Fei Hong had seen many winters and was now in the twilight of her life. Her dear husband, Wang Wei was no more. He had unfortunately passed away just two years back.
She stayed alone in a Chinese village, where most of the denizens were elderly. Her only son stayed quite far away from her, in the industrial town of Tianjin, where he worked as a worker in a mobile manufacturing unit. Like most families in Tianjin, his wife too was a worker in the same factory, where he worked.

It had been many years since the son had visited his mother. He could not even make it to his father’s funeral.

So, poor Fei Hong was used to her lonely life in the village where the elderly people were a support system for each other.

——

Li Qiang was among the youngest people in the same village where Fei Hong lived. Yes, one of the youngest at 54 years of age. He was a glib talker and made his living by fortune telling.

What future can one foretell to denizens who have already seen a huge span of life, but most of the queries were; “When will my son/daughter visit me?” or “What will happen to my possessions after me?” or something similar.

He could easily get away by saying, “your son will come after 5 years” to a particularly ancient specimen of a village elder. Since that elder usually did not live beyond 1-2 years to confront Li about his inaccurate prophecy.

Li Qiang was very smart; he knew that in his profession, appearance is important. Hence he dressed elaborately in a long silk gown which dragged along the floor. He maintained a long thin moustache on his thin upper lip and a small goatee on his chin.

Similarly, his house entrance had a ferocious dragon on the top, it’s mouth wide open, wielding a long red forked tongue and the eyes bulging from its sockets. He made sure to place two red bulbs inside the pupils, making it particularly horrifying in the night.

Inside, the room had a spartan look with a minimum of furniture; just a table and two chairs, one for himself and the other for his client. At the same time, he ensured that his own chair was at a height so that he could look down on his client.

He maintained the darkness of the room at all hours of the day by eschewing the need for windows. And enhanced the eerie atmosphere by placing a candle just behind and slightly above his head so that whenever the client made eye contact with him, a glow was always seen behind him which made him appear otherworldly.

On the table, he had placed a glass ball on a stand. This glass ball was always kept aglow by means of a blue zero bulb placed strategically below. The walls of the room were covered with silk and muslin cloth, mostly in red and ochre shades, to complete the mysterious atmosphere inside the room.

——

The year 2016 had not gone very well for Fei Hong. The loss of her dear husband had broken her mentally and thrown her into despair and depression. On top of that, her stubborn nature and her penchant for quarrels meant that she had very few friends in the village.Nowadays, she suffered from mild tremors in her limbs which meant that she now found it difficult to perform regular mundane tasks.

All this put together, broke her spirit and she decided to make a visit to the village fortune teller, Li Qiang.

——

Upon entering Li Qiang’s liar, Fei Hong was most impressed by the elaborate, mysterious setting. It certainly helped in strengthening her trust in the fortune teller, though the queries in her mind were the opposite of what normal people have.She went and occupied the smaller chair and waited for Li to make his entry. 10 minutes had passed, Fei was fidgeting in her chair when suddenly the inside door opened and the room started filling up with fog; Fei could make out that someone was occupying the chair in front of her. Before long, the fog dissipated and now Li Qiang was clearly visible.

“Mother, what can I do for you?”, Li asked. A simple question you may presume but the tenor of the voice seemed to be coming from the depths of his stomach, the bass similar to the best speakers.

Fei Hong was already under his spell. She asked, “How long do I have to suffer on this wretched earth without my Wang?” referring to her husband, Wang Wei.

Li Qiang was totally stumped by this weird question. Till date, the queries from most of his clients had been of hope; hope for meeting their children, hope for recovering from varied illnesses, basically hope of seeing better days in the future.

Taking advantage of this hope for a better future, he had made it a habit of peddling hope to disconsolate souls. And since most of them were queries by gullible elderly villagers, not many of them lived to expose his fraud. And those who did question him were very easily tackled by the street-smart ruffian.

Li Qiang recovered quickly to place his first demand, “Mother please put 150 Yuan on the table. Your question will be put to Wang for which full concentration is required”

Fei’s heart skipped a beat as she heard Li. After all, he was going to put the question to her dear Wang directly. A pair of trembling fingers reached into the depths of her purse, and out came 150 on the table which disappeared into the recesses with a wave of the fortune tellers hand.

Suddenly Fei could see Li’s eyes going upwards and soon, only the whites could be seen. His hands started shivering, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his throat.

A rumbling voice rose from the depths of his throat, “Feeeiiii…you will join me in heaven on the fifteenth day of the twelfth month of the year of the rooster…”, so saying, Li collapsed in a heap on the table, just avoiding the fortune ball.

A frightened Fei kept on looking aghast at the fortune teller lying askance before her. Not knowing anything better to do, she waited patiently…

After some time Li rose from the table. His eyes were now bleary as he asked, “What happened Mother? What did your dear departed husband tell you?”

She told him what had just transpired before her. Li gave her a patient hearing and then explained, “Mother! I am sorry to tell you that you will be no more a resident of this planet after the year 2017. Unfortunately, you will never see the year of the dog.”

As soon as she heard this, Fei was elated. On her own, she placed 100 yuan more in front of the fortune teller. A very happy Fei bounded out, a spring in her step for everyone to see.

Here, the glint in Li Qiang’s eyes gave away his own exuberance. After all, he had succeeded in convincing another gullible person to part with her yuan.

Poor fellow! If only he could have read his own fortune.

——

The fifteenth day of December 2017. It started early for Fei. Waking up at 4.00am., she had a cold water bath. She then dressed in full whites, from head to toe. For the last seven days, she had various village ladies always accompany her, in line with the customary rituals for those lying on their deathbeds.She then placed a white banner on the door to signify that a death had occurred. Yes, she was preparing for her own death, which her dear departed husband had foretold.

She had already invited the village folk to her home and informed them of her impending death. Most of them came, wearing different shades of white.

The ladies then dressed her in a different clean garment. A coffin was already placed in the middle of the room, waiting for its eager occupant.

 
 

Morning turned into noon, into the evening. Many of the village folk who had come in the morning, grew tired by the afternoon and proceeded with their daily activities. After all, the awaited funeral was not taking place, since the body was still alive and kicking. Yes, Fei was in the pink of health and not showing any signs of withering away!By late night, even Fei grew tired. Perhaps her husband had made a mistake. She never could imagine how a ghost could make errors!

For the next few days, she too decided to go about her daily tasks without worrying about her impending death. No! She worried about her own non-death. And the nights were spent tossing and turning, as she saw her departed husband in her dreams, laughing at her naïve behaviour. Sometimes her husband’s gentle face metamorphosed into a cackling Li Qiang and her frustration now had a target.

——

On the night of 31 st December, her blood pressure shot up. No, it was not anything to do with her health. It was more of a rage against the fortune teller. That Li Qiang! How dare he make a fool of her!

She decided that if she lived into the year of the dog, the fortune teller better wind up his business!

——
 

The morning rays of the Sun charged up a weary but very angry soul. Fei wore the reddest red of her outfits. Her husband’s machete was lying unused for a long time in a dusty old trunk. It was unsheathed! The trembling limbs were a thing of the past, her determination in overcoming all obstacles.Brandishing the machete above her head, a fiery woman headed over to the village fortune teller’s dwelling.

A swipe of the machete felled the fledgeling garden inside the fortune teller’s fence.

The next target was the dragon atop the doorway. In no time the forked tongue was lying on the grass below. The eyes had left their sockets and were hanging limply from the wires.

Li Qiang started to come out of his house, but one look at the machete-wielding lady was enough to convince him about his own safety inside. Quickly he bolted the door and ran into the attic.

However, Fei was not done yet. Wielding the machete in both hands, she swooped down on the door bolt. It gave way and Fei entered.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, the first thing that fell in her sight was the fortune ball. On previous visits, it had been a portal to the other world.

Now it was just a globe of glass. She picked it up and threw it to the ground. Unmindful of the glass pieces now lying on the floor, she swiped her machete in all directions.

“You call yourself a fortune teller, you swine. Mimicking my husband…my Wang, how dare you make a fool of me? Where are you hiding, you nincompoop?!”

“Did you not see your own future? This is your future. Get out of this village, before I make mincemeat of you…” Fei’s rage knew no bounds. A very frightened Li did not speak a word nor could he move from his hiding place, paralysed as he was, with his fear.

By the time she limped out of the house, the red and ochre curtains were lying in tatters on the floor. A slow clap fell on her ears, which finally reached a crescendo. Most of the village folk had gathered outside and they were cheering her.

——
 
Today Fei Hong is no more, finally uniting with her dear Wang, in the other world. But her legacy lives on in the Chinese countryside, where she is revered even today.

Most of the Chinese villages, don’t have a neighbourhood fortune teller and 1st of January is celebrated as ‘Fei Hong day’.

 
*****
 
Yatindra Tawde

Written by Yatindra Tawde

In my daily office grind, I make it a point to find time for writing. It is my good fortune to have found discerning readers like you who appreciate my amateur attempts.