Fate will not be cheated (short story)
Rakhi wandered through the fair. Her son Rahul was taking a ride on the big wheel with some friends and, now Rakhi glanced through the stalls to find something to amuse herself.
An odd, even comic looking ramshackle hut caught her eyes. The board advertised a palm reader, a teller of fortunes, but was so ridiculous in its wording and its list of suggested questions that one would like answered, that Rakhi who was an advertising executive, could not help smiling. She worked for a fairly big ad agency and had taken a recently long overdue 2 months break. Unfortunately Sandeep, her architect husband, had got saddled with a project just then and there plans of a long vacation had been delayed to the second month. This was how Rakhi found herself wandering around a fair with Rahul and his friends.
Rakhi looked at the sign again. How did people fall for the tricks these fraudsters played, she wondered? But she knew the answer — people believe what they want to. Let’s see if this one can fool me, said Rakhi to herself, as she pushed aside the curtain and entered the dim interiors.
Her eyes took time adjusting to the darkness. It was not complete — the night sky of the thatched roof was starry with pinpricks of light, and the occasional beam wandered like a lost stranger to disappear in the murky corners. A single beam shone well on the central wooden table. No dark crystal ball lay in the spotlight, but the plain worn wooden surface reflected enough to help illuminate the face of the palmist who had been waiting patiently for Rakhi to notice her.
With a gesture the fortuneteller invited her to sit on the chair opposite. Seating herself Rakhi was surprised to find herself still in the dark. She had expected the palmist to try and get a look at her face in order to guess something about her.
Instead they both lay in the darkness, with the beam of light in between them as a barrier. There was a moment of silence, and then Rakhi placed her palm on the table like an offering.
The palmist bent forward slightly. She was an old woman. She hardly seems to look at the palm as she traced her fingers over the lines that lay engraved in the soft supple skin.
“Where shall I start?” she asked. “The past, the present, the future?”
“The past and the present,” said Rakhi with a note of challenge in her voice.
The palmist smiled slightly. Rakhi knew she was not the first to put her to this test.
“You are a young woman of about twenty-seven, with a husband and a single son. You will have a daughter in about nine months.”
Rakhi caught her breath. She had gone to the hospital for the pregnancy test just that morning. She hadn’t even told Sandeep yet. But this woman knew……
Rakhi was convinced. After a pause, the old woman laid out her past. For the most part she gave a brief outline, but occasionally she gave astonishingly personal details. She was embarrassed to find such details written clearly on her palms, there for those who could read them.
“And now the future.” The fingers moved along a line. A small frown crossed the palmist’s face. She went back and forth over a certain spot, circling it, then with a slightly troubled face move down the line.
“Your daughter will be a special child. Two years from now you will change your job. You will become involved in social work. You will become very religious. You will be swindled a lot of money by fake fortunetellers…”
‘Sandeep will never allow that’, thought Rakhi.
“You will find—you will have a good father for your children”, said the palmist.
“What do mean ‘find’?” said Rakhi, puzzled.
“I am sorry my child,” she said in a low whisper, as her fingers went back to the same spot. “Your husband will die in a month.”
Everything in her brain screamed it was impossible, it was irrational, but she had already seen this woman read her life like a story from a book, she needed to know…
Her throat like a dried fountain, a trickle of voice whispered, pleaded, “How?”
“In a car accident.”
Rakhi leaned back. A wave of dread, then a surge of love for her husband, for the father of her children; she would not let this happen, she would stop it, she would warn him.
She hurriedly opened her purse and put down some money on the table. She ran to the door.
“You will try, but you cannot cheat fate.” The voice stopped her. She looked back at the old woman, who leaned slightly in to the shaft of light. Rakhi gasped and then rushed out. The woman had cataracts in both her eyes.
Outside, she reached into her handbag for her mobile, and then hesitated. Wishing to clear her mind, she started walking in the nearby park.
She had never believed in fortune telling, but today all that had been turned upside down. She tried to rationalize. How could the old woman have told her in such great detail how her husband was going to die? In a car accident — in such detail? But she knew she loved Sandeep deeply--such things could be written on her palms as well as his.
But she did not believe in inevitable fate. She would fight. She would change it. She wondered if that too was written on her palms. Would she succeed? Could she change the lines?
On reaching home, Rakhi was less certain about telling her husband. The thought of the way Sandeep would ridicule her when he found out that she had believed a fortuneteller did more to convince her then rational thinking. Perhaps the woman knew a nurse in the hospital … but it was all very unsatisfactory.
The next morning she quietly suggested, “Why don’t you take the train to work today?”
“The train?” he laughed, “why it would be twice the distance, what with going to and coming from the station. Why what’s wrong with the car?”
“Oh, it pollutes and all that…”
“I could join a car pool if you like”.
“No, I just don’t want you to go by car for a few days.”
“Why on earth?”
“Well, there could be an accident…”
“Rakhi, it’s been two years since we brought this car. Why the sudden fear of an accident?”
“Oh, I read that there are a lot of accidents these days and … oh, nothing.”
She stalked off.
He took the car to work. He returned as usual at 5:30pm. She heaved a sigh of relief as she watched the car turn into the garage of their house. She had been waiting by the window for the last two hours.
The next day at 5:30 he hadn’t come in. She started to reach for the phone when it rang. It was him, on the mobile. He was stuck in a traffic jam, it looked as if it would last for a couple of hours. When he reached home, he found her tensed but controlled. He tried to talk about it, but the conversation at the dinner table was one sided. Rahul was asleep.
The next night he returned at 7.30pm. He found her sitting on a chair in a corner, the room dark except for a lit table lamp near her. She was huddled up, her dark curtain of hair hiding a face streaked by golden trails of tears.
He approached her cautiously. “Shashank got a promotion. We were celebrating at his place. I tried calling up at six but the phone was engaged…”
“It was engaged because I was calling the police station and all the hospitals.” She lifted her face and he saw her red eyes.
“There is no need to be so worried when I’m late. I …”. His words fell limply in the air as she walked into the bedroom and locked him out.
They breakfasted in silence. When he reached for the car keys her self-restraint broke. She grabbed him and begged him not to go by car.
Slowly, between sobs, he extracted the story. At first he tried reasoning with her. She could not convey to him the stunning accuracy of the blind palmist.
“You can bring your work home—you can work from here—you used to do it.”
“How long would you want this to go on?” he asked in exasperation.
“Just another twenty-seven days…”
He walked out in anger. She ran after him and stood in front of the car.
Two hours of arguments later he gave in.
Twenty days passed. Rakhi did all the shopping. She never let Sandeep step out of the house. One week left.
The seven days dragged slowly. Sandeep was short tempered and exasperated. The days passed with Sandeep working alone in his study and Rakhi in the kitchen. Conversations consisted of silences and hot words. Rahul was confused and sad. He had been glad that his father was home more often, but he didn’t see much of him. He was sad and lonely and took to playing in the hall at the top of the stairs.
The last day dawned. Rakhi was up early making breakfast. She came out of the kitchen and saw Sandeep standing at the top of the stairs. They paused and looked at each other.
“The last day,” he called out.
“Yes,” and a smile crossed their faces.
He laughed and took a step down with his arms open to hold her.
What happened next would always remain to Rakhi a series of stills, like photos taken under a flashing light.
He slipped—a look of surprise crossed his face—he sailed forward—he fell—he hit his head—he tumbled down the stairs and landed spread-eagled at her feet.
Her screams brought the neighbours.
As they covered the body with a sheet, Rakhi reached down to pick up the object on which he had slipped. A look of incredulous fear passed over her face and she fainted. When they pried open her hand, they found a toy of her son’s—a small toy car.