The psychic across from the dollar pizza joint on East 6th Street told Rohan he’d die at the age
His cousin Navya smiled terrifically in the corner of the room, having just been told she would be unfazed by the negative energy from the men in her life and have a hallmark year. Rohan had known Navya her whole life, since they were babies, and had met her boyfriend. Layla the psychic was, so far, one for one.
An oversized ruffled curtain hid the back of the room, which was clearly Layla’s residence. The smell of cheese puffs and jasmine incense hung in the air.
Layla said Rohan’s chakra was the color yellow outlined in purple. According to the universe, it meant he had lied more than usual that week and felt good about it. She opened the session up for questions. Rohan asked, “How will I die?”
“You will not have a single worry your whole life. Then, at the end, you will be in serious pain, and die as quickly as you existed.”
“But eighty-five years is a pretty long time to exist.”
“Not for a tardigrade or a Greenland shark. Have you ever heard of an Aldabra giant tortoise? The honey mushroom is 8,650 years old. Gran Abuelo. Methuselah. Baobab and sequoia trees. I could go on, but you’re entering twenty-five dollar territory. Eighty-five years is a micro existence. A peanut, kid.”
“I’m not a peanut, and I’m not a tree.”
She sucked on her cigarette. The tar end glowed orange like an ancient Sun, “Tree, you are not. More like tree food.”
Rohan paid Layla twenty dollars before she milked more cosmic currency (the only accepted form of payment the purple pyramid sign listed) out of him, and left the shop. His cousin went to get a late-night seven-dollar burrito.
It was a thirty-two degree winter night. Rohan got a slice of pizza from across the street. He didn’t believe in clairvoyants. He hardly trusted the news to get today right. He called his dad to tell him the age of his predicted death.
“Rohan, why did you do that?”
“Psychic. There is no such thing.”
“It’s just for fun, dad.”
“Now you will die at eighty-five. Maybe sooner.” Rohan’s mother yelled in Hinglish in the background.
He took a bite of crust.
“You will be consumed with thoughts of death. Beta, you will not be able to live.”
“No, I am telling you. They say your great-great-grandfather, dada’s dada, went to a psychic in Mumbai. She said the same thing. He would die at age eighty-five.”
“That was a long life back then. So what?” Chewing, “It’s a long life now.”
“No, no. But then he could not stop thinking about it. He became aimless. The very same day he tripped on a rock and tumbled down the side of a hill into the Mithi River flooded by the monsoons. He couldn’t swim and drowned. It is not the psychic. It is your mind, raja.”
“I think I’ll be fine. You can’t really trip into the Hudson.”
“Do not go swimming anywhere.”
“Where am I going to swim?”
“I am just saying. Do not go to a pool.”
“Okay dad,” hanging up.
Navya appeared with a burrito in hand, wrapped in aluminum foil. They walked home. It snowed.
It rained. The sun shone and the seasons changed. A year passed and Rohan walked back to the psychic on the corner of East 6th Street, but Layla was gone. The storefront had been turned into another pizza shop. He called his dad, recounting the story of the psychic. Again, his dad told him about his great-great-grandfather and how he had drowned, warning him to stay away from pools, rivers, lakes, streams, the ocean. His dad even cautioned him about New York City puddles. But Rohan knew he could not avoid the ocean forever. Someday, he would have to go for a swim. Someday, he would feed the trees, but today a dollar slice of pizza on his walk home would have to do.
S.S. Mandani is a writer, runner, and coffee person from New York City. His work is featured or forthcoming in New World Writing, X-R-A-Y, No Contact, and others. Equal parts Murakami and Calvino, his novel in progress explores Sufi mysticism to tell the story of how a climate world war brings together a dysfunctional family of jinns spanning a hundred years. It envisions a murky, yet hopeful future. He radios @SuhailMandani.