Abu was a fisherman. He stayed on the beach, and had been fishing for as long as he could remember. When he was young, he would stay at sea all night. In the morning, he would return with a big catch of fresh fish, which he would sell at the local market.
Now, Abu was almost 80 years old. He would not venture too into the sea in his boat. Instead, he would throw his net out from the shore; and that too, only four times a day. He would eat some of it, and sell the rest for a little money.
One day, he went out to the sea in the morning. He threw his net over the water. After some time, he could feel something heavy trapped in the net. The fisherman pulled the net, and saw that there was a dead donkey trapped in the net. “Oh no!” he cried, “All this effort for a dead donkey! What will I do? What can I eat?” He prayed to Solomon, an ancient king and prophet, to help him.
He cast his net once again. After a while he could sense something was trapped in it. This time the net was even heavier! With significant effort, Abu drew the net. He found a jar full of sand. “Oh no!” he cried again, “All this effort for a jar full of sand! What will I do? What can I eat?” Again, he prayed to Solomon to give him strength and better luck.
Abu cast his net into the water a third time. This time something even heavier got trapped in the net. It made a clanging sound like vessels banging against each other. And guess what it was? A whole bunch of old vessels, pots and pans. They were all rusted and of no use.
Abu looked to the sky and appealed, “My lord Solomon, I cast my net four times in a day. I have already done this thrice. If I do not catch any fish the fourth time, I will surely die of hunger today. Please protect this faithful devotee of yours!”
With a prayer on his lips, Abu threw the net one last time. This time something even heavier got trapped in the net. Abu had to wade deep into the water to pull the net out. He saw it was a brass bottle.
This time Abu was happy. Even though he had not caught any fish, the brass bottle looked solid. It would fetch at least 10 gold coins. He could buy enough food for the next month with that much money.
Why, the bottle even had a lead seal. Looking closely, Abu realized that the seal was none other than Lord Solomon’s. He was now curious to know what was inside the bottle.
He opened the seal with a knife. As soon as he opened it, a huge ifritemerged from the bottle. (An ifrit is a magical creature. It is like the jinnor genie in its powers. But ifrits are usually evil, known for their strength and cunning.) It shot out 100 feet into the sky with a huge roar! Abu was so scared he cried out in fear. The ifrit noticed Abu and reduced its size. Even then it was over 10 feet tall.
“Did you free me, fisherman?” it thundered.
“Me? Yes, yes Mr. Ifrit. My name is Abu.”
“Abu! A fine name,” said the ifrit with a smile, “I have been trapped in that bottle for a long time. Thank you, fisherman Abu. Now tell me, how would you like to die?”
“Die? But Mr. Ifrit, I freed you! Why would you want to kill me?”
“I was trapped in that bottle by Solomon, fisherman Abu,” said the ifrit.
“But Solomon ruled this land almost 2,000 years ago.”
The ifrit nodded, “Yes, 1,800 years ago to be precise. I rebelled against him. Solomon defeated me and trapped me in this bottle. He then had the bottle thrown into the sea. I have regretted my mistake ever since.”
“But that means I have freed you from prison. Why do you want to kill me?”
“For a thousand years, I wished someone would free me. I pledged that I would give this person enough wealth to last his lifetime. But no one came. Then I pledged I would give the man who freed me all the wealth in the world. Five hundred years passed. No one came. Then in anger I pledged that I would kill the man who would free me. But I would allow that man to choose in what way he would die. So, how do you want to die, fisherman Abu?”
Abu prayed to Lord Solomon to give him the wisdom to save himself. He then asked the ifrit, “You claim that Solomon trapped you in that bottle. But I refuse to believe you.”
“What?” cried the ifrit, and his voice boomed like a hundred thunders.
“You are so tall. Your leg is like the trunk of tree. There is no way you could have fitted inside that tiny bottle. I don’t care if I die. But I don’t want to be killed by a liar.”
“You puny fisherman! I may be evil, but I never lied in my life!”
“Then, prove it,” said Abu.
The ifrit swished its hands. It turned into smoke and slowly, bit by bit, entered the bottle. And from inside, it shouted, “You see I can fit into the bottle.”
Abu quickly picked up the lead seal and trapped the ifrit inside the bottle again. The ifrit tried his best to come out. But he could not break the seal. Abu thanked Solomon, and threw the bottle back into the sea.
Adapted from One Thousand and One Nights.