The old genie hottabych

The Old Genie Hottabych
Lazar Lagin

This amusing and fascinating children’s book is often called the Russian “Thousand and One Nights.”

Who is the old Genie Hottabych?

This is what the author has to say of him: “In one of Scheherazade’s tales I read of the Fisherman who found a copper vessel in his net. In the vessel was a mighty Genie  — a magician who had been imprisoned in the bottle for nearly two thousand years. The Genie had sworn to make the one who freed him rich, powerful and happy.

“But what if such a Genie suddenly came to life in the Soviet Union, in Moscow? I tried to imagine what would have happened if a very ordinary Russian boy had freed him from the vessel.

“And imagine, I suddenly discovered that a schoolboy named Volka Kostylkov, the very same Volka who used to live on Three Ponds Street, you know, the best diver at summer camp last year… On second thought, I believe we had better begin from the beginning…”

The Old Genie Hottabych

by Lazar Lagin

A MOST UNUSUAL MORNING

At 7:32 a.m. a merry sun-spot slipped through a hole in the curtain and settled on the nose of Volka Kostylkov, a 6th-grade pupil. Volka sneezed and woke up.

Just then, he heard his mother say in the next room:

“Don’t rush, Alyosha. Let the child sleep a bit longer, he has an exam today.”

Volka winced. When, oh when, would his mother stop calling him a child?

“Nonsense!” he could hear his father answer. “The boy’s nearly thirteen. He might as well get up and help us pack. Before you know it, this child of yours will be using a razor.”

How could he have forgotten about the packing!

Volka threw off the blankets and dressed hurriedly. How could he ever have forgotten such a day!

This was the day the Kostylkov family was moving to a different apartment in a new six-storey house. Most of their belongings had been packed the night before. Mother and Grandma had packed the dishes in a little tin tub that once, very long ago, they had bathed Volka in. His father had rolled up his sleeves and, with a mouthful of nails, just like a shoemaker, had spent the evening hammering down the lids on crates of books.

Then they had all argued as to the best place to put the things so as to have them handy when the truck arrived in the morning. Then they had their tea on an uncovered table — as on a march. Then they decided their heads would be clearer after a good night’s sleep and they all went to bed.

In a word, there was just no explaining how he could have ever forgotten that this was the morning they, were moving to a new apartment.

The movers barged in before breakfast was quite over. The first thing they did was to open wide both halves of the door and ask in loud voices, “Well, can we begin?”

“Yes, please do,” both Mother and Grandma answered and began to bustle about.

Volka marched downstairs, solemnly carrying the sofa pillows to the waiting truck.

“Are you moving?” a boy from next door asked.

“Yes,” Volka answered indifferently, as though he was used to moving from one apartment to another every week and there was nothing very special about it.

The janitor, Stepanych, walked over, slowly rolled a cigarette and began an unhurried conversation as one grown-up talk to another. The boy felt dizzy with pride and happiness. He gathered his courage and invited Stepanych to visit them at their new home. The janitor said, “With pleasure.