Isabelle and Jason generally agreed that the main reason for going to the local flea market was to people-watch. They admitted the place sold unique items, but they couldn’t get past their grandmother’s assertion that flea markets were called that for a reason. They were definitely leery of any second-hand merchandise, which was annoying since they liked that kind of thing anywhere else. Then again, the point was probably moot anyway, since two grad students like them couldn’t afford to do much more than look.
Their new roommate Nesrin, however, loved flea markets. It wasn’t so much the stuff at the flea market she liked, just the general look and atmosphere of the place itself. Periodically she would go just to walk around and see what she could find, and this time she’d dragged Isabelle and Jason along to get them out of the apartment.
They were in what could loosely be called the food court. Isabelle and Jason were sitting across from each other at a bench while Nesrin went to get an ear of roasted corn. Isabelle was watching Nesrin move forward in line. She was standing by the open side of the building, and Isabelle was trying to get a glimpse of her in sunlight.
She leaned closer to Jason. “Have you noticed that Nesrin doesn’t really have a shadow?”
“Of course she does; she has to.”
“Barely has one, then. I saw it when we were out on the balcony the other day. Her shadow is way lighter than ours, and blurrier. I didn’t pay it a lot of attention until we got out of the car here, but I happened to see it and I swear it didn’t even have a human shape. I mean it did, but all weird, like everything was out of proportion.”
“Shadows always look weird. It just depends where the light source is.”
“Yeah, but it still should’ve looked vaguely like ours. This wasn’t even close.”
“I mean, she is a professional illusionist. Maybe it’s some kind of trick.”
Isabelle crinkled her eyebrows and held a hand out. “Why would she disguise her shadow when she’s not on stage?”
Jason saw Nesrin coming back and mouthed “Ssh.”
Nesrin bit into her corn as she sat down next to Isabelle. “So, what are we talking about?”
Jason answered with “I was just sayin’ I don’t know how you eat food from this place. It’s like buyin’ lunch at a gas station.”
Nesrin shrugged. “I would have said more like carnival food. I’ve seen you ravage a turkey leg at the fairgrounds. Are you really going to tell me this is more sketchy than that?”
Jason opened his mouth to respond, then had to stop because she had a point. Isabelle laughed at his stupid face and nodded in Nesrin’s direction. Nesrin smirked back and returned to her corn.
An unobservant outsider would probably have guessed that Isabelle and Nesrin were the siblings, since they both had black hair and tan skin, which was a stark contrast to the pasty-faced, red-headed Jason. Anyone who took the time would have found out that in actuality Isabelle was Hispanic and Nesrin was Arabian. They would also have found out that Isabelle and Jason weren’t blood siblings either; they were both adopted.
Nesrin finished eating and wrapped the corn cob in her napkin, then tossed it to a nearby trash can. “Come on, there’s a used book stall at the back of this building with a huge selection. I bet you two even find something you like.” She got up and waited for either of them to move. “It’s because I said ‘used,’ isn’t it? Come on, it’s not close to any animal cages, so I promise you won’t come out with fleas.”
Jason and Isabelle shrugged and followed her down the line of waiting merchants. They were both trying to get a good look at her shadow, but in the crowd and the dimness of the building they couldn’t really see shadows at all. Jason noticed Nesrin brush against someone at a stall, and it looked like mist flew out of Nesrin’s shoulder. The other person’s back had been turned, so Jason assumed they’d been smoking until he saw it happen again. This time the other person had been coming towards them, and they obviously weren’t smoking. Jason looked more closely at Nesrin. Now it looked like there was steam all around her body, or maybe like her edges were blurred somehow, like a child had colored her outside the lines.
He nudged Isabelle. “Is it just me, or is Nesrin smoking?”
“Not that kind of smoking. I mean there’s smoke coming out her. Watch when she bumps into someone.”
Isabelle watched Nesrin’s hand brush against a stall they were passing. It looked like her whole hand turned into a cloud and reformed on the other side of the stall. “Esto es extraño.”
“But… we’ve shaken hands with her, we just watched her eat. How…?”
Isabelle put her hands around her the back of her neck and ran them down to her shoulders. “That can’t just be an illusion, can it?”
Jason’s shoulders tensed. “Well, she does work in a casino; she’d have to be pretty good for that. Maybe she does it in public to stay in practice?”
Isabelle nodded, but her expression didn’t relax. “Maybe that’s it. She just stays in performance mode. Yeah.”
They tried to laugh at themselves for almost being fooled by the act, but all they got was ragged chuckles.
The vapor around Nesrin stopped when they reached the book stall, and her hands certainly didn’t vanish as she snatched up a paperback copy of The Necromancers to flip through. The previous owner had written copious notes in the margins, which was enough for Nesrin to decide she wanted it, so she set it to the side and picked up a book called Sea Stories. She’d barely looked at the cover when a book of song lyrics caught her eye and she sat Sea Stories down to look at it instead.
Her two roommates tried to forget the spectacles they’d seen a few moments ago by looking for new books of their own. Neither was really as captivated as Nesrin was, and their gazes were wondering to other stalls. Isabelle happened to look over and see a small, ceramic, Spanish-style house. She moved away from the pile of books to the other stall. As soon as she picked up the house she knew she was getting it for the ceramic village she kept on a shelf in the apartment. It was in the perfect style to match the rest of the village.
Nesrin put her books down and walked over. “Do you want me to get it for you?”
“You don’t have to, I can get it.”
“Please, let me. I like doing nice things for my friends.”
“You already gave us a sublease on your apartment.”
“Which you pay for, that doesn’t count. Please?”
Isabelle looked at the house, then back at Nesrin. “Alright, thanks.”
Nesrin smiled and took the house from her. When she paid, Isabelle noticed that her hand went a little too far into the small leather wallet, but that illusion was more commonplace. The gold glow that flashed through Nesrin’s dark brown eyes, however, took her by surprise.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. When they decided to leave Nesrin left them at the front entrance while she pulled the car around.
“See,” Isabelle said, “no shadow.”
Jason shivered. “That’s nothing. She bought me a phone case while you were at the airbrush booth, and I swear her eyes flashed gold when she opened her wallet.”
“I saw that too. If this is all illusions I’ll be extremely impressed.”
The ride home consisted mostly of singing along with the radio; nothing abnormally unusual. When they got home Nesrin sat her bag of books down on the kitchen counter while Isabelle went to put her new house on her shelf and Jason sat down to change out his phone case.
Nesrin didn’t look away from the books she was unbagging when she said “There’s something odd about you two.”
The two siblings froze.
Nesrin flipped through her new songbook. “You started to suspect I was a jinn much sooner than my previous roommates. Usually my job as an illusionist fools people for longer.” She finally looked up at them and saw their mouths hanging open. “I know: why am I telling you this? You’re both watching too closely, and a suspicious audience is what kills illusions. Best to admit it now and save further trouble.”
Isabelle and Jason looked at each other, then burst into laughter.
“Muy brillante. That was one of the best pranks I’ve had pulled on me. You seriously had me going with that shadow trick. I can’t believe you committed to that for a whole week to pull this off.”
“That trick with the smoke was good, too. How’d you do that, anyway?”
Nesrin waited to respond, considering her options. “You don’t believe me, then?”
Jason’s laugh slowed before Isabelle’s did. “You’re serious?”
Both siblings felt the sensation of giant smokey hands picking them up and the world moving around them, but it only lasted about a second and a half.
They were dizzy when everything stopped. Jason started to lean forward, and saw the busy street several feet beneath him. He and Isabelle latched onto each other and backed away from the edge, tripping on a hard, sloped surface behind them.
“Do you believe me now?”
They looked up. Nesrin was leaning on a metal spire picking at her fingernails.
“We’re on top of Big Ben. I think you will agree no one could pull off this kind of illusion with the time and materials I had available.”
A quick look at their surroundings showed that she was telling the truth. Westminster Palace, the London Eye, it was all there.
“So you’re… a genie?”
“Jinn. The word is jinn, at least if we choose not to translate it. The Arabic word ‘jinn’ actually does have corresponding meanings in English. Personally, I tend to use ‘hidden ones.’ I only used ‘jinn’ in this case because I thought it would be the most recognizable to you. Also, I am only half hidden one, on my mother’s side. The other half is human. That’s why I don’t look like a crazy fire person right now.”
Isabelle’s mouth hung open again. “I have so many questions.”
“There will be time enough for that. For now let’s get down from here and enjoy being in London.”
Jason and Isabelle blinked and were on the ground. Nesrin put an arm around both their shoulders and nudged them forward.
“We’ll ride the Eye first. I’ve been wanting to do that.”
They walked a few steps before Jason got up the nerve to ask “So do we get three wishes now?”
Nesrin laughed. “Even if that was a thing, I already rented you an apartment, brought you to London, and gave you a phone case. Don’t push it.”