- The Palmist
The palmist closed up early because of the pains. He felt as if he was being roasted, slowly, from the inside out. By noon he could no longer focus on his customers' palms, their life and love lines having all failed to point to any significant future, merging instead with the rivers and streams of his memories.
Outside, the weather had turned. Dark clouds hung low, and the wind was heavy with moisture. He reached the bus stop's tiny shelter when it began to pour. He didn't have to wait long, however. The good old 38 Geary pulled up in a few minutes, and he felt mildly consoled, though sharp pains flared and blossomed from deep inside his bowels like tiny geysers and made each of his three steps up the bus laborious.
It was warm and humid on the crowded bus, and a fine mist covered all windows. The palmist sat on the front bench facing the aisle, the one reserved for the handicapped and the elderly. A fat woman who had rosy cheeks and who did not take the seat gave him a dirty look. It was true: his hair was still mostly black, and he appeared to be a few years short of senior citizenship. The palmist pretended not to notice her. Contemptuously, he leaned back against the worn and cracked vinyl and smiled to himself. He closed his eyes. A faint odor of turned earth reached his nostrils. He inhaled deeply and saw again a golden rice field, a beatific smile, a face long gone: his first kiss.
The rain pounded the roof as the bus rumbled toward the sea.
At the next stop, a teenager got on. Caught in the downpour without an umbrella, he was soaking wet, and his extra-large T-shirt, which said PLAY HARD...STAY HARD, clung to him. It occurred to the palmist that this was the face of someone who hadn't yet learned to be fearful of the weather. The teenager stood, towering above the palmist and blocking him from seeing the woman, who, from time to time, continued to glance disapprovingly at him.
So young, the palmist thought: the age of my youngest son, maybe, had he lived. The palmist tried to conjure up his son's face, but could not. 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 [End Page 163] [Begin Page 165] on a different boat, a smaller one that had left a day after his family's boat, and, as a result, reached America alone.
Alone, thought the palmist and sighed. Alone.
It was then that his gaze fell upon the teenager's hand and he saw something. He leaned forward and did what he had never done before on the 38 Geary. He spoke up loudly, excitedly.
"You," he said in his heavy accent. "I see wonderful life!"
The teenager looked down at the old man and arched his eyebrows.
"I'm a palmist. Maybe you give me your hand?" the palmist said.
The teenager did nothing. No one had ever asked to see his hand on the bus. The fat woman snickered. Oh, she'd seen it all on the 38 Geary. She wasn't surprised. "This my last reading: no money, free, gift for you," the palmist pressed on. "Give me your hand."
"You know," the teenager said, scratching his chin. He was nervous. "I don't know." He felt as if he'd been caught inside a moving greenhouse and that, with the passengers looking on, he had somehow turned into one of its most conspicuous plants.
"What—what you don't know?" asked the palmist. "Maybe I know. Maybe I answer."
"Dude," the teenager said, "I don't know if I believe in all that hocus-pocus stuff." And, though he didn't say it, he didn't know whether he wanted to be touched by the old man with wrinkled, bony hands and nauseating tobacco breath. To stall, the teenager said, "I have a question, though. Can you read your...