Happy Ever(ywhere) After: Chapter 1: The Red-Eyed Frog

TURKEY, 2009

“It’s complicated,” the crone said, as she put the nargile pipe into her crooked mouth and took a deep drag of apple-mint smoke. Its sweet scent collided with my apprehension in the air.

Fortune tellers and their mumbo-jumbo, I thought and almost rolled my eyes. I used to be stupid enough to let the gypsy women read my hand back in Poland. Clearly, they were all frauds parasitizing on the misery of uneducated minds. Now, at the serious age of twenty-four and with a university diploma in my hand, I knew for sure I was not some village fool to be tricked by charlatans.

Yet desperate times called for desperate measures. Being pushed out from the warm nest of university life into the dreadful unknown gave me night sweats. So I followed the funny little map drawn by Dilay, my Turkish roommate, to the obscure café in the downtown of Eskişehir. I drank the bitter shot of thick coffee while contemplating my question. I placed the saucer on top of the cup and turned the whole thing upside down. I put a little coin on it, as instructed, and waited for it to cool down. The smooth brown patterns depicted on the cup’s insides held mysteries, incomprehensible to a layman’s eye.

For an unconscionably long time, the coffee reader studied the residual grounds in the cup and the smudges on the saucer. “Very complicated,” she repeated and looked me in the eye. “I see a lot of fire inside you, canım, and plenty of water at the same time. Great sadness holds hands with great joy. The flame in your heart… I see a man who tried to put it out. But you can’t break a true free spirit. You can only trap it until it grows stronger. Strong enough to flee.”

I swallowed. How did she know? No, no… Nonsense, she could have told the exact same thing to every other girl.

She continued, “He burned in the flames of his own jealous love. You rose from it like a phoenix, with a stronger heart… Ready to discover your life purpose.”

I nodded, involuntarily.

Canım, the path to such knowledge is long and painful. The darkest trails you will have to take are within yourself. Are you sure you want that?”

“I’m sure.” Nothing could be worse than the horror of the past three years.

The woman inhaled the scented vapor and stared back into the cup. When she opened her mouth again, it seemed as if it was not she who spoke but the wise smoke itself.

“You will not return home. You will go on a journey through foreign lands and foreign hearts. Many lessons you will take, every lesson if not learned, will repeat itself. The lesson of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. The lesson of joy and despair. The lesson of being a woman. The lesson of being a man. The lesson of whirl and still. The lesson of surrender to the Source of All That Is.”

“Umm… you mean God?” I asked.

“Whatever name you choose to call It—God, Allah, Jesus, Universe—stay connected to it.”

Universe. That sounded good to me. At least we knew for sure that the Universe did exist.

The fortune teller put away the cup, leaned against the seat, and closed her eyes. “Kamila, you must die to be reborn to your new life. Do you understand that?” She took a deep apple-mint breath.

It was the first time she used my name instead of that generic canım. But did I tell her my name? Of course, I did. I was losing my mind.

“Yes,” I answered with feigned confidence.

The woman blew out an impressive cloud of smoke and together with it the words, “It is done.” Only then did she open her eyes.

The ritual was over. I unenthusiastically looked for the money in my purse.

“When should I start my journey?” I asked before placing fifty Turkish Liras on the table.

“The journey has already begun. Stay open, and you will know the next steps.”

“Please, give me a clue.”

“Lesson number one—patience. Child, you must have patience. Trust in your heart’s guidance. Remember to be grateful. And never forget to listen.”

Listen, listen… I did listen. I wished I could hear more.

“Wait for the glance of a red-eyed frog. Then you will know,” the crone said. “That is all.”

I reluctantly stood up and bowed my head. Red-eyed frog. Great. Boy, was I an idiot!


Excerpt from Chapter 1, Happy Ever(ywhere) After by Elena Leman