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
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.
"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
Then, he started to cough. "Maybe, I know,"
he said breathlessly, when he recovered. "Maybe,
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
"Yes. You understand." Said the palmist.
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,
"Wow," said the teenager. "That's
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
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
"What a day." He said, shaking his head.
"Boy, what a day!"