Once a panda snapped open a fortune cookie and found the following message: “A change for the better which will be made against you.” The panda, being of an easygoing nature, noted the bizarre wording of the paper fortune but wasn’t moved to devote much further thought to what those words might mean. Slipping the message into the pocket of its dinner jacket, it refocused its attention instead on the aftertaste of the remarkable meal of bamboo delicacies it had just finished. Not until days later, when searching its pockets for something to chew on between more substantial delights, did the panda discover the wadded paper and unfolded it for a second look. “A change for the better which will be made against you.” What could such a fortune mean? It had the ring of a farcical mistranslation, something like “Fantastic dreams make our insides sing up blue skies” or “You will never see tasty like this before your right cooked eyes again.” Had the slip of paper offered a gem of that order, the panda mused, it might be inclined to keep it to pass around the table the next time a faltering ambiance of bonhomie among its dining mates needed a boost. But what if the fortune wasn’t a joke? What if behind this puzzling phrase lay a truth the panda simply hadn’t been prepared by any of its previous experience to grasp? It had never had any reason to doubt the blessings it enjoyed would continue indefinitely. There might be temporary ups and downs, to be sure, but the general trend would always be upward, or so it had seemed. The panda had always counted on things continuing to change for the better in the long run. What then of this change for the better “against you”? Could it mean the panda’s optimistic outlook on life—its confidence that the future must inevitably promise more of the steady diet of satisfactions to which it had grown so accustomed—was about to suffer a reversal? Was it possible the planet wasn’t in fact dedicated to perpetuating the panda’s carefree sense of well-being forever? Further, who was meant to gain by the change to be made against the panda? Whose appetites could be more pressing? No other panda it was remotely acquainted with, that was for sure. It could hardly conceive of a pursuit of felicity more consuming than its own. Maybe the threat wouldn’t come from one of its usual compeers, though. For all the panda knew, its free and easy enjoyment of the best life had to offer might be brought to an end by a rank upstart, even by the lowest of the low. Its ultimate fate might prove to be no more than a sideshow in the rise of some more fortunate creature that hadn’t even come to the panda’s notice as of yet. On the other hand, the panda told itself, the fateful fortune cookie might not have been meant for it at all. Had it simply chanced to pick the wrong one from a pile of them at the end of the meal? If so, then time would surely tell whether there was anything ahead in life worth worrying about. Yes, an answer would come eventually. No rushing it. Until then, why not carry on as though the ominous warning was indeed aimed at others and not intended to put the panda off its appetite? Mix-ups of this sort must happen all the time, mustn’t they?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans