“Have you visited the Oracle again recently?”
“Well, what if you forget something? About, y’know…”
“Please,” I sighed with exasperation, pushing my hair out of my face. “I’ve been told my future since birth. I know what to avoid. Not that I’m so sure it’ll happen anyway.” My friend, Amani, watched me nervously as I hopped up on a rock wall, just trying to show how much I really cared. Which is to say, little.
“Besides,” I added. “Isn’t like, believing in that stuff just manifesting it? Like I mean, if I were to take everything my prophecy said seriously, and avoided all the mirrors, water, and other things like the plague, it would probably all happen anyway. It’s like that old Sleeping Beauty story or something, right? Chick probably spent her whole life worrying about spindles, and her parents probably banned the spindles and stuff. And in the end, she still pricked her finger and fell into a hundred years sleep.”
“I mean, I guess, but Farhana, what about your dreams? The Oracle said the dreams could give you more detail to better prepare yourself.” I felt myself getting annoyed with Amani. What did she know? She and I had been told the same things from birth. Not the same prophecy, no, but the same instructions on how best to accept and cope with our futures being known. She had chosen to fear. I would not.
“Amani.” I said sternly, stopping in the middle of the wall, balancing using the treads of my boots. “I don’t think the oracle should have any business telling kids their futures anyway. There is a chance he’s wrong anyway. And I stopped having dreams after I chose not to believe in my prophecy. I’d read somewhere that dreams are just your subconscious, trying to work things out, and if you’re stressed about something you’re bound to have a dream related to it. So in that way, the dreams don’t mean anything anyway, it's just your brain reacting to conscious thoughts.” I started walking again, staring straight into nothing as she moaned behind me.
“Farhanaaaaa, how can you not believe in your own future? How come you won’t tell anyone what you’ve dreamed? And if you don’t believe in the future the Oracle foretold, then what do you imagine your future to be like?”
I stiffened a bit when she mentioned my dreams. My prophecy was bad enough, but everybody knew that. And if everybody knew that my future was dismal, then maybe it wouldn’t take much guesswork to know that my dreams, though hazy now since I’d stopped dwelling on the prophecy, were also just as bad, if not more traumatizing. I was sparing everyone worry by not telling them, really. But maybe Amani was just simple minded. Too wrapped up in worries to do any real deduction.
“My future,” I started, my eyes becoming dreamy and a small smile coming on my face as I paused to recount what I had always dreamt of. “-will be filled with close family and friends. We are all eating around the table, and celebrating my good health around the new year. Everyone is pleasantly surprised that I’ve lasted long enough to have a great, fulfilling life, and that I’ve been able to move away from this village and build my own life and family. I will tell my grandkids to alway be skeptical of the village Oracle, because so far, my prophecy still hasn’t come like he once predicted. I will live happily in retirement with my spouse, with a good cup of tea, a cat and a dog, and always having a good book. I may even write stories myself, to document my rebellion against fate and my success. And then, when I am about ninety or so, I will pass away, peacefully, in my sleep.” As I come out of my own, self-made prophecy haze, I notice that Amani looks dazzled at my storytelling, as though wishing that that story could be true, for both of us. But then she shakes her head sadly, to drive away the clouds of my dream.
“It is a lovely thought Farhana, but you will see. The path, though it may divert many times, always leads back to the prophecy.” I roll my eyes. Another proverb from our village leaders about how to cope with our pointless lives.
Then again, I should probably have pity for Amani. While her prophecy is better than mine, she still will have to deal with many hardships. The Oracle told her she will meet two men, both who are kind, but one of them is mean spirited and hateful underneath. Amani chooses the wrong one in his prophecy, and lives a miserable, subservient life. She says she has made peace with it, but I do not think she has. Sometimes she still cries over nothing, and will occasionally tell me about a recurring dream she has about a nice looking man with four children. Though she can never see his face, she knows deep down that he must not be the one she chose, for she always remembers feeling a wistful sorrow in her dreams.
I believe if Amani put her mind to it and taught herself some common sense instead of being fearful, she could choose the right man. I feel that she could change her fate. But around here, once your prediction is written, everyone treats it as final.
“Please, at least accompany me to the temple Farhana. I do not wish to go alone.”
“Alright.” I sigh. “I will come. But I will not step foot in the temple. I will wait outside.”
We enter a merchant area as we walk, finally in silence. I put my hands in my jacket, and I play with my lucky amethyst ring as my mind wanders. Shadows of people and animals and wares shift on the ground in the glowing afternoon light, and I think about how fate must be as lenient as that. As the twisting of the shadows, or as fluctuating oh cold and warmth as the sun and the air move and work in harmony. Amani doesn’t understand. I have to believe in a different future, otherwise I’ll manifest a different one in the insanity of dwelling on my supposed death.
Amani gasps and moves to my other side, as if her short frame is trying to shield me from something.
“Don’t look Farhana!” She says, which of course makes me look. Stupid Amani. It’s a circular mirror. It is sitting right in front of the temple. I just force a laugh.
“Oh, a mirror?” I say, mocking the fates now. I want to show Amani that there is no fear to be had in simple things, like mirrors and prophecies. I pretend to check my hair, and my makeup, and I make silly faces in the mirror as Amani’s face grows lines of anxiety. I laugh for real this time, and turn away from the mirror.
“Come on Amani! Go to the temple! Go consult the oracle. I will wait right here.”
“Are you sure?” She asks, still eyeing me as if I might drop dead any minute.
“Absolutely. Look - do you see any bodies of water nearby? I will be fine. I’ll sit right here, and when you return, I will be just fine.” As I chose a sunny spot on the stone steps to bask and sit, Amani followed, her clogs clicking against the stone.
“If you’re sure…” She said, unconvinced that I was going to be alright. “Would you like me to say something to the Oracle on your behalf?”
“You may give him my regards, but I do not wish to hear anything about my future. So if he tells you anything, you must keep it to yourself.” Amani looked as though she might cry, so I closed my eyes and focused on the sun. She was choosing fear, not I.
“Very well.” She choked out, and I heard her click her way up the stairs until I could hear her no more. Finally at peace with myself, I got as comfortable as I could, resting my back on a stone column holding up a statue of a lion, stretching my legs onto the step in front of me, my eyes still closed against the warm sun.
A cold breeze swept through the merchant stalls below me, caressing my face and carrying the scent of incense and seawater from the canals further off. I am reminded by the heavy perfume of my first trip to the oracle as an eight year old, when my parents felt I was old enough to hear what the oracle had said to them upon my birth.
The only good part of that trip was when my father let us go get ice cream at the stall afterwards. I don’t remember crying, I just remember numbness. I remember my mother breaking down into tears after hearing the prophecy a second time, and apologizing to me later at the ice cream shop for bringing me into this world. She swore that if she had known she never would have had children. I told her that was silly, and that at the very least we could enjoy the time we had together now. It was then that she sniffed, wiped her tears on her cloak, and looked me in the eye as she took my hand and said,
“You are very brave, and I am grateful for your practical mind. You are right. We have now, and that is all that matters. No matter the outcome, we shall live in the now.”
As I push the uncomfortable memory back into the recesses of my subconscious, I focus on living in the now, and the ice cream. I now want some, and since we need to take the canals back home anyway, or at least I do, I decide I’ll try and convince Amani to come with me for some. I’ll even pay for her ice cream, since I feel guilty for giving her such a hard time earlier today. My mother always said that I had a short temper, and I suppose if I’m going to live until ninety, I will probably need to learn to reign that in. I hear clicking on the stone steps coming towards me, and I open one eye. It is Amani, and she looks her usual amount of anxious. She’s been soothed some, but not by much. It’s also obvious that she wants to tell me something, but I cut her off.
“Hey Amani,” I say as I stand up. “Do you want to go get ice cream at the wharf? I was just thinking about it, and I would love some mint chip.” Amani squeaks, and I narrow my eyes a bit, my earlier irritation returning. As if reminded by what I told her earlier, Amani decides to nod timidly. She won’t exactly look me in the eye, but she says to me,
“Sure. The Oracle sends his regards to you as well, by the way.” I grunt, turning away and walking down the steps. I had figured he would send his regards. Not that they meant much.
“Come! I will pay for your ice cream too. Let’s go! It will be a nice way to end the day before I have to go home.”
Amani is silent the entire way to the ice cream shop, her aura more cautious and timid than earlier. At least she was at ease when we first started our day. At the shop, Amani asks for a strawberry cone, and I get her a larger cone than mine despite her protests, insisting that it’s my treat. This is how I make up for things.
The wharf masters begin to light the torches as Amani and I sit outside, eating our ice cream and enjoying the last few warm rays of sun. I am not finished with my ice cream, but it is getting dark, and I feel renewed and comforted that I have done what I can for Amani. I get up, and tell Amani,
“Thank you for letting me accompany you today. Overall I have had a good day. I will see you tomorrow, perhaps?” Amani clears her throat, and is staring at her hands. I stiffen, and my eyes narrow once more, daring her to tell me what the oracle says. I do not want to know, but I am anxious all the same.
“Farhana, maybe instead of going home, you can spend the night at my house?” Amani asks. It is a request. A suggestion. The Oracle has told her something is going to happen if I leave. I straighten my spine. I have spent my whole life ignoring the Oracle’s prophecy, and nothing bad has ever come from it. I am not going to start being different today.
“Amani,” I begin, trying to keep my voice level and kind. “I appreciate your concern, but I am going to be fine. I have traveled the canals plenty of times, and have not had any troubles once.”
“Farhana please!” Amani gasps, standing abruptly, her chair screeching and her unfinished ice cream splattering, crunching on the ground. “Please don’t go! I know you told me not to tell you, but the Oracle, he -”
“Amani! I am not going to die just because he said so! And I will prove you and him wrong right now. You will see me tomorrow.” I stormed away from my simple friend, frustrated that she could not honor the simplest of wishes. She just didn’t understand, and she never would.
Just in time, I boarded a boat, with just me and the boat rower at the helm. It was the end of the day, so not many people were crowding to get home. After waiting a couple of minutes, the boat master pushed the boat away from the dock, and I caught sight of Amani wringing her hands, obviously fretting over me. I waved to her and blew her a goodbye kiss to show her I was unafraid, before we sailed around a building and out of sight.
There is a stretch of docks and open sea before we enter the actual canals to my hometown, but as I told Amani, nothing bad has happened to me in the canals before. I start to relax, my hand resting on the side of the boats I stare dreamily into the distance, the taste of ice cream still on my lips, the scent of saltwater becoming stronger as we rowed along the edge of an open sea. I become immersed in it, and close my eyes for a minute, when-
Everything becomes tumultuous, and I am thrown out of the boat and plunged into the icy water. The salt stings my nose, and as I break the surface I can see my scream mirrored, for just a second, in the water about me. I taught myself to be a good swimmer so that I could fight against this fate, but I am learning that it is not good enough. My heavy jacket and boots are weighing me down, and I am swallowing saltwater faster than I can swim. I am panicking despite my best efforts not too as I see the wreckage of my boat dispersing above me. I do not see the boat master.
My body begins to convulse as it fights for air, but I begin to feel relaxed in my mind. My vision kaleidoscopes as I drown, and as if in a mirror I again see myself, in many pieces of watery glass, dying. However, I have made my peace. At least I had the now, and I was happy for most of it. My only regret, is that my death proves the Oracle right, and Amani will always believe that fate is cruel. And perhaps she was right after all.
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Hi there, WOW - you certainly tell a wonderful tale. Your technique and pacing are wonderful. I am putting together an Anthology of Short Stories to be published in late Spring 2021. Would you be interested? The details can be found on my website: www.mustangpatty1029.com on page '2021 Indie Authors' Short Story Anthology,' and you can see our latest project on Amazon. '2020 Indie Authors' Short Story Anthology.' Feel free to reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Absolutely! Thank you so much for the information, I will be sure to reach out to you soon. :)
This is great! I know others have already said it, but I have to say it again - the character development is so good! I kinda hate the idea of having a fate set for us that we can't change no matter what so I'm not sure if I like the ending personally. It was really well written though, and you made all the descriptions seem so natural!
Thank you! I appreciate the feedback! I also believe fate is fluid, but I also grew up in a culture that believes it isn't, so I think the ending was more about questioning whether it came true because it was prophesied and was going to happen anyway, or was it really just a freak accident? I definitely made it very heavy handed that fate is strict from the character point of view though, because that is the view I had growing up with religion. It definitely isn't great and it's not everyone's cup of tea, so I understand why the ending rubs...
Of course! 😀😀
I really like this story, it has so much depth to it! I like the way you show readers what each character is like through their actions and mannerisms, it gives us a really clear picture of their personalities. I also liked the ending, the descriptions were really well written! Well done!
Thank you so much Imaan! I'm so glad that you liked the characters, and I'm really glad that my ending didn't fall flat! :D
Hey Aimee! I'm so glad you've submitted something again :D I really liked this story, and how well you were able to incorporate so many elements into it. The way Amani was so invested in the village, and the stark contrast to Farhana who wanted nothing more than to rebel against it. Even the formal language that they used seemed very relevant, and I absolutely loved their names. Something else I also really enjoyed was how you gave us snippets of Farhana's prophecy, but not the main part of it until the very end. It made everything int...
Thank you so much! It feels really good to be able to write something after so much craziness. :D I'm glad you liked the contrast between the two girls! it was a very interesting dynamic for me to write. I was a little worried I made Farhana a little too mean, but I think it fits her well. Thanks again!