Short Story

The Fortune Teller

Rhonda was dark, beautiful and svelte with a perfect hourglass figure. She had it all…health, wealth and vigour. She was a glamorous divorcee with a passion for gambling. Casinos were her undoing and the undoing of her brief, childless marriage. Her alimony was swallowed… She was falling into a debt … She had to think of a way to make quick money. She had taken loans from her coterie of friends, mortgaged her car and apartment but the casino kept guzzling all the money she poured in. Rhonda was at the end of her tether. Now banks and people expected her to return the loans. But the money never came back to her, so repayment was becoming a major issue. She didnot want to end up in a debtor’s prison.

Rhonda approached the casino owner, Mark, with the hope he would give her a job. After all she had poured all her money into his concern. On the contrary, Mark had nothing for her except harsh words. ” If you do not have enough money, you cannot play. I will be forced to throw you out.” Rhonda left disappointed. It was becoming difficult for her to continue among the jet set of the town. She still had a few friends among feminists who felt the men had been unjust to Rhonda and treated her badly because they considered women inferior.

One day Rhonda went to a charity fun fair organised by one of her wealthy feminist cronies. As she walked around desolately, she came across a stall marked, ” Madame Stella… The fortune teller”. Madam Stella would tell her client’s future against a small donation. Rhonda watched her. She would mumble something and touch a crystal ball which would become cloudy and then she would peer in it and in a hoarse voice, describe a brilliant future for all her customers. As the fair wound up, Rhonda discovered the ball was one of those rigged up gadgets that functioned with batteries and Madame Stella was no other than Minerva of the jet set gang.

This gave Rhonda an idea. She could be a fortune teller. People liked to have their futures foretold. But, who would be her clientele? The rich and the famous, the jet set gang. Rhonda had seen poor men read fortunes for a pittance in villages in India. She recalled the fortune teller, who charged Rs1,000 in a five star resort but said nothing concrete, and the village palm reader, who charged only Rs 2 in a little fair adjoining the five star resort, but gave a fairly accurate reading. A fortune teller from a village was what she needed to get started.

The only hitch was she needed capital. Where could she get capital? She had the answer immediately…from charity fairs/ events, like the one in which she had seen Minerva taking on the role of a fortune teller. She knew the women who raised funds and what they looked for. So, she launched out as a non-government organisation(NGO). She prepared her case that a neighbouring village needed money for development. They needed to start schools, dispensaries and welfare homes for abused women. The village she used was that of her housekeeper, Radha. It was not difficult. Radha, a well-respected member of her village community, helped her approach the village elders. From there, Rhonda got all the statistics and made a report.

Then, she went to her feminist friend who organised charities, Anita. ” I have come with a proposal,” Rhonda said.” In my housekeeper’s village, people are very poor. They need schools, dispensaries and a welfare organisation for abused women. I have a report here based on a study conducted by the panchayats. They need money. Perhaps, you can help me fund raise for them.”

Anita was ever ready to help the needy. Stories of poverty and deprivation, especially among women, brought tears to her eyes. From the next fund raiser she organised, a large chunk went to the needy in Radha’s village. The cheque was handed to Rhonda and the village chief. Rhonda had opened a special account for the village development fund. She was the director of the organisation she had set up to help the villagers. Radha was the secretary and the village chief was the treasurer. They needed money to invest in resources. The director and the treasurer drew money from the account to invest in these resources. Rhonda ‘borrowed’ from the money she had withdrawn to pay back the loan sharks partly. It silenced them temporarily. The treasurer used his money to buy a brand new car. A transport was a must to travel between the town and the village and also along the bumpy roads within the community to visit the homes of the needy.

Rhonda used the rest of the money to buy software and advertisement space on Facebook. She set up an account. She found Manik, a young astrologer from Radha’s village. Manik moved into her home. He lived in a room adjoining Radha’s. He read fortunes from the birth dates and details of clients Rhonda provided. She paid him a salary of Rs 10,000 and sent him for driving lessons. He was thrilled with the package! This was the start of manpower development!

Rhonda had started her business…foretelling the client’s future, for only $50/ per case. Each US dollar is more than sixty Indian rupees. So, Manik’s monthly salary was about US$160. Rhonda made a huge profit because in the first month itself, she serviced at least a hundred people. Once Rhonda had the ready money, she repaid all her loans.

As her ‘business’ prospered, she had excess cash. More and more people wanted to have their futures foretold. They wanted to feel safe. Rhonda gave them what they wanted. Manik did some amount of fortune telling with the birthdate and time sent online by the client to Rhonda’s website. The rest Rhonda couched in language that made it imperative for her client to continue. She would write;”I am surprised how perfect the timing is. The next two months are really crucial to your success and, with my guidance, you could really achieve your target. I am shocked at the perfect timing of your coming together with me.” And then, there would be another form to fill and the money to be paid. If people wanted more in depth guidance and for a longer time, they would need to pay more money. The ‘business’ had really taken off.

Rhonda was now rich again. This time, instead of playing in the casino, she decided to buy one. She started with a small one and expanded till it became one of the most popular casino-cum-hotels. Manik’s salary went up. He lived in the hotel now.

Rhonda soon started a chain of casinos and hotels. She employed many people. Her casinos were doing so well that now Mark wanted to take her on as a partner. He admitted he had misjudged her.

Rhonda’s fortune telling website had become a big hit too. Politicians, diplomats, actors, actresses and a bunch of other ‘successful’ people used her services to achieve more success. No one is more insecure than the rich and famous. They are always threatened with the fear of becoming less rich and famous. They need the best money can buy to maintain their status. Being Rhonda’s client soon became a status symbol. People began offering more money to her to have their future fortold. Manik had a few understudies now.

From a socialite butterfly who could never hold onto money, Rhonda became a business magnate to be reckoned with. She also continued her work as an NGO. Many more abused women were being encouraged to lead separate lives, away from their husbands’ and in-laws’ unreasonable demands. Some of them were trained to work in the five star resort, club and casino opened in the village by Rhonda. Electric supply, water supply, internet and roads to the village had improved as more of the rich, powerful and jet set drove into Rhonda’s latest resort in the village. The villagers found jobs in the casino as support staff. Some of them learnt about fine wining and some about fine dining and others helped with the gambling in the casino. The strongmen became bouncers who threw out drunks and insolvents. Rhonda had indeed developed the village, provided employment by opening a casino cum hotel cum health resort in the most scenic spot of the village. She had even started a school which not only taught unlettered youngsters but also organised lessons with a view to train up the future employees of her resort.

The Feminine magazine set her up as a role model for younger women. They gave her the award for the entrepreneur of the year.

Recently, I read in a newspaper, Rhonda was planning to run for the chief ministership of the state!