My fortune-teller, Nashia, isn’t very good at telling fortunes. She’s a good teller of a lot of things, yes, but fortune isn’t one of them.
I visit her biweekly, for a whole different purpose altogether. You see, she’s a teller of great truths. She has strong opinions on many different topics, and will not hesitate to share them with you. She is my saheli, a friend, a home away from home, if people could be homes. She tells me the truth about Mrs. Majumder’s fat tabby cat, and about how my backside looks rather fat in my new trousers. She tells me about her life as a bank teller at a big, big bank, for that is her day job, provides her sustenance, something that fortune-telling, despite its high necessity in today’s society, can rarely ever do.
Oh, but she’s a flatterer, that one. Every time I go over to her little hideout, she tells me her talisman warned her of my arrival. The talisman twinkles when it is happy, she says, and it always twinkles when I am about to come.
The talisman is made of a bright topaz stone, contrasting brilliantly when held up against the azure walls, and I graciously tell her my eyes twinkle, too, when I see it.
“Guut, then de feeling ees mutual!” she exclaims in a singsong fashion, the Arabic inflection in her words reverberating off the walls, her thick voice forming a sonorous canopy around us, providing comfort.
My fortune-teller is also a great teller of stories. She will sit across from you in that tiny azure room, her jet-black hair a perfect tangle of curls under her hijab, and she will tell you many great stories of her life living on the edge of the Sunderbans delta, from many long years ago.
And her face lights up with joy when she reminisces, a twinkling in her eyes as well now. As she speaks, her face hypnotises. Every part of it expresses the kind of deep emotions you can only hope to, wish to receive from your very own aashiq, a lover.
Even, for example, her nose shows expression. It crinkles, and flares, and seems to bob up and down, enlivened by the memories of years past, a sweet button-nose with a freckle atop it. And the lights from her crystal ball dance upon her face, and her eyes tell more about her than I could ever hope to understand.
She will tell you about great adventures in the Sunderbans forests, those marshy mangroves. She will tell you stories of the time her big brother brought home a little tiger cub. How she and her family raised it and fed it milk, ivory milk to match those ivory teeth.
She will tell you stories of how she cared for him, how she brushed his fur with a makeshift comb she fashioned herself out of pine leaves and a bamboo plant, and how he would greet her every day with a special snort-sound he’d reserved just for her; she will tell you how she cried when he grew up and left home, never to return. Had she not taught him better than to abandon his family?
She will tell you to take a sip of your martini, and it is now well past midnight, and you can see smears of her dark purple lipstick on her martini glass, and that thick Arabian voice still has you enraptured with all its telling and telling.
And if she gets drunk enough, and if your fortune is good, she might tell you about Rashid, the hairdresser who loved her. She might tell you how he bought her tulips every day for a month, and as she speaks you will see glimpses of her youth peeking out from where it’s been hiding all these years past.
And she will tell you that his azure eyes shined brighter than the Sun, and you will wonder to yourself if they were even nearly as bright as hers are right then. She will tell you of the warmth of his hand in hers, and she will shiver, quite oxymoronically, at the memory of his embrace. And if you ask her if she misses him, she will adamantly refuse.
And therefore, at the end, that makes her a teller of lies as well.