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Ali Knows the Future

Karl El-Koura lives with his family in Canada's capital city. He holds a second-degree black belt in Okinawan Goju Ryu karate, is an avid commuter-cyclist (on a stationary bike, in these pandemic times), and works for the Canadian Federal Public Service. To find out more about Karl, visit his website at ootersplace.com. This is his third appearance in Daily Science Fiction.
Their four-year-old daughter came home from school saying, "Ali knows the future."
Her father, Bruce Palimani, busy forming meatballs for dinner, said, "No one knows the future, my heart."
The next day, or a few days later, Sandy let her hands drop to her lap while practicing piano and told her mother the same thing about Ali, turning her small, round, serious face to Ana.
"Try 'kissing Fireman Fred' one more time," Ana said, used to Sandy's distractions and refusing to fall for it.
Later that week, at dinner, Sandy said, "Ali says we're going to see a dinosaur tomorrow."
"Dinosaurs aren't real," Bruce said, reflexively. Then, catching himself by the look Ana gave him across the table, he said, "Well--they were real. They died out. There's no dinosaurs around now--except in museums. They're not going to a museum, are they?"
"They're a preschool," Ana said.
"No, we're not," Sandy said, focused on her plate, tiny hands working the small spoon to pick up more butter chicken and rice than she could reasonably fit in her mouth. "But we're going to see dinosaurs--Ali says."
"Ali again," Bruce said in bed that night.
"Yeah," Ana said, then turned over to turn off the light.
The next day's email from the school had a picture of the children clustered around a chicken, a show-and-tell surprise visitor brought by one of the parents who, it seemed, grew chickens. On the blackboard one of the teachers had written "Are chickens dinosaurs?" for the children to ponder as they chased the bird around their classroom. Neither Ana nor Bruce noticed the message in white chalk--and even if they had, they'd already forgotten about what Sandy had said.
Ali took days and sometimes weeks off from his prognostications, or at least Sandy didn't find all of them necessary to report on.
But one day, on the Friday evening before Thanksgiving weekend, she said, "Ali says you're going to fight tomorrow. But he says to remember that you're friends. It's okay for friends to be angry, but they shouldn't forget that they're friends."
Bruce and Ana put their forks down and stared at each other, then at their little girl, who looked back at them with her big brown eyes, like a miniscule but sincere marriage counsellor.
"Have we been fighting?" Ana said, whispering to Bruce.
"No more than usual. I don't think." Then, to Sandy, he said, "Honey, do you think mommy and daddy are fighting? Have you been talking to your friend about that?"
"No," Sandy said, holding up her arms in an almost supplicatory shrug, her voice the combination of annoyance and exasperation that comes from a child's sometime inability to convey simple facts to adults. "That's what Ali told me. He knows the future."
Bruce and Ana exchanged looks again. That night they said to each other, "We can't be fighting in front of her."
The next morning, Bruce went to the basement to grab the turkey from the cooler, but it wasn't in there. "You didn't take it out of the freezer?" he said, when he returned to the kitchen.
"You were supposed to do that," Ana said.
Somehow that led to a fight. Ana never listened--maybe if he sent her a text or a Facebook message? Bruce, distracted with work half his waking time, assumed he said things he never actually communicated, then had this look of disappointment when his wife failed to read his mind. How fair was that?
They were too upset to remember Ali's prediction. Even if they had, they would've chalked it up to a child's game that had hit the mark by luck. No one could tell the future, let alone a five-year old who--according to Sandy--still refused to close the preschool's bathroom door all the way because he was scared.
But Ali's declarations became more personal, and harder to dismiss or forget, a few weeks later. "Ali says you forgot that you're best friends."
"We didn't," they said.
"Ali says you should try cooking together again. He says you used to love cooking, and now you both hate it. He says it's a cho-ore"--she struggled to get through the word, making two syllables out of it--"but you'll love it again if you do it together."
"Did we cook together since she was born?" Ana said.
"Not since she was born," Bruce said.
They didn't start cooking together again. They'd become accustomed to their new routine, taking turns, one cooking (usually the one who worked from home that day), one doing the clean-up, one taking care of Sandy while the other caught up on work-work or house-work.
"Ali says you're heading down a dark path," Sandy said one day. Then she scrunched up her nose at them. "What does divorce mean?"
"Enough is enough," Bruce said. "I'm calling his parents."
"Have you been talking about divorce?" Ana asked him.
"What? To our daughter? Of course not."
"Then to who?"
"No one. I haven't been talking about it at all. Have you?"
Ana said no, and Ali's mom apologized to Bruce while Ana leaned her head close to his so they could both hear the conversation. Ali had been playing this game since he could speak, his mom said, and they couldn't get him to stop.
"But--is he right?"
"Is our five-year-old capable of predicting the future? Is that what you're asking me?"
"Yes."
"Of course not." Then, in a lower voice, she said, "But I'll tell you this. If he tells me not to go out driving, I wait a little while. Once he told us a trip to Cancun we'd been planning was a bad idea, so we went to Barbados instead. Isn't that crazy? But he's our son and we don't want to discourage him. You understand what I'm saying?"
That evening Ana asked Bruce if he wanted to cook with her.
"I was just about to offer," Bruce said. The next day, a Saturday, he asked Ana if she wanted to cook with him. They cleaned up together, too.
When he picked Sandy up on the Friday before Christmas break, Bruce waited while his daughter said goodbye to Ali. He watched from the gate while these two tiny bundles of snowsuits and toques and scarves spoke in soft tones like co-conspirators. Then his own bundle of purple snowsuit came toddling toward him.
"What were you two talking about?" he said, as they drove away from the parking lot.
In her car seat, focused on the open lunchbox on her lap, she spoke in between munching on leftover cut-up veggies. "He said he's happy you two are cooking together again. He's glad that you're remembering you're friends again."
Bruce told Ana about that when they got home.
"I think Ali is a very special boy," Ana said. "Maybe we can invite him over for a play date sometime over the holidays?"
Sandy's brown eyes sparkled and her face lit up. "He said you would say that!"
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 4th, 2021


This story emerged from two related ideas: how easily and completely I dismiss my young daughter's nuttier notions, like the time she said that her friend from preschool could tell the future, and how it so often seems that children exist in their own world, together, but one inaccessible to adults. Wanting to gain a glimpse into that world, I thought, What if her little friend does know the future? and began writing this story.

Some weeks later, by the way, that friend was sorely disappointed when we had to pull our daughter out of school a few days before the official start of holidays. "I thought he could tell the future?" I said, but my daughter just gave me a weird look, because of course by then they'd moved on to a different game.

- Karl El-Koura
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