The Fortune Teller's Prophecy
A Memoir of an Unlikely Doctor
When a military coup in Ghana leads to the abrupt closure of Lally Pia’s medical school, she is left stranded there, thousands of miles away from her family in California, with no educational prospects or money. Adding to her turmoil is her discovery that her American Green Card has been botched, which means she has no country to call home. But a Sri Lankan priest told Lally that she would one day become a “Doctor of Doctors” —and she is intent on proving him right.
Read an excerpt
Heathrow Airport, London Summer, 1983
“Next!” a uniformed man called out to me from his kiosk. I had reached the front of the Heathrow airport queue. As I approached, I saw graying hair and glasses on the tip of his nose—he was grandfather-like. I prayed that he’d be nice.
I extended my Sri Lankan passport through a tiny arched opening. “Guess I shouldn’t go around beating people up,” I joked feebly, waving my casted left arm around. Not even a vestige of a smile cracked his face as he flipped through the passport. I wondered if I’d broken some kind of unwritten rule for international visitors by trying to get him to smile.
“I don’t see a visa here,” he announced in a sharp tone, turning from the book to stare directly into my eyes. His gray eyes had white flecks in them. It was like looking at a kaleidoscope. If he was trying to intimidate me, it worked. “Do you have a visa, ma’am?”
I swallowed and licked my dry lips. “No, I don’t. You see, it’s like this, I had no time. It’s complicated. I’m going to California soon. I had a problem getting there. I’m going to stay . . . going to wait here with friends,” I blabbered. “I’m not staying long. Just for a bit . . . till I go to America, you see. My family’s in America.”
“Slow down, slow down, ma’am. You have friends here in the UK?”
“That’s right. They should be here. I’m headed to California, but I’m stopping off to see them for a while. I’m on my way to the States.” My heart whacked at my chest cage. I would have given anything for a sip of water. In fact, my mouth was so dry that I could barely get the words out. I swallowed, and it hurt. He made some notes without looking up. I figured he was probably putting down, “Moron trying to enter UK.”
“Name of your friends?” he asked sharply.
“John and Judy Clayden.” I spelled out their last name.
“Er . . . I’m not sure. I have their address in Scotland, but they told me they’re moving and I . . . I don’t know. . . .” Even in my state of exhaustion, I knew what a lame answer that was.
“You don’t have an address?” He looked at me incredulously. “You’re here to stay with friends and don’t have anything more than a name? Is that what you’re telling me? Do you have their telephone number?”
“Er . . . I don’t have that either. You see, they’re moving to Wales and. . . .”
“Ma’am,” he interrupted, “that’s quite enough. Please follow this officer. Someone will come to talk to you soon.” He handed my passport to a sour-faced, unsmiling Asian man who had materialized behind him. From the suspicious way Sourpuss handled the document handoff, I wondered if he thought I’d grab my passport and bolt.
Welcome to England.
Sourpuss led me into the room, waved me over to a small table with two chairs, and told me to wait there. He left, shutting the door behind him. I wondered if he’d locked me in, but I didn’t dare check. I tried to get comfortable on a hard wooden chair facing the door. The office was tiny with a heavily frosted window, so I couldn’t see outside. The only decor was a simple black clock that hung on the wall. The room had all the personality of a slab of cement, so I amused myself for the next hour by rifling through my dog-eared diary. It was painfully empty because I’d been too stressed to write for months. Instead, I reread some letters I’d stowed inside. How stupid that I’d forgotten to ask John for their address in Wales.
After another twenty minutes, I set the diary back in my bag and gently banged the cast on the edge of the table to relieve a deep wrist itch. I traced autographs my friends had inscribed on my cast with my index finger, reliving the comments they’d made as they generated artwork or signed their names. As the clock hands advanced, I feared the worst...
Lally's memoir is a testament to both the intense work it takes to achieve [the American Dream] and the sacrifices she made that would be unthinkable to the average American fortunate enough to be born into that dream. The writing is clean and concise and reads like a conversation rather than a series of events...Excellent, excellent work. Very highly recommended.
Asher Syed, Readers' Favorite, 5 Stars