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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison


Robert glanced anxiously across the desk at the official reading his dossier. ‘So......what could I be reincarnated as?’

‘I see you were a traffic warden in your last life - a good one too.’

Robert was relieved. ‘I thought giving a ticket to that old lady who was thirty seconds overdue might count against me, what with her having been delayed at her husband’s funeral?’

‘No, that was fine. You were just doing your duty, which is what we want. You weren’t to know it but her husband was dead because she’d poisoned him together with five previous spouses. That ticket was a small karmic warning of retribution to come. You’ve no idea how often spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity disrupt the karmic process.’

‘I thought that forgiveness was good?’

‘Not if it’s undeserved. I’m afraid we’ve had to reincarnate several saintly individuals, like Gandhi and Mother Teresa, several steps down the rebirth ladder for indiscriminately easing the lot of the poor. Those buggers were supposed to be suffering for what they’d done in previous lives.’

‘So what can I be next?’

‘Well, you could be a car park attendant, or even a painter of road markings.’

‘I was rather hoping to get away from the traffic - perhaps a doctor or lawyer?’

‘This is the Road Traffic Department of the Afterlife, you know. Before you can move on from here you have to work your way up to being at least a lollipop man.’

Robert thought for a moment. ‘What would have happened if I’d failed as a traffic warden?’

‘May have gone back as a wheel-clamper.’

‘And failed wheel-clampers?’


‘So that’s the bottom of the heap?’

‘Not totally. In the Road Traffic Department, if you fail as a hedgehog you go back as Jeremy Clarkson.’

‘Oh God!’

‘Don’t worry, you’re a long way from that.’

‘What else could I be?’

‘Well, we’ve got a special offer on at the moment on a ‘two location’ life.’

‘What’s that?’

‘You’d spend the first twenty years of your working life, from the age of eighteen, as a service station attendant in California and the last fifteen years as a car salesman in Paris.’

Robert paused, checking the calculations on his fingers. ‘That means I die at 53?’

‘That’s why it’s on special offer.’ The official inspected the itinerary. ‘It appears that you get run over by the reincarnation of that old lady you gave the ticket to after her husband’s funeral. Those guys in the Karma Department sure have an eye for irony.’

‘What have you got where I can live for one hundred years?’

‘Nothing. An asteroid hits the Earth seventy-two years from now and that’s curtains for everyone. Unless you fancy being a bacteria at a hot volcanic vent in the deep ocean.’ The official picked up a new folder and flicked through the pages. ‘Mind you, you would get to live for ten thousand years before you got eaten.’

‘Eaten by what?’

‘Well, you remember that old lady you gave the ticket to.......?’