I walked back to meet the procession, having inspected the shopping centre. Unfortunately, with Cardinal V-‘s pernicketiness about his dress, it was now late in the afternoon and people were leaving. Also the entrance was lower than I had remembered. Neither bothered me unduly.
The procession was a fine sight coming slowly along the road into central Stratford. It had increased in size. Local Catholics, energised by parish magazines or some more contemporary means of communication, were tagging along and there seemed to be far more nuns.
I took a closer look at these. The newcomers turned out not to be nuns, however, but modestly dressed Moslem women, also in black. I noticed one staring at me.
I’d recognise those eyes anywhere.
The Jibjab Woman!
Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah, I said.
Et cum spiritu tuo, said the Jibjab Woman.
Why are you here?
She narrowed her eyes.
The cause, she said.
I caught the almost inaudible sound of her grin against the cloth covering her mouth.
I am always pleased to see the Jibjab Woman and I feel safer when she is around. So, foolishly, I did not ask her whose cause.
By this time we had arrived at the entrance to the shopping centre. Cardinal V- was flinging blessings around as if they were free, but there was indecision. The cross could not go in upright; the doorway was simply too low. The bell-toller ceased tolling and awaited developments.
I assumed that they would pass the cross in with Our Lord on his back, but apparently that would be wrong. Many creatures in nature – notably sharks – lose consciousness when laid on their backs and it was felt that the same logic (if ‘logic’ is the right word) might apply to Him. The cross was lowered so that He was face down and manhandled through the doorway.
Halfway through this manoeuvre there was a nasty crack. Christ’s bottom half came adrift. He continued to hang by His hands, metal-alloy feet dragging noisily on the floor, but the nails in His wrists were now subject to greater stress than had ever been intended. Mongo, now rather hot and dishevelled, got the cross upright again.
At this point a further problem revealed itself. The ceiling would accommodate the cross held upright in some places but not others, where, because of ducting for example, it was much lower. Mongo indicated that it would be easier to compromise on a semi-upright position that he could maintain. He held the cross at about forty-five degrees. It must have been an immense strain on his shoulders and arms. From the top Our Lord hung forwards, at the same angle. The procession struggled back into life.
My mobile rang. I have, I should explain, a network of young people, crossing-sweepers, link-boys and the like, whom I pay small sums of money to keep their eyes and ears open for me. I had told them all of my urgent desire to see the Angel of Paddington Station again.
So my mobile rang. It was a text from one of them:
What price the Angel of Stratford International? Sighted! Come at once!
I had to make a quick decision. The procession with gorgeous robes seemed to be stable. It could manage without me. But I called a local member of my network and told him to keep an eye on things. He is my source for what happened then. I hurried off to Stratford International.
Hassan is a link-boy, aged about twelve. I have no idea why link-boys have a dubious reputation, unless it is because of that salacious painting by Joshua Reynolds. Whatever may be the case with other link-boys Hassan is an entirely wholesome lad and if he attracts attention it is because of his natural and unaffected good looks. He joined the crowd soon after I left. Almost at once, he told me later, two things happened, followed by a third, and the third brought the proceedings to an abrupt close.
As Hassan scanned the procession his eye lit on Cardinal V-. The latter chose to take this as contact directed at him personally. He deserted his place at the head of the procession and pushed through the crowd (‘like rat up drainpipe’) towards Hassan. He was, Hassan told me, gabbling in an unknown tongue. Whether this was Latin, Italian or the simple incoherent vocalisations of lust we will never know.
As I say, the shopping day was drawing to a close and the shops were shutting. When that happens the area is given over to skate-boarding. The youth had already started to gather, waiting for shoppers, processors and all to depart so that they could describe their arabesques on the marble-effect floor in peace, subject only to the appraisal of their peers. As they waited they spun their boards in and out of their hands, using minimal gestures with their feet.
How Mongo managed to intercept one we shall, again, never know. He was very hot, exhausted and stupid, and he could not see his feet on account of his robing. There is no reason to suspect some malign intervention on the part of the Jibjab Woman. I will leave it at that.
Suddenly, Hassan was to tell me later, he hurtled forward on the skateboard, the cross now held straight in front of him like a lance.
‘That metal man, he was hanging, first two hands then one, feet making a terrible sound on the floor. Then a woman, she was big, big like the man holding the wooden thing, she was Caribbean I think, she seize the metal man and pull him off.
‘She shouts, “My Lord! My Lord!”
‘The man with the red hat, he’s just arrived where I’m standing and he’s put his arm on me. He hears this and turns round. He shouts, “No! My Lord!”
‘Then he turns back as he is more interested in me.
‘The wooden thing is going like clappers. I don’t know how that lady got the metal man out from under it. Anyway it sticks in a shop and can’t be got out.’
And what, I said, did Mongo say?
‘He said, “Aaargh!”’
And after the first two things came the third: the arrival of two policemen.
‘Unfortunately for the man with the red hat he has his hand on my trousers when the policemen feel his shoulder.
‘”We have warrant for your arrest,” they say. “Blah, blah, blah sexual offence…blah, blah, blah minors…blah, blah, blah thieving… blah, blah, blah European arrest warrant…”
I thought that European arrest warrants didn’t apply with the Vatican, I said.
‘The man with the red hat say that too! Police say, “Let’s discuss that down at the Station, shall we, sonny?”’
And that was the end of the procession with gorgeous robes.
The Angel? What a waste of time. Some old whore with red knickers. Late middle-aged, I’d say. What is it about the red knickers that blinds people to everything else?