CHAPTER FOUR- Maggie
“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
What is it like to die? Not for the first time, Maggie felt, she was finding out. Satan sat opposite, whistling softly. His tail was almost still, surely a good sign? The torture rack remained unused.
Buddhist masters teach that death comprises three key stages, or ‘bardos’. Firstly, the painful bardo of dying. Then a dawning of the true nature of mind, involving sound, colour and light. Known as “dharmata”, this stage offers the possibility of liberation from the life, death and rebirth cycle. Few, it is said, are enlightened or awake enough to comprehend or recall its nature.
On one occasion, God asked Buddha himself to describe “dharmata”. They sat in The Place’s top floor, sipping a deliciously peaty 18-year-old Bunnahabhain single malt from Islay. God’s massive brow wrinkled a little: “It all seems too easy from this vantage point. Remind me of the struggle,” she insisted.
Buddha gave his biggest smile. “Oh God, what a question,” he said, rocking back in mirth from his cross-legged posture. “Imagine death as the shock of coming home to see your house has been plundered, even the doors and windows stolen. Despite losing everything, you are so able to adapt that your mind immediately moves to a place of bliss, of pure, wordless surrender, where your primordial awareness rests in a silent abyss beyond all knowing.”
He continued, as God nodded. “Resting in that state of peace, you may start to glimpse the deathless nature of the enlightened mind. Training to become this aware can last thousands of lifetimes.”
Maggie had slipped well past this juncture. She was amid the karmic ‘bardo of becoming’, the next intermediate stage until a new birth. Her most recent life was now clear, although somehow accompanied by an inexplicable memory of a karate floor. What was that? A previous life?
Fragments of her composure were reassembling, helped by a reassuringly hot cup of tea. The Ming china reminded her of early mornings at number 10, preparing for briefings. At her happiest, helming the ship of state. Elatedly, she realised that her dementia had cleared.
So was reincarnation an option, as the Dalai Lama proclaimed? She hoped so, but suddenly remembered her refusal to meet Tibet’s leader-in-exile, due to political complexities.
The Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile nonetheless expressed sadness at her demise. She “was not only a great Briton but also one of the most towering leaders of the last century,” it wrote in a letter to David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister. “Those Tibetans know how to safeguard their karma,” Buddha later told God.
The Devil looked across from an ornate and exceedingly high-backed chair. A member of Babylon’s ruling class had stolen it from an Assyrian merchant. Satan chuckled silently at the manufactured smells and other mock elements used to soften her up. The whole Prince of Darkness thing had its uses.
She stayed silent, as he reached for a box of nail files. In his heart, Satan felt Maggie deserved far more than his brief chastisement. Her foreign policies alone – support for apartheid in South Africa, and the befriending of a murderous Chilean dictator – were worth her current discomfort.
But she had reaped the greatest whirlwind at home, tearing giant holes in the social fabric. Like a demented contract killer, she had presided over the virtual dismantling of Britain’s car, steel and shipbuilding industries; and had ground mining unions to submission, while deceiving the public over pit closure plans. She shuddered every time his tail rustled. Yet he saw little remorse, looking up now and again while he ground away at the black, horny nails extending from his hairy fingers.
Satan saw so many misdeeds. Regressive taxation policies that penalised millions of the poorest, while all British citizens were encouraged to value greed and see their fellows and neighbours as competitors. As financial services were liberalised, basic human services were privatised: every time a tap turned or an oven heated, a shareholder now made a profit. Divides between North and South and rich and poor were steadily exacerbated, culminating in massive rioting in 1990 after the infamous ‘poll tax’.
Satan always winced hardest at the paedophilia drenching her regime. Her party’s deputy chairman, Peter Morrison, was arrested for sexually molesting under-age boys in a public lavatory. No charges were brought. While multiple Cabinet ministers managed to elude being named and shamed, the rape and abuse perpetrated by her personal friend, one James Savile, said it all.
He had to get past these perceptions. “Apologies. I lost my temper there,” he said. “Truth is, Mags, you’ve stored up considerable merit. That’s why we’re sitting here now.”
He looked at the torture rack, tail twitching. “Jimmy Savile was on that thing a while ago. It’s fair to say I got somewhat “medieval on his ass”, to quote that line from Pulp Fiction. Have you seen that film, where the gimps run the secret basement?”
Maggie shook her head. Better a clean house and a balanced budget, than time wasted on a sofa. She really hated being called Mags.
“He was your mate, wasn’t he? Is there anything you want to confide about that relationship? Nice Christmas dinners? Much talking turkey?”
“We thought he was a good man,” she finally said. “A mistake.”
“Yeah, he told me quite a few of his as I was pulling his toenails out.” She listened, horror rising. “Certain figures at the very top of Britain’s establishment, for whom he was a child-catcher. All covered up with money, threats and even executions. You’ll understand that we had to exact a modicum of justice. Can you imagine what I did with those cigars of his?”
She held her breath: “Long story short, he ended up with his stomach opened and his long intestine tied to my pet minotaur. A couple of helpers sent Minnie charging back up the Highway to Hell, with the AC/DC song blasting on the speakers, and our seven cats giving chase and nibbling at his remains.”
She could hardly listen. “His guts measured about 300 yards. His screams were appalling, so we cut out his vocal chords. But there is a silver lining: we converted his long intestine into a firehose.” In the corner, Maggie noticed an odd-coloured pipe wound around a reel.
A sleek black cat bounded onto Satan’s lap. Maggie thought again about the company she had kept. As if Satan could mind-read, he asked: “And how about the very urbane Lord Victor Rothschild? Quite a friend and advisor, was he not?”
Memories of Victor’s persuasive manner came tumbling back. A confidante of earlier Prime Ministers Churchill, Heath and Wilson, Victor had glowed at each rolling back of regulation in the City. How humiliating to have been so easily charmed. She straightened her gown.
Time for some praise, Satan decided.
“Don’t be disheartened. Do you remember how you stood up in the London parliament to defend your policies? Time and time again, to catcalls and boos from the red team?”
“I will never forget,” she intoned, a tear welling in her eye.
“It was gutsy. And when you took on Arthur Scargill, and his miners, we could hardly look away from the screens upstairs.”
“I comprehensively outmanoeuvred him.”
“Oh yes. Letting him win the first round while your government stockpiled coal and came back with the counter punch. Damned impressive for any watching tactician.”
“But indeed. An enormous amount of UK citizens on both sides of that chasm you widened lived on with hatred in their hearts. And that, Maggie, is not what a well-lived life is about”.
She asked, nervously. “Does that mean I could endure my next life as a lump of coal?”
“Oh Mags you’re a hoot! You kill me. And the answer is no. I believe you are going to incarnate again very usefully. Listen, in my very humble opinion you set a fantastic example for women in the UK. No matter how tough your job, you never played that gender card that many of the lovely ladies whip out so readily. Wow!”
She agreed. “Let’s big you up girl. Look at how you took on the IRA. Scoring points here, losing points there, but you squared up. That was brave, and it was noted upstairs.” Maggie recalled God’s stern face on her book of Sunday school catechisms.
Satan realised he had nearly exhausted her positive attributes. “You did what you thought was dutiful, but you let Britain’s divisions amplify.”
Satan sighed: “We need to move on. The Falklands saw you feted as a national hero, but eventually you lost your key cabinet ministers with that madcap poll tax lark. Another of Victor’s ideas. Then seven years later Britain elected your ‘greatest creation’, Tony Blair.” Satan took several deep breaths.
He remained furious that the so-called “serious” media in the West failed to splash across their front pages that Blair and former US President George W. Bush had – for their actions in Iraq – been found guilty in absentia of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and genocide in a November 2011 trial brought by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission. The tacit gags on mainstream reporting of uncomfortable truths had spawned one of his favourite phrases, the “Disney media”.
Weary of this retrospect, Maggie cut to the chase. “What precisely do you want of me?”
“Top question sis. By the way call me Sal if you want. Now, to answer your question, I’ll tell the tale of a guy who took a shit on a swan.”
“I beg your pardon”. Maggie could hardly believe how the most astounding conversation she had ever experienced was descending to a gutter level nightmare. And sis? Sis!!!
“I know, I know, it seems irrelevant and horrific. Swans are beautiful, majestic creatures, in which Britain’s Queen takes an interest. But one drunken night, shortly before you came to power, this guy hung his backside off a bridge in south-east Essex, took aim, and besmirched the beast. We saw it live on the screens.”
“And ……..so what?”
“God frowned massively, I can tell you. We would normally mark that as very negative karma. Even now the Buddha shakes his head at that one”.
“Again, very perceptive. You see that swan may have had it coming because it was involved in a dodgy cygnet ring.” Satan laughed so hard that he fell off his chair, and lay, clutching his stomach.
Maggie looked more annoyed than cowed now. After he sat back down, another cat hopped onto his lap.
“Seriously, this guy had one of the finest hearts. We could see it glow sometimes. He took a few wild rides but went on to spend his life as a fireman and family man”. Satan was beaming: “We picked him out early as someone to recruit.”
This was immensely frustrating. “Your point is?”
“Thought you would have twigged, Mags. We all make mistakes but there are endless chances to atone, through service to others. Always the ladder to higher and better lives.” So much to consider, but Satan was off again.
“Bottom line: you have a talent we can put to use, and we think it will liberate and enlighten you. Now, would you like to be of so much service that you will again change Britain, and perhaps the world?”
“I’m so tired Sal” she said, risking his abbreviated name. “I want to know everything. But can I rest please?”
“Fill your boots. Ask the angels for anything you need.” He stood, blew a kiss and pointed to a tray by the door. She smiled. Lincolnshire sausage pie, mash and gravy. Her father, Alderman Alfie Roberts, would have adored that.