“We want to see Mr. Arnold, please,” Jennifer said.
“For an astrological consultation?” the watchman asked.
“Joseph let them in,” Arnold said. Jennifer and Vincent entered the front yard of Arnold’s house.
“You can leave your school bags on the veranda and come to me. Aren’t they heavy?”
“Thank you,” Jennifer and Vincent said.
“Please take your seats.” Arnold smiled at them.
“Thank you again,” Jennifer said.
“What can I do for you?” Arnold asked.
“We wonder whether we could spend some time here in the garden,” Jennifer said.
“Sure. Do you like this place?”
“Yes, we like to watch the goldfish in the pond,” Jennifer said.
“This is a vast place. We can move around the trees watching birds,” Vincent said.
“Oh, you both love nature, I presume. It’s springtime and it makes a lot of difference,” Arnold paused and said, “I’m glad to know your feelings about my place. Living in Bangor has its own advantages. I can’t afford a place like this in big cities, you know.” Jennifer and Vincent nodded their heads.
“I’m afraid I didn’t get your names?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Jennifer. I’m in eighth grade at St. Gerard’s School and he is my brother Vincent.
“I’m in sixth grade.” These children seem to be smart. I’ll predict a few things about their future. It’s easy to impress children. They will go and tell their parents and schoolmates. Word of mouth publicity is effective, Arnold thought.
“Are you interested in astrology?” Arnold asked.
“Yes, of course. I’m curious,” Jennifer said.
“I know nothing about astrology,” Vincent said.
“It is all about predictions. You can know your future.”
“Really?” Vincent said.
“I’ll predict your future. Don’t worry, I will not charge you for my services.”
Vincent looked at Jennifer who nodded her head.
Arnold took out a notepad and pen from his pocket and asked, “Jennifer, when you were born?”
“September 29, 2008.”
“You are a Libran. You are gentle and diplomatic; slightly indecisive but balanced. Margaret Thatcher and Oscar Wilde were born in this sign.”
“Balanced?” Vincent asked.
“Yes,” Arnold said.
“Can she do gymnastics? Can she walk on a rope?” Vincent asked.
“No. Here ‘balanced’ doesn’t mean doing gymnastics on horizontal bars or doing circus feats on a rope. What I mean is that she leads a balanced life.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that,” Vincent said.
“Do you remember your birth time?” Arnold asked.
“Some time in the morning. I’m not sure,” Jennifer said.
“It doesn’t matter. I can still make detailed predictions with your birth date. Vincent, what is your date of birth?”
“I was born at midnight, my mother said.”
“That’s right. Which year?”
“Oh, let me think. Yes, in 2011 on December 11.”
“You are a Sagittarian. You are generous and you love nature but you are inconsistent. Winston Churchill and Mark Twain were born in this sign.”
“Mark Twain? I read a story written by him,” Vincent said.
“Yes, you have a good memory. He was a writer. You both please wait here for a few minutes. I’ll be back with the printouts of your horoscopes. It won’t take much time on the computer.” Arnold went into his room.
“I feel that we should come again,” Jennifer said.
“What for?” Vincent asked.
“We should bring a camera and take photos of the fish, the birds, and the flower plants.”
“Good idea. You are really smart, Jennifer.”
“Smart? Did you say that?”
“Yes, I’ve no doubt about it. I knew that when you kept three fourths of the milk chocolate for you, yesterday.”
“I’m sorry Vincent. I did feel bad about it later. Today mum will bring chocolates and biscuits. They are all for you. Okay?”
“It suits me. You are a good sister and not so selfish.”
“I’m glad you realized it quickly. You are brainy.”
“Yes, I’m sure about it.”
“Then why don’t you come to my class and tell my teacher that I’m brainy. Ms. Rachel has a different opinion about me.”
“Oh, no, this won’t work. She knew that I’m your sister. Someone else, an elderly person should speak to her.”
“Elderly person? Can we ask Mr. Arnold to speak to Ms. Rachel? He is an elderly person. His hair is grey. He can even show my horoscope to her as proof.”
Jennifer smiled. “I’m not sure that this will work either.”
“I think I can ask Suneetha’s father.” Jennifer gave side -glances at her brother.
“Don’t you remember Suneetha, that Indian girl?”
“Well, can I ever forget her? We visited her house. That day they celebrated Deepavali, the festival of lights. Suneetha’s mother made snacks for us,” Jennifer said.
“I like those spicy snacks. Our mother should learn to make them. I’m tired of eating corn flakes, bread and pizza all the time,” Vincent said.
“We made a big mistake,” Vincent said.
“What?” Jennifer almost jumped out of the chair.
“You scared me.”
“I mean we should have asked Suneetha to come here with us today,” Vincent said. Jennifer sighed with relief and leaned back in her chair.
“Don’t lean back so much. You Libran, you may lose your balance,” Vincent giggled.
“Shh! Mr. Arnold is coming.”
Placing the printouts on the centre table Arnold said, “Now, I can predict your future. Here are your horoscopes. The climate is good today. I enjoy these sunny evenings and the gentle breeze.”
“What is a horoscope anyway?” Jennifer asked.
“Horoscope tells us the planetary positions at your birth time.”
“It looks like a table with small squares,” Vincent said.
“Those squares are the houses of the planets,” Arnold said.
“Some houses are vacant and other houses are crowded,” Jennifer said.
“Ah! I’m glad you both have keen observation,” Arnold said, “you know these planets don’t always stay in their own houses, and moreover they look at other houses. This is called aspect.”
“It’s funny,” Vincent said.
“Why do you think so?” Arnold asked.
“The planets prefer to stay in other’s houses though they are already crowded.”
“Moreover they are like peeping toms,” Jennifer said.
“I recollect a movie. In it, one man has a big spyglass and he looks into the bedroom of the opposite apartment. My mother says it is a bad habit,” Vincent said.
Arnold felt uneasy. “Okay, you know you are too young and can’t understand the concept of aspect. We shouldn’t look at the relative planetary positions from the standpoint of human behavior. Let’s not go into those details. You are too young…”
“Yes, you’re right. We are young, still young but my mother doesn’t accept it. She says ‘you are in school; don’t do this, don’t do that.’ We are confused. We don’t know when to behave like children and when to behave like grownups,” Vincent said.
“Yes, switching roles depending on the occasion is a tough job,” Jennifer said. These children are naughty, Arnold thought. “Now we’ll focus on predictions. I’m sure you will like to know about your studies.”
“Studies?” Jennifer asked.
“Yes,” Arnold said.
“That’s right. I’m struggling with my homework. Can you predict the answer to my math problem?”
Arnold felt embarrassed. “You know, astrology has nothing to do with scientific formulas and school homework.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that. Can you predict when my mother returns home? She will help me with my homework,” Jennifer said.
“I should clarify the most important point about astrology. It can predict major happenings in your life and not routine things,” Arnold said.
“Major happenings?” Vincent said.
“Yes,” Arnold said. Now he is more confident.
“Can I ask you one important question?”
“Yes, you are at liberty to ask any question as long as it is related to any major event in your life.” Arnold looked at Vincent rather cautiously.
“Can you predict whether my mother will buy carrots today?” This is too much, Arnold thought but he controlled his impatience.
“Why do you think that buying or even eating carrots will have a major impact on your life?”
“Yes, it seems to be trivial but honestly it is a major event in my life. My mother says, ‘Your eyes are weak; eat carrots every day or else you have to wear glasses.’ I don’t want to eat carrots day after day and week after week. I don’t like to wear glasses either,” Vincent said.
“From your horoscope, I can tell you that you’ll enjoy good health.”
“But you don’t have anything to say about carrots and glasses?” Vincent asked.
“I think we should make a move. Thank you, Mr. Arnold, for your time,” Jennifer said.
“Where are you heading to?” Vincent asked.
“I’ll phone my classmate. If her mother has helped her with the homework, she will tell me the answer.”
“Then, I’ll go to the grocer and find out whether mother has placed a bulk order for carrots,” Vincent said.
“Thank you again Mr. Arnold.” They ran out of the house picking up their bags.
Arnold left the printouts on the centre table with disgust. He felt defeated and humiliated. There was a change in the climate. The gentle breeze turned into strong winds and blew away the papers. Arnold looked at the horoscopes helplessly as they swirled into the sky.
Dr. Chaturvedi Divi is a columnist in Sanathana Sarathi, a spiritual magazine published from Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi. His short stories have been featured in Only Men Please (Anthology) and Reading Hour (Magazine). His poem, The High Street Beggar has appeared in America, the catholic magazine. He worked in the editorial department of Indian Express and translated a couple of spiritual books from English to Telugu. He holds masters’ degrees in Mass Communication and Journalism and Creative Writing. His doctoral thesis is on diasporic literature.