A hefty woman pulls herself up the steps of the CTA bus. A little boy, probably her son, follows behind. He’s about six years old. They sit right behind the driver.
Seated alone across the aisle is a white-haired man, his spooly fingers wrapped around the hooked handle of his wooden cane. “Are you a schoolteacher?” he says to the woman, practically before she has a chance to sit down. “You act like a schoolteacher. You look like one of those schoolteachers like they had 50 years ago, slap you and say, ‘Shut up, boy!'” She shakes her head no. “You’re not a schoolteacher?” the man says. “Oh well. The witch doctor can’t be right all the time.”
The woman just gives a polite smile.
Then the witch doctor looks at the boy inquisitively and says “I want to see your palm! I can tell about you by looking at your palm.” The boy sits with his hands in his pockets, looking at the witch doctor. He huddles deep in his coat as if he’s trying to hide.
“Don’t be a lawyer,” the witch doctor says to the boy. “No sir!” The woman, trying not to make eye contact with the witch doctor, begins perusing the boy’s school notebook.
“Is your name Jeffrey?” the witch doctor says. When the pause lasts so long the boy realizes he’ll have to answer, he quickly shakes his head no. “Is your name close to Jeffrey?” The boy shakes his head again.
“I want to look at your palm!” the witch doctor says. “I’m gonna get off at Chicago Avenue and I want to look at your palm! You got nice clear eyes! I’m gonna guess your name.”
I can see that on the front of the notebook, written in the big, black Magic Marker letters of primary penmanship is the boy’s name. Poor kid. The witch doctor will never leave him alone now. What are the odds of him guessing Adolphus?
“Don’t be a doctor neither,” the witch doctor lectures him. “Let me see your palm. Hold up your palm!” The boy holds his palm up but the witch doctor can’t see it from across the aisle. “When I get off at Chicago Avenue I’m gonna look at your palm! Is your name Michael? You’re named Michael!”
The boy shakes his head again.
I say, “Is your name Adolphus?” The boy looks at me in wide-eyed shock and nods. “I could tell your name was Adolphus by looking at your palm,” I say. Adolphus holds his palm in front of his face and stares at it.
“This ain’t no child molestation thing!” the witch doctor says. “Don’t get the wrong idea. That’s against the law! But you fascinate me, boy. You’re gonna be somebody. I can tell by the eyes. Eyes are the windows to the soul.”
Two old women get on the bus. There’s plenty of room for them to sit up front but Adolphus’s mother seizes the chance to escape the witch doctor by offering them her seat and heads for the back.
Adolphus tries to follow but the witch doctor sticks out his arm and blocks his way. “Let me see your palm!” The boy flips up his palm and the witch doctor grabs his hand. “Ooh yeah!” he says. “You’re gonna make a lot of money! You’re gonna have 40 thousand dollars when you’re 20 years old! And don’t forget your mother! She’s the best friend you got in the world!”
“Adolphus,” calls the woman from her seat in the back.
“Marcus!” says the witch doctor, triumphantly. He lets the boy go. “She called it for me! Marcus!”
“Adolphus!” the woman corrects him, becoming irritated.
“Adolphus?” the witch doctor says. “I never heard that name! That’s some kind of Greek name! They don’t name them Jeffrey or Joseph no more!”
The witch doctor looks betrayed. “Adolphus?” he grumbles to himself. His stop is coming up so he heads for the front. The cane doesn’t even touch the ground. He just carries it alongside. Standing by the bus steps, he carries on an animated, one-way discussion with the bus driver. He looks angry. “Adolphus!” is all I can hear him say.
He gets off the bus and heads for the Lawson YMCA.