“You here for a reason,” Hiep the barber said. “Here, in San Francisco. This shop. This seat.”
He stopped cutting and stood back. “I don’t know why,” he continued. “But there is reason.”
“Ah, you mean like fate?” I asked.
“Yes, fate.” He paused again and gestured to himself. “This what I believe. I do not make others believe too. This just what I believe.”
“That’s okay. I happen to agree.”
He smiled. “I not always like this. I grow up religious in Vietnam. But this what always make sense to me.”
“I tell you a story,” he continued. “It sound crazy, but it true.”
He cleared his throat and focused his gaze on me through the mirror.
“When I was boy in Vietnam, uncle take me to fortune teller. He tell me I must come. But I don’t believe in fortune teller. I think: waste of time.”
He cut a few more snips. Though this haircut was taking longer then usual, I didn’t mind. It was a fascinating conversation.
“The fortune teller was blind. Cannot see anything. She take my hands and tell me my past, my present, my future. What she told me about past, I do not believe. I say, ‘That not true. You make it up.'”
His gaze narrowed. “She say, ‘Talk to your mother. You will know I am right.’ So I talk to my mother. She ask me how I know these things. I tell her fortune teller tell me. And you know what?”
He paused. Eyes fixed on mine.
“Everything true. Fortune teller know things no one else know. Even me. Only my mother know.”
He sighed and started trimming my sideburns.
“But still, I don’t believe in fortune teller. But tell you what. When I come to this country, I go to friend’s party. They have fortune teller. My wife go and talk to her. I don’t go. I play cards instead. Because I don’t believe.”
Hiep paused and used the blow dryer to whisk away some loose hairs. Then he continued.
“The fortune teller tell my wife, ‘Bring your husband here. You must bring him here.’ She come get me. I say, ‘No, I don’t believe. I want to play cards.’ But she keep tell me, ‘Come, come, the fortune teller say bring you here.'”
He shook his head with a smile. “She stubborn like me. So I go. But I don’t go into room. I stand outside, tell fortune teller, ‘I don’t believe you. I don’t want listen. Stop telling my wife to bring me here.’ Fortune teller say, ‘Okay, you stand there. I don’t care. You just listen to what I say.'”
His eyes widened. “And she tell me same thing first fortune teller tell me. Fortune teller from Vietnam. Exact same thing!”
I blinked. “Are you sure? The first fortune teller was many years ago, right? How can you remember all that?”
Hiep shook his head. “I remember. I remember because her prediction all come true. Future, what she predict, come true. I don’t want to believe, but it come true!”
“This fortune teller want to tell me more. She say, ‘I tell you future.’ I say, ‘No. No. I tell you why.'”
He stood back again. Cleared his throat. Focused his eyes on mine.
“I don’t want to hear fortune teller because I don’t want to know future. I want to be surprised. Understand? I don’t want to know when I die. Not meant for me to know. When it happen, it happen. I cannot change it. Knowing only make worse. Understand?”
I nodded. “I do, I do. You do believe in the fortune teller’s predictions, but you don’t want to acknowledge it, because you would prefer to be surprised. So it’s not that you don’t believe in her, it’s that you do, but don’t want to.”
Hiep smiled. “Yes. I cannot believe. But I know it. I cannot change prediction. Whatever will happen will happen. So why know?”
“So you don’t believe in free will? You believe that everything is preordained?”
He smiled again. “Yes, there are choice. Some choice. But we not meant to know. We cannot know. Why you here, in this chair? There is reason. Maybe to hear this talk. Maybe for me to have this talk. I don’t know. We cannot know. But it happen for reason. That all I know.”
I waited until he finished trimming the back of my head, then nodded. “Whatever the reason, I am glad fate gave me this talk. It is very interesting.”
Hiep beamed. “For me too. I am glad to fate for this talk too.”