Rashad Sees the Future
She was about thirty-five. Her smile came easily. “Hi. How’s your night going?”
“Good,” said Rashad, looking at her in the rearview mirror. His passengers did not usually smile or ask how he was doing.
“Do you know where the Siskel Theatre is? I’m going there.” She pushed her blond hair behind her ear and leaned in toward the glass that partitioned the front and back seats.
“It’s down by Randolph, I think. And State. You know? I don’t have the address.”
“We will find it.” He continued to watch her in the mirror. She was thin and her hands flickered in constant motion, tucking her hair, wrapping her scarf tighter, touching her lips.
“Ok. Well. Let’s go find it.” Her hands came up in a gesture that waved the air forward through the break in the partition glass. He put his foot on the gas.
;;;;;;A respected neighbor had read Rashad’s palm when he was two. The seer proclaimed loneliness, obesity and longing, though no one ever told the boy. At sixteen, fair-skinned and surrounded by friends, his parents shipped him off to America to live with a cousin. They wanted to spare themselves the pain of watching his fate unravel, though at the time, they said things that Rashad believed about opportunity and sound choices.
He did not have any conscious memories of the palm reading, but often in dreams he stood in darkness, arms stretched down, palms forward. Against the flat of his hands he felt gentle pressures that suggested feathers and warm pudding. He felt the tongues of cats and women trace the edges of his hands, fill in and set fire to the parallel and intertwining creases, stretch the palms open. He always woke from these dreams in a sweat of fear or lust, and pressed his hands against his thighs and chest and neck. In the cramped U.S. studio apartment, breathing in the faint kitchen smells that wafted from the sleeping bodies of family members, the people ever changing but the scent remaining the same, he wondered if he had cried out or, perhaps, moaned into the city-lit room.;;;;;
In the review mirror he could see the woman looking out at the lights of the cars passing on the inside lane. She rubbed her jaw with her thumb.
“My name is Rashad.”
He turned a little and put his arm through the hole in the partition glass, glancing back at her.
Her hand lay against his and then retracted quickly.
Rashad pressed his palm against his thigh, his chest, his neck.
He let off the accelerator and then pumped it again. The taxi rocked gently. He imagined that the force of acceleration propelled the woman backwards and that the black-vinyl hugged her a little deeper.
;;;;;;After years working in his cousin’s restaurant and a few business plans that fell through before they had a chance to get started, his would-be partners always fading away before they signed anything, he started driving a taxi.
Already, though, with no time to play soccer and much of his paycheck coming in the form of free meals, his body had grown thick. No matter what kind of pants he wore, jeans, slacks, high-wasted, low-wasted, loose-fitted, shirt out, his hips looked soft and rounded like a woman’s. The cousin’s family made fun, “Who will bear the children when you marry?”
He liked this job where he sat and no one looked at his hips.;;;;;
“Are you a movie producer?” Rashad asked.
“Me?” The woman’s laugh was light and breakable, like the crystals that swung against the window in his cousin’s kitchen when too many people crowded the room and began to knock against things.
“Yes. The theater.”
“Oh,” she laughed again. “No. Just going to a movie.”
“What is your job?”
There was a pause. “I’m a consultant.”
;;;;;;At first he enjoyed the challenge of driving the taxi, learning the entire city. He thrilled with adventure and import the times people barked addresses and said, “It’ll be worth your while to get me there in ten minutes,” and the one time someone actually said, “Follow that taxi.” Once he shepherded a woman in labor to the hospital and felt proud and terrified and hopeful, as if he were the father.
When it was his job to drive the city alone for sixteen-hour shifts, incidental relationships forming for a few minutes, everything felt a little less empty. He stopped reciting the causes of his loneliness.
Twelve years behind the wheel and things he did not like began to show through. He did not like how people said cruel and ignorant things about his accent. The good friends, the husbands and wives holding hands who told him to shut up and just drive, the standoffish women traveling alone, the men chatting on their cell phones, he ached to know them, to be them.;;;;;
In the mirror he saw her run the flats of her fingers over the crescents of thin skin under her eyes.
“A consultant for helping businesses?” He thought about his vowels and consonants, kept them round or hard in all the right places. American.
“Yes. For businesses. For developers.”
;;;;;;Every week Rashad called back home to his family. He usually called after a shift, in the dark of early, early morning when he was numb with too much coffee and left turn, right turn and could imagine the sleepy afternoon sun of home that pressed down and encouraged everyone to take a rest. He often wondered how the two suns could be the same, the one that shone cold and far away on this American city and the one back there that inundated everything, emanated back out of the dirt and rested on the edges and in the hollows of anything animate or inanimate. His mother usually answered the phone.;;;;;
“You help people make their businesses better.”
“Yeah. I help them know the best way to do what they want to do.”
“Can you help me?”
“Can you help me be better?
“Oh. I, um, work with businesses. Not individuals.”
“We could talk. You could help me be better.”
;;;;;;One time he said to his mother, “It’s hard. I’m lonely.”
“This is life.” The connection was bad and she sounded very far away, tinny, lying in crumpled paper with snakes hissing around her head.;;;;;
“If you help me make my life better, I’ll read your palm for you. That would be nice.”
“I’m not a counselor. I think you’re looking for a counselor. I think you should take a right up there.”
“Have you ever had your palm read?”
The woman sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear, though it already lay neat and smooth. “Yes.”
“Do you believe in that?”
“I don’t know. “ She touched her window. “Right here.”
“Yes,” said Rashad. He took the curve gently.
“I didn’t believe what the woman said. Or well, she said things that sounded good because I’d told her all about myself before she looked at my hand.”
“I read palms.”
“Oh. Do you.”
He thought of her thin, fragile hand in his own, where it had lain for just that moment. “Yes.”
They were only a few blocks away and the taxi was silent.
;;;;;;Over the telephone line, the crackling and hissing continued even when no one said anything. It made the distance conceivable.
“Mother, not everyone is alone like me. I see it.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Maybe I should come home. I’ve been thinking,” he said.
“Son, running away won’t change anything.”;;;;;
The taxi pulled up across from the theater, the red and blue lights of the marquis competing for notice in the garish blinking and wavering of illuminated building fronts up and down the block.
“There it is. See the sign?” he said.
“What does your palm say? About you?”
Chubby and soft, he pushed his hand off the hard plastic wheel and looked at the palm, the lines, craggy in the shadows of the street lights, stretched and yawned in the headlamps of each car that passed.
“My palm says, it says that everything will be ok. It’s got to be alright.”
“Here. I don’t have enough cash.” A credit card, scissored between her fingers, came through the hole in the separation. It took a long time for the machine to start grinding out the receipt.
;;;;;.“Mother, maybe you are right.”
“You’ve got a good job. You’ve got family. Stay.”
When he shifted his hand on the receiver, the plastic was cold where he had not been gripping it. Leaning his head down so that it almost touched the phone base, he finally took the telephone away from his ear and laid it down, feeling the gentle resistance of the transmitter buttons. The crackle and hiss continued in his ear for a long while.;;;;;
“Ok,” the woman said, just as the credit card machine broke the silence. “Here, read my palm.”
Rashad turned his head towards her arm, laid on top of the front seat, bent down at the wrist, palm out. He reached up and touched the edge of it. He glanced at her. His thick fingers grasped the sides of the slim hand and he thought of the word “translucent.” The lines in the palm cut deep and he brushed his thumb across the base of each finger.
“Yours,” he said, “is going to be a good life.”
Slowly, so that he could almost believe he was not doing it, he leaned down until his lips touched the center of her palm. Her hand did not jerk away.
The machine stopped. She took her card and the receipt he handed back through the hole in the partition, signed, passed the slip of paper back to him and got out of the car. Before the door shut, she leaned back in, pushing her hair behind her ear.
“You have a good night, now.” Then the door slammed and she ran, balancing on her thin high heals, across the lanes of traffic.