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Reprinted from:
Global Seminar of Fiction & Dialog Among Cultures
Farokh Negar Pub.
Karnameh
Negar Eskandar-far
2004





Research: Literature

The Palmist
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Short Story
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Andrew Lam: The Palmist (Short Story)

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On the 38 Geary, the palmist sat and watched the rain. When the bus stopped and the door opened, a faint whiff of turned earth brought a pain of yearning to his chest. The palmist inhaled deeply.

Images of rice fields, oxen and egrets came to him, and the sound o children's laughter echoed softly in his ears. He remembered, too, his first kiss, felt in tingle once more on his wizened lips.

A teenager got on and, as the bus was crowded, stood towering ever the old man. Water dripped from his chin down to the palmist's knees and woke the palmist from his reveries. The palmist looked up at the boy. He had been caught in the downpour without an umbrella and was soaking wet.

So young, the palmist thought, the age of my youngest son, maybe, had he lived. It had been some years since the little boy drowned in the South China Sea, along with his two older sisters and their mother. The palmist had escaped Vietnam on different boat, a smaller one that left a day after his family, and, consequently, reached America alone. Now, the palmist closed his eyes and tried to conjure his son's face in his mind but could not. He opened his eyes again again, and his gaze fell upon the teenager's hand.

He saw something there.
"Your hand." He exclaimed suddenly, and adjusted his glasses.
"Wonderful lines!"
"I 'm sorry?"
"I am a palmist. reader of palms. Let me see your hand." He said in a thick accent.

The teenager blushed. A fat woman, with a rosy face, standing next to him, snickered and looked away, only to look back, curious.

"No money, free of charge, OK? Gift for you," the palmist pressed on gestured toward the boy. "please, your hand."
"You know what," the teenager said, scratching his ear. "I don't know."
"What, what don't know?" asked the palmist rather loudly.
Then, he started to cough. "Maybe, I know," he said breathlessly, when he recovered. "Maybe, I answer."

The bus grumbled and turned and the teenager struggled to stay on his foot. It was warm and humid inside, and the window were misty and steamed. A few passengers were looking at him, expectant.

"Oh, man." the teenager said, coming his wet hair with his fingers. "I don't now, if I believe in all that stuff."
"Give me a chance," said the palmist.
"I have a question," the teenager said. "Can you read your own future? Can you like, tell when you're gonna die and stuff?" But, he looked at the old man's face and he shook his head. "Nah. Forget it. That was stupid. Sorry."
"No. Not stupid." Answered the palmist eagerly. He wanted to read this hand. It was a very good hand. "You asked smart question. Long ago in Vietnam, I asked same thing, you know. I read same bad story in many palms. But, in my palm, I read only good thing. But, my side lost the war. And my family, have gone under the sea. Reading palms is not like reading map. You feel here in heart also. In stomach also, not just see here in head. You see?"
The teenager nodded. "like intuition?" he asked.
"Yes. You understand." Said the palmist. Smiling. "Intuition."

In a nostalgic voice, the palmist began to speak of his long career. He talked passionately of the ordinary palms and sad faces that he had seen, and the misfortunes he saw coming and the wondrous opportunities, he saw squandered. He'd read plenty of divorces. Failed marriages, sickness and death in families. He'd read wealth with no love, love with failing health, and talent with no opportunities. Broken romances, unrequited passions, betrayals and adulteries; he'd read them, too. Twice or maybe three times. He had held hands that committed unspeakable evil, and once. He had even held the hand of a reincarnated saint. How many palms had read since he looks up this profession? Thirty thousand, maybe, maybe more.

"Wow," said the teenager. "That's awesome."
The palmist nodded. "My stop not so far away now." He said, his voice hoarse. "This is your last chance. Free. No charge."
Listen kiddo, do it," the fat lady said suddenly. She had been eaves-dropping and there was a tear on her cheek. "Give him your hand. "How's it gonna hurt? You might find out something. He's for real. I can tell."
"All right," the teenager said and laughed, a nervous laugh. "OK."

He gave his right hand to the palmist. The old man leaned forward, his face burning with seriousness. He is reading the lines on the teenager's opened palm. He bent the boy's wrist this way and that kneaded and prodded the fleshy knolls and finger ties, maybe famous poet. When twenty-five, twenty-six, you're going to change very much. Big change. But, if you don't choose right, oh, so many regret. You tucky, you get help. These squares, here, right here, they mentor. They come guide you. Teach you. When you reach mountain top, people, everywhere, will hear you, know you, see you.

The teenager pulled back his hand and he looked at it closely, as if seeing it for the first time.
"Oh, so much love. You number one some day." Said the palmist.
That fat lady touched the teenager lightly on the shoulder. "Lots of luck, kiddo," she said, as she got off the bus.
A few more stops and it was the palmist's turn. The teenager helped him up and the palmist used his umbrella, as a cane, to shuffle his way toward the stairway. When the bus came to a full stop and the door swung open, the palmist turned and gave the boy a look that, in later years, he might understood. At that moment, however, all the teenager saw was a small old man, whose moist eyes seemed to be staring at same place very far away, before he tuned and opened his umbrella and stepped out hesitantly into the rain.

The boy sat down on the bench, the palmist had occupied. He looked at his palm for a while, but then he grew bored. He turned around to the fogged up windows behind him and he began to draw. First, he drew a hula girl, standing on a distant that I stand with palm trees in the background. Then, he drew a sailboat, crowded with people, heading for that island. But, the waves were high and the 1? Boat seemed to be listening.. He paused. There was a gleaming of sadness in his eyes, as he studied his creation. He drew another boat, much larger, next to the sinking one. A single figure stood on the larger boat alone, hands in the air, as if telling them to hold on.

Through each stroke, the teenager saw a rushing world of people, moving under colorful umbrellas and plastic ponchos, on the busy sidewalk. He stopped drawing and watched the scenery, mesmerized. Soon the people and storefront windows streaked into green pine trees, ferns and well-tended grass meadows. The park, and beyond that, the sea.

The rain had tapered off and a few columns of sunlight pierced through gray clouds, making the road ahead glow, like a golden river. The boy, suddenly, felt excited and happy. He couldn't wait to get off the bus to jump over puddles and he run as fast as he could toward the ocean, to watch the waves breaking against the shore. With a circular movement of his hand, he wiped away sailor, boats, hula girl and island, and he revealed a circle of trees and sky.

High above the clouds, he saw a jet plane soar, its red lights blinking. People were flying across oceans and continents, to take up mysterious destinies.

"A poet!" he said incredulously to himself. Where the palmist's thumbnail had left a crescent moon in the muddle of his palm, he could still feel a vague tingling sensation. He looked at his cool, wet palm for a long time. Then he wiped dry on his faded Levi's.

"What a day." He said, shaking his head. "Boy, what a day!"
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Research: Short Stories
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