Simi sat cross-legged on the floor of their reclining room and watched as Sanjay unrolled the new carpet over their older rug, which had been worn threadbare in their favorite spots. He smoothed it out with his hands, gently and with care. The purchase had been far too expensive; Sanjay had spent the last of their savings on it.
“You could have gotten a better deal,” she said, remembering the towheaded Aftor in the basement of the tea shop who sold it to them. The way he shifted his eyes to the door had made her distrust him, and the cross tattooed on his forehead was done in green ink instead of the usual brick color. She didn’t understand what point the Aftor was trying to make with green ink. A religious man with a merchant license should not be thinking about fashion statements.
“This was a good bargain, dear wife. This carpet is worth more than any coin.” Sanjay smiled, his mustache, like his lips, curling upwards.
“Coin is all we have, and when you spend every last bit, it makes me think you are a bad negotiator.”
“Nonsense.” Sanjay rolled up the sleeves of his satin day-robe. The light was fading outside, and a warm breeze tangled through the sheer curtains of the windows leading to the patio, where Simi could see the faint outline of two moons. “This carpet will change everything for us,” Sanjay said. “Finding it, or rather it finding us was the best luck we’ve ever had.”
“Husband, your belief in this magic has bankrupted us.”
“Let me prove to you that I am right.” Sanjay took a seat on the carpet and patted the area next to him, gesturing for her to sit. She had to admit that it was beautiful. It had a triangular geometric pattern with golden threads woven throughout. Its fabric was dyed red as a ruby, and its blues were winter deep, making it seem as if it were shimmering. She sat down facing him, her knees touching his. The carpet was strangely warm, as if afternoon sunlight still clung to its fibers.
“Now tell the carpet what you want. Name anything you like.”
“I want our money back.”
“No, dear wife. Think bigger. Think macro.”
“Oh, for the love of all that is holy.”
“I am serious. And use the phrase I taught you. You know it. ‘Oh, Great Inquisitor, maker of all things’ … that one.”
She did know it, so she nodded yes.
“Just remember how the wish cannot be material for self-gain. So no money or things. And wishes cannot be undone. That is important.”
“I don’t see the point. We’re middle-class; we need coin.”
“I think you should go first.” She did not know what to wish for that was not material or in her own self-interest anyway. She shifted uncomfortably. The carpet was beginning to get hotter, now like a heating cloth set to high.
“No, you must make the wish,” Sanjay said. He did not seem to notice that the carpet was becoming unbearable. “I bought it. The rules go that I cannot be the first to make the wish.”
“You made that up.”
“The Aftor told me so.”
“He was not a real Aftor. Did you notice his tattoo?”
“He is from The Place Left Behind.”
Sanjay was referring to the outsiders from the other realm who came into their world some hundred years ago. They had blonde hair and pale skin. Since they were outsiders, they could not be Prior priests, so they started their own order called the Aftors. But this was not what she meant. The Aftor’s tattoo had been the wrong color.
Frustrated that he didn’t understand, Simi inhaled and exhaled. “You should have bought from the Priors. They are more dedicated to religion and sell higher quality products.”
Sanjay snorted. “You are being Colorist. The Aftor was real, and he had a magic carpet that he sold to us for a bargain.”
Another thought occurred to her. “Do you think it was stolen?”
“Hush, wife. Just make a wish.”
Simi’s butt and thighs were sweating from the increasing temperature of the rug. Fine. If this is what he wanted her to do, then she would show him. She straightened herself, closed her eyes, and placed her palms together in prayer. “Oh, Great Inquisitor, maker of all things beautiful, striker of individuality and those who question your existence, tailor of this universe and the neighboring, give us the gift of …” She paused and peeked at Sanjay.
He nodded in encouragement.
“… give us the gift of sight and show us if a towheaded Aftor can be trusted.”
“Wife, what have you done?!” Sanjay jumped up, pulling at his black hair as the carpet burst into flame and licked his knees. Simi leapt off of the carpet and climbed onto the ledge of the window. She could no longer see Sanjay as the smoke tangled in her eyes. But before she could cry his name, the fire subsided and the smoke was gone, as if someone had flicked off a switch.
She saw Sanjay sitting cross-legged on the floor with his head slumped to his chest, his robes singed black. “Husband?”
Sanjay looked up, his face serene. She covered her mouth with her hands. Sanjay, her dear, sweet husband — had transformed. His hair had become blonde, and his eyes were blue. On his forehead was a tattoo of a green cross.
Sanjay studied his hands, which had become pale like the rest of his skin. “Oh, wife! Now we shall really find out if we can trust the Aftors, for I have become one.”
And yet, Simi could not look away from the green tattoo on her husband’s forehead, for she understood now that it was the mark of an Aftor who had been transformed by magic.