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The International Writers Magazine: One Day in a French Café

The Fortune Teller
• Sam North
'I’ll tell your fortune,” she said looking directly at me, vanilla and chocolate ice-cream smeared on one cheek. “But you have to promise not to hate me afterwards.”


I stared at her with surprise. I was uncertain of my situation here.

It was a sunny morning, it is always a sunny morning in St Maxime on the shores of the Cap d’Azure. A man likes to read his newspaper in peace with his café creme. She did not look like a fortune teller. She was about eight years old and sat in the café alone with a large and very patient Doberman at her feet, who looked up at her with keen anticipation that a tidbit would be coming. She wore a delicate pink embroidered cardigan and pleated skirt with huge black Caterpillar boots on her feet. She was concentrating on her ice cream as she scooped it out of the chartreuse green goblet. The café was utterly deserted - somehow I had utterly missed her arriving and being served as I read my paper.

“Do you always tell fortunes to strangers.” I asked her, wondering at the exquisite far-eastern eyes in her petite western face. She had wonderful confident manner and her hair was tied back to one side to prevent it going in the ice-cream. She turned to stare at me, thinking, her lips pursed liked a bright red button on her frowning face. I immediately had this image of her breaking boys hearts all over the world and knew, with certainly, that she had a great capacity for sulking until she got her own way. I could tell her fortune. Her delicate hands worked over the ice cream and she seemed deep in thought. A motor scooter went by disturbing the moment.
“I shall tell your fortune anyway,’ she declared. ‘I can tell when someone needs their fortune telling.’

Perhaps you will be critical. After all, a young girl, a male stranger. But I thought it best to let her do her party trick, no harm could come from it and besides, I had no fortune. Just another peniless writer trying to get by. Maybe she would give up those correct elusive winning lottery numbers we all crave.
I smiled at her, she took her cue.

‘You don’t come from around here,’ she began. It is an easy one, the only people who come from ‘around here’ are the ones serving café creme or owning the restaurants that cater to the passing trade. Besides both she and I were speaking English. Her English was polished and assured, with an accent, Hong Kong via Vancouver or Taiwan via London. A displaced rich kid, there are a lot around here.
“I think you came from Africa,” she declared. ‘I see you standing on a roof, a mountain behind you.’

I tried to remain impassive and put away memories of my home in Cape Town and the flat topped mountain that dominates everything. It had been a long time now. Nevertheless an impressive start.

‘You're always moving, you never stay long anywhere. You have three places you call home.
One has ...’ she frowned ‘flowers that grow inside. I mean, the garden and home are mixed up'.
I nodded, she deserved a little present for that. ‘Florida. It’s a courtyard, the bougainvillea grows everywhere, The owners haven’t the heart to cut it back.’

She looked away suddenly, touching on something she didn't like. ‘You had a wife. She ...I can see blood. I can see a gun.’ My little fortune teller went quiet pale. I sought to quickly reassure her.
‘It was a shark gun, went off by mistake. She didn’t mean it.’
‘She still calls you’. The colour was returning to her face now. No one had died. Janine had been fighting with me, she picked up the shark gun in anger. it went off immediately. I was pinned to the wall. Could have been worse. I didn’t lose my arm , the scar is all.
‘You still love her,’ my fortune teller told me, then snatched a curious look at me. ‘You wish you had a child of your me.’

I said nothing, you can’t change anything. That's the nature of fortune tellers. They tell you what you know to make you believe in the rest. But so far she had gotten it all. She had a genuine gift. I began to fear for her. I hoped her parents weren’t exploiting her.

‘You want to change your job I think, or do something else.’ She paused, taking another taste of ice-cream, thinking about what was going on in my mind. ‘An artist, you want to be an artist, but not a painter.’ She looked at me for confirmation.
“Photography, I always wanted to be a photographer.’
‘You are afraid you are going to be poor again, but you will find that something you have is worth more than you think. You will have an exhibition. Not yet. But soon.'
I smiled, shaking my head with wonder. ‘I hope you are right.’
She shrugged and gave me a confident, 'I am '.

She swallowed some more ice cream then and instantly scooped up another and dropped it into the waiting arms of her dog who barely swallowed, watching her intently in case there would be more.
‘He likes vanilla best,’ she explained.
‘A discerning dog’.
‘He isn’t mine, he’s looking after me.’
‘Doing an excellent job,’ I declared.
‘You’re going to fall in love in February and she will make you happy. She’ll be different to what you expect. You’ll want to stay in just one place, for a while.’

I looked at this child and her serious look of concern. I found myself hoping that she was right. Ridiculous, but she declared all this with such authority one couldn't help be be momentarily convinced.

‘Does anyone ever tell your fortune?’ I asked.
‘All the time,’ she answered quickly, ‘but I don’t like it.’
‘Your future?’
‘Their future. I know my future.’
‘Tell me your future.’
Her eyes narrowed as she thought about it. ‘It will be tragic. It will be beautiful.’
‘You will be beautiful and have many lovers,’ I told her.
‘I will fall for a man who will lock me up in a castle and not let anyone see me.’
‘That would be truly tragic.’
‘He will be killed and I will be sad. There will be a war.’
‘A war? When will that be?' Selfishly I was thinking of myself again. So many places where 'little wars' were being played out now. One wouldn't want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
‘When I am nineteen, it will start on my birthday and all the world will be very angry.’
I just knew from looking at her that she could really see this and the anger was real.
‘That is why you must enjoy your life now’, she added. 'My Aunt Ling says that all the time. Don’t wait.’
‘She tells your fortune?’ I asked.
She shook her head. ‘She talks to me, here.' She indicated her head. 'She says you have missed many opportunities to make money.’
‘Your Aunt passed away?’ This child had more than a gift. A dead aunt as mentor. Useful.
‘When she was young. By the way - she said that you can pay for my ice-cream.’
I smiled. Of course Aunt Ling would say that, but she was right about the lost opportunities.
‘You think I’m strange?’
‘Not as strange as your Aunt. Do you tell many fortunes?’
‘You’re my first.’
‘Really’? I wasn’t sure I believed her at all. She was so good at it.
‘I have to go.’ She suddenly stood up and the dog followed, bumping its head on the table, nearly upsetting the ice-cream goblet. She looked at me, something else having occurred to her. ‘Her name is Genie.’
‘The woman you will marry.’
“Thank you.’

A man stood at the door, unsteady on his feet, drunk at ten-thirty in the morning. He looked rough and unshaved, his shirt was un-ironed. The dog immediately hunched and bowed it’s head, clearly afraid of the man, but the girl wasn’t afraid. She’d seen this before. The man looked at me.
‘Is she bothering you?’
‘Not at all, she is very polite.’
The man pulled a face and produced a twenty Euro note from his shirt pocket.
‘Get your mother something to eat. I told you not to bring that fucking dog in here. If he’s pissed on the floor he’s going to get it and it’ll be your fault.’
The girl glared at him. ‘Wolfie hasn’t done anything.’ She snatched the money from his hands and ran off, the nervous dog taking a wider route around the man, followed her as fast as it could.

I watched her go, not a glance back. The man turned and went back into the street.
I was puzzled, but not surprised. Her father? An Uncle? I hoped it wasn't her father.

And then I was alone with my fortune, a cup of cold coffee and, I abruptly noticed on the back of the girls bill for the ice-cream a note for me.

‘It will all come true - A’

I await February now. Often I wonder if Anna is safe and look for her when I go for coffee, but she has never reappeared. I think of the man out there who will want to lock her up in a castle one day. Most times I think about the capacity of a child to surprise us.

‘It will all come true - A’

© Sam North 2013
author of Magenta

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