Sunday, August 9, 2020

“Diplomacy and the fine art of Tea Leaf Reading” by Ann Gray

When we were little, my friends would dress as Wonder Woman or Super Girl for Halloween.  As my only superpower seemed to be my ability to make up stories, I would always be a gypsy fortune teller. So when my kid’s school asked me to help at a charity Halloween fundraiser, I found myself once again dressed as the Amazing Madame Grotsky  and charging $2 for a tea cup reading. 

Each child would come in take a sip of tea (loose leaf, black no sugar) and then spill the remainder into the tea cup saucer.  I would then look for patterns left by the tea leaves and tell their fortunes using my best mumbo-jumbo voice.

Reading the tea  leaves is like watching clouds,  first you use your imagination to find shapes, then you spin the shapes into symbols and make a story/prophesy.   There are established meaning for certain symbols, and I had a cheat sheet of these tucked under my robe - a bird means good luck, a lion for courage or fame, mountains for adversity.  Sometimes I find it hard work to know what to say , but that night in October I was barely glancing at the cups before coming up with advice.

I  had a line up of little girls who wanted to be told they would marry a prince.  I told them that they should become welders or nurses or teachers.  Channelling the advice from The Wealthy Barber, I told them to save 10% of everything they earned and put it aside to build their own castle, then they could be a princess and marry whoever they liked.

The little boys wanted to know when they would get the newest video games.  I told them that they  could do better in school if they paid attention in class, (always a safe bet) and that they should learn to cook so that they could attract a beautiful woman when they grew older.  Moreover  if they did those things  their life could become more exciting than any  video game. 

The more I improvised, the more fun I was having.  Even I was starting to believe my stories.   Then a boy came who was a little older than the others, Ahmad, a recent immigrant from the Middle East.    

He plunked down a toonie, drank the tea and shyly handed me the cup.   I told him he had good fortune in his future, and he smiled, then he asked “Will I have children?”. 

“I see 2 girls... “

I hadn’t noticed his father behind him.  “Girls, no that is not right there must be sons!   We will not go ahead with the marriage if there are no sons.” I remembered that Ahmed had recently become engaged to a girl in his home country.  Had I just squashed his marriage?  What about the girl, would she ever get a chance to come to Canada?  Maybe their marriage was to solidify  peace between  two feuding tribes and I had just caused a war to break out...

The father crowded into my space and  glared down his nose at me.  His heated glance said without words “Observe the magnificence of my beard!  I am the patriarch of my family, no  mere woman  should dare tell me that I  won’t have grandsons.  Recant or feel my wrath!”

I cowered for a moment, then I glared back, lifting my right eyebrow, silently conveying –“  I am a soccer mom!  I have endured labour pain, colic and  diapers.  I  can  maneuver a minivan in heavy traffic  to get child Number One to soccer practice, while  simultaneously planning how to  help child Number Two craft a homework  assignment-( due tomorrow) from a  potato, a feather duster and glitter glue -none of which are currently available in the house!   Beard or no beard, no man knows more about children than I do!”

He glanced away first.  Victorious, I picked up  the tea cup. “ I had not yet finished reading”  I declared with all the dignity available to a woman dressed in a costume comprised of last year’s Christmas tree skirt, a table cloth, and a borrowed belly dancer scarf. 

“Obviously the tea leaves for the 2 daughters are at the lip of the cup, as the daughters will come first.”  Feeling a bit upset about the plight of these as yet fictional but unwanted girls I added “The placement and the size of the leaves shows that they will be very important and bring great honour to your family.     Further down in the cup,”   I held my breath and tipped it, yes, thank goodness there were leaves there..., “ The tea leaves show that later there will be sons, at least two, God willing..

Ahmed gave me a look that mixed gratitude and embarrassment.  He was a good kid, and I hadn’t meant to upset his life with my erratic tea cup reading skills.   I added , “I’ve been watching Ahmed with the younger children here at school.  He is kind and patient, I think he will be a wonderful father when the time comes.” 

Ahmed’s father solemnly nodded his head, honor satisfied.   I nodded back, no eyebrow raised, and  relaxed for a moment before he proclaimed,   “Very Good, I will bring the rest of the family for you to read the leaves tomorrow night.”...

Ann Gray is a retired microbiologist, who is now looking at the bigger issues of life.  She is an enthusiastic birder and occasionally writes short pieces for local nature publications.  Ann is currently writing a historical fiction based on events during the cholera epidemic of 1832 in Kingston, Ontario.

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1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading this on my morning break - reminded me of the fun when my mother would read the much fun. Your story is more than fun of course...thank you.


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