Reprint Series

The Adventures of Ja’far al-Barmaki by Sofia Samatar

Bogi Takács’ Reprint Series begins with an original flash fiction piece by Sofia Samatar.

The Galli Books short stories series will offer one short story reprint each month. This initial offering, an original, is somewhat of an exception. I read this story in an advance ebook copy of the anthology In Other Words, edited by Saira Ali. I felt this anthology of microfiction and poetry was brilliant, but it was never released due to the publisher going out of business. I thought Sofia’s story was saying something especially important in very few words, and I kept it in mind for my future editing projects. Now you get to read it too—it is a take on a famous story that I needed in my life. — Bogi.


I was the servant and friend of the benevolent caliph Harun al-Rashid whose court gleamed like a lantern in a field. I was his beloved companion, adviser and accomplice. Together we wandered the streets of Baghdad in disguise. With him, I watched the mysterious lady strike her dogs and weep. I heard the marvelous story of the winged horse that ate from a manger of crystal. I solved the mystery of the three apples, I defended the wronged and took pity on the wrongdoer, I scattered wisdom like a scent.

One day I awoke and found I had grown very tall. My lips curled like poison in a glass. HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO KILL YOU, BOY? Laughter whirled in my throat as I attacked a youth with my magic staff and trapped a princess in a vial of sand. A SNAKE, AM I? Beyond my glowing cage, in the darkened theater, the smallest children had begun to cry. Their older brothers and sisters pinched them and hissed at them shut up shut up, mesmerized by the snapping of my teeth.

That night I wept so fiercely the tears cut into my face like needles. Oh Lord, deliver me.

It was my destiny to walk far, very far. It was my fate to become unrecognizable to myself. It was my fate to be broken like a reed.

A PUBLIC EXECUTION! I shouted. A young girl faced me, trembling, the color of wheat. Outside, beyond my cage, shadows passed to and fro. The shadows sat down with bowls in their laps. Someone turned out the light. Hey, said a voice, shut up, it’s starting. There’s Jafar.

Jafar. I heard my name. Sometimes I heard the name of my city, Baghdad the Fair. Numbers floated about me like dark constellations. February 22, 2006. 6:55 a.m. 170,000. 7,000 years. I tried not to hear the numbers and I tried not to hear my name. I was Jafar now, not Ja‘far. My name had been stripped of its central letter. That letter, the ‘ayn, was once the heart of my name. Is that why I am heartless now? Dear God, where is my heart?

Ayn, the throat sound, the intimate one. Once, long ago, she murmured to me Ja‘far, and it was the sound of running water.

Ayn which means a well, and also an eye. I am always thirsty now, ‘Aziza, and I can hardly see.

The shadows are gathering in the room beyond. It is almost time to enter the cage. Perhaps the letters of my name will be wiped out one by one; perhaps, when they have all vanished, I shall be free.

Until then, night after night, I must strive to reconcile myself to evil.


Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, and the short story collection, Tender. Her work has received the William L. Crawford Award, the John W. Campbell Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award. Her latest book, Monster Portraits, a collaboration with her brother, the artist Del Samatar, is now available from Rose Metal Press.

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