The day after the fair, I began my search for you. Gone, they told me, an Irish visitor, roped in to help raise money. Leaving Jane mystified and only slightly tearful, I followed your tracks, from friend to friend, from home to here.
I hear the low murmur of your voice and a giggling girl pushes her way past me. And I know that whatever it takes, wherever you lead, I am in the right place. A place that has been waiting for me ever since I saw that sign, in another field, another country a few short weeks ago.
‘Come on,’ Jane begged. ‘Just for a laugh.’
‘No,’ I answered, ‘it’s absolute nonsense.’
‘You know, Simon – I knew you’d say that – and I’m no fortune-teller.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You’re bloody boring, that’s what I mean.’ Her voice rose. ‘You never want to try anything. And you’re so predictable. I even knew what clothes you’d be wearing today, the usual cotton shirt and ironed jeans. You could be really handsome if you’d only loosen up a little.’
‘What’s wrong with ironed jeans?’ I was bemused.
‘Oh! If you don’t know, how am I supposed to tell you!’ And with that, Jane turned and stormed away. Leaving me alone and feeling rather foolish outside Madame Róisín’s tent.
‘I say,’ I found myself muttering to her departing back, ‘that’s a bit unfair.’
‘Are you next?’
Her eyes were green and penetrating, the rest of her face hidden behind a diaphanous scarf. Her hair, tangled red curls, was drawn back from her pale forehead, and large golden hoops dangled from her ears. I’d always imagined fortune-tellers as wrinkled old crones, but Madame Róisín was tall, lissom, and very beautiful.
‘No, no I don’t …’ I stammered, like a 14- year-old school boy.
‘… like to do anything unpredictable? Your girlfriend doesn’t mince her words, does she?’ Her amused manner nettled me. I opened the curtain and entered the tent.
I sat and Madame Róisín sat opposite me. Her long dress, deep purple and velvety, shimmered against her creamy skin.
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ she asked. She laughed gently. ‘It might change your life.’ Her voice was low, with a soft burr. I stared at her stubbornly. Predicable? Boring? I wasn’t leaving that tent until she’d told my fortune. I opened my wallet and placed R20 on the table.
She shrugged, floated her hands above the ball and peered into it intently. Her lashes were long, thick with mascara. A musky scent rose and my head began to ache. Her hands moved in slow swimming movements, and then she drew a sharp breath.
‘What is it?’ I asked.
She looked up at me, her eyes softer, questioning.
‘I see nothing,’ she said.
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Nothing you would be able to hear.’
I held her stare, and to my surprise, the cheeks above the shawl reddened. ‘What do you see?’ I repeated. She sighed and again her hands moved, flickering white and thin in the dim light.
It might have been a trick of the eye, but the crystal seemed to glow from within.
‘I see a woman, tall and slight.’
It was my turn to smother a smile. Jane was short, and, to be absolutely honest, rather dumpy.
‘She will take you across the seas. You will follow wherever she leads. You will abandon everything, for without her your heart will know no peace.’
The scarf slipped fractionally, and I saw her parted lips. ‘No peace.’
And now, here I stand, in a green field, drawing curious glances. Perhaps it’s the idiotic grin on my unshaven face. Or my dirty jeans and rumpled sweatshirt. I haven’t slept or changed since setting foot on Irish soil. I part the curtain and step inside. My heart leads, and I follow.