I am not really accident prone although my face, like most in my age group, does bear the marks of a lifetime of minor misadventures.
Like the time I was about five or six years old and was trying to learn to ride my sister’s bicycle and, in what was undoubtedly a youthful burst of over-confidence, tried to take a corner too fast. The wheels went from beneath me and my face came into smart contact with the pavement. When my mother had washed away as much of the blood as she could, it was revealed that my nose was no longer in pristine condition, and remains that way to this day.
I also managed to survive a lifetime of fairly vigorous sporting activity and was able to play cricket at a reasonable level. Capable enough to have done battle, on occasion, with the great Dennis Lillee and other bowlers almost as fearsome, without overmuch body or facial damage, and the bruises and pain disappear after a time anyway.
There was one incident in which I did not fare so well though. I was fielding close to the wicket one day when some uncaring batsman slammed a full-blooded drive in my direction. I managed to prevent it from going to the boundary by allowing it to hit me just above the left eye. This required six fairly large stitches and left a scar still clearly visible thirty years on.
Again, I received a disfigurement of sorts playing Australia Rules football in Western Australia when an opposition player raked his fingernails along my right cheek leaving two white parallel scars not unlike a red Indian’s war paint. But these have faded in the intervening decades, leaving just the normal wear and tear that fifty-nine years puts on practically everyone and, whilst never likely to be eagerly sought after by Hollywood talent scouts, my face has weathered the years fairly well.
Fairly well, that is, until I invoked the wrath of the ghost.
Now though you may, or may not, believe in ghosts, let me tell you in Thailand everybody believes in ghosts and ‘tis well they do, for a spirit who is not treated with all due care and respect can cause considerable trouble and discomfort for the living.
As you will find out.
My story really began when I was invited to a party, at the bar / restaurant, which I tend to inhabit on a daily basis, by the very beautiful Na, who owns the place.
The occasion was the fourth birthday of her nephew who, apart from the mandatory photographic session and candle blowing, took no further part in proceedings.
I was ushered into the back room with the five or six other guests and had a glass thrust into my hand.
During the course of a conversation with Na she told me a tale not uncommon in Thailand
“Last night,” she began, “I had a dream in which the spirit of the restaurant spoke to me and said he was not being treated properly, so tomorrow we will put up a new spirit house for him and give him offerings of food and drink to keep him happy.”
This is a perfectly normal conversation in Thailand and I listened with due attention and respect.
“Do you believe in ghosts, Graeme?” asked Na.
“I certainly do,” I replied in all honesty, and let me tell you now that anyone who has lived in this part of the world for long enough, believes in them also.
“Have you ever seen a ghost, Graeme?” was her next question and this is where I made my first big mistake.
“Yes,” I replied.
As I said earlier, everybody here believes in the spirits but not everybody has actually seen one and to have done so is to be held in much awe and esteem, so I told what I thought was a harmless white lie.
Now, in Buddhist doctrine, it is quite proper to tell the odd untruth or two provided that it harms no one or makes someone feel better.
Rather like telling your wife she looks ravishing in her new dress when, in reality, it looks like a potato sack. This not only serves to make your wife feel better but there is a real chance that, had you told the truth, you may well have ended up wearing a very fat lip.
On this occasion, however, I was not lying outright, but bending the facts just a little, or, to be even more precise, I was bragging.
You see, I grew up in Melbourne and we lived in an old two-storey house in Camberwell that we undoubtedly shared with a ghost, and many times I heard strange footsteps wandering around the place at the odd times when ghosts are supposed to wander around, but one experience stands out above the rest.
I guess I was in my early twenties at the time and was alone in the house. I had switched off the light and climbed into bed when I heard the back door slam shut. That will be my brother Robert coming home, I thought and listened more. Half way along the passageway leading to the foot of the stairs was a loose floorboard which I assiduously avoided treading on whenever I came home late, or drunk (or both), to avoid waking my parents.
My brother, being much younger and less guileful at that age, took no such precautions and the floorboard duly creaked, as did the fourth stair riser, which was also avoided whenever necessary.
I heard the footsteps climb the stairs until they reached the first landing then stop. I was puzzled. Why on earth would he want to be standing half way up the stairs I thought? When there was no further movement some minutes later got out of bed and switched on the light to the stairway … and there was no one there.
All these years later, I can still feel the chill that ran through my body that night.
Another incident of spiritual encounter was when I was visiting my friend, Louise. She had confided to me some weeks earlier there was a ghost in her home. Her eight year old daughter had seen him clearly and told her mother of the ‘man’ in her room. Louise also saw him once although, oddly enough, only from the waist up as he appeared to possess no ‘lower half’, and she had felt his presence many times.
We were sitting in her lounge on a hot afternoon when I suddenly felt an icy blast of wind against my left arm. This was odd indeed on a hot day and I looked about to see if the door was open to discover the source of the phenomenon. It was shut.
At the same moment Louise looked at me and said, “My ghost is here, I can feel him.”
“Me too,” I gulped.
So you see, I was not actually lying when I told Na I had seen a ghost but, as I said before, I was bragging, stretching the truth, and should not have done so. To make matters worse, having already trodden the wrong path, added, “Many times,” then began detailing my encounters with one of these visitations.
I hate myself when I do things like this, but I guess it has something to do with being a writer and not letting the facts get in the way of a good story, so they say. Or maybe it was the spirits I had swallowed before my arrival that made me do it.
Then came the big question; “Are you afraid of ghosts, Graeme?” and this is where I really bombed out.
“No way,” I answered confidently and, like the man putting his head in the lion’s mouth, added, “I don’t think ghosts ever do anybody much harm.”
There was no doubt whatsoever my stories and my boasting impressed Na greatly, but they obviously did not impress the ghost and he wanted revenge for my lack of deference and cavalier behaviour.
And he got it.
Not ten minutes later I took a bite from a delicious Thai dish with the enchanting name of yum grob grob (fried pork rind with spicy salad) when snap. I put my hand to my mouth and withdrew from it what had once been a very fine tooth, the one next to the front ones.
An examination in the mirror revealed it had snapped off at a forty five degree angle and now I was a candidate for the Hollywood scouts as I looked something like a cross between bugs bunny and Dracula when I smiled. Something I seldom do these days.
In spite of my previous indiscretions, I did not immediately relate the incident to my offending the resident spirit and, for the time being anyway, put it down to just one of those things. No problem, I will get it fixed and be my old self in no time and that will be that.
It was not until two nights later when I realised the depth of my offence and the lengths the ghost would go to extract retribution.
I had visited the toilet which was at the rear of the building and decided to return to the bar through the room in which I had lost my tooth. It was quite dark going that way, but I did not bother to switch on the light as I knew the route so well
Something struck me in the dark hard enough to send me to my knees, and when I put my hand to my face I knew the moisture I felt was certainly not perspiration.
When I again rose to my feel to see who my assailant was, the full realisation of my misdeed dawned, for I had walked, full speed ahead, smack into the brand new spirit house.
I now have a deep, one inch gash on my left cheekbone which will undoubtedly leave a scar I shall carry for the rest of my days as a permanent reminder not to cause offence to resident ghosts.
I hereby wish to publicly apologise to the ghost for my misbehaviour, in writing.