SEER OF NOVA VALLEY
The world was growing increasingly indifferent, non-compassionate and barbaric. In such a world, small acts of kindness had become practically non-existent. I reflected on this as I hurried through the red bricked lanes of Nova Valley, my hands buried deep inside my pockets, the collar of my coat wrapped tightly around my neck.
The alley was dark and I was startled when a voice called out from the shadows. It took a moment for me to spot the dark silhouette of a homeless man, hunched over on the pavement with a ragged blanket to keep him warm.
“A penny to read your future, madam.” In contrast to his body which was shivering like a leaf in a storm, his voice was steady.
I glanced around to make sure nothing else had escaped my vision in the dark embrace of the night. Once I was certain that nothing lurked in the shadows, I kneeled in front of the man. My heart was thundering in my chest, threatening to leave my body by way of my wind pipe; one could never be too careful. Besides, I had just come from spending the better part of the evening musing over the rape of a young girl. There was little to no justice in this part of the world and the best course of action would be to be safe.
I quickly scanned the man for any hidden items but it was hard to make out anything in the dark. So I fumbled inside my pockets and handed the man a twenty dollar bill. That would have bought him a decent meal. Yet, it felt insufficient. So I took off my coat and pressed it on his hands.
I saw the man’s face when he looked up in surprise. My heart wrenched to see the dilapidated look on his face; eyes sinking in a pool of dark bags, cheeks sunk in an unflattering manner and the raw hunger etched clearly in his eyes.
“Have a good night, Sir.” My voice caught up at the irony of my own words.
How should a man like that, stranded on the cold pavement, was supposed to have decent night?
A bitter wind blew my hair to one side as I spoke again;
“I wish I could help you more.”
I had turned away again, craving the warmth of my own house when he leapt up with the agility of a man not befitting his look and grabbed my hand. I jumped and tore myself away.
“Your future is in darkness, Madam.” He said with the same steady voice, his words forming little white clouds in the air. “Would you like me to spell it out for you?”
I hesitated. My late mother had been a fan of future telling. When I was born, she had hurried to the seer whom she had visited frequently. Apparently, he had stated three things which would impact my life greatly.
After supper, I sat at her knee where she recounted the story so often that it had felt as if I had experienced it myself, for my mother had been an excellent storyteller.
“He was a frail man.” She would say. “Most of our neighbors did not believe him when he warned them but he was always right. When I asked him about you, he told me three things.” She would touch my nose affectionately to make sure I was paying attention.
“I make three predictions, only one will come true he had said. He took the cap on the top of your little head and sniffed. Then he told me that your pets would die, leaving you heartbroken.”
I never had a chance to test the truth of that statement because my mother never allowed me to keep a pet for that reason. Then when I grew up, I spent most of my time in the office and lacked the time needed to take care of a pet.
“You will have a chance to be famous if only you apply yourself. He told me that, my dear Amy, and I believe it with all my heart. You have a good heart, you deserve the best the world has to give.”
For better or for worse, that prediction had led my mother to sell most of her jewelry in order to send me to Law School. I had thanked my stars for the seer because I was academically blessed and one single wrong word from him would have jeopardized my entire career.
But who had heard of a small town lawyer with barely two simple cases on their hand suddenly rising to success?
The third prediction had been simple. I was to go through a near death experience which would alter the course of things for me.
I had obsessed over these things for quite sometime but lacked the tool to test them. I debated if it was in my interest to open that door again, but curiosity got the better of me and I found myself saying to the homeless man;
“Go on then.”
The man was silent for a heartbeat. He buried his face in the coat I had given and sniffed.
“Your future had been foretold already and I sense the time is near.”
I took a step back cautiously.
“Do you know me?” I asked but my question fell on deaf ears.
“You will be evicted from your apartment very soon through no fault of your own. Some bad fortunes simply cannot be avoided no matter what a good person you are.”
“I warn you, Madam.” He said, an unnecessary sinister tinge creeping into his voice. “Many a people have tried to change their future for better or worse. But what the fates have already decided cannot be changed, only influenced in a positive or negative way by our choices.”
Fancy words for homeless person, I thought to myself, no doubt heavily motivated by Hollywood movies.
“You have been good to me,” he said, lowering his gaze again and sinking back into the shadows. “I pray you make good choices. You have been so good to me, I will bless you. But remember, the road to reward is bitter; the bitter the road, the sweeter the reward.”
I didn’t reply. Being a lawyer, I worked with logic and understanding. Predictions and astrological arts are but poison to a logical mind. But curiosity exceeds every fragment of logic and dampens even the most determined minds and I was no exception.
I hurried back down the lane, suddenly eager to put some distance between us. I wasn’t sure what to believe. Tonight’s events had put my mind at unrest. I had been looking forward to a quiet night but my neighbor, Samuel, insisted upon hacking out half his lung each fifteen minutes or so, making me jerk upright. It would have incited pity in me if only he had not been an avid drinker, bent upon destroying his organs and refusing any help.
The rest of the week blew away in a haze of howling winds which uprooted trees. Samuel had coughed up blood in his sleep and had been rushed to the hospital but he was declared dead on the way. Nevertheless, the good doctors of the Valley had taken a look at him out of curiosity and warned our landlord that Samuel had died owing to a virus not the lethal amounts of toxins he had been ingesting.
The landlord, jumping at the sight of his own shadows, had requested us to find another place to stay at while he sanitized the building to make it habitable again. Not like I had any other choice, I packed my things, muttered a few curses and drove myself to a cheap motel.
The wind was raging, making my eyes burn. The road was lonely and the only company I had were the waving trees on both side of the road. I found myself thinking about the homeless man and his future predictions. A wave of foreboding passed over me making goose bumps rise along my bare skin.
At least the worst was over; I thought to myself, I did not own a pet and I could easily steer clear of the heartbreak of losing one if I did not own one. The bid to become famous though was like searching for unicorns; a waste of time. The homeless seer had promised only one of his predictions would come true so I supposed there was no reason to be worried.
The howling wind masked the creaking of the tree nearby making me a clueless victim. I had not been speeding but when I spotted the huge tree leaning rapidly over the road, I panicked. I slammed the brakes on time but the tree had been huge and the branches numerous. One of the branches fell on the hood of my car, jolting me so hard that I hit my head on the roof of the car rendering me unconscious in a matter of seconds.
All of it had happened so fast, I had no time to be scared for my life. But now, sitting on the chair with a doctor’s hands wrapping a bandage around my head gently, I felt a wave of aftershock.
“Does it still hurt?” The doctor was an old mind with kind, warm brown eyes. I shook my head against my better judgment and felt a wave of nausea. The doctor laughed cheerfully and handed me a box of painkillers. “You’ll be up and about in no time, Miss Daisy, don’t you worry, it was only a small injury.”
He was right, the physical trauma had been nothing compared to the psychological trauma. I felt myself seething with answer for the next few days. The homeless seer had predicted the stupid eviction but failed to mention that my life would end in a jiffy had I not been careful.
Some bad fortunes simply cannot be avoided no matter what a good person you are. The phrase seemed to be etched into the back of my skull, making everything I did for the next few days seem futile and unfair.
The hearing for the rape of the young girl, Annette, was in the afternoon. It had been one of the most disgusting cases I had handled in a while; not only because of the nature of the crime but the way the jury was handling the case. The girl had been walking home after school in the evening, a little late than usual because of piano lessons for the upcoming event in the town. She was the only lady pianist in town and had admitted she wanted to be flawless in her delivery lest she should be ridiculed.
Having immersed in her lessons so deeply, she had lost the track of time and returned home alone. A group of men, from which only one had been identified so far, had seen this as a twisted opportunity to satisfy his own carnal needs.
The girl possessed all the tell-tale signs of rape, signs even the jury could not deny. The man was to be punished, sure, but he refused to name his friends and Anette’s parents were not totally satisfied with the way I was handling the case. The man’s non-cooperation had not been the only issue, he had also stated that the girl’s skirt was shorter than the prescribed length of the school and he had unapologetically stated;
“Men are but men, ruled by their raw desires and passions.”
The jury seemed to find the time of the event and Anette’s clothing as effective arguments to reduce the prison time served by him. Mr. Shankman, on the jury members had declared;
“Godly women don’t dress as to entice the men. And if they should dress that way, they invite trouble. For women who cannot respect themselves, guard themselves around strange men, do not get to complain.”
It had left Anette in tears and me speechless. When logic is flawed, it can be corrected. But if it gets tangled in a messy wave of gender impairments and bias, all arguments can be undoubtedly thrown out of the window.
I sat in the courtroom, my head already throbbing from the jury making impossible remarks to save the man, repeating all the things they had said previously.
“You cannot let the house unlocked and then come back and complain that your house was ransacked and its contents stolen.” Mr.Shankman was saying, minutes away from either reducing the jail time for the criminal or worse, acquitting him.
As though seized by a madman, I got up from my seat, unbuttoning my coat and leaving it on the chair. Mr.Shankman faltered.
“Do you have any arguments?” he asked.
“Just the one.” I replied flatly, my eyes on the criminal who stood at the middle of the floor. I opened my shirt, letting it fall on the ground.
There was a collective gasp in the room followed by increasingly louder gasps and murmurs as I essentially stripped down to my smallclothes.
There were beads of perspiration on the man’s forehead as I looked at him.
“What is the matter?” I asked, mockingly. The room was so silent, only the man typing away made any noise. “Am I not desirable to you?”
“Enough!” the fat old man roared from his seat. “The display of such vulgar-“
“Why? Do I not entice his passions the way twelve year old girls do?” I asked, my voice cracking like a whip in the room. “Do not sit there and pretend that raping, or invading someone’s privacy has anything to do with the amount of skin uncovered. And if a man is but a mess of raw desires, he does not get to be a man in a shared world.”
I felt someone wrap my coat around me. Turning back, I saw Anette, her eyes swimming in tears.
I turned back to the jury.
“None of you would gather the courage to violate me right now, why is that? Are you not a man any longer? Or is the fear of being on national telegraph cripple all your raw passions?”
The silence in the room had been deafening.
It had been thoughtless and reckless but it had gotten Anette the justice she deserved. The national telegraph had covered the story and the mounting pressure had forced the jury to imprison the man for a lifetime. Succumbing to the pressure and the prospect of a bleak future in jail, the man had named his companions who had all shared his fate.
Not to mention, I had suddenly become the embodiment of justice and compassion in Nova Valley.
Often, when I walked down the bricked alleys of Nova Valley, I would keep an eye open for the homeless seer to express my gratitude, to share my good fortune with him but I never saw him again.