Sunday, 14 January 2018

Trapped by Talent

This story was originally published on in 2010.
        "Life has never been easy for alchemists," says Amira Bint Jasmin Jabir, "especially not for women with this gift. In the past, we were hunted down and burned as witches. Nowadays, we are accused of fraud or insanity." Amira is one of the last traditional alchemists of our age, but tries to keep a low profile because of the reactions she gets when she tells people about her true identity.
        "I am the only living descendant of Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan, the 12th century all-round scientist who managed to turn sulphur into gold. He had a very mathematical way of working which, as far as modern day scientists are concerned, is completely off the wall." But don't they want to investigate the gift Amira inherited from her ancestor?
        "It would be interesting, especially with modern day theories about nuclear fusion. But I don't think they would believe me if I told them. I was born in Iraq and made my first gold out of sand when I was a toddler. My nannies were surprised I kept finding odd shaped pieces of jewellery, but my mother knew from the start what was going on because the talent runs in the family. She tried to raise me as normally as possible and told me not to tell anyone about my magical abilities. Not even my father. I fled Iraq in 2003, after both my parents suddenly disappeared. I was only 12 years old at the time, but a teacher sorted me out with a forged passport in exchange for my 'family treasures'. No, I'm not going to tell you my false name because I'm still using it."
        "My mother had spent all my products on a proper education, so when I first got to Great Britain, my English was pretty good already. I had been through so much – losing both my parents, rape, hunger, you name it. Can you blame me I felt the need to tell somebody who I really was? The lady who interviewed me was so kind and understanding that I told her everything. But at the Home Office, they thought I'd lost my marbles and sent me to a mental institution. That's where I learned the importance of my mother's lessons: act normal and hide your true colours. Though I'm not a Muslim, I often feel the need to wear a burqa, simply because it reflects how I feel. I'm working at Waitrose as a shelf stacker, but every Saturday morning I sit down to meditate and turn sulphur tablets into gold."
        I notice she doesn't wear any gold jewellery.
        "I'm not obsessed with gold," she says. "To me, gold is like a smile: it's there when I feel good. I don't mind parting from it when the feeling is gone. I much prefer to get cash for gold that has lost its value for me. I'm not a mathematical person, like Abu Musa. For me, happiness is the key. That's why I couldn't prove that I wasn't hallucinating in the mental institution. By the time I got out, they had almost convinced me I was just an ordinary, traumatised girl. But on my first date with my current boyfriend, I suddenly turned a wine glass into gold. Very embarrassing. He noticed immediately and helped me try to hide it from the restaurant staff by stealing the glass. He still keeps it on his mantle piece, isn't that adorable? I normally find glass a very difficult material to work with, though. Things like that can happen when I'm over the moon, but it's much easier with sulphur."

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