On the bus ride home from his weekly supper at the Rising Sun Café, he was only half listening to the sound of passing traffic and conversation inside the bus, his mind back at the restaurant.
What had his fortune cookie said? Something to the effect that if you paid attention to the background-sounds they would move into the foreground? It hadn’t used those words. Instead of ‘background’ and ‘foreground’, the message on the strip of paper that had been curled up inside the cookie had evoked a sense that if you were present to what was occurring inside and outside then your troubles would slip away, like water off a duck’s back. That was also his own metaphor. In the twelve words of the fortune in the cookie, which the old Chinese woman had brought after clearing away his empty Vegetable Chow Mein platter, the word ‘duck’ had not appeared any more than had the words ‘foreground” and ‘background’.
In fact, his fortune for that Friday evening hadn’t directly mentioned sound or hearing either. The one thing of which he was certain was that it had exactly 12 words. He thought that maybe it had advised him to pay attention, so that life’s opportunities wouldn’t slip away unrealized; but that too was probably just what he feared was already happening; so perhaps he was just hearing a message already blowing through his days and nights.
Strange that he thought that a fortune cookie could have contained all that. It had been only twelve words after all. He knew it was 12 words because he had counted them. And he had counted them because whenever he went to a Chinese restaurant these days, he would have to fight against being swamped with memories of the weekly suppers he and his wife and their two-year-old son had always eaten out on Friday evenings. After finishing their meal, they would act out their fortunes with charades.
Jimmy, their little boy, wouldn’t try to guess the words being pantomimed, but he would be endlessly entertained by their hand gestures and perhaps by the whole spectacle of his parents communicating in silence.
Now there was only silence, on which the sound of traffic passing on Montgomery Boulevard travelled along, like another passenger who had slept through his stop.
He looked out the window just as a family of three passed the bus in their SUV, the youngest in a car seat in the back. He quickly looked away, before the sound of bending metal and breaking glass had a chance to surface fully in his mind. He paid no heed to the woman across the aisle who didn’t seem happy to hear him humming some song dredged out of a past that he couldn’t quite remember ever living.