Last Stop

Some days ago, the fortuneteller told Jin that he’d see his little daughter again, while aboard a city bus. He understood she was only giving him what he asked for, a vision of hope. But Jin knew that the fortuneteller’s vision and his reality resided in completely different worlds, worlds that only our feeble words may move between. But now that the prophesied day is come, he realizes he’d dwelt partly inside the soothsayer’s vision all along, even having gone so far as to plan for the foretold day.

But now that the prophesied day is come, he realizes he’d dwelt partly inside the soothsayer’s vision all along, even having gone so far as to plan for the foretold day.

His wife, a university biochemistry lab manager who defected from her parents’ Buddhist traditions as soon as she educated her way out from under their roof, continues to express her frustration that Jin keeps seeing this mystic healer. “People like her,” she says, “they once played a role — witch-doctors and priestesses of the scary invisible world out there, full of monsters and demons. She can’t heal what happened to us. Don’t you think I’ve prayed, too? It can’t change anything.”

Jin reminds her that two years of counseling and psychotherapy have not changed the situation either, and that seeing this fortuneteller, someone connected to his, to their family’s beliefs, can’t hurt. “I’m not crazy, Margaret. I’m not.”

He knows his plan will upset his wife, so before leaving he tells her he needs to fill in at a dinner meeting for one of the bank’s other executives. “It’s a Japanese account,” he lies. “Frankie came down with something, so they need the only other Asian guy to play chummy with the CEO in front of the foreigners. It makes the deals go smoother. Hey, I promise — no geishas.” He smiles and kisses his wife’s forehead.

Once inside his car, he sighs. He knows what he has embarked on is, in all likelihood, a wild goose chase, a frantic scrambling after shadows. He does not believe in magic — so how can he believe in a white-robed fortuneteller in a cluttered, dimly lit room in the back of a medicine shop in Chinatown? But it’s too late: his assistant has cleared his calendar for the day. Like he tells Margaret: it can’t hurt.

In Chinatown, leathery men unload produce and wares from double-parked trucks. The elderly huddle in doorways, statue-like, the men smoking the day’s first pipe in silence as small children are ushered into school buses by their mothers.

Jin finds a parking spot on a residential street. He considers this auspicious, since in the past he has circled the area for over twenty minutes before finally giving in and parking in a pay ramp. It’s a good start.

He parks and steps out of the car. A nearby school bus pulls away from the corner, and he regards with a familiar heaviness of heart the little pale faces seen through dirty bus windows. At the rear window, a boy waves to him until the distance swallows the little white palm, as though it has closed into a fist. But then the little hand opens up again, and the bus rolls in reverse until it’s no longer a bus but Margaret’s gray station wagon with Lacy Hensley’s painting easel in the back, resting on top of the seat — the easel that Margaret meant to return to her friend after her failed attempt at watercolors. And the afternoon is still blue and sunny, though an angular rain is now sweeping in from the west where storm clouds have gathered, and Amara twists around inside her seatbelt in the car seat behind Margaret, eyeing the clouds with wonderment until she sees Jin waving and pushes her right hand upward to wave back, but the seatbelt constricts her movement, and the station wagon rounds the curve, leaving Jin to wait out the rain before going for his Sunday morning run.

Jin realizes he is standing with his car door open. He shuts the door, which seems heavier than usual, its thud cleaner and more final. This is where it must start, then. He clicks the car alarm on and heads toward the fortuneteller’s. There is a bus stop near the medicine shop; he will wait there for whatever bus comes. He pats his suit jacket’s inner pocket for the roll of quarters. His chest is constricted, as though a vice has gripped his heart, forcing it to beat harder, faster, to make up for lost volume. He takes a deep breath and reminds himself, It can’t hurt.

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