5 years, 9 months ago
Here are a few of the fortunes I devised during my first week as a writer of fortunes at Trang's Fortune Cookies Ltd:
YOU ARE CURRENTLY BALD. THIS IS A MISTAKE.
OBEY THE WISDOM OF THE FROG. HE KNOWS.
LOOK NOT TO THE RIGHT NOR TO THE LEFT BUT SIMPLY DO.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. COMPLEXITY KILLS.
HAPPY THE MAN WHO KNOWS NOTHING OF CHEESE.
STARSKY AND HUTCH, I SUMMON YOU.
I LOVE YOUR EARS, MY LITTLE FRIEND.
Mr Trang speaks no English, but he pops his head round my office door every day and expresses his benevolent interest in my work by means of gestures and facial expressions. I show him my work book. I concoct something in the region of 500 fortunes a day. More, on a good day. Mr Trang cannot read them but he casts his eyes over my work politely. He smiles and nods encouragingly. Sometimes he bows and mimes applause. I smile back, bow in return and mime modest shrugs. This appears to please him and he leaves.
I came to work at Trang's after losing my job at the Ministry of Insects. I was doing quite well at the Ministry. I'd only been there five months and had already been promoted to Under Secretary For Grasshoppers. I had my career path mapped out. I would ascend to helm the Grasshoppers Department and then I would rise to a mid-level position in the related field of Locusts. Once leadership of Locusts was mine, as it surely would be once I had ousted that fool Ormstead, I would deal directly with the other Heads of Department for the various bureaux in the Agricultural Pests Division. I would establish a power base amongst Pests and clamber up the greasy pole until I was in a position to become the Pests Oversecretary. The current Pests Oversecretary, Himmelfarb, would be hard to nobble, but I was confident I would find a way. From there it would be only a short step sideways to any one of several possible paths. I could choose which path I wanted to take based upon circumstances at the time. I might continue to rise in Insects, via a route through the large and complex Flies Department. I saw potential openings in Trichoptera and Megaloptera. Progress through this area of the Ministry would be slower but would have the advantage of giving me more experience, which might be an issue that would come up later on. Or I might jump sideways to the smaller but infinitely more prestigious Ministry of Arachnids. Or I might even be able to jump over spiders and go straight to Marine Arthropods, depending on Tinkerman's attitude to me. I found Tinkerman enigmatic, with his cold eyes and his monotonous voice and his habit of breaking things slowly and deliberately. Chairs. Desk tidies. Books. Paperclips. Anything that happened to be in front of him, he dismantled and left in pieces. I wasn't sure he disliked me, however. It was just a suspicion. And, even if he did, there was a possibility that he disliked everyone equally. Little did I know.
Speaking of things I didn't know, I had also entirely reckoned without Fotheringhamgaymortontonford at the Ministry of Long Names. I never saw him coming. I never knew that he harboured such animus towards me, such venom. I never knew that a desire for vengeance burned in his rotten heart, like sulfur in a cess-pit. I never knew how closely he was watching my every move, calculating my every thought, waiting for his opportunity, preparing his strike against me... a strike that would destroy my prospects, send me tumbling from my high perch down to the depths of ignominy and reduce all my exalted dreams to ashes in my mouth.
My work here at Trang's has gone through several stages. At the start, I made an effort to make my fortunes seem like predictions. I found this hard so I would buy newspapers and plagiarize the horoscopes. I was careful about it. I would use the horoscope I had selected as a template and subtly alter it so that it became unrecognisable while still retaining that ineffable flavour of prediction which I found so hard to synthesize myself. So, for instance, I might take the following horoscope (which, as it happens, was published in the Evening Standard
on 19th May last year, addressed to Sagittarius)...
You were born with great energy and drive. However, you worry about hurting others as you push for what you want. Partly, your worry is justified. Take stock of your recent achievements and try to think how they might have put noses out of joint. Saturn is settling down in the next few weeks, so this is an excellent time to think about being conciliatory. But beware of compromising your ideals and goals.
...and use it as the raw material from which to fashion the following fortunes:
DRIVE NERVOUSLY AND ENERGY WILL BE BORN.
YOU WILL HURT PEOPLE IF YOU PUSH THEM.
TAKE STOCK OF NOSES.
SETTLE DOWN ON SATURN.
YOUR GOALS WILL BE OFF SIDE.
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