Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The last curry

My friend Jim from Manchester was down visiting me in London. We were discussing, while drinking tea beside the Aga, our favourite foods, our ultimate dishes, our desert island dinners. Jim said there was one dish that he dreamt of, that he couldn't stop thinking about. He had it at Akbars, an Indian restaurant in Manchester. He told me this story about when he tasted it.
'I was going out for dinner with my half-sister Sam and her friends. I tagged along. We were just going out for dinner, there was no reason for the dinner other than a get-together. It was the first time I’d been to Akbars. Sam had been before and I’d heard good reports from other people. We sat down and had our starters, calamari, which was absolutely fabulous. Then I went out for a smoke. 
'From our table in the back room, I had to walk along a corridor that led towards the reception and the outside. As I was walking toward the exit, I noticed a large group of waiters gathered around the table nearest to reception. I thought it was curious but didn’t give it too much thought. But when I got to the door, a member of staff said, "You can’t leave". 
"Why?", I asked.
"There has been an incident."
'So I stood in the reception area asking other people what had happened. No one really knew and the staff were being cagey. Finally someone at the bar said that there had been a problem with the guy in the corner, that there had been an altercation. I looked over to the corner, there was a man being held there. When I say held, I mean a member of staff had his arm against the wall, blocking him, so the cornered guy only had a square metre to stand in and couldn't leave without a struggle. This member of staff, the assistant manager, was backed up by some of the waiters from the restaurant. 
'The guy in the corner was in his early thirties, white, short blond hair, normal looking. If I'd seen him in a different situation I would have thought he was just a nice average guy, a little bit trendy but not over-dressed. 
'I also noticed he had a mate standing nearby the reception who was talking to staff as if he was explaining something. There weren’t many other customers in the room.
'His mate looked completely different - he had red cheeks, was more boyish, with dark hair, although he had the same height and build. He looked worried, stressed, anxious. Weirdly the guy trapped in the corner didn’t look look stressed. Neither struck me as aggressive people or particularly drunk. 
'The person on the door changed, I guess he went away to do something, and a younger man took his place. I was desperate for a smoke so I thought I’d try it on again. The new young guy let me out for a fag. 
'Once outside, I walked to the left to have a view of what was going on. I could see into the restaurant through the large plate glass windows. 
'The table had two large benches. I saw a guy laying down on one of the benches, he had a bald head, a thick-set frame and someone was stood over him, pumping his chest. I was stood less than a metre from the man's head. I got told later that there was a doctor or a medical person who knew how to do CPR. It was at that point that I could see the faces of the crowd leaning in. Most of them just looked absolutely incredulous. Quite a few were crying. A lot of the girls, one of them was the receptionist, they were all Asian and worked at the restaurant, were distraught. I saw strong emotion in their faces; worry and concern. It was only the assistant manager that looked angry. But he was responsible for keeping everything together. 
'I stayed outside smoking and two lads passing by came over to have a look. They seemed to know the guy laying on the bench was the manager of the restaurant.
'On the bench, they were trying to restart his heart. I could see him getting paler. After 15 minutes of CPR, the police turned up, they arrived before the ambulance. There were two policemen. They came in and stood just inside the front door. They clearly had a procedure in place, that of protecting the crime scene. It was interesting to watch the professionalism of that. The policemen didn't rush in, they paused for a beat to survey the scene first. One policeman stayed on the door, the other went to look at the man. They talked to the assistant manager. Then they took the corner man and put him in the police van. I could overhear the policeman saying to the corner guy "this is just precautionary, you aren’t being arrested". I could also hear the guy responding, "I didn’t touch him". He seemed fairly calm. 
'The two policemen didn’t go over to the dying manager for the first couple of minutes. Presumably because they were told that the doctor was dealing with it. After a while though, one of the policemen took a shift at the CPR. 
'Then the ambulance and paramedics turned up. Two people, a man and a woman, after a briefing from the police, went straight to the body.  The man got his things out of his bag. They decided to put a stretcher on the floor and put the manager on the floor. Then the paramedic took over doing CPR while attaching a mask. It was at this stage I realised the manager was pale as fuck. The whole thing took ten minutes. From life to death. Four minutes is a very key time, your brain starts to get injured by the lack of oxygen, it starts swelling. I knew he was dead and wouldn’t be coming back. 
'The ambulance guys were there only two minutes before transferring him to the ambulance where I assume he was given shocks. Then I went back inside.
'I returned to my friends at the back of the restaurant. All of the customers at the back, which was the dining part of the restaurant, were completely oblivious, eating, chatting, carrying on as normal. That was bizarre. My four friends, when I sat down, were in the middle of a great anecdote. I couldn’t interrupt. I had to let them finish talking and laughing which felt strange. 

'Meanwhile the restaurant continued to serve the customers. The show must go on. The cooks continued to cook, push out the meals, the waiters continued to wait tables. It was like a ballet, a choreography, they didn’t miss a beat. Dinner were served, meals were completed, drinks poured, vapour swirled up from metal dishes, poppodums were dunked into chutneys, giant naans swung from hooks. It was a different world from out front. The only thing that betrayed what had happened was that, if you looked closely, the waiting staff had red eyes. One had tears rolling down his cheeks as he served. 

'When their funny story had finished, I told my friends what had happened. They couldn’t believe it. None of the other tables knew. It was just our table. And then our dinner came. All of our food came. Plates and plates of steaming spicy curries. I had to eat this massive curry. A fish and potato curry, freshly spiced, not too hot but with just the right amount of heat. It was the most amazing curry of my life, it tasted so good.
'As we finished eating, ten minutes later, a policeman came and stood in the centre of the room and asked for everyone’s attention. He explained briefly that there had been an incident at the front, and that, if anyone had seen anything, could they come and speak to the officers. I debated whether I had any useful info. I decided as I hadn’t actually seen anything that I didn’t. Nobody else got up to talk to the police either.
'No one was allowed to leave. The whole front area were cordoned off. It was a crime scene. Guests had to leave out of the back door. On exiting the back door, there was a policewoman there who asked us to talk into a police camera as each person left. She asked for people’s name, address, if they saw anything. 
'Everyone, one by one, in the restaurant, finished their dinner and left by the back door. The restaurant wasn’t taking new customers. Nobody ordered dessert.'

A few months later I visited Jim in Manchester and we ate at Akbars. I ordered the amazing fish and potato curry. I asked the waiters how things were going, that I’d seen the obituary on the website. They said, smiling sadly: "It was just a heart attack. It was nobodies fault. He was very nice. He was a part-owner of this restaurant. His family work here. He had a two year old daughter. Everyone liked him. We miss him.”


73-78 Liverpool rd
Manchester M3 4NQ


  1. Thanks for the important reminder to practice as if every day were your last... as the common Tibetan Buddhist quote goes: “Death comes without warning, this body will be a corpse.”

    1. The proximity of death can also give one a raging appetite; for sex or food. I think one of the reasons this curry was the best that Jim had ever had, was because of the circumstances.

  2. Wow some story, life's surprises. We just never know the events of life. So each day should be precious to us.. With love Janice

    1. I admired their sheer professionalism... death of a colleague and family member didn't stop them.

  3. Things just happen sometimes, and that's all there is. Sad story, well told.


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