Mardi Gras was in full swing. The streets were crowded with people of all ages. There was lots of laughter and good times. My friend and I stayed away from the French Quarter on Bourbon Street after the parade. We knew from experience that was where the rowdiest bunch were. We weren’t the “bare the breasts” kind, so stayed away from the college set that liked the Quarter part of town. Despite most peoples belief that “baring the breasts” of women was a tradition. It wasn’t. It started when college age female students thought it was a good way to receive more beads. It worked, but it isn’t a tradition of Mardi Gras.
We walked with the crowd, enjoying all the bright costumes and high spirits that is the essence of Mardi Gras. My friend Amy was born and raised here. We met during college and soon became fast friends. I moved here after we graduated, having no family and no ties to anywhere. I grew up in foster homes and worked my way through college waiting tables at the small cafe’s around campus. Amy came from an old New Orleans family, and money. Though you wouldn’t know it. She was a bright and personable woman with short blond hair and an infectious laugh. Her southern drawl was in complete contrast to my more mid western twang. We got along great from the beginning. I couldn’t think of a better friend than Amy.
During our last semester of school Amy came up with the idea of opening our own touring company. We specialize in ghost and cemetery tours. We do a great business, but close down during the two weeks of Mardi Gras. We’ve been in business three years now and are booked a year in advance. We enjoy the tours, which are all done at night. It’s scary, if you believe in ghosts. And it always amazes me how people love to be scared. As far as believing, well I was still on the fence with that. Amy believed though, she said she had seen and heard too much not to believe. I promised her I would keep an open mind, which I have.
But, for now, we were on our yearly vacation. We were headed to one of our favorite restaurants, in the Business District. It serves the best creole cooking in the city. We had a way to go yet, as walking through the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras was an experience all its own. No cars were allowed on these streets during the peak hours. Not that you would be able to drive through anyway. It was congested with wildly costumed people of all ages, gold, purple and green could be seen everywhere. It was one gigantic party!
We finally reached the restaurant and pushed our way to the front. There was a long line of people waiting to get in, but we had a standing invitation from the owner to come in and enjoy a meal. We always got a table no matter how crowded they were, due to the fact we sent our tourists to his restaurant. It was a mutual benefited deal for us all. In fact he was there to greet us with a big smile and hug. I was still getting used to the easy displays of affection that was part of New Orleans culture. I wasn’t really the hugging type, even though that seemed to be changing the more I stayed in my new home town.
Amy and I both had the restaurants famous Jambalaya. The homemade sausage in it had a kick, but we ate it with gusto. Sopping the last of the rich juice with my bread I popped it in my mouth and sat back fully satisfied. Amy sat opposite wiping her mouth with her napkin and looked at me with her bright blue eyes. I knew from that look that she had something to say, and it was probably going to be outrageous. She liked doing that to me at odd times. She said it was to shake up my mid-western soul. I just waited for what was to come next.
“Let’s go have our palms read”, Amy said as she threw her napkin on the table.
Groaning inward, I leaned further back in the chair and rolled my eyes. It was a running joke with us, she would try to convince me to have my palm read and I would refuse. This has been going on between us for 3 years. Amy had her palm read at least every other month. Been doing that for years, even before I met her. I always resisted, not sure why really, just a feeling in the back of my mind. I sat looking at Amy, and then thought, why not? It would make her happy, and it would stop her from bugging me about it. Two out of two isn’t bad.
“Okay” I stated. “Lets do it!”
It was almost comical the way her mouth dropped open and her eyes got wide. “Really?” she asked. “You really going to do it?”
“Sure, why not! That way you’ll leave me alone about it.” I joked back at her. “Sometimes you are such a nag!”
“Well, damn girl! Lets go!” Her southern drawl always got more pronounced when she was excited. As we went to pay our bill, the owner waved us off. Giving both of us another hug and kiss on the cheek, he pushed us towards the door with a demand we go enjoy ourselves. Waving good-bye we pushed our way through the crowd of revelers again and set off towards Amy’s favorite Voodoo priestess.
I knew that Amy had a woman she saw about palm readings. I also knew she had been going to the same woman since she was a teenager. She swore by Madame Renee’s readings. Me, I wasn’t too sure. But, I was determined to keep an open mind. Who was I to say what was right or wrong as far as religious beliefs were concerned? I also had to admit, at least to myself, that I was curious. So there we were, pushing our way through the crowd. Dodging too amorous men in costume. Laughing with the tipsy women as they accidentally bumped into us on their way to more merriment elsewhere.
We paused in front of a small windowless wood door. The sign next to it, swinging slightly in the night air was faded, but you could just read “Madame Renee’s Shoppe, Palm, Tarot, Bones & Stones, Psychic readings available.”
Amy pushed open the door, amid the tinkling of the bell over the door we walked in. As the small red door closed shut behind us, it seemed like the world became still and quiet. It was like walking into another world. The air smelled like dried herbs, slightly dusty. We were the only ones inside, which I thought was strange as there was a big party going on just feet away on the other side of the door. While Amy went towards the back, no doubt looking for Madame Renee, I gawked at all the odd items on display. There were of course the usual herbs. Also there was a shelf of voodoo dolls, gris gris, oil blends and the such.
Amy stuck her head around the corner. “Madame Renee is going to do my reading first, then she will do yours!” I nodded that I understood and Amy’s head disappeared back around the corner. I wondered around the front of the shop trying to figure out what everything was for. I had no idea! It was like a strange language, the meanings were beyond me. As I rambled closer to the back of the store I heard faint mumbling come from the closed curtain in which Amy disappeared. For some reason the longer I waited the more nervous I was getting. The atmosphere of the building was pressing down on me. Almost like a presence.
Before my imagination could completely take over, Amy came towards me. All smiles she didn’t notice my nervousness. “Okay! You’re turn!” she almost sang. “I’ll wait right here for you.”
Taking a deep breath I pushed aside the faded blue curtain and walked inside. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t the tall regal black woman standing before me. She looked like an African queen. Her hair was braided and laid long over her shoulder. On top of her head she had a bright green turban that matched the long green dress she wore. Her face was coffee dark, with large intelligent eyes that looked straight through me. Her feet were bare, with delicate silver chains around the ankles. She didn’t smile, just gestured me towards a velvet chair next to hers. I sank down into the chair as she gracefully sat next to me. For a few more seconds there was complete silence. She stared at me as I tried not to stare at her.
“You have a strong aura”, she said in a low voice that suited her perfectly. The voice wasn’t loud, but it was commanding.
“You have powers that you don’t yet know you have” that low voice stated. I looked at her in surprise. That certainly wasn’t what I expected to hear! What was she talking about?? “You are not what you think you are, you are much more.”
I swallowed and started to ask her what she meant, when she spoke once more with that low voice. “Let me see your hands child.”
I wiped the sweat off my palms on my jeans, and nervously held out both my hands. My breath caught in my throat when I felt her cool hands clasp mine. She pulled them over closer to her and begun to rub her thumbs over my palms slowly. She held my eyes, never once looking at my hands. Just keeping a slow rhythm with her thumbs, till I began to feel a warmth start with every small circle. “Yes” she whispered. “You are destined for more than you have now.”
I started to pull my hands away. This is not what I expected at all. Where was the ‘I would meet and tall dark stranger who would carry me away’? This had nothing to do with strangers, tall or otherwise! This was just a little scary! Madame Renee held my hands tighter, closed her eyes, and then opened them wide. “You have power, child!” she said with authority. “You have a power I have not seen before!”
“With this power, you will become something you may not want to be.”
All of a sudden I was breathing harder. I could feel something in the air. I could feel something within me! It was a sudden prickle between the shoulder blades. Something almost crawling beneath my skin. Madame Renee dropped my hands and sat back in her chair. She stared at me, not with fright, but with awe. “You are a child of the past!”
I stared at her. What did that mean? Child of the past? I opened my mouth to ask her, when she once again grabbed my hand. She just held it softly, then kissed the back and laid it gently in my lap. I covered that kissed hand with my other.
She smiled at me and said. “I have enjoyed our encounter, child of the past.” Standing up and moving towards the curtained doorway, she pushed the curtain aside and gestured me through it. Getting up I walked slowly past her. As I get by her side. She whispers one more thing.
“We will meet again. When the answers you want overcome your fears. And I will reveal more that you will need to know”.
In a daze and my mind in a whirl, I walked towards Amy. “Isn’t she wonderful?!” Amy asks as she hugs me. “I knew you would love it once you got a reading done.”
I didn’t have a clear enough mind to contradict her. She was happy. I was confused and just a little frightened. I wasn’t sure what had just happened in that little back room. But I did have the distinct feeling my life will never be the same after this first encounter.