*Originally published April 2, 2018 in American Short Fiction Web Exclusive
He is the blind oracle at Unchained Melody Massage Parlor.
He specializes in foot rubs. He can stimulate all kinds of glands with pulls and pricks of the tendon and phalanges.
He can, for example, make a person grow taller by pushing on the well of the big toe, which is the pituitary gland reflex point. Everyone knows this.
He can also tell people’s fortunes.
He made his first prophecy on April 26, 1521.
He told Ferdinand Magellan, seated on a cane chair, feet bulbous from scurvy, that he would not succeed if he went to battle in Mactan. Magellan did not listen, did not even tip him. Magellan died the next day at the hands of a local man named after a fish.
He was twenty-one when he made that prophecy.
He has been twenty-one for 496 years. He stopped aging the minute he stopped growing. He also became blind.
He was born in Mactan Island, Philippines, but moves around because of his debts.
He loves gambling, as all oracles do.
He does not give out happy endings. Neither adult nor the fairy tale kind. When he presses his clients’ feet, he sees only tragedies. For his grim prognostications, many people choose not to believe him. Almost always, those who ask him to read their fortunes end up dead.
It is convenient for him, as the dead cannot seek revenge.
Once in a while, his clients are only maimed and will come after him, thinking he’s jinxed them. This is another reason he moves so much.
The American general, Douglas MacArthur, on December 23, 1941, got a foot massage. He opted for the massage-prophecy combination, but did not heed the oracle’s advice. The next year, MacArthur lost the fort of Bataan to the Japanese, who made thousands of Filipino soldiers march to their deaths. Of course, MacArthur fled with his family to Australia, where he famously proclaimed, “I shall return.”
Very few know MacArthur was actually threatening the oracle.
Today, very few even know the oracle exists, or whether he takes reservations in advance. (He does, by phone. He is old-fashioned.)
Today, very few know he is still a virgin. He has bulging muscles, because how couldn’t he, noodling bodies over hundreds of years. Sadly, he can never get it up. He has seen far too many deaths to think of procreation.
Still, he is the ladies’ favorite. Some gentlemen’s too.
He does not discriminate. In fact, he is overly polite. This gets him into trouble, as often it is best to say No when we mean No.
He learned this lesson on August 20, 1983. He was sent to the palace by the dictator’s wife, Imelda Marcos, who owned 2,794 pairs of shoes. With that many shoes to try on, it was no surprise she needed a foot massage.
But she wanted more.
She also wanted a back massage.
She was taking off her bra when the dictator came in.
The dictator was not happy. (Men can be so fragile.)
The dictator cornered him in the room with a scythe given him by his best friend, The Gipper. The dictator was whisked away for an emergency meeting before he could do anything serious. The next day, the dictator and his wife fell from grace in a coup. The oracle could’ve told them that, if only they’d listen.
It was the last time he would massage the feet of powerful people.
It was the last time he’d do outcalls, no matter the rates.
These days, the oracle sits inside his small shack at Unchained Melody, on the tourist island of Samal, patiently waiting.
These days, he sips a lot of coconut wine, thinking about the past.
Always, he thinks of her.
She was a Chinese businesswoman who came in one day asking for an auspicious date. She was to inaugurate her company’s ferry on its maiden voyage.
As a rule, he said, he does not do fortune-cookie predictions.
She assented and asked only for a massage.
She had the most callused feet of anyone’s he’d rubbed. But in the course of several visits he came to like her feet, even came to like how they smelled (notes of soy sauce and melted plastic).
This was not a foot fetish, though it came close.
One night, he invited her to a karaoke bar, where they sang drunkenly and bonded over the Righteous Brothers.
One night, they walked together on the beach, holding hands in the dark.
One night, he cooked crab for her at his cottage.
As they lay on the bed, he was prepared to tell her all about his credo, about how sex is overrated and celibacy enables a deeper connection, about how the blind are more perceptive, but then he heard her say she had a husband and two kids.
He ended up giving her a foot massage instead.
When he pressed on her flexor digitorum brevis, which everyone knows is connected to the heart, he saw an image of her and her family aboard a ferry. She had the most beautiful kids, a boy and a girl with ruddy cheeks, and a tall husband crowned with silver hair. The oracle’s heart filled with sorrow at the thought that she would never leave them for him and that he would never have his own family. When he tried to look away, he saw reporters and well-wishers on the boat, declaring the inauguration a success. He knew then that she was going to grow old gracefully and in good company. And he must be happy for her.
Glumly, he told her he was making an exception. For the first time, he said, he saw a good omen and gave her an auspicious date.
She thanked him by way of a kiss and said she would see him the next week.
It was the last time they would ever meet.
On August 17, 1994, a ferry on its maiden voyage capsized on the coast of Mindanao, killing all passengers.
When he heard the news, for days the oracle could not sleep.
Why, O God, did you send a false prophecy?
I did not send you a false prophecy, I said. You were in love.
Why, O God, did you take away my only love?
I did not know you would fall in love. You had your centuries. I’m not sure what you saw in her.
How, O God, do I continue living?
Stop whining. Do your job like everyone else.
On the morning of October 10, 1994, while eating breakfast, the oracle stubbed his toe on a chair. As he rubbed his foot, he saw a vision of his own death. Problem was, he liked what he saw too much. He couldn’t tell if his death was a good fortune and therefore not true.
This does not stop him from checking his calendar every December and listening to the weather report.
It does not stop him from putting on his Walkman and a raincoat.
It does not stop him, even when the sky goes dark and all the tourists leave for shelter, from picking a beach chair to sit on and waiting for a typhoon to hit.
Lonely rivers flow to the sea, to the sea.
It is a little dramatic, honestly, wishing to be drowned, even for a blind oracle. But it is the only thing he has ever wanted. And if we care for him at all, we should give him his happy ending.