Short Stories

The Fortuneteller

“Oh my!” she said, as she held my hand in hers. “I have never seen anything like this before!”

I was with my friend down by the sea, trying to unwind after a long, hectic day at work. With a couple of Heinekens in hand, and a cigarette in another, we were enjoying the dark and peaceful Mediterranean, as the waves gently brushed against the rocks below. We were tired and bored, and conversation seemed like an effort neither of us was willing to make, when a fortuneteller passed us by. My friend and I both saw her and almost made the same comment: “Oh the lies those people tell.” The woman must have heard us; she halted, turned around and started walking towards us. We both noticed her approaching and pretended to look the other way, thinking that intentionally ignoring her might make her change her mind. But she was determined, and we both knew we were stuck.

It took the fortuneteller about thirty seconds to reach us, her first words being, “You seem like you don’t believe.” My friend’s immediate reaction was to explain to her that we were not interested in what she had to say, while I played in my mind my counter-attack – I will find all the refuting arguments and throw them at her. It was a sealed deal; the fortuneteller could not stand a chance.

I threw away my cigarette while my friend was still attempting to ward off the rugged looking woman. She was in her mid fifties, wearing a long black dress and a matching veil. Her skin – or what was obvious of it – was olive in color. Her hands looked like they had lived to experience World War I. I was adamant to refute her.

“What’s your name?” I uttered. My friend went silent; a shocked look overtook her face as she started at me wondering what I was doing. The old woman smiled and said, “Hayat” (Arabic for Life). “Interesting,” I said. “So, Hayat, what can you tell me that I don’t already know?”

The woman gave away an impious smile, and said, as she grabbed my right hand, “It is all in your palm, my child.” Her hands were cold as ice, although it was mid July and almost everyone in Beirut was complaining about the hot and humid weather. It was strange and it added an eerie feeling. But I was still unwavering – I wanted to prove her wrong. She held my hand for what seemed like hours, staring at my palm in silence. I was observing her impatiently, waiting for her first words to start my attack. And she seemed to have felt it. The silence grew thicker despite the multitude of people surrounding us. My impatience was about to explode; if only she would talk!

My friend was looking at me with surprise; she was not aware of my plan and I could not verbalize it.  A cold breeze brushed against my face suddenly; the sound of the waves below grew louder and started to mess with my undivided attention to what the old fortuneteller was doing. And I prayed for a word.

I guess my prayers were answered; the woman lifted her eyes and gazed at mine and said, “Your heart is pure my child, and that brings upon you pain.” I smiled; they all use the same generic sentences, but I decided not to disprove her since – truth be told – it boosted my ego.

“You will see many, many years to come; long and prosperous. You will have no children though.” That made me smile; could she have guess I am not into men?

“You have a kind spirit, a tender soul, and you have great qualities.”

I was extremely impatient and it showed. The fortuneteller noticed and went on to say, “Inspection. It is a friend of yours, and your heart never belonged to you. Your selfless nature brings about more misery than the joy you expect. You are one of few words, yet your mind is a mystery – an abyss. Few, if not rare, are those who can understand you.”

She then looked at my palm again; her face changed. I was starting to get worried. Although she had been too general in her “fortunetelling”, yet all she had said up till then was true. I looked at her, waiting for what was to come next.

Silence. As though I had brought upon myself the anguish of waiting for her words. My plan at disproving her suddenly vanished and all I wanted was to know what she was seeing. For a minute, I thought I saw tears in her eyes but I couldn’t be sure. The wait was detestable; I needed this to end.

“My child,” the silence was finally broken – shattered into a million tiny pieces. “There are things that cannot be told; things that belong to the unknown, and the unknown does not belong to us.”

Frustrated, I said, “What is it that you see?”

“Words are binding; like a commitment. But actions speak louder than words. Do not follow the same path as the past; pave a new one.”

She then let go of my hand and put her hand out for her fee. I was still at a loss. I did not understand what she had just said, and was keen on knowing what she had seen in my palm. But the old woman waited calmly for me. It took me about a minute to process that I owed her; I reached into my pocket, pulled out my wallet and handed her a five dollar bill. She took the money, smiled and started to walk away. After only a few steps, she turned around and said, “New paths,” then she disappeared into the crowd.

I was speechless and felt like I was coming out of a trance. The world around me was starting to materialize. My friend was still standing next to me, my car parked in the same spot, and the people were still going about their own business. Yet the world looked different somehow. And I was left with my many questions.

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