And so to what I hope will be the final instalment of this tale of unexpectedness. I hope that the choice of title will become clear by the end too.
Before we resume the story, I just want to recap an important point – remember that at this point in my life I was contented with my family, we were a settled unit, a typical two adults, two children family group and we were complete. Or so we thought. Then came The Dream. And then came everything.
My mother had just vanished, dissipated into nothing and I was left alone. Here goes…
And I was awake. sitting up in my bed, in our tiny little Hong Kong bedroom. It was around four in the morning and I was sobbing, great splashing, torrential tears. My FAB husband awoke at the sound and immediately sprang up, wondering what had happened. He threw his arms around me and then realising that all was not well, he spoke softly to soothe my troubled soul. He stroked my hair and that’s when I realised that it was, most unusually for me, tucked behind my ears. I howled afresh.
I told him of my encounter. I couldn’t call it a dream – it had been far too real, too raw, too tangible to dismiss as a mere delusion, an imagining of no consequence. I described what I had seen, what had happened and then realised that something terrible had happened. I felt more than simply bereft. Something was missing.
I didn’t have the gift in my hand any more. Fresh paroxysms of sobbing, lamenting the loss of the precious gift imparted to me with the express admonition, from my mother of all people, to look after it with the greatest of care. How could I have lost it so quickly? What kind of awful person was I to accept such responsibility, to look after a precious cargo with the greatest of care I could muster and then go and lose it at the earliest opportunity? I was beyond consolation.
It was Good Friday, 1996. The rest of the Easter holidays passed and I put the whole event to a small compartment, not quite at the back of my mind, but out of daily view at least. It was physically painful to think of how I had let her down, again. I simply couldn’t bear the weight of my transgression.
We returned to the mayhem that constituted my job at school – teaching Year Two children was (and still is) a challenging and remarkably rewarding occupation. The Summer term is the best part of the year, where you begin to see the fruits of your labour over the past seven or eight months, as children mature and develop and really start to fly. At the first staff meeting of term we split into sub-groups to discuss each of our roles in the upcoming School Summer Fair. This event was always splendid, raising well over HKD$100,000 from parents, students and friends for enriching the lives of our pupils. The PTA and the school’s staff enjoyed thinking of innovative ways to raise funds and make the event memorable.
This year, it had been decided that, amongst other new ideas, we would try a ‘Fortune Teller’ stall. But who would man it? And how would it work? Being an overtly outgoing sort, all eyes fell upon me and like a firefly to the lamplight, I was drawn to put up my hand and volunteer to run this new venture. Not predictable at all!
Now most of you don’t know me so I’ll just explain that I am the kind of person who doesn’t do things by halves. If I am going to give something my time, then it will get one hundred and fifty percent of my energies and commitment. And so, having volunteered for this role, I threw myself headlong into it. Researching fortune telling was just the start. Before long I had compiled a magnificent dossier on what I wanted to achieve with the stall – in addition to the main purpose which was to make money for the school fund.
My daughters and I sat around the dinner table and envisaged adorning the small pottery room (where my stall was to be based) with lengths of whimsical, floaty fabrics to give an air of being in a gypsy tent. I would wear hippie-skirts and layers of cheesecloth t-shirts, over-shirts and waistcoats with many strings of beads as accessories. Perhaps I could weave feathers and sparkling tiny beads into my hair as well? Later, Emma Thompson would personify the image I wanted to create in the fourth Harry Potter film, when she stole the show as Sybil Trelawney. We giggled as we came up with a name for the crazy character that I would portray – ‘Frau Wassist Umdieckker’. This was my daughter’s suggestion as she was studying German and assured me that it means Mrs What-Is-Round-The-Corner. It seemed an entirely appropriate name for a fortune teller.
And I would need to get some appropriate props. A crystal ball was an absolute must. Incense, the headier the better. Pictures of ancient runes perhaps. Maybe some actual ancient runes? A couple of years earlier, when we were newbie expats, still goggle-eyed at the wonders of Hong Kong (and there are many, many things to wonder at, including extraordinary street names such as Rednaxela Street which was so named because of the Chinese convention of reading from right to left, the opposite way to the West), we had visited the Temple Street market over in Kowloon, where on Friday nights there are Chinese operas being performed on the street as well as old Chinese fortune tellers who implore you to come and sit with them awhile and watching agape as they cajole their tiny birds to choose a prediction on your behalf. It’s really fascinating and a great deal of fun, and if you ever get a chance to visit Hong Kong on a Friday, I cannot recommend the experience highly enough.
I considered a visit to Temple Street to find appropriate props but then I remembered the New Age Shop on Old Bailey Street. It was definitely worth a visit to see what I could add to enhance the ambience of my fortune telling set.
Old Bailey Street lies above Hollywood Road, a thoroughfare between this avenue of the ancient artefacts in the antiquities shops there and the bustling, busy arterial road that is Caine Road, heading up into Mid-Levels. The chaotic cacophony of city noise that rises from the Central district reaches right up the vertiginous incline; traffic noises, revving engines, honking horns and screeching brakes are punctuated with sirens, construction noises (pile driving is a constant background sound) and all the incumbent sounds of busy commerce. The cacawing of the parakeets on nearby Upper Albert Road and the gentle roars of the panther and calls of the gibbons in Hong Kong Zoo pepper the air. It’s almost like a symphony, if you take the trouble to listen carefully. Old Bailey Street Hong Kong to the core. The New Age Shop is somewhat of an institution there.
I entered the tiny shop – barely ten feet square in the front room of the shop – to the traditional, satisfying tinkle of a shop-bell. Once the door was closed it was like another world. Instantly calm. Cool – Hong Kong in April is already hot and fairly humid so this air-conditioned atmosphere was very welcome. And so peaceful, not quiet as such, because there were several customers in the restricted space, but remarkably (for Hong Kong at least) everyone seemed to be at peace. With themselves, with each other, with the world at large. I was impressed.
I waited for the assistant to be free for a moment and then explained my mission, to find appropriate accoutrements to create the illusion of fortune-telling fantasy. I was directed to the back room where there were hundreds of books on fortune telling and many, many decks of tarot cards, packs of runes, crystal balls and everything else I could possibly have imagined for the creation of my imagined gypsy tent. I was delighted and knew I was in good hands. I was left to browse.
Three hours later, I had considered pretty much the entire stock. I was fascinated by all of this hitherto unknown world, to me at least. Some of it was downright flaky and I dismissed many items on this simple basis – would I be able to use them with a straight face? If I didn’t think I could, I moved on to the next item.
Quite early on in my perusal I discovered a set of tarot cards with an accompanying book. They were called ‘The Inner Child Cards: A Fairy-Tale Tarot’ (here’s a link, which I include to help you see how beautiful and attractively presented these cards are, http://www.ishalerner.com/inner-child-cards-c97). I loved the story-telling aspect of the cards, they seemed much less concerned with overt ‘occult-ness’ and I could see that children, who might after all be my main customers, would not be intimidated or worried by these pictures, which looked like many images they already were familiar with from picture story books. I picked this set up and put them back down several times during those three hours, but just wasn’t sure about them.
Eventually, about five minutes before closing time, the assistant approached me and asked me how I was doing. I explained the strange feeling of acceptance that I experienced whenever I picked this particular deck of cards up, which I felt was quite odd as I’d never considered purchasing tarot cards before. She looked at me deeply and solemnly declared that it was likely that these cards had chosen me and I was, naturally, destined to be united with them. Well, that did the trick of course! What a saleswoman! A precursor of the infamous line from Mr Ollivander – ‘The wand chooses the wizard, Mr Potter!’ perhaps.
Eager to get them home, I read the instruction book during my hour long journey and then excitedly fell through the door to try out my first reading.
I followed the instructions very, very carefully. A sense of calm befell me. I placed all the cards in the formation recommended for a personal reading – a Celtic Cross. I don’t recall all of the cards, but Mother Goose was definitely one of them -she is the equivalent of The Empress in regular tarot decks. What did this card mean?
Fecundity. I had to look that word up – it means fruitfulness, or more specifically the ability to be abundantly productive. There were other cards in the reading that indicated that I was going to ‘give birth’ to a new life.
I took this to mean perhaps a metaphorical new life. I was clearly rubbish at this card reading malarkey, so I tried again. And again. And each time, Mother Goose and her associates all indicated the absurd conclusion that I was, or else soon would be, pregnant. How ridiculous was that? I couldn’t be pregnant. There are processes to make this happen and I was one hundred percent absolutely certain, sure that this was utter tosh and nonsense.
‘I’ll be great faking this at the fair, I’ve got it completely cracked!’ I announced cheerily to my family, who had been watching me struggle with the readings. Well, I can act flaky when I need to.
And sure enough, the school fair came and went. Frau Wassist Umdieckker was a huge success, the children loved the cards and the stories I told from them. Even parents and other members of staff were highly entertained by my fable-fantasies. A great day was had by all. I blossomed under the spotlight of attention.
I paid no mind to the utterly unreasonable craving for Oscar Meyer ham that I would devour whole packs of on the journey home each night for the next two weeks. I had inexplicably burst into tears one morning in the staff room, but I assumed I must have just misunderstood someone’s intentions and was probably being over-sensitive. I’d been a little sick, although nothing that had prevented me from going to work and I usually felt better after eating lunch so I hadn’t been concerned about it at all.
Until the first week of May. I noticed that my calendar seemed a little out of whack. Clearly, I had just been so busy that I was not keeping track of my body rhythms as closely as I usually did. I was only a week late. Surely it wasn’t possible? I confided in my FAB hubby and he reassured me that I was probably just imagining it all. I was terrified – I’m really not sure why now of course, but the benefit of hindsight is only accessible after the fact. I couldn’t imagine what another child would mean to us as a family – how would the girls cope? How on earth would we cope? Wasn’t I too old, at thirty-four to have another baby? And back to that vexed question, how on earth could it have happened? It couldn’t be true.
But there was the proof. A thin blue line.
We both looked at each other and knew. I was unexpectedly expecting.
We told the girls the next morning and after our eldest daughter had admonished us with the immortal line ‘Good grief! Haven’t you two ever HEARD of condoms?’ things settled down a little. We made a wish, some might say we cast a spell that day.
‘A boy, for Dad (because he’s the only boy right now)
Curly hair, for Mum (because she’s the only one of us with curly hair right now)
Green eyes, for Donna (because she’s the only one with green eyes right now) and
A winter baby, for Nat (because she’s the only one with a birthday not in the same week in July, right now)’
On December the 16th, 1996 our son was born. He had green eyes and curly hair.
That was when I realised that I hadn’t lost my mother’s gift. I’d taken the very greatest care of it all along. I always will.
Since then, I’ve made many tarot readings for family and friends as well as strangers, whom I cannot possibly know anything about and each and every one has been successful, with words occurring to me as I read the cards that I have no idea why they pop into my mind at that moment in time, but which inevitably turn out to be meaningful for the subject. I go out of my way to ask people not to tell me why they want a reading, or what the reading might be about. I just get them to select their cards and then I tell them what the story is that their chosen cards depict. it’s a mystery to me how or why these readings are so uncannily accurate every time.
I told you, I am really NOT the crazy cat lady. True story!
I loved the image of Old Bailey Street, which I found on Firefly Workshop’s blog – its a walkabout sketch made by the talented Paul Wang – check it out here… http://fireflyworkshop.blogspot.co.uk/2011_03_01_archive.html