|Assia Smaguine Riley, via https://issuu.com/lesliehindman/docs/sale_338|
“Crisis apparitions”--cases where ghosts of the recently deceased supposedly visit loved ones to announce their passing--are quite common. However, the following account is an unusual twist on the genre.
John Powell Riley was a successful electrical engineer. During the 1950s and 60s, he was married to a beautiful Russian socialite, Anastasia “Assia” Smaguine. They spent much of their married life in Geneva, Switzerland, where they socialized a great deal with the local community of Russian exiles. Among the most popular of this colony of “White Russians” was a small family whose last name Riley discreetly declined to provide. It consisted of a woman named Tamara, her 25-year-old daughter Mara, and Tamara’s mother Baboussia.
Mara--the breadwinner of the family--was an exceptional young woman. She was a gifted linguist who worked as a translator for the United Nations. Mara was beautiful, charming, and kindly, well-loved by everyone who knew her.
Eventually, Riley’s marriage to Assia ended when she left him for her first love, a Frenchman named Pierre Saunier. He moved back to America, losing contact with Mara and her family. Despite the divorce, Riley and Assia remained on very friendly terms, and spoke often on the phone. (The two eventually remarried in 1998.)
Some years passed. Then, early one morning, Assia phoned. She was sobbing. “Oh, Johnny,” she gasped, “something terrible has just happened. Mara died."
Riley was shocked. As far as he knew, the young woman had been in perfect health. Assia explained that while Mara had friends over for lunch, she choked on an olive pit, dying before help could arrive. She had married only a month before.
Riley felt a lingering sadness over the tragic event. To have such an fine person, with so much to live for, die suddenly in such bizarre circumstances, made him question what life was really all about. He shared the story of Mara’s sad end with friends, and they all endeavored to find any sort of logic and reason in the ways of this world.
In an article he wrote in 1995 for “Fate Magazine,” Riley mused, “One thing seems certain. We live in a world of consequences where the physical laws of the universe prevail without exception. Not even God rescinds them. You can be the best person in the world, but if I push you off a cliff, you will fall to your death and all your goodness will not save you. If you absentmindedly step in front of a speeding car, nothing in your character will have any bearing on the inevitable outcome.”
A far more elegant way of saying “S--- happens.”
Riley and Assia did not discuss Mara again. Then, about a year later, she phoned him. He could instantly tell she was very upset.
Assia said, “Oh, Johnny, something terrible has happened. Mara died.”
The confused Riley replied. “I know that, darling. She choked on an olive pit.” He reminded Assia that she had told him the news a year ago.
Assia stated that this was impossible. Mara had died just the day before.