The carnival is in full swing. Vampires, zombies, skeletons, Harley Quinns, and an assorted mix of iconic characters mill around the sports field, popping in and out of the evenly spaced booths.

The air is a heavenly mix of roasted corn, buttery popcorn, and candyfloss. Together with the music, rides, and childish wonderment that comes from being at a carnival, it’s spectacular. It truly is. But I can’t seem to enjoy it.

There’s a niggling feeling in my stomach I can’t shake off.

“What’s up?” Nate asks.

“Just thinking about how lame your ‘costume’ is.” It wasn’t really – he could pull off anything. Even a T-shirt saying, ‘Blessing in disguise’, tortoiseshell glasses, and a long trench coat.

“You wound me, Jasmine,” Nate says, throwing his hands over his heart. “I would say that your choice of costume is unoriginal, but …” He pauses and runs his eyes down the length of my body, causing my heart rate to speed up. “I like it.”

I mean, it’s not like I went and got myself a Princess Jasmin outfit just because Nate said I kind of looked like her. (Okay, that may have influenced me just a little.) But it was either that or a fortune cookie, and the latter wasn’t exactly flattering.

“Yes. Very pretty,” the fortune-teller says from her seat on the opposite end of our tent. “But your friend. Her dress too short.”

“Which friend, Francesca?” I ask.

“The blonde. She like husky-dog man. But he no good.” She clicks her tongue.

She must mean Cheryl, whom I hadn’t even seen since the carnival began a while back. And what husky dog man? I picture an overgrown guy with fuzzy facial hair and mismatched blue eyes, just about bursting out of his school uniform.

“Oh. Hi, Ms Ngema,” I say, trying to mask my surprise as our Vice Principal walks in, dressed in her usual pantsuit. She greets Nate and me and hands him a R50 note.

“Thanks, Ms Ngema. Enjoy!” Nate carefully places her money in our plastic cash drawer, and I bite back my impatience at having to wait to ask Francesca about Cheryl and her mystery guy.

Ms Ngema gives us a firm nod of her head, her lips unable to decide whether they should smile or not. She pulls out a chair and sits opposite Francesca.

“You want to have tarot, tea leaf, or palm reading?” Francesca asks, giving Ms Ngema an unwavering stare.

“Tarot.” Ms Ngema stares right back at Francesca, unchallenged.

Francesca cackles then breaks into a hacking cough. I’m tempted to thump her on the back to make sure she doesn’t choke.

“I like you,” she says to Ms Ngema. “You don’t take nonsense.”

“This is weird,” I whisper to Nate as Francesca shuffles a deck of tarot cards. “Ms Ngema is the last person I’d expect to see here.”

“That’s just it,” Nate says, his voice rising with barely-contained excitement. “Frankie brings in both types of people. The believers, and the non-believers, who come in just to see what the fuss is about.”

He was right. Mr Daniels, our Physics teacher, first popped in for a tea leaf reading and again for a tarot reading, both times leaving with a mystified look on his face.

He would probably be back for a palm reading before the end of the night.

“Francesca is really good at this,” I say watching her. “It’s almost as if …”

“She’s an actual Romanian witch,” Nate says seriously, before bursting out in laughter. “Ah, man! You should see your face!”

I smack him on the arm, trying not to laugh with him. “You’re such an idiot!”

“There is going to be trouble tonight,” Francesca says to Ms Ngema. “You don’t believe me now. But you see later.”


Tell us: Have you ever been to a fortune teller? What happened?