My dad was a half empty guy. It went way beyond the glass being half empty. He would worry what kind of glass it was and who’d drunk from it before. One of my earliest memories was of him doing up a polka dot tie in the mid-70s as he got ready for his English Language school, me and my sister – 4 and 3 years old – crying our eyes out as he told us that he was going to die soon.
But Dad didn’t just predict when he was going to die. Here’s the thing. He also predicted when other people were going to die. They were wild off the beam, baseless predictions, the sort Pele always makes before a World Cup and like Pele’s, always wrong. The locals in Stockwell soon became aware of this half empty man with the broken English and his death predictions, and on seeing dad, would cross the road or pop into the nearest shop just to avoid being told when they were likely to meet their ends.
If he found out his predictions had proven wrong, dad would avoid social occasions where the person who had failed to die was likely to be or even start shopping in a different supermarket so as to avoid an awkward meeting in the frozen foods aisle.
In September ’89, roughly 13 years on from predicting his own impending death, Dad was still very much alive and into the fifth year of an eighteen-year sequence of evening courses at the same college (I kid you not. In the end he’d done every course available but successfully fought off the college’s attempts to block him from enrolling for another year on a course he’d already previously done).
I had come home from my comic strip art school, excited by coming into contact with like-minded people, only for dad to bring me down to earth with a seriously heavy bump with one of his predictions. But this one shocked me to the core. Mum, he said, would die soon. There was no medical basis for this. She wasn’t ill, but he could see it in her face apparently and he was so confident this would come to pass that I remember going to bed that night and weeping into my pillow.
This didn’t impress dad who knew that I wouldn’t cry like that for him. It was also keeping him awake as we were in the final weeks of a two-year spell sharing a double bed after his and mum’s marriage had broken down.
“You wouldn’t cry like that for me,” he said really hurt. At which point I reminded him that he’d told me and my sister that he would die back in ’76. I’d done all my grieving for him back then. Every time he came home during those 13 years, I was just pleasantly surprised to see my dad back.
“You remember ‘76?” He asked, a little uneasily.
"If he found out his predictions had proven wrong, dad would avoid social occasions where the person who had failed to die was likely to be or even start shopping in a different supermarket."
There was one occasion where mum got in on the act. After speaking to an uncle in Spain over the phone, I remember her telling us he was ‘going out like a candle’. A week later he was dead. Now mum could’ve gloated. But she didn’t. Seven years after dad had predicted her death, she was correctly predicting someone else’s death - someone in another country just from hearing their voice. A woman who was supposed to be dead was successfully predicting the death of others.
Dad was eleven years out with his prediction about mum, but even at her funeral ten years ago, dad reminded me of his prediction. I told him being eleven years out did not constitute an accurate prediction. It did not even come into the prediction category. Likewise, with his own death, he was 26 years out. This man could not predict anything.
The thing is, some 21 years later, I’ve turned into my dad and am now going round making my own predictions. I use photos of my parents coming towards the end of their time as my guide. They looked tired, drawn, and often pale. Like dad, I make these predictions face to face, telling loved ones – in front of their loved ones - they are going to die.
A couple of years back, my cousin rang to tell me he’d split with his girlfriend and he was trying to work out how to tell his mum.
“You’ve got to be careful. She’s going to go soon.”
“Well, die. She’s going to die soon.”
I remember the line going very quiet. The guy was having a hard enough time coming to terms with cancelling his wedding and now I was telling him that his mum, my aunt, was going to die.
A few months later, my aunt was still knocking around and my way of dealing with it was to take this prediction directly to her. Her health wasn’t the best but in hindsight, telling her she had a year left wasn’t really helpful. Her continued existence, some two years on, I must concede is a source of ongoing embarrassment for me. I’m now starting to think that when she finally does pass, and hopefully that won’t be for a long time, I will, like dad at mum’s funeral, tell people how I’d foretold her death even if I’m 15 years out.
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