‘Saz. What was the name of that medium that you and Bev went to see?’
‘I’ve got him here for a health check…I’ve had to come and hide in the kitchen in case he can read my mind.’
‘In case, he can see how hot I think he is.’
‘Looks like a man from an M&S ad to me.’
Eve was referring to Bev and I’s visit to Antonio several months earlier. We had been widowed within weeks of each other and on the recommendation of a friend had made an appointment for a reading with him. It was one of those ‘searching’ things that the bereaved do following the loss of a loved one. I must admit that I didn’t hold out much hope of hearing anything that confirmed that Terry was safely alive in the spirit world, but desperation was driving me on. The aching despair of never seeing him again.
Eve, our friend from the health centre was right. When I first walked into Antonio’s consulting room, I was struck by the charisma of the man. Not classically handsome, but he had penetrating blue eyes and a deep tan. Oh, and he was charming, so charming! The room was in semi-darkness and he sat in a high-backed armchair, shelves behind him stacked with books on all subjects relating to the psychic world.
He stood as I entered, came towards me and took both my hands in his.
‘Madame Sarah…Come in, come in. Don’t look so worried…I will not eat you!’ All this was said in an Italian accent. He dropped one hand and indicated that I should sit in the chair opposite his.
‘Now my dear, who is this man who has followed you in?...I think it is your ‘usband? I nod. ‘He needs you to know that he wants you to be ‘appy…enough of this sad face…Do you understand what he is saying?’ I nod again. ‘He has other people with him…Is it your parents?’ Another nod. ‘They are sorry to have left you, but they are watching over you…until you can all be together.’ And then, he falls back into his chair, eyes momentarily closed, and lets out a big sigh. I sit opposite, knees tightly together, twisting my wedding ring around on my left hand. A few seconds pass, and I examine Antonio’s face, his fine v-neck sweater, and leather loafers. Evidently being a medium pays well. His eyes snap open, he sits upright.
‘His passing was sudden.’ I nod. ‘He didn’t want to leave you…He says that he is sorry.’ Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement. As I look in its direction, concentrate, and focus, it materialises into the dark, shadowy outline of a man. I am unable to make out details, just that it is a well-built male, who silently moves until he is standing behind Antonio’s chair. I am mesmerised, whilst Signor Butoni seems oblivious to the third person in the room. ‘And now my dear your ‘usband, he wants to give you some advice for the …’
‘Mr. Butoni…there’s someone behind you,’ Rapidly, Antonio turns and the figure is gone.
‘No, no, my dear. There is only us ‘ere.’ The session is over, twenty-five pounds for barely ten minutes. Antonio shows me out, and beckons Bev in.
I sit in the hall, listening to the low murmur of their voices, until Bev’s ten minutes are up and she joins me. She is pale, her eyes red-rimmed. As we walk to the car I ask,
‘What did he say?’
‘Matt was there, that he’s no longer in pain and that he loves me.’
‘That there was a baby.’
‘Yes…a long time ago…before I met Matt…I lived with a boyfriend… and fell pregnant, but lost it early on…It was a blessing, really…we were too young to look after ourselves, let alone a child.’ Bev swipes a tear from her cheek.
‘Did you see anyone else in there?’
‘What?...In Antonio’s room?’
‘Yes…I thought there was another man in there.’
‘No, it was just me and him.’
Later, when I was at home, I reflected on our visit. Antonio hadn’t told us anything of significance. It wouldn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that two middle-aged women visiting a medium are widows. ‘A baby’ -most women have had children. Bev had assumed it was her miscarried child. The real mystery was the shadowy figure. I googled Antonio’s name, there were stunning reviews of his abilities from past customers and a local radio station interview with him. No answers there. Next, I went onto the telephone directory website. Antonio had been registered to the address where we met him for nine years, before that someone called Norman Smith had lived there. This name was too common to be useful for a search, and yet…
‘Eve, would you do me a big favour?’
‘If I can.’
‘Can you check on the NHS database, and see if Antonio Butoni’s medical number is the same as another man called Norman Smith.’
‘No…it could get me the sack…it’s breaking data protection laws…Anyway, two people can’t have the same number.’
‘I know…I’m trying to find out if Antonio is really Norman…Go on…I’m not asking for anything really confidential…’
‘I’ll have to wait until there’s no-one around.’
A few hours later,
‘It’s me…I’ve had a look…Different numbers, and anyway, Norman died several years ago,’
‘Thanks, Eve…I owe you one.’
And that’s where the story would have ended, except that Antonio came into our sights again. Bev and I worked together in an accounts department, and recently five other women in the same office had also lost their husbands. With black humour, we observed that our office had become like one of those record-breaking attempts where you see how many people you can squeeze into a Mini, except that in this case, it was an office with how many widows work in the same place. One of the ladies saw an advert for an ‘evening of spiritualism’ in a nearby village. The venue was a restaurant and the price included a three-course meal followed by an appearance by the ‘acclaimed medium Antonio Butoni’. We decided to have a girls’ night out. We bought eight tickets – the seven office widows and Eve.
The restaurant was packed, the only male in sight was the barman. The meal was good and the atmosphere convivial, until all the tables were cleared. There was a hush, and into the centre of the room walked Antonio. He was as dapper as ever. Although not tall, he filled the restaurant with his presence. Adjacent to our table was a group of six younger, glamorous women. From their accents, dark colouring, and bright clothing, we guessed that they were from the traveller community. As Antonio entered the room, I noticed two small children playing around the feet of one of the traveller women. They were aged between two and three, a boy and a girl, and appeared to be playing peekaboo amongst the women’s legs.
‘I ‘ave four young men here…They all die together…It is a terrible accident…Who does this mean something to?’ Two women from different tables raised their hands. Antonio went on and described an accident where a car had left the road and hit a tree, killing all four occupants. The victims were aged between seventeen and twenty-one years. One woman said that one of the boys was her nephew, and the other said that it was a neighbour’s son who had been killed. I was sceptical as ever. The tragic accident had been widely reported in the local press. This was a small community and so it was highly likely that at least one of the diners would have a link to the victims. All Antonio had to do was scan the internet for local information.
Meanwhile, the toddlers at the next table had disappeared. The woman who they appeared to be attached to was sobbing loudly,
‘All I want to know is what happened to my babies!...Holy Mother Mary, what did I do to deserve be tormented so?’ Her companions crowded around her hugging and kissing her, uttering soothing words.
Life moved on. Slowly, Bev and I began to accept our grief and find new foci for our lives. She threw herself into her career and moved on to a manager’s position, whilst I dipped my toe into the internet dating scene. We remained friends and every now and then would experience that desperate need to see, hear or feel our husbands again. With this in mind, she suggested that we attend a service at the local spiritualist church.
It wasn’t a church as I knew it, it was a cold, draughty community hall, packed with people, huddled in their winter coats, sitting uncomfortably on wooden chairs. We tunelessly sang hymns, unaccompanied by music, we joined in a prayer, something about the veil being lifted between this world and the next, and a collection plate was passed around. My attention was caught by a late comer, an elderly woman who slipped in and sat beside a gentleman of similar age. She was unremarkable except that try as I might, I was unable to discern her facial features. The more I stared the more indistinct she became. She appeared to waver and shimmer, and yet if I looked away, she appeared clearer. And then it was time for the guest speaker – Antonio! All eyes were upon him as he stood at the front of the hall. He asked that we all bow our heads in prayer, which we obediently did.
‘Dear God. In your infinite mercy, please grant us knowledge of the spirits around us. Not that we need proof of your world, but to ease our pain and reassure us that there is everlasting life beyond this earthly one. Amen.’ He lifted his head, opened his eyes, and scanned the congregation.
‘You…yes you…the lady in the pink ‘at…I have an elderly lady here…I think she is your mother…She is saying thank you…for looking after ‘er so well…And she is sending you flowers…daffodils...beautiful flowers.’
‘Oh yes…It’s my Mum…She loved daffs…they were her favourite.’
You sir…Right at the back…with the stripey tie…There is a woman ‘ere. She is giving me a red rose for you…Why is that?’
‘That’s my Marg…I always bought her red roses on her birthday.’ It seemed that there was a flower for every occasion and most of the congregation. Finally, Antonio finished giving out his virtual bouquets and the service was over. We joined the queue to file out, he stood at the exit shaking hands with everyone as they left. On the other side, the woman who had passed the offering plate stood, and when she saw me said,
‘Do you mind if I have a word?’ She led Bev and me into a small office. ‘You saw Gwen, didn’t you?...I saw you watching her, trying to get a proper look at her.’ I must have looked puzzled.
‘The lady who came in late, she sat down next to the elderly man…That’s Gwen, his wife…she joins him every time…Do you see spirits regularly?’
‘She’s dead…died several years ago.’
‘No…not as I know of.’
Then Bev, pipes up,
‘You saw those twins in the restaurant.’
‘I knew it!...Will you come and join our psychic circle?... We meet on Wednesday evenings…always looking for new blood.’
‘Go on, give it a try. You’re always saying you want a new adventure.’
So that’s how I found myself sitting back in the same hall the following Wednesday evening. There were only twelve of us, and we sat around in a circle. The other members of the group were earnest. Throughout the meeting, some said that they were ‘communicating with the other side.’ I wouldn’t like to judge one way or the other, all I can say is that I didn’t see anyone apart from the dozen of us who were sitting on those hard wooden chairs. I never went again.
An unlikely spin-off to this story is that nearly two years later Antonio returned to the clinic where Eve worked for another health check. This time, his blood pressure was slightly raised, and so he came back the following month to have it checked again. They got talking, one thing led to another and eventually they married. Bev and I were invited to the ceremony. I stood in the pew this time in a traditional church, the heady scent of lilies from the floral displays, mingling with the faint aroma of incense and musty hymn books. Antonio was at the front, smartly dressed in a dark suit with the flamboyant touch of a large claret peony pinned to his lapel. The organ started to play ‘Here comes the bride’ and Eve walked down the aisle. She looked beautiful and happy in her traditional dress. Her groom turned and watched as she approached. Even though several years had passed since we first met him, he was still an attractive man. When the service began, I saw a large figure move from the body of the church and stand on Eve’s left side. He was tall and erect with a military bearing. He smiled benignly at Eve throughout the service. Later, at the wedding breakfast in a local hotel, I could see no sign of him. As the happy couple moved around the tables speaking to their guests, I asked about him.
‘Oh, that’s my Dad…I knew he wouldn’t be able to keep away.’
Antonio said, ‘I thought ‘e was dead.’
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A very interesting, if sadly true look at so-called psychics in this day and age. But my aunt and grandmother always believed that real ones were out there and sometimes thought they had prophetic dreams, so who's to know? Thanks for the story. It made me recall things I'd almost forgotten about.