Jinn

According to Islamic mythology and Persian folklore Jinn or
genies are creatures that live in parallel world to that of
mankind.  
     My ominous association with ghosts goes back to my
early childhood years. Aunt Sedighe, my father’s youngest
sister lived in Shoushtar, one of the oldest cities in the world,
dating back to Achaemenian dynasty (400 BC). Shoushtar
used to be the winter capital of Sassanian dynasty and was
built by the Karoun River. The river was channeled to form a
trench around the city. A subterranean system called
ghanats connected the river to the private reservoirs of
houses and buildings, supplied water during times of war
when the main gates were closed. The ruins of these ghanats
still exist and one was connected to the basement of aunt
Sedeghe’s house where my cousins and I explored if we
dared to.
    We were told by our elders that her house was the
primary residence of Jinn and their immediate families.  I
admit I never was a big fan of Jinn especially the ones who
dwelled in my aunt’s basement.  I just didn’t care for their
demeanor as these creatures scared the hell out of me when
we visited my aunt in Shoushtar. Although I was forewarned
about Jinn and their tendency to possess children, I never
stopped playing in the mysterious basement and exploring
the endless maze of the ghanat. Yet, the never ending canal
linked to her basement was too narrow, too long, too dark,
too musty and too creepy to ever conquer.   

    My eldest sister however believed the toilet in our aunt’s
house was more terrifying than its resident ghosts. The toilet
was so filthy that my sister did not go to the bathroom the
entire trip.

At times I carelessly mocked this historic city, my aunt’s
house and its Jinn-infested basement, entertained my
siblings and offended a large portion of my father’s family
who were rooted in this city as a result.         I believe it was
because of my lewd commentaries that a few years later, my
aunt decided to move to Ahvaz and left the house to Jinn, its
original owners.

Not going back to my aunt’s house in Shoushtar however was
not the end of my encounter with “Az ma behtaran, the
“better than us” creatures, a phrase I heard from my father in
my entire childhood. The “better than us” however never left
me alone. They appeared in my dreams, visited me in
darkness and forever lurked in the labyrinth of my
imagination.   

    During the first six years of my life in Ahvaz, we had no
bath in our house. Each Friday, the only holiday of the week,
my father woke me and my two older brothers hours before
dawn and took us to the bathhouse, hammam.

    “Why so early?” We pleaded with him every Thursday
night and always received the same response. “We’ll be the
first customers, receive better service and no waiting.” These
facts did not alleviate my torment of trudging drowsily through
the empty streets in bitter cold.  No one should have to
endure such an ordeal just to be clean.    

    In addition to my lack of regard for personal hygiene, I had
a more compelling reason to avoid the hammam in early
mornings. The creepy anecdotes my father had told us about
the ghosts dwelling in hammams convinced me to remain
filthy for life.  Once he told us the story behind the famous
Persian proverb, “Hump over Hump”.

“One early morning”, he said, “a hunchback goes to the
hammam and faces a large group of weird creatures in a
circle holding hands and stomping their feet in jubilation.
Unaware of the nature of the crowd or the occasion, he
impulsively jumps in the middle and joins the festive gathering
and starts singing and dancing.  The Jinn enjoy his pleasant
company and admire his cheerful spirit. As a token of their
appreciation, one of them touches the stranger’s back and
removes his hunch.”

    My father continued, “the man leaves the bathhouse
completely cured. The former hunchback who could not
comprehend what had happened to him rushes to the bazaar
searching for his fellow hunchback to share his blissful
encounter.”  He tells his friend all about his unfathomable
encounter with “better than us” and how the Jinn enjoyed his
human qualities and rewarded him for his jolly spirit, “They
love festivity and adore us when we have fun. I was acting
like a clown and they just adored my antics. Singing and
dancing is what they love I tell you man,” he continued.

     The hunchback’s friend thanks him profusely for giving
him a rare glimpse of hope to end his life-long agony. He
obtains the address and the next morning before dawn he
rushes to the same hammam. All the way he snaps his
fingers, sings happy tunes and dances with delight. As he
enters the hammam, he faces a host of mournful Jinn sitting
with grim faces.  He promptly breaks into the circle of
mourners and starts making fun of their gloomy faces then he
pulls his pants down and moons the crowd one by one as he
snaps his fingers. The “better than us” do not appreciate the
stranger’s lack of respect for their grief-stricken event. To
punish the discourteous hunchback, one of them grabs the
hump of the previous hunchback and stacks it on top of his
and kicks him out of hammam with two humps.”

    Fact of the matter is that I was more terrified by the tales
my father told us about his personal encounters with the
“better than us” creatures.  This is what my father told us:

     “One early morning in the hammam I was the lone
customer with a few bathhouse workers. After relaxing in the
hot water basin for a few minutes, I came out and laid face
down on bedrock. One of the staff removed the bath towel
from my back and meticulously scrubbed my entire body with
the lathery loofa.  As he was meticulously tending to me, I
looked down and noticed he had hooves instead of feet. He
was Jinn. As horrified as I was, I acted as if nothing out of
ordinary had happened. After he finished his duty, I thanked
him kindly and left him an uncharacteristically generous tip.
Then I hastily dipped into the rinse basin for a few seconds
and before washing off the soap out of ears, swiftly I jumped
out of the basin, and only god knows how fast I dressed to
race out of the damned hammam.

    As I was rushing out the door, the bathhouse
administrator, whom I knew for years noticed my anxiety and
tapped on my shoulder and stopped me.  

    ‘What happened Hajji? Is everything all right? Did you not
like our service today, you are one of our best clients,’ Khalil
inquired.

     “Oh no, nothing is wrong, everything was fine Khalil,” I
said.

    ‘Then what is it? Why are you so upset? I want everything
to be perfect for you…’ he insisted.

     I took a deep breath, composed myself, approached him
and whispered into his ear, ‘Do you know that your worker
has hooves--he’s is Jinn.’

    The hammam administrator calmly nodded with a smirk on
his face, pointed to his own hooves, and whispered back,
‘You mean like these?’”

    After hearing this tale, every Friday morning in the
hammam, my first order of business was to check people’s
feet. Sometimes I even examined my own father’s feet just to
make sure he had no hooves. Why did he know so much
about Jinn? How could he know so much about jinn if he was
not somehow connected?

     At times I snuck up on hammam patrons while they were
being washed or when they came out of the rinsing basin
wrapped by the layers of towels and stared at their feet. My
peculiar curiosity did not go unnoticed by bathhouse
patrons.  I could sense people eyeing me, whispering to each
other in my presence and trying to stay away from me.

    I was not at all concerned about how bathhouse
customers reacted. What bothered me was my strained
relationship with an orphan kid of about my own age, the
adopted son of Khalil the administrator whom I met in that
hammam. I enjoyed his companionship and cherished his
friendship dearly. Although our amity was limited to my one-
hour weekly visit and confined to Hammam, I’d grown fond of
him as his presence alleviated my fear of that disturbing
environment. We never had a chance to play together or talk
much yet seeing him in that morbid surrounding every week
was bliss. Being around him made me feel safe and helped
me forget all about hair-raising Jinn. He was the childhood
friend whose name I never learned.  

My peculiar behavior had scared him away and hurt our
friendship. Every Friday when he saw me entering the
Hammam, he found every excuse to avoid me.  Once morning
as soon as we arrived, I went to his room upstairs, he was still
asleep. I could see the terror in his face when he suddenly
woke and saw me sitting next to him in bed. He ran out of the
mezzanine screaming. I chased him shouting, “Don’t be
scared, little boy. I just want to play with you.”

    After that Friday visit, the hammam closed its door for
good. The rumor was that it was haunted and no client dared
return. The deserted hammam building remained intact ever
since. Now those years are long gone.

To this day, I wake every Friday, hours before dawn and go
to the same hammam in the city I was born hoping to meet my
childhood friend again. As I sit by the basin washing myself
and with a smile on my face I remember all the spooky ghost
stories my father told.