In 1986, when I was ten years old, I had a Saturday job washing the dishes at a small coffee shop located in my beautiful hometown of Melrose, in the Scottish Borders. Even though the work was monotonous, essentially tying me to a kitchen sink for 8 hours each week when all my friends were out playing, I loved it. From an even younger age, I had been desperate to have a Saturday job, appreciating that work was essential to a purposeful life.
But at age ten, I had no idea what a purposeful life really meant. As I stood, washing, drying and putting away the crockery and cutlery in an endless loop (it was a hugely popular coffee shop, which for me meant there was rarely a moment in the day when I didn’t have a stack of dishes to deal with), I would hear the older girls and women talk about their lives – the who, the what, the how and the why. I loved to listen, imagining how my life might unfold in relation to theirs.
One summer’s day, a knock came at the backdoor. People visiting via the back of the coffee shop was common, as friends and relatives would often pop by to chat with the team, and I grew accustomed to the steady flow of visitors. However, as the door opened, I saw an unfamiliar face. Standing in the hall vestibule area was an older woman wearing a brightly coloured headscarf, big golden hoop earrings, and a floral floor-length skirt. In her hand, she held a basket filled with linen items. I looked at my boss for some assurance that the visitor was a friend; she smiled and said the lady was the fortune teller who came to the coffee shop each year when she was in the area for the St Boswells summer fair.
One by one, the older girls and women left the coffee shop by the backdoor, standing in the courtyard outside as the fortune teller looked intently at the palms of their right hand, tracing the lines with her finger, pausing now and then to look at those who were attentively listening to each word she said.
As she finished her rounds, my boss looked at me, clearly noticing my awe of the process. The excitement of everyone fuelled my intrigue as they bounced back to work after their session, giggling at their interpretation of what she said, picking the best-case scenario to give meaning to their hopes and dreams.
My boss asked if I’d like my palm read, too.
“YES!” I could hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of hearing what could come.
“How old is she?” asked the Fortune Teller
“Ten.” said my boss.
“Too young.” said the fortune teller. “I will sell you a good luck charm for her instead.”
“That’s a pity, perhaps next year.” said my boss.
My disappointment was almost tangible to everyone. I again dropped my gaze to the full sink as the backdoor closed. Next year is an awfully long time to wait when you’re ten.
Then, less than five minutes later, a knock at the door. “Okay, I will read for her…send her out.”
I looked at my boss; she shrugged her shoulders, smiled and nodded towards the door, indicating for me to go out to the courtyard.
I was nervous. What was the fortune teller going to say? What would it mean?
She took my prune-textured right hand in hers and traced my lines with her finger.