Did she eavesdrop on the future?


Illustration: Winie Ariani/Graphics

Mrs Betty Graham had never been to Greece. The only time she had heard Greek spoken was in movies like Zorba and Shirley Valentine.

She knew no one in the country and had only the vaguest idea of its geography. How was it then that one morning in 1990, Betty Graham was heard to speak fluent Greek. How was it that she passed on information of a fatal accident an hour before it was confirmed by telephone? How was it that she appeared to know the precise  location of streets and buildings she had previously not known existed? Who can say? Certainly not Betty Graham, a South London housewife, who years later looked back on that June day in 1990 with bewilderment and disbelief. "It's still like a dream," she said. "These things don't happen to ordinary people like me.

"If I'd heard that it had happened to someone else I simply wouldn't have believed a word of it..." But, it seems, it did happen to her — and it turned the 22-year-old secretary's world upside down. For months she was in a state bordering nervous collapse and found it difficult to work, sleep or concentrate.When journalists and investigators first looked into Betty Graham's story their reaction that it must be some kind of perverse hoax.

But those who knew Betty maintained that she was  the last person to seek publicity. In fact it was years before she could bring herself to even discuss the incident. "I wanted to forget all about it, she said.It frightened me to even think about it. I just couldn't begin to understand what had happened to me. Now I'm beginning to understand that just because you don't understand something that's no reason to be frightened of it."

What happened to Betty Graham would have alarmed the most unimaginative of us. Her story began when she was working as secretary to a director of a City of London exporting agency in an office near the Bank of England. It was secure but routine work ... at least until  the morning of June 7 1990. "I worked in an office which had a communicating door to my boss's room. About 11.30 he had a visit from two Greek businessmen from a firm of olive oil refiners in Athens which we were representing. I took them into my boss's office, gave them coffee, then closed the door and went back to work."

I remember I was typing a letter to a firm in San Francisco when I felt surrounded what I can only describe as a sort of haze. I thought I was about to faint and held on to the side of the desk. "Then everything cleared and I felt bright and invigorated in a nervous sort of way. I remember getting up and going into my boss's office without knocking - something I would never normally do. After that, things just faded away... The next thing I knew I was back in my office and people were anxiously asking if I felt all right. Apparently I had spoken to one of the visitors, a Mr Villiotis, in Greek... both the men and my boss confirmed this afterwards."

"Apparently I was speaking absolutely fluently but I had never been to Greece or learned a word of the language in my life. They told me that I said to Villiotis: 'I'm afraid I must prepare you for some very bad news' and explained that his son, a 20-year-old engineering student, had been killed in a motorcycle accident in Athens."

"I even described where the accident took place and the hospital to which he was taken. Of course he was terribly upset and at first thought I might be playing some dreadful sort of sick joke. All the conversation was apparently in Greek. Then suddenly I appeared to lose consciousness and was taken back to the office but recovered before an ambulance could be called and within an hour was back to normal - or as normal as possible." I have absolutely no idea what caused me to behave as I did and I only believe it because the three people who were there all gave an identical account of what happened.

Her boss was equally shocked and disturbed by the whole incident and would later say: "She  was such a quiet and reserved girl and I was thunderstruck when she burst in and  began speaking completely fluently in a foreign language - she had always said that  all she knew was a few words of schoolgirl French. What struck me was that her eyes seemed strangely glassy as though she was in some kind of a trance and afterwards she couldn't remember anything about what happened. She was off work for several days and when she came back remained very embarrassed about the incident although I told her not to worry about it. She left six months later to get married."

So was it all some sort of hallucination, the behaviour of a subconsciously repressed girl rebelling against her humdrum life? That might be one way of dismissing the incident. But it doesn't take into account one fact. An hour after Betty's outburst, Villiotis received a phonecall from his wife in Athens saying she had just heard of their son's death. The news was identical in every detail to that received by the girl who had in some way managed to eavesdrop on the future.

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