the shore, the monster’s arms reached out to touch our friend. Each time one got too close, he cut off the end with a swipe of his sword. When its hand was cut off, the arm fell onto the boiling water and stayed floating on the surface.
André struck, cut, cut again and again. The one hundred arms of the monster fell at his feet. They formed into a heap, half flesh, half wood, and became a natural bridge over the boiling water. Now, summoning up all his courage, the boy slipped the sword into his belt and walked carefully onto this makeshift bridge and crossed the water. Finally, he managed to set foot on the solid ground of the island.
He drew his sword again, advanced towards the monster that screeched horribly and regarded him with burning eyes. He planted the sword straight into its heart. A black blood, gooey like the slime of a slug, spread over the ground. The organ stopped beating and died.
André grabbed Fakirami's globe in his hands and tried to remember the magic word.
Do you remember what it was?
"Imarikaf," our friend spoke, closing his eyes as he clenched the globe firmly in his hand.
He found himself in his room at home. His parents had been worried and anxious after their son had been missing for two days. They were now so happy to see him again. The wizard soon came out of the globe and stood before Dad, Mom and Andre's sister Fotini. André watched, surprised and a bit worried.
"Hello André, my courageous friend," said Fakirami. "You are now my only master. You have killed the monster who had once trapped me in that globe. You can talk about me to whomsoever you like. You can introduce me to all of your friends. You have no risk of losing me.
The boy smiled, very happy to have gotten his friend back. His parents finally understood where the string of gifts he'd been giving all year had come from.
One evening, the globe lit up all by itself and the numbers from one to 33 formed. The wizard appeared in the middle of the two plumes of smoke.
"I want to explain something to you. You know that I haven't always lived in this globe. I am a fakir, an Indian wizard. I used to live there, on the other side of the world, in my country, India. I don't want you to feel you have to, but I would be very happy to see my family, my friends, my village. It's not much fun to live in a globe, where I was a prisoner. So, there it is. Do as you like. But if you think, one day, you could free me ..."
"I'd be happy to," André replied, always generous.
"Listen closely to me," Fakirami continued. "If you free me, this globe will become a globe like any other. I won't be able to give you gifts any longer. Or explain your homework. I won't be able to do anything more for you. I will live on the other side of the world, in my own country. You'll remember me and I'll remember you. Only our friendship will last. Think hard on this."
That night he could hardly sleep. He sat on his bed. Now and again, he'd get up, go to the window, or pace up and down the length of his room. On one hand, he'd receive all he could ever wish for. All he had to do was to ask Fakirami. And, then, above all, he liked his presence, his closeness. But on the other hand, wasn't he keeping a friend locked up as a prisoner? A friend should live free. So, at the first light of day, André said quietly:
"I want to give you your freedom. What do I have to do?"
"Easy. You just have to say, 'Fakirami, you are free.' But before you say these words, I want to give you one last gift. I will choose it for once. Every night, when you've been generous, kind, and courageous, the globe will light up slowly. You'll know then that, in my country, on the other side of the world, I'll be notified and I'll think of you. You'll feel, at the bottom of your heart, a great happiness, the happiness of having been as good as you can be that day."
"Thank you," André said quietly. "What a great gift! We will always be friends. Goodbye, Fakirami."
"Fakirami, you are free."
Slowly, the handsome face of the wizard disappeared and the smoke dissolved. For the first time since it was created, the silver threads in the globe counted the numbers down from 33 to one. Then the light went out and the threads never moved again.
From that morning on, each time that André had a day of honest and generous friendship, when he helped his friends and acted well, that evening, Fakirami's globe would light up to his great delight. The boy was very happy to know that his friend knew it, all the way on the other side of the world.
You too, in your heart of hearts, you have a sort of magic globe, like Fakirami's. It lights up when you are a kind and generous boy or girl.
I hope that, after having read this story, the globe of Fakirami in your heart lights up for you all the evenings of your life.
Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton