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THE PHANTOM CURRY
by Bryan Roskams

There was nothing unusual about that day, Betty had called me at the usual time, and as usual, by the time I had surfaced from my deep sleep, my tea was luke warm, which was also usual.

Betty is my darling wife, and has been for the past twenty nine years. She has lost the youthful and innocent beauty she had when we got married all that time ago. But she has gained another kind of beauty, the kind of beauty that comes with serene maturity, the kind of beauty that comes from  constantly caring  for other people, the kind of beauty that came when her hair turned  grey, and also the love that radiates her face when she is with the ones she lives  for. That's me, our daughter Sam, and our two grand children, Camila ten, and Robert nearly seven.

I'm not one of those people that say  we've never had a cross word since we got married, on the contrary, There have been some very difficult periods in our relationship, but where other couples have foundered, we,(because we knew there had always been something special going for us) we managed to survive. The fact that we wanted our marriage to succeed meant we were willing to make changes, and also make sacrifices, when, and if, problems reared their ugly heads.

We had made the decision at quite an early stage of our relationship that we were both prepared to concentrate on our respective on going education programmes. Betty was studying to qualify as a veterinary surgeon and I was nearing the end of my law studies. (I have been practicing for thirty years as a solicitor)   It meant of course that we did not get married until our late twenties.

I arrived home from work that same day about five thirty p.m., I'd had quite an exhausting time of it and was very pleased to see my front door. As this particular day was Friday, I was looking forward to a nice evening in the garden with Betty, it was a joint hobby. It was something we enjoyed doing together. We liked each others company, and therefore made a concentrated effort to spend as much time together as possible. We worked till quite late that night, it was a lovely evening, and the sky was clear with one or two stars starting to twinkle at us. The air was still and warm, after a very hot day. But the down side was the swarms of little midges that seemed to follow you around no matter how much you tried to avoid them.

Having washed and changed, we decided to spend the evening at home, there were some good programmes on the telly and Betty suggested we order a take-a-way curry, to which both of us are very partial. If I had only known how making that decision would dramatically change so many lives:

The restaurant was about ten miles away from our house, which may sound a bit extreme to the uninitiated, but to all who enjoy the cullernary delights of chicken madras  with all the trimmings will know why I chose to travel that distance, when there were other Indian take-a-ways much closer!. I telephoned my order - for collection at ten thirty, Betty could not come with me because Sam said she was popping in to see her. She kissed me goodbye, and was it my imagination, or did she hold on to me a little longer than usual as she whispered in my ear, I love you darling, don't be long and drive carefully. I drive a six months old  B.M.W. and like most other drivers, consider myself to be the best driver in the world. And I said something to that effect to my wife as I turned to go out of the door.

It's a nice easy run from my place to the Tandori. The street where I live comes of off a "B" road which eventually meets up with a dual carriage way which takes me within two miles of my destination. the second exit off the next roundabout heads directly to a small town, where my favourite curry house has been established for the past twenty years. Having successfully negotiated myself on to the dual carriage way, I built up speed to around seventy mile an hour. I kept to the outside lane because the traffic was very light, apart from one vehicle about a quarter of a mile in front of me, and one or two a good distance behind me, there was nothing else around.

I switched on the radio Frank Sinatra was singing "NewYork, New York", I started singing along with him. I felt good ,life was good ,I was enjoying my life, I had the most  wonderful woman as my friend, my lover, and my confidant, a beautiful daughter and two lovely grand children a sound business and a great house, what more could a man wish for. I had reached the age when retirement was an increasing part of my thoughts. Quite frankly ,I was looking forward to it. spending a bit more time on the golf course.( I need the practice)and travelling to far off places with Betty. We had accumulated a considerable amount of cash over the years, so had no worries about money. We could afford to do all these things and a lot more besides, we had planned for it, worked for it and therefore we will not feel guilty about enjoying ourselves. Frank had stopped singing, suddenly my voice did not sound so good any more,  I was now a few minutes  from my pickup. My order was ready and waiting for me when I got there, that's one of the things I liked about the place, they never kept me waiting. I was back in my car and heading home in no time at all. As I was approaching the roundabout, a car suddenly shot out from a side turning, swerving directly in my path, I was travelling at forty miles an hour which did not give a lot of time to take evasive action. I jammed my foot on the brake as hard as I could, at the same time turning the wheel to the right. In a situation like that you don't have any time to think, it's just a case of survival, this time though it worked, I appeared to have careered across the road and somehow managed to avoid a nasty crash! I straightened the car and looked in my rear view mirror, my heart was pounding with fright, I was soaked in sweat, I could feel it running down my head and into my eyes. But I could just make out there was some sort  of commotion going on some distance behind me. It  looked to me as though some poor devil had hit the car that I had avoided. I watched in horror, several cars had stopped to give assistance, so as I was a fair distance away I decided it would only serve to hinder rather than help if I were to turn back. In actual fact I was not feeling that good at the moment, I suddenly felt very shaky and began to feel very sick. Probably the shock coming out. After I had travelled about three miles I pulled into a layby. I heard the wail of police and ambulance sirens, I guessed they were attending the scene that I had just left behind me. I felt terrible; perhaps I should have turned back after all, I may have been able to give first aid or some other help to the injured. But then again, there did seem a lot of people on the scene  that would obviously been able to help. I would ended up as an onlooker, that's something I have never been able to come to terms with, people who have a morbid curiosity out of watching someone lying there  and is unable to look out for themselves.

 I was feeling very weak and tired, I had stopped shaking, I felt extremely calm, but very very sad, in fact I felt close to tears. I suddenly had a very strong urge to see Betty, I wanted to hold her in my arms and tell her just how much she means to me. I couldn't understand why I should be thinking like this, it was beginning to worry me some what. I had never given way to this sort of emotion before. I pulled my self together convinced it was a classic shock reaction from my previous experience with the near crash.

 I realized I had been away from home a lot longer than my  usual take-away- journey, Betty would be getting worried. I glanced at my watch and was amazed  to see that in fact I was early. I had picked up my order at ten thirty and according to my watch it was now ten forty two. I looked at the car clock and it read the same, ten forty two! I must have made a mistake with the time  I arrived at the restaurant. Putting that behind me for the moment. I started to pull out on to the main road when I noticed a van coming into the layby, I switched my indicator on to the right to let him know I was pulling out and couldn't believe it when he completely ignored me, he came past as if I wasn't there and pulled right in front of me. Once again I had to take action in order to avoid a collision. The van had stopped about six feet in front of me and as I passed him I leaned on the horn and kept it down until I was clear. I glanced in my mirror at the man behind the wheel, he must have been stone deaf because he gave no indication that he had  heard any thing at all, he was just sitting there relaxed reading a map or the paper. He didn't even bother to look up!

Having got back on to the main road I stuck my foot down on the accelerator I felt a desperate need to get home to Betty. I had experienced two near accidents in the space of few minutes and I assumed that was the reason for the peculiar sensation of depression that persisted deep within me. I managed the rest of the journey without further  mishap. I turned into my road and panic hit me like a sledge hammer, two police cars were parked outside my home. My mind starting racing, something must have happened to Betty.As I turned into the driveway I noticed my son-in-law's Volvo parked there already. It was then I realized it must concern my daughter or one of the children. I pulled in behind one of the police cars and got out of the car, the take-a-way in my hand. Dashing up the path, I went through the front door,I could see my son-in-law standing in the hallway talking to one of the policeman. As I went in I heard myself asking what the trouble was, but to my utter astonishment they both totally ignored me. I could hear Betty sobbing uncontrollably, the sound was coming from the lounge and as I stepped into the room I saw my daughter with her arm around her mother and she was crying too. I moved forward to get hold of Betty and again heard myself asking what was wrong, but they acted as though I wasn't there.  Then I heard my son-in-law talking to my wife, I listened in total disbelief when he said, "I know it doesn't make any difference mum, but they said dad would not have suffered, he died instantly. my wife suddenly got out of her chair and grabbed hold of my daughter , "My God" she said, "your father's here, can you smell curry?" "yes" my daughter answered, " I can."

I never ever believed in the spirit world, but now I do , I am one my self!

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