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Ether Street

EPISODE 1

Is there anybody there?

Brick

Of course there is. There’s everyone from Cleopatra to Kurt Cobain up here.

Do you.... do you have any message for us?

Well, that depends on whether you’re worth giving a message to.

What do you mean?

What’s your IQ? Did you have a college education? If I’m going to go to the trouble of passing on the wisdom of the ages from beyond the grave, I want to be sure you’ll understand it.

Well, yes, we all went to college.

Though now I come to think of it, some of my direst moments have been in the company of people who ‘went to college’. People for whom the dark night of the soul means dancing to Macy Gray. In idle moments I’ve tried touring their spiritual insides. Needless to say I didn’t go into business offering package tours to the folks up here afterwards.

Hold on a minute – we’re having trouble transcribing this letter by letter...

I think that answers my question about your mental capacities. Forget the Ouija board – a squalid corporate attempt to colonize the ether. Just clear your mind and you’ll hear my voice inside your head. All right... so what do you want to know?

Who are you, for a start?

You can call me Nil – and make up your own mind whether it’s short for nihilism, Nilotic or Nilgiris.

Why not just plain Neil?

I’m not just plain anything. And your assumption that I’m male on the basis of a disembodied spiritual voice without tone or texture, let alone an Adam’s apple, only betrays the sad sexist assumptions of your culture.

Sorry we spoke.

Apology accepted. I have of course been born male many times, just as I have been born female many times too – I lose count of the actual numbers as the millennia wear on. At the moment I’m, as you might say, ‘between roles’, waiting for my place on the great casting couch in the sky.

Let’s get this straight. You’ve lived on this earth many times but now you’re in the sky.

Well technically no – I’m not sitting on a cloud. But I thought I’d better reduce things to your level. Don’t you people usually think gods and angels live in the sky and waft around in long robes?

Not sure we give it much thought these days.

More’s the pity. Where there is no thought of angels, there is only dust...

Don’t tell us – in your last incarnation you were a chat-show host.

There are worse things to be. Let’s face it, you’ve struck lucky. You could have ended up with just anyone by using this board – and believe me there are entities out here who could make for a pretty terrifying blind date. As it is, due to a temporary hitch in the cosmic bureaucracy, I haven’t been assigned to my next body yet – which means the universe is your oyster if you’ll only stay tuned...

EPISODE 2

Brick

The story so far. Some anxious truth-seekers have made contact with a restless spirit called Nil who has promised to answer their questions about the meaning of life, the universe and Haile Selassie's socks.

So what do you want to know? Or shall I give you my usual spiel about the higher planes and the journey through the levels of consciousness? For some reason that always seems to go down well...

If we’ve had to pass a test to prove our intellectual ability why should you get away with your ‘usual spiel’?

Fair enough. So what’s it to be?

Start with the big one. What is the purpose of life?

Now you’ve got chutzpah, I’ll say that for you. You think you can just roll up, tickle my engine, ask a couple of questions and be immediately rewarded with what you call The Big One. Gautama Buddha had to wander around for years with barely a blanket on his back working his way slowly and painfully towards enlightenment. St Francis had to do the same and charm the birds off the trees to boot. Even Dan Quayle had to work hard to strip everything away and reach his current levels of simplicity. But you just pull out a bottle of South Australian chardonnay and think ‘shall we turn on the news or shall we clean the kitchen floor? Oh no, let’s just get Nil to tell us the meaning of it all.’

We thought you already offered us a trailer for this wisdom of the ages you were going to be peddling.

And so I did. But have a bit of patience. All will in the end be revealed. In the meantime, set your sights a little lower. You could ask me about Clark Gable, for example.

Why would we want to do that?

You might want to know how he’s getting on out here. Or Marilyn Monroe. Or Gina Lollobrigida.

She’s still alive.

And has designed a fountain pen in honour of UNICEF – you can’t beat me on Hollywood trivia. These are just examples.

These are just religious icons produced by the dream department of global capitalism to keep the Western masses’ minds off their misery.

Ah, we could have done with you in the Bolsheviks back in July 1917 when we still seemed a long way from power.

You took part in the Russian Revolution?

Of course. Lenin took the credit for a lot of my best ideas. I don’t begrudge it him, mind – he was, after all, before his time in so many ways. He’s been a blueprint for socialist leaders throughout the century – he turned his back on socialist economics and embraced capitalism with his New Economics Programme in 1921. You might say he had class.

Nil isn’t a scrambled version of Leon, by any chance?

No, unfortunately you won’t find me in any of the official textbooks: Trotsky may have been exiled and bumped off but I was the first person to be written out of history and airbrushed out of photos with a totalitarian sweep of the pen.

What about Stalin – did you know him?

Sure – boring guy with big eyebrows who never said anything, just did the shit work for us while we wittered on about changing the world. Next thing we knew, of course, the big eyebrows were staring down from every hoarding in town. There’s no personality cult worse than the cult of someone with no personality at all. Stalin just didn’t like my jokes – and that was the end of that life.

EPISODE 3

Previously on Ether Street... Three NI readers have contacted an irascible ghost called Nil who claims to have been intimate with Lenin.

Don't give us this. How come everyone who 'discovers' they had a past life was always famous enough to appear in the history books: they were Mary Queen of Scots, or Crazy Horse, or they went down on the Titanic. They're never just Abdul Salim, who lived and died in obscurity upstairs from the shoemaker in twelfth-century Baghdad...

Brick

Oh you knew Abdul too, did you? Of course I’ve had plenty of lives that were unremarkable to all but me. I've fished in the Andaman Sea; I've been a child that died of cholera in Lahore during the British Raj; I’ve loved and lost more men and women than you would wish to hear about who were all the world to me at the time.

Okay, cut the schmaltz. Maybe you had better stick to people we’ve heard of, after all.

You see? I give you the bold bread of my lives and you just want circuses.

No, we want meaning, some insight that will prove useful in our own lives. That’s what other people get from the spirit world, so why shouldn’t we?

Why not indeed? I presume you’re thinking along the lines of who’s going to win the 3.15 horse race at Uttoxeter next Friday.

Nothing so crass and material.

Maybe it’s the spiritual you’re after. I do a good line in Upanishads.

Upaniwhat?

The Upanishads. One of the key Hindu texts from 2,700 years ago. Seems like only yesterday we were brainstorming for it, yet people all over the world are still reading or speaking the words every day: ‘It is not knowing. It is not unknowing. Nor is it knowingness itself. It can neither be seen nor understood... It is known only through becoming it.’

Just what we wanted: ‘something that can't be understood’.

Some people are never satisfied: one of the greatest spiritual insights humanity has come up with, and you give it two out of ten for technical merit.

We were thinking more along the lines of something that would be politically useful, that would let us out of the Clinton/Blair/Schroder straitjacket.

You don’t mean you cast doubt upon the Truth, the Light and the Way?! Surely you see that transnational corporations have simply got on with the business of wealth creation while you whingers on the fringes tie yourselves up in ethical knots. They saw the Earth franchise was up for grabs...

Someone who took part in the Russian Revolution can’t really believe this garbage.

Why not? Bill Clinton once was sensible enough to dodge the draft and sample the odd mindblowing substance and he now believes this garbage. Tony Blair believes it too and even he did once have a socialist idea in his head... No, on second thoughts, maybe that's going too far.

You said before that you could offer package tours to people’s brains for the more intrepid spirits. Does that mean you have actually been inside Bill Clinton’s head?

Don’t even ask me.

Why, what was it like? Come on, don’t be a tease.

Funnily enough, that’s one of his favourite lines when a new intern looms into view. Actually Clinton has a design fault which has left him with only three basic thoughts: ‘I’m gorgeous’; ‘You’re gorgeous’; and ‘God Bless America’. The rumour up here is that Bill’s next incarnation is already waiting for him in a radiation-ravaged village in rural Iraq.

EPISODE 4

The saga so far... Three NI readers are in communication with a spirit entity called Nil who claims to have co-written the Upanishads and stormed the Winter Palace.

You said Bill Clinton had a basic design fault. You make it sound like there’s a great Henry Ford up in the sky, twiddling with the knobs on the production line.

There is a Henry Ford up in the sky but I’m afraid he doesn't have as much clout up here as he did before his last incarnation. He’s currently serving a three-millennia sentence for wilful disobedience to the Second Universal Law of Cosmic Balance. You see, when the germ of the idea for the car was first planted on Earth, it was intended to run on water. For most of the nineteenth century people were working on steam cars, like Robert Trevithick in England. But Ford somehow managed to make the world worship his foul-smelling, dirt-puking machine and it’s going to take a good few decades more before the original design makes a comeback.

But Ford didn’t invent the car on his own - there was Daimler in Germany, Levassor in France...

Walking encyclopedia, aren’t you?

... it’s the power of science, that's all. It sweeps everything aside. It’s unstoppable. That’s why a human will have been cloned by the end of the next decade.

Nothing is unstoppable. The Tyrannosaurus Rex was considered pretty unstoppable in its day, and look what happened to that. And I assure you the potential for spiritual growth towards the Light when you were incarnated as a T-Rex was pretty minimal – things are a sight more interesting now.

You’re squirming off the point about the march of science.

Which is that humans have to take responsibility for their actions. Ford is carrying the can for putting his own ideas and wealth before everything else – and, worse, for persuading himself that he was doing it for the good of the common person. Sad, really, since he did have his redeeming features. Did you know he commissioned a boat in 1915 and sailed to Europe to try to persuade Britain, France and Germany to stop the First World War? The American belief that the world will jump to attention when it calls is occasionally quite endearing.

And while Ford was sailing his boat over to the killing fields of France, where were you?

You’re trying to catch me out, aren’t you? I’ve already told you I was a Bolshevik in that incarnation. Actually in 1915 I was skulking in St Petersburg, trying to avoid being sent to the front. I could see the War was pointless, just emperors playing battle games with working people as their counters, and I was damned if I was going to fight for the Tsar in some squabble with his royal relations.

Who was it who said that the twentieth was the century of world wars but also the first time in human history in which the idea of militarism was effectively challenged?

The New Internationalist, if I'm not mistaken, which has always been a favourite in incarnation waiting rooms up here. I particularly liked it in the early years before it was adopted as the house magazine of the UN in the early 21st century and started being translated into 38 languages. At that point I felt it lost some of its naive charm.

EPISODE 5

Previously on Ether Street... Three NI readers have contacted a restless spirit called Nil who claims to have the wisdom of a thousand incarnations yet remains unconvinced by the Clinton-Blair Third Way.

That was just a joke, right? What you said about the New Internationalist being translated into 38 languages and hijacked as the UN house magazine by 2025?

Which is the joke? The idea that the UN could be associated with anything of such quality? Or that there are 38 languages which could translate the word ‘Internationalist’?

No, we mean this notion that you can see into the future as easily as into the past.

But surely you expect that of me. Even the most unassuming spirit entities usually have a good line in predicting the future – foreseeing that Titanic was going to sink, that kind of thing. And spirits who are bit more adept can usually see beyond the event to the pattern behind it – to know, for example, that Titanic had to sink so that Leonardo di Caprio could make a million hearts flutter eight decades later.

How do you make sense of things if tomorrow looks the same as yesterday?

You might as well ask how Albert Einstein kept the Special Theory of Relativity in his head and still managed to eat his corn flakes in the morning. He explained that time was only relative to the observer almost a century ago yet you still don't seem to have grasped it.

Along with everyone else on earth.

Actually Einstein had a few chuckles up here the other month when he saw that Time magazine had made him their Man of the Century. This is the guy who launched his own War Resisters’ International Campaign in 1932 yet was also one of the first people to see the need for resistance to Hitler’s Nazis. Time’s stablemate Life magazine listed him in the 1950s, at the height of McCarthyism, as one of the 50 most prominent ‘dupes and fellow travellers’.

Yet he was also the man who made nuclear weapons possible.

But without realizing it – when he heard about the first atomic chain-reaction experiments he said ‘I never thought of that at all’. And spent the rest of his life working for nuclear disarmament.

Sounds like you’ve got a soft spot for him.

Of course. He said: ‘Politics are for the moment; an equation is for eternity.’ But it didn’t stop him caring and campaigning. How did we get on to Albert? Ah yes, the future. It’s true that unlike just about everyone else who’s summoned me, you haven’t asked me anything about the future.

Okay, what about the future?

Roll up, roll up, for the magical mystery tour. Grease my palm and I’ll chart your route through the tricky byways and backwaters of the new millennium.

You haven’t got a palm.

I was speaking metaphorically. No, really – if you want me to be your friendly neighbourhood prophet you’re going to have come up with a slightly more targeted question than ‘what about the future?’

Okay, will there be a United States of the World by 2050?

Yes, and its Chief Executive Officer will be a tall dark stranger from the Monsanto Corporation (Mutants Division).

EPISODE 6

The story so far: an unholy ghost called Nil has given three NI readers exclusive insights into Monsanto's plans for world domination and into Albert Einstein’s cornflakes.

For all your talk of having as many female incarnations, you seem pretty male-focused. Hard to believe you don’t have a beard.

I assure you, as a spark of spirit, I don’t even stretch to stubble – or breasts for that matter.

All the same, everyone you name-drop is a man: Stalin, Ford, Einstein...

They weren’t incarnations, only acquaintances. But since you take this tack, I’ll say one thing to you: Nzinga.

Unzinger? Is that one of those things you use with a digital TV?

N-Z-I-N-G-A.

Oh, Nzinga. Yes, that gorilla born at a zoo in Texas. There are pictures of it on the Internet.

I hope it’s good-looking because it was presumably named after one of my finest lives, Queen Nzinga of Matamba.

Excuse our ignorance, but who?

You see? You blame me for mentioning too many men then, when I draw your attention to one of the most heroic female figures in history, you simply look blank. And I’d lay odds your knowledge of African history is pretty sketchy too.

Well, there was ancient Egypt. And Great Zimbabwe. And that King of Mali who had all the gold...

Kankan Musa. But there was so much more. Whole civilizations that rose and fell like the breathing of the gods, epic tales of heroism and resistance, only to be forgotten by a world whose idea of history is a theme park based on Henry VIII’s dangerous liaisons.

Brick

So who was Queen Nzinga?

It was 1624 when I succeeded my brother Mbandi as ruler or ngola of Ndongo – you might say the modern country Angola was named after me. The Portuguese had been attacking us from their forts nearer the coast and seizing slaves for their new colony in Brazil. And I’d travelled as emissary the year before to persuade them to recognize our independence.

So you were no shrinking violet then.

All the same I had to fight hard to become queen – the Portuguese tried to put up a puppet ngola and my own people, the Mbundu, had no tradition of female leadership. Until I took charge, that is. What times those were, leading the resistance against the Portuguese...

Hang on, we never learned about Africans fighting the slave traders in an organized way.

Organized? We gave them hell. I harboured fugitive slaves, encouraged rebellion wherever I could, built an army using mercenaries and Africans the Portuguese had trained...

But were doubtless soon crushed by superior firepower.

It depends what you mean by ‘soon’. After a couple of years they conquered our capital but we regrouped by taking over the next-door kingdom of Matamba and for the next 30 years we harassed them at every turn. I used every resource I had to resist the Portuguese – and by the time I died they’d recognized they weren’t going to beat me. Parts of Matamba were still free right into the twentieth century.

You weren’t exactly a pacifist then.

Not in that incarnation, it’s true. Of course had I known about the enormous benefits that slavery and colonialism were going to bring to Africa I might have been more accommodating!

EPISODE 7

Tales from the crypt... the spirit Nil has already unveiled former incarnations as African rebel queen Nzinga and as the brains behind the Russian Revolution.

Queen Nzinga must have been one of your longest lives if she spent more than 30 years fighting the Portuguese slavers.

You’re right: and I lived half my life before even becoming queen. I was 81 when I died in 1663. A pretty good age considering that with all the wonders of development and modern technology someone born today in Malawi can only expect to live till they’re 39.

We hear quite enough about that sort of thing as subscribers to the New Internationalist, thank you very much. Change the subject.

To what? The results of the latest Etheric Olympics, perhaps? Jesse Owens got to pit himself against Emil Zatopek up here recently.

A sprinter against a marathon runner? What kind of contest was that?

When you’re points of light without legs, it works rather differently. Or perhaps you’d rather hear how Teddy Roosevelt had to be locked up for protesting too vehemently against the US giving up what he regarded as his greatest achievement, the Panama Canal.

Hasn’t he been reincarnated yet, then?

He’s made it to the head of the queue two or three times only to find that he was due to be born in countries like Kyrgyzstan or Equatorial Guinea. He’s only prepared to accept an incarnation as an American – and a white American male at that. It’s bull-headed in the extreme: an elementary knowledge of the future tells him that the American Empire is beginning its Decline and Fall. But I guess some part of him still thinks he can turn it into a Thousand Year Reich.

Won’t he need to be a Hispanic woman to win the US Presidency in 50 years’ time?

Try telling Teddy that. He can’t even accept the idea that the black baseball star Ken Griffey Jr will one day hit his home runs from the Oval Office.

He still won’t be able to persuade the rest of the world to show any interest in that game. It’s enough that every five years we have to suffer Kevin Costner films where he maunders on about whacking things with a big stick.

Which was always Teddy’s thing too, when you come to think of it – he said the essence of diplomacy and foreign policy was to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’. He saw it as the responsibility of ‘civilized’ countries like the US to act as stewards of ‘barbarous’ ones, which was what led him to invade Cuba and force an American ‘economic director’ on the Dominican Republic.

The only thing that’s changed is the language. At least Teddy Roosevelt was honest about being a right-wing bigot who wanted the US to rule the world.

And at least Teddy knew where the Philippines was. George W Bush also has no shame about being right-wing but probably thinks Niger is a state in the US South where all the shoe-shine boys come from. Teddy’s greatest gift to the world was the teddy bear: it was inspired by the day he refused to shoot a bear cub which had been tied to a tree by an aide to offer him an easy kill. Prepare yourselves for the toy of the 21st century – a nuclear warhead for the nursery, the ‘Gorgeous Georgie’.

EPISODE 8

The séance continues as the spirit Nil reveals further forbidden secrets gleaned from a thousand incarnations.

Brick

‘Feet on sun-baked rock / A hand clasping mine / The scent of new-baked bread / The blessing of wine.’

What the hell is that? Are you in training for an incarnation in the greetings-card trade?

No, I was just singing along. The most popular tunes out here in the ether are all along those lines. Somehow when you’ve not been incarnated for a while, you forget that having a human body involves pain – from the torture of childbirth to the sheer hell of a heavy-metal concert. You only remember the wonder of having five senses.

So eternal life is over-rated?

No, it’s just different. We’re never as alone as you are, all locked up inside one body. But there are obvious compensations to the corporeal state – there are some wild and tender nights that loom very large in my memory.

And were you male or female on those wild and tender nights?

Sometimes one, sometimes the other, of course. Your culture’s obsession with the difference between them is a constant source of amusement out here.

Really? We’re sure women in Afghanistan under the Taliban – who can’t go to work or go out of the house without being completely covered – will be pleased to know they’re providing you with entertainment.

Hoity-toity. The trouble with you readers of the New Internationalist is that you can’t help being earnest. You have to keep reminding people of the iniquity and inequality of the world.

That may be so. But we’ve got a point, haven’t we? If spirits like you have been incarnated many times as both men and women, how come people don’t learn over time to treat each other as equals and meet in the middle? Instead what we end up with is ‘men from Mars’ and ‘women from Venus’.

You think you’ve got problems. You should see what a nightmare it is on the third planet out from Alpha Centauri, which has nine different sexes.

And have you been incarnated there too?

No, I’m pretty much an Earth specialist. I can’t abide these planets which have five moons; there’s something unnatural about them. Give me the wind in my sails on the Brahmaputra or the cool, clear air of the High Andes, any day.

But you still haven’t answered our point about women and men.

Oracles don’t give answers, they just hedge their bets. I could say you’re actually making progress on that front: look at New Zealand...

You mean Aotearoa...

If you want to be pedantic. There, male politicians are so passé that they have to be foisted on to international organizations to earn a crust. But on the other hand I have to say we never had any of these Taliban-type problems in the good old days three millennia ago when we all believed in a Great Goddess. Still, you may yet end up with a Great Goddess of your own: in a world where a phoney spot of tongue-kissing turns Al Gore from Clark Kent into Superman, it can be only a matter of time before Madonna launches her own bid for global leadership.

EPISODE 9

The spirit Nil continues to reveal random secrets of past, present and future to a captive audience.

Suppose we do accept that you have been incarnated on this earth a hundred or more times. You must have learned a lot about history that you could pass on to us.

Not really. A lot of the time I was a world away from the big events you think of as history. I’ve talked about my part in the Russian Revolution and as an African Queen resisting slavery. But mostly I was just Olga Ordinary or Abdul Average, looking after the rice crop or rearing children. And you don’t want to hear about those.

All the same, once you get back to the ether you must be able to put it all in historical perspective.

Well, I suppose I did once serve the greatest leader in human history.

Who was that? Alexander the Great? Elizabeth I? Ronald Reagan?

Mere warlords, the lot of them. I’m talking about a truly great leader who renounced wars, armies and all the suffering they cause.

Oh, you mean José Figueres, who abolished the army in Costa Rica in 1948 – we’ve just been reading about that.

Brick

Actually no. I have in mind Asoka, last of the great Mauryan emperors of India, over 2,000 years ago. He started out as a chip off the old block, trying like his dad to expand the empire to embrace all of India, and conquering the eastern country of Kalinga (now Orissa state) in a vicious military campaign. But he was so horrified by the bloodshed that he renounced warfare and dedicated himself to good works.

Easy enough when he’d just won the war anyway. A bit like Blair and Clinton pushing peace and harmony after bombing Belgrade to bits.

No, Asoka was different. He converted to Buddhism and devoted his life to putting its principles into practice: ‘conquest by dharma (principles of right life),’ that’s what he called it.

Oh, we get it. He turned into a religious maniac foisting his ideas on all and sundry.

It’s true he sent Buddhist emissaries to Burma and Ceylon. But he didn’t even make Buddhism a state religion at home – he guaranteed freedom of worship for all sects and promoted non-violence. It was good works that he saw as more important: he built hospitals for humans and animals, planted roadside trees, dug wells. A New Deal, you might say.

And what was your part in all this, then? An adviser or minister?

Well, no. I cleaned the palace latrines. But it was honourable work; Asoka didn’t look down on that kind of labour. Sad to say, though, his successors didn’t continue his legacy after he died. The empire fell apart straight away and Buddhism in India went down the tube with it. And my own descendants were locked into a shit-shovelling subdivision of the caste system. Probably they still are, though I must admit I’ve lost touch with that branch of the family.

So Asoka’s work was all to no avail.

Don’t you believe it. Buddhism may not have taken off in India but it certainly took root in Burma and Ceylon. And of course he was directly cited as an inspiration when the Global War Renunciation Treaty was signed in 2058 – oh, sorry, that hasn’t happened yet, has it?

EPISODE 10

The spirit Nil has been regaling listeners with tall tales and weak repartee gleaned from a thousand incarnations. But the audience is getting restive...

Can we ask you a question?

You’ve never been backward in coming forward before.

This notion of reincarnation is pretty hard to accept. It’s as if the most important element in a person is a spark of spirit that has dipped in and out of earth over the millennia. Yet isn’t it obvious how much a person is shaped by their economic and cultural inheritance – not to mention their genetic pattern?

What’s a DNA code but a print-out from the breath of the universal computer? A current example might be the new US President George W Bush.

That just shows how weak this reincarnation idea is – a father hands on dynastic political power to his son in a nation that’s supposed to have anti-monarchism ingrained in its soul.

You could look at it like that. But on the other hand try looking at it this way. Here’s a boy who has every advantage: born into what is effectively the American aristocracy, he’s given an easy way out of getting killed in Vietnam and benefits from the most expensive private education with access to the vast heritage of human wisdom, learning and insight. And what does he end up as?

The most powerful man in the world.

Technically, yes. But what I meant is that he ends up as a guy whose natural milieu is a redneck bar somewhere in Texas, who thinks Cape Verde is bench coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

But that’s been his passport to success. Americans seem to feel at ease with someone like that in the White House.

Nevertheless, he’s been utterly impervious to education. And why? Because the spirit squeezed into that physical shell was of a particularly nasty, narrow-minded kind.

Brick

You mean you have access to the records of George W Bush’s previous incarnations?

I do but I think it would be unethical to reveal them to you.

Oh go on, don’t be so coy. This could be dynamite. It could make the fixing of the election in Florida look like a little local difficulty.

Which is exactly why I’m not going to give you more than the vaguest of clues. George W was born in July 1946 and his guiding spirit had only a few months to wait between incarnations.

So nine months back and counting... We’re talking 1945, aren’t we? End of the War. Wait a minute. This previous incarnation wouldn’t have ended in a bunker in Berlin, would it?

No. But you’re not so far away. Think of a neighbouring megalomaniac with rather more of a taste for the good life than Adolf.

His first name wouldn’t be Benito?!

I couldn’t possibly comment.

EPISODE 11

Still in the deserted farmhouse, three students continue their tête-à-tête with the spirit Nil. But it's been a long night, the first flushes of dawn are beginning to show in the eastern sky and they are beginning to get a little tetchy.

Okay, okay. We’ve put up with just about enough of your ramblings. You’ve claimed you’ve been reincarnated hundreds of times and gained insight into all kinds of historical eras as a result...

I never claimed insight, just that I was there. You probably were too – you just don’t realize it while you’re in your earthly body.

There you go again. Just because you can spin a good yarn and can push a pointer around a Ouija board...

Oh come on, we stopped relying on that primitive technology hours ago. If I were a fake how would I have been able to communicate telepathically with all three of you at the same time?

How does any magician pull off their tricks? How did Harry Houdini manage all his impossible stunts?

Houdini was good, it’s true, but he died simply because he didn’t tense his muscles when a Canadian student punched him in the stomach to test his strength. Wizard he may have been, but if ever there was an example of human frailty made manifest, that was it.

Whereas you are invulnerable and eternal, we suppose.

Eternal, yes; invulnerable, no: you wound me with your lack of faith.

Faith in what? Let’s face it, this night on Ether Street has been all style and no substance. You play around with us and make weak attempts at humour. We are serious people, you know. We care about world hunger. We subscribe to the New Internationalist.

And I’m sure you will get your reward in heaven. In the meantime, if you have no other questions I do have some rather pressing business to attend to.

Hang on! You can’t leave without delivering what you promised.

And what was that?

You said you would reveal the meaning of life, the universe and everything if only we were patient. Goodness knows, we’ve been patient.

So you have. And I think you have deserved your reward. But I’m afraid I’ve just received an official court order which stops me revealing it. Apparently the Department of Universal Security has been bugging this session and feels I’ve been telling you too much already.

Oh, very convenient. What would they do to you if you went ahead anyway? They can’t exactly put you on the rack when you have no body...

You still don’t seem to realize that bodies are the least important part of us. Besides, if I contravene the order it could put my next incarnation in doubt – and given that I’m due to be conceived as a Brazilian girl in the shanty-towns of Recife, who will eventually rise to become President of the World Federation on an environmental ticket around 2060, this is not one I want to miss.

Brick

Can’t you even give us a hint, a last word of wisdom before you fade out?

A hint? All right. After a thousand incarnations I think I can safely say this: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ Over and out.

New Internationalist issue 333 magazine cover This article is from the April 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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