If Sarah’s imagination of Chinese fortune tellers had included jars of suspended human hair, amulets, and a floating fetus, she didn’t see them.
Instead, the room was barren except for a table draped with a red cloth with two chairs arranged opposite to one another. There were four walls but no windows.
Even the fortune teller was nowhere to be found.
‘Hello?’ she called out.
Only the walls echoed back.
She was right in front of me a minute ago, Sarah thought to herself.
As she looked around, she notices a white door on the far left of the wall behind the draped table.
Maybe she’s inside? Sarah wondered.
She walks to the door and knocks.
‘Hello? Madam, are you inside? I’m here now,’ she called out.
Sarah tries knocking again.
That was her name, wasn’t it? She checked the piece of paper in her pocket again. In neat handwriting were Lady Poon’s name and address.
Yeap. That was her.
But still, there was no reply.
Hm… maybe she’s waiting inside. I should go in, Sarah thinks to herself, proceeding to touch the doorknob.
But just when Sarah was about to turn it, the door opens.
The fortune teller, who had changed out of her stay-at-home aunty attire and into a shiny yellow set of shirt and trousers, stood in front of her.
Her hair, which was free earlier, was now set in a bun.
Even in her new outfit, Lady Poon’s pear-shaped body was apparent, but now she looked more the part of fortune teller than before.
‘What are you doing here? I asked you to wait outside.’
‘Oh, I thought – I -‘
Lady Poon waves her hand to dismiss Sarah’s attempt at explaining herself.
‘Never mind already. Go there and sit down.’
Sarah furrows her brows. How rude, she thinks to herself, but complies anyway, nodding and walking toward the table to take a seat.
But before she could sit down, Lady Poon shouts at her.
‘Not there! That’s my seat!’
Startled, Sarah jumps up.
So many rules, Sarah thinks to herself.
‘I’ll take the other seat.’
Lady Poon nods in approval before taking her own seat. She adjusts herself for comfort before settling down.
Old enough to be Sarah’s mother, seated together like this, Lady Poon and Sarah looked like mother and daughter, about to discuss something serious.
Without saying another word, Lady Poon takes out an incense the length of a pinky from the table drawer.
She lights it up and then takes it between her hands. As she draws the lighted incense up to the middle of her forehead, she closes her eyes and begins chanting.
All the while, Sarah couldn’t believe what was happening. A devout atheist, she had stopped going to the temple with her mother beginning her senior year in high school.
‘If those Gods could help you, why are we still so dirt poor?’ she used to ask her mother.
Her mother slapped her in response. Don’t insult the Gods! she told Sarah, don’t you know they will punish you?
In response, Sarah stopped believing in anyone else but herself.
There was no God. No Buddha’s leg to hold on to help her get good grades or get a job. Just Sarah and herself.
But what was she doing now?
After trying to escape the Gods all her life, she had now traveled one and a half hours just to get Lady Poon to… what? Predict her future?
She winced. The thought disgusted her. She had gone too low this time.
The soft chanting goes on for about two minutes before Lady Poon ends it by putting the incense into a holder on the table.
She takes a deep breath and breathes out before opening her eyes.
When she does, her gaze meets Sarah’s who has been watching her.
Sarah felt a bit awkward at Lady Poon looking straight at her. But at the same time, it was a comfortable kind of stare.
For some reason, the Lady Poon in front of her now was different. Her eyes seemed kinder, her face softer.
Is that what the chanting does? Make you kinder? Sarah wondered to herself.
‘So, what are you here for?’ Lady Poon asks Sarah.
Even her voice was different. Softer, kinder – not the nasty woman she had met earlier.
But Sarah felt hesitant to ask. She was suddenly embarrassed at her question. Should she really let a lady she just met know about her deepest insecurities? Sarah didn’t know.
Sensing Sarah’s hesitations, Lady Poon takes a blank piece of paper and puts it in front of her.
‘It’s about a man, isn’t it?’ she asks.
Sarah’s cheeks become hot. Up until that point, only her best friend Jen had known about her problem with Wei Liang.
Still, Sarah does not say a thing.
But instead of waiting for a reply, this time, Lady Poon hands Sarah a pen.
‘Write the character 家 (home) on this piece of paper,’ she tells Sarah.
By now, things were getting strange. Write a character on a piece of paper? What would that say about my future? Sarah wondered. She felt like leaving.
But she reminded herself of the sign at the door: Leave your disbeliefs here.
She looked at the white paper in front of her.
Okay, since I’m already here, why don’t I just play along? she told herself.
So she takes the pen and draws the character.
It had been a while since Sarah had written anything in Mandarin, so she was a bit worried about making mistakes.
But when she was done, she was nicely surprised that she hadn’t forgotten all the strokes.
‘Here,’ she says, passing the paper back to Lady Poon.
Lady Poon turns the paper around so the character is now facing her. She leans down toward the paper to analyze it.
As she does, Sarah notices Lady Poon’s face transform from one of calm into one of concern.
Her eyebrows pushed towards one another and her lips pressed tightly. She seemed disturbed by what she saw.
What is she seeing? Sarah wonders to herself. Why does she seem so concerned?
After a few minutes of analyzing, Lady Poon looks up and stares into Sarah’s eyes intensely.
‘Do you know already?’