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The most far-fetched prophecy I have ever received is: maybe you can live on the moon in the next century! Although all Bollywood and Western romantic numbers croon about flying up to the moon, I feel safer on terra firma.

To pull out a fortune from a cookie seems gimmicky to me. Regardless, it’s okay to succumb to a little bit of self-love and to justify this behaviour,  we read our message in a cookie with an enthusiasm that slowly dwindles as we go around the table and read each other’s luck. 

Unfortunately, the United States has the largest number of COVID-19 infections in the world and with it, we have seen a rise in anti-Asian sentiment. I chose to remind you of all of the precious fortune cookies that unite families at a dinner table.

In 2013, our friendly yoga teacher gave us a mason jar with a picture of her place of worship, a fragrant herb, and a colored strip of paper with a blessing. Mine was – “Get up and out, the day is bursting with moments.” by Rabindranath Tagore. We all went home with our jars and I put mine on my kitchen alcove. Over the years I kept putting other blessings in this jar along with strips of fortune. 

Growing up, we ate Indian food at home every day and so to change our taste we went once a week for and Indian Chinese dinner in Mumbai. Hakka noodles, American chop suey, chili chicken/paneer, and big bowls of hot and sour soup were our favorite entrees.  Indian Chinese food is not available in Huntsville but the next best option for my Indian friends is the American style Chinese food at PF CHANGS, doused generously with extra hot chili sauce. After spicing our palettes and clearing the sinuses, it’s time to read our fortunes. Unlike my other friends, I don’t like to eat the sugar cookie. I just hold the twisted fortune crisp in my hand and take a tentative bite of the vanilla and sesame flavored shell. Then I put it down and after everyone else has read their fortunes, I read the vague aphorism silently. Then I put it in my purse and at home transfer it to the mason jar. Every time I open the jar, I think of my yoga teacher and once again I read my fortune. I turn it over in the palm of my hand, look at the random lotto numbers and stash it away in my jar.  

I did not know that these fortune cookies are not Chinese. They were popularized in America by Japanese immigrants in the 19th century. They were first made in the Benkyodo bakery in San Francisco and served with hot tea. Later, Kito the founder of “Little Tokyo” in Los Angeles sold his flour tea cakes with fortune slips to the Chinese. During World War II, when 100,000 Japanese were in internment in America, the Chinese started mass producing these cookies. Ever since that time, they appear as a courtesy dessert along with the check at Chinese restaurants. These cookies are accepted all over the world, including India, where people are fond of fortune-tellers, soothsayers, and Palm readers. Strangely enough, they are not popular in China and are considered to be too American. 

I have never visited China but I have lived in America for almost three decades. We live in a sparsely populated region in the South but my American friends, family members, and strangers are all sheltered in place. A few of us go for solitary walks or wave at people from our porches. Friends FaceTime us to update us about their health or share their thoughts on social media. We wash our hands, run fingers through our hair, take naps, and spend days and nights in our pajamas. Time as we know it has slowed down. There’s nothing rushed. We all are running out of projects at home. We clean, purge, organize, sort, grow herb gardens, sew and donate masks, cook, share jokes, indulge in arts and crafts, read the stack of books put aside for a rainy day. 

Today, I decided to open my jar of fortunes to look for a clue to solve the viral pandemic. I pour a cup of coffee and pour out my fortunes on the floor and arrange them in a cyclic semblance of destiny.  

Affirmative:

  • You will be honored with a prestigious prize or award.
  • Your dearest wish will come true.
  • A pleasant surprise is in store for you.
  • You will always be surrounded by true friends.
  • You have a strong desire for home, family comes first.
  • Good news will come to you by mail.
  • You have the ability to sense and know higher truth.
  • You will conquer obstacles to achieve success.

Sarcastic:

  • You are an evening star in someone’s romantic eyes.
  • You are competent, creative, careful. Prove it.
  • Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals.
  • Focus on your long-term goals. 
  • Good things will happen sooner or later.
  • Golden hours are coming to you eventually.
  • A cynic is only a frustrated optimist.

These strange words remind me of the hilarious attempts of two Asian women working at the Fortune cookie factory in Amy Tan’s novel “The Joy Luck Club” who are not able to translate these proverbs into Chinese. They give up thinking that they don’t contain any wisdom but just bad instruction.

Cryptic:

  • Your smile is a curve that gets a lot of things straight. Answer the call to help a friend.
  • Now is the time to call loved ones. Share your news.
  • Don’t pursue happiness, create it (Mango?!).
  • Your luck has been completely changed today.
  • Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen?
  • The joyfulness of a man prolongs his days.
  • What you plant now you will harvest later.
  • You will learn about love and a peaceful heart. A smiley face and a Spanish translation. 

Mysterious:

  • Be prepared to receive something special.
  • The best times of your life have not yet been lived.
  • Everything will now come your way.
  • You will discover an unexpected treasure.
  • Now is a lucky time for you to take a chance.
  • You are going to change your present line of work.
  • Soon someone will make you very proud.
  • You were born with a sixth sense. 
  • Confidence is at a high? Whose?

Ominous:

  • If it seems fate is against you today. You are right!
  •  A closed mouth gathers no feet!
  • You will die alone and poorly dressed!

Duds:

  • How about another fortune
    • Blank fortunes are the scariest because you freak out that something bad is going to happen to you. 

I look at all these fortunes and put them back in the Mason jar and sit on my deck under a blue sky. I pray for all the people who are ill with this virus and especially for those who have succumbed to this terrible illness. I take a strip of green paper and tune into higher consciousness. I breathe in and out. I write, “VIRUS BEGONE!” and put it back into my mason jar.

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

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