By Susan Laura Sullivan
I ate a banana like I do every morning. They come from the Philippines here, or Ecuador and it doesn't take them long to go mouldy in the humidity, so I don't buy too many at any time. Then I wrote out my list. That wasn't easy to do because I was wearing my green rubber gloves, the ones I wash the dishes with. It's not so easy to eat a banana either when you're wearing them.
I don't know why I had taken to wearing rubber gloves. It's a habit I 've fallen into. Maybe it's to stop me from biting my nails, a habit I've had since about age 6 and have never quite outgrown. Though I only chew them intermittently now, and never when I have my gloves on, which is most of the time.
I write lists because I can't get through the day without them. How can I remember what to do if I can't see it written in the bright pink ink I prefer to use? Of course, when I do sit down to make my list I don't always know what it is I have to do, so I also make note of what I would like to do. This morning was a bit like that, except I knew that I needed cat food and toilet paper. Cat food was for my cat, Jess, of course. Jess is grey with blue eyes. She sat on the table and looked at me as I jotted everything down:
Cat food (Jess)
Toilet paper (me)
Then I couldn’t think what else I needed so I wrote down what I wanted to do.
Cat food (Jess)
Toilet paper (Me)
Now, I don't live in the country I was born in, which is Australia. I live elsewhere, and fortune tellers, palm readers, are quite common here. Stock still, they sit staring straight ahead on the corners of the shopping arcades; old tin-roofed covered tunnels, sheltering Ma and Pa stores, one after another. Some look so serious you'd swear they were prime candidates for one of those fundamental religious groups. But the one I go to doesn't look like that.
He wears a wool hat in the winter, which covers his ears. And ties his five dogs to a cart. They’re all white and have fleas, so I guess they are really white and red from where they've scratched so much. Day in, day out they sit with him. He sits cross-legged on a box covered in some soft sort of animal skin. On the table in front of him he has a tin full of incense sticks and a little light with a hand illuminated to indicate he's a palm reader. He doesn't usually read foreigners' palms, but he makes an exception for me because I was introduced by a local friend.
He finds it difficult to read my palm now that I 've taken to wearing rubber gloves, but he seems to manage. So here I am, like my list says I would be, sitting on a wooden crate, having my palms read. His dogs send a cursory glance my way, then go back to scratching their fleas.
I’m wearing jeans, a white long sleeved shirt and green rubber gloves. The shoppers going by stare at me because I am a foreigner. He takes my right hand and smooths the glove so that he can see the strip of seaweed that was left in this morning's soup bowl. It must have ingrained itself into the crease of my glove while I was washing the dishes. He picks at it in an interested way. I think his eyesight has begun to fail.
He didn't even notice when I changed from wearing pink gloves to green, that was a few months ago, and he mistakes the seaweed for my fate line, and the egg shell just under my pinky for the Mount of Mercury.
"You have a straight path, " he says.
"Your fate leads to love, " he says.
"You meet a man this year. Important one, " he says.
"You become organic farmer, " he says picking at the eggshell.
"Thank you, " I say and fumble for money in my purse. It's so difficult with gloves on so he picks out the money I owe him and hands my purse back to me.
That been and done with I feel happy and light hearted. I start swinging my handbag and whistling some as I walk up the mall, but this attracts too many stares, so I stop. Every one looks at you when you're a foreigner.
All of a sudden I’m at a loss as to what to do, though I know I’m meant to do something. I stop still in the mall and an old woman, bent double with a calcium deficiency, pushing a pram piled high with groceries, runs into me.
Fortunately, nothing falls out, but as she's so bent over the only view she can get is that of her toes and she doesn't really see she's run into a person, let alone a foreigner. She's sure the obstacle is movable though I can see it in the way her forehead wrinkles, so she backs up a little and prepares to ram me from here to kingdom come. Lucky for me I inherited common sense from my mother's side of the family and have the presence of mind to side step. The old lady hurtles past me down the mall, leaving a mass of bewildered shoppers in her wake. I remember my list and am so deeply engrossed in its contents that when a loud noise rings out it just fades into the background.
Ahh, shopping. I see it boldly in pink and I'm keen to try on those snappy orange and green checked flower patterned two-pieces that seem so popular this summer. All the office ladies are wearing them. I'm keen on buying a pair of lime green stilettoes, 10cms high, to match my gloves too, so off I trot.
As I wait to cross the road I see two ambulance workers carrying the old lady and her shopping. She's bent double so they can't rest her on the stretcher like they would you or me. One has her under the arm, the other by the feet, and she's swinging between them. She is clutching broken eggs and her eyes are closed. I’m so busy thinking about my outfit, though that I don't pay much mind. After I cross the road I notice another old woman, this one's got a straight back. She's laid out under a seat. There's a bit of blood on her forehead, as if she's hit it against something, but I take her for a drunk. They're slowly on the up and up in this town but they're quiet about it, so I don't care. They don’t harm anyone except for themselves.
Finally I get to the shop of my dreams. The shop assistant has lipstick on her teeth and her hair is sprayed into a stylish wave with a few dagger wisps positioned over her eyes. She freaks a bit when she sees me, but this is because I am a foreigner and I am used to it so I don't really mind. I soon put her at ease by looking around the shop and by not asking any questions.
I pull out a lime green number with yellow trimming. I can just see it with my green stilettoes and rubber gloves. She comes racing over when she sees I am trying to pick the dress off the hanger. It' s a bit difficult to do while wearing these gloves.
"No large, No large,” she is saying, pointing at the M label, but I tell her it's OK, I am sure I can squeeze my svelte figure into this appealing ensemble, even If I am the width of an axe handle across the boobs.
It might be the price tag that’s eating her. About 480 Australian dollars. Still, I’m confident it will fit me, but all of a sudden I’m faced with buttons. Eight of them. Running from the neck to the waist of the outfit. With gloves on they are impossible to do up. She eyes my boobs dubiously, but we struggle and struggle until finally all eight are done. We’re both left flustered, but happy with a job well done.
"Your bust, very good.”
"Thank you." Now I’m the one embarrassed even though I don't know how many times I've heard those words in this country. I'd rather pretend my boobs don't even exist. She touches me shyly like the girls here often want to, and she says "soft" before she takes her hand away and giggles a little.
This is not the first time that’s happened either, and it always embarrasses me, so I wriggled the top around a bit hoping for a better fit, and say, “It looks good, doesn’t it?” to change the subject. A button pops off. UH-OH. Quick as a flash she is on the floor looking for the button. It must be gold inlaid, she’s looking so hard. I keep apologising, sorry, sorry, and she keeps apologising, sorry, sorry, sorry. I’ll have to buy it now, even though I was going to already, and I tell her it is all right, there’s no problem. I’ll put a cloth rose where the button once was, but I don’t think she can understand me.
When I go to pay I have trouble getting money from my purse, so I just hand it to her and raise my gloved hands in a gesture of helplessness. She takes the money out and hands my purse back to me, then she says, "Please teach me English.”
“OK,” I say, like I’ve said a million times before, and we go through the elaborate process of swapping name cards. I reverently look at hers, holding it between my be-gloved fingers, unable to read a word of the Chinese script, before I drop it to the floor. We both scramble about on the floor again, until she finds it and places it carefully in my purse. I wave a cheery bye-bye and, with my shopping bags swinging from the crook of my arm, leave the store.
I am so happy with my full and eventful day that I go straight home. I pat Jess on the head, though he doesn't like the gloves much. I sit down to open my mail while he looks on like he's expecting something. Just as I am struggling to open a letter from my mother, which is no doubt about to tell me how many new turkeys she has, or something like that, I’m gripped by a sudden need to go to the toilet. When I open the door my toilet holder looks at me cold, hard and accusingly. You forgot to look at your list, didn't you? it sneers, gap toothed, empty. Oh well. I grab a handful of tissues and make do.
When I've done what I had to do I come out of the toilet and find Jess staring. You forgot to look at your list, didn't you? I 'm hungry. Meeow. Oh well, I think, and toast two pieces of bread. I lavish butter over them and give one to Jess and eat one myself. Don’t think I don’t feel bad about this. I’ll get it tomorrow.
That night I lay myself out on the futon and rest my head on my gloved hands. The smell of rubber and seaweed goes up my nose.
I think about tomorrow’s list…
Things I need to do:
Buy cat food
Buy toilet paper
Things I want to do:
Visit old lady in hospital
… before I fall asleep.