I was looking through the window of a shoe store, trying to decide if the gold strappy pumps would go with the dress I was thinking of wearing to my sister's wedding, when I heard a woman's voice behind me.
"You have beautiful eyes, but they have sadness behind them."
I turned around to face a short Roma woman of indeterminate age. She could have been thirty; she could have been fifty. I smiled at her.
She studied my face and continued,
"There are two men who love you, but you are not with them. They are not available to you. You are an upfront person who appreciates honesty and directness in others. You are not interested in money, but in happiness and love. This is what I am sensing from you."
I didn't say a word but just looked at her. I had been thinking recently that it would be fun to have my fortune told, but didn't want to pay anyone for it. And here it was, offered up on a toney street where I had gone to buy a mini oven.
"Show me your love hand," she said.
"Which one is that?" I asked, cocking my head. She looked at me like she knew I knew.
"The left one," she said, taking it and pulling me gently aside out of the stream of passersby. I leaned against the building as she opened my hand.
She traced her finger down a line, "I see here you will live a long life. And here, I see you have suffered much in love." I watched her weathered nails move over my palm. I wondered what the passersby thought we were doing, crouching in the doorway next to the shoe shop. I remembered a game my mother would play with me when I was very little.
"You see these little pinks?" she would say, grabbing my wrists and bending my hands a little towards me, "you know what they're good for?" I would be near esctasy, as I knew what was coming next. She would bend down and place a kiss in each palm, clap my hands together and exclaim, "Nothin'!" It would make me squeal with joy.
The Roma woman continued, her eyes moving rapidly over my face as she said flatly, almost reciting, "This man, the one you love, he loves you but he is not available now. You were with him, but he couldn't show his feelings to you. You want to be with him. I can help you."
Here we are, I thought. I had been waiting for the catch.
"There is something blocking you. There is jealousy blocking you. You have been betrayed and hurt by jealousy in the past."
"I haven't been betrayed," I said, laughing.
"You didn't see it that way. You don't like to see the bad side. I see you will go far away and live in a foreign country."
I laughed again. "I am in a foreign country."
"I know," she countered, "but I mean somewhere far away."
"I will help you clear away what is blocking you. Put three pieces of money in your hand."
Oh why not, I thought. If you can respond to some fake Dalai Lama email by sending it to ten friends so something good will happen, you can let a Roma woman do her thing on your hand.
"I don't have much," I said, leaning down to get my change purse out of my bag. I never have much cash. Some things never change.
"No, not coins," she said, "they bring bad luck. I mean bills."
"I only have one," I said, "and it's a fiver." I had already pulled it out, and she had already seen it.
"I need three bills on your hand to help you. You can get them from an ATM. I give them back to you. You keep them. Trust me."
You can withdraw money from an ATM in 20 euro increments. I calculated that would mean withdrawing at least 40 euros, and with the fiver, came to 45 euros. If she ran off with that, I would be very mad at myself. I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt, but I've been had before by the let-me-take-this-curse-off-you set. I didn't plan to fall for it again.
"I give you my word as a Gypsy," she insisted. I wondered for a brief moment if she was being ironic.
I clasped her hand in mine and smiled warmly at her.
"No, thank you," I said, "I know you want to help me, but I'll take my chances."
"I can free up what is blocking this man from being with you," she said.
If only it were that simple.
"We are not witches, you know, it is not evil what I do," she tried.
As if this were the problem.
"No," I said, shaking my head slowly.
"Why not? Don't you want to be with him? I can help you."
"I don't want to be disappointed," I said.
"It will work, believe me." I didn't have the heart to tell her what I really meant.
If she had stolen my money, it would have really depressed me.
I believe if you get to the heart of people like her, ones that aren't used to being trusted or approached or touched, if you acknowledge their humanity, they will rise to it. And all kinds of walls and weights and negativity will fall away.
"No," I repeated, "I will let things happen as they may. But thank you."
"How about giving me a little something for reading your palm, then," she said, eyeing the five euro bill I had folded in my fingers.
I searched her face. I looked deep into her eyes and held them. I am no fool, I thought, and neither are you.
"Here," I said, placing the bill in her hand and closing her fingers over it.
"Be well," she said.
"You too," I replied, and stepped into the homewares store to buy an oven.
The right size to make meals for one.