Where To?

Mr. Wise waited to take the body from the decedent’s residence to the cemetery. They had kept him waiting for half an hour now, but he was in no hurry. This was not a job for those in a rush.

He looked over his black Rolls Royce Phantom VI; till recently the “Number One State Car” of Queen Elizabeth II. Its long, dark, flowing lines, and commanding grill; its coil springs in front, leaf springs in rear, for unparalleled smoothness of ride; it’s twin SU carburettors and four-speed automatic gearing; its walnut and gilt fittings by fifth-generation English coach builders; its appearance unchanged for three decades of production. There was no vehicle more fitting for a person’s final journey; a journey led by The Spirit of Ecstasy statue, leaning forward, trailed by billowing cloth-wings.

“That’s a nice car,” said a small boy. “Did you put the windows in yourself?”

“Thank you son, do you mean the rear glazing?” Mr. Wise approved of the boys smart black suit.

“Yes, a Rolls Royce doesn’t come like that, does it?”

“You are correct. The donor vehicle is converted by specialists. They extend the body, raise the roof, and enlarge the glazed area.” He could tell him more, but you shouldn’t chat too much to children at funerals.

“And what’s that hatch at the back for?”

He’s a curious one, thought Mr. Wise. “We can fit another coffin in there if necessary. But we don’t use it often. Right now there’s just the spare wheel and my spare uniform.”

“What kind of engine does it have? About six litres like a truck?”

“You are correct. It is a 6.2 litre V8 engine, built in the Crewe factory, in 1968.” He couldn’t help his chest swelling as he said this. He was enjoying talking with this – what was he? – eight year old.

“What did you do before this?” said the boy.

“I worked in the Rolls Royce factory for forty years. I took early retirement when they computerized the systems, and retrained as a Funeral Director. Then I came here to be near my grandchildren. They’re…”

The son of the decedent rushed out. He completely ignored the small boy, and interrupted Mr. Wise. “Some relatives got carried away with crying,” he said. “I think they’re done now. I didn’t fill in the form you sent me, I’ve been too busy. But you know the way to the cemetery don’t you?”

“Sir, you haven’t told me to which cemetery we are taking the gentleman.” The decedent was head of a large family business; “a no-nonsense guy, who didn’t suffer fools gladly,” Mr. Wise had heard. Who knew what he was like under the skin though? You never could tell. But his son was clearly a rascal.

“Lucerne Cemetery,” said the son. “About twenty kilometres up the Valley. Just keep going straight. Only a fool would miss it.” He rushed back in, and quickly came out again. “Did you bring someone to walk in front of the procession?”

“Sir, I am sorry, no. You did not request this service, and I did not wish to presume…”

The decedent’s son glared and stormed off.

The small boy said, “He seemed quite angry. Is he upset about his father?”

“I’m sure he is, son. I should have insisted on him completing the details. That way I would have known the requirements. But he never returned my calls. Never mind.”

“I could do it,” said the boy.

“Do what?” said Mr. Wise.

“Walk in front of the procession. Look, I’ve got a nice black suit.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

“Let me check with the head of the family. I’ll see what he says.” The small boy ran off and returned five minutes later. “He says that’s a grand idea. Do you have a top hat I could use?”

“Not one that would fit you?” The boy insisted, so Mr. Wise retrieved his top hat from the hatch. Miraculously, it fitted the small boy. The man-sized cane was also usable.

They loaded the body, and Mr. Wise pulled out of the driveway onto the Valley Road. He took great care as it was very misty. The small boy walked ahead. He started awkwardly, but soon hit his stride. Did he have tails on his coat before, thought Mr. Wise? He must have.

The mist became thick and Mr. Wise lost sight of the other cars. Unbelievable, he thought; they were only a few metres behind but invisible to him. The small boy, however, was not deterred. He just kept walking. In fact, he sped up. How fast was he going? Mr. Wise checked his speedometer – over five miles per hour. He wondered how he could walk so fast. When they’d travelled about one kilometre, Mr. Wise decided it was time for him to stop. The small boy seemed to sense this, and walked back to the vehicle.

He knocked on Mr. Wise’s window and asked him to play some music. “This is highly unusual,” said Mr. Wise, and refused. But the boy looked so deeply sad that he changed his mind and switched on the stereo. It was his grandson’s CD. He recalled being told that it was a British dance band fronted by a bald black man.

The music blared out more loudly than he’d wanted. The little boy ran ahead, and continued leading the procession. He began stepping forward and back – which under the circumstances, wasn’t ideal – in time to the music. Then he threw his arms out theatrically. He spun around twice, and tripped around his cane like Fred Astaire. He began leaping ahead as if he were a D-Day soldier, then hoed like a third-world farmer. He body-popped – is that what it was called? – and twisted, and acted like a robot. The mist flashed repeatedly. He whirled around performing Capoeira – like Mr. Wise had once seen in Rio –

which eased into Sufi whirling – like in Konya. He did a Moonwalk, a Scottish jig, and some Irish dancing. Then he threw his hat high in the air, caught it on his head and bowed.

Mr. Wise was dazzled and clapped, which wasn’t wise when driving. He saw a group of vehicles parked ahead on the road, and recognized the car of the decedent’s son. Through the mist he saw the cemetery’s entrance, and pulled in.

The decedent’s son rushed out, irate. “Where have you been?” he shouted. “Where did you go? We’ve been waiting an hour!”

“I am sorry, Sir,” said Mr. Wise. “We must have become separated by the mist.”

“If my father were here, he would be so angry with you, you fool!”

No he wouldn’t, thought Mr. Wise. I think he rather enjoyed his journey. Just before they’d reached the cemetery, the small boy had approached the Rolls Royce and said, “Thank you, I’d always wanted to do that,” and disappeared.

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