I slowly crawled along Councillor Tookbungs Boulevard. In some parts of town this sort of behaviour would get me moved on by the police, or perhaps even arrested. Not the sort of publicity I wanted in my calling. Fortunately in this area, at this time of day, I was perfectly safe. Or perhaps not, judging by the multitude of ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ and ‘No Doorstep Selling’ signs.
Finally I found what I was looking for; the number 42 in small print below the floral ornateness comprising the name ‘Bella Vista’. It was a detached property with the frontage delineated by dark-painted wrought iron railings and matching gate. The front garden was pristine, with a bowling-green, weed-free lawn surrounded by regiments of identical flowers meticulously positioned like squaddies on parade. Clearly, until recent events, the owners worshipped Mammon far more than our Lord.
I parked my small, powder-pink Nissan and made my way through the gate and along the path to the front door, dodging the obstacle course of planters and hanging baskets. I had bought the powder-pink Nissan for my daughter for when she went to college. Now, unlike me, she was fully and gainfully employed, and after trading up she insisted I took her reliable old car since I had had to return my company car when I lost my job.
When I rang the doorbell, it played something pretentious and classical that I didn’t quite recognise. I remembered hearing it on a recent supermarket advert and I had to quickly wipe the resultant smirk from my face when the door opened.
“Hello, I’m Seamus O’Malley,” I introduced myself.
“Thank you for coming, Father O’Malley. I’m Keith Bickford and this is my beautiful wife Tansy,” said the greying middle-aged man as he gestured at the beaming woman accompanying him.
I didn’t see any point correcting his use of ‘Father’.
The Vatican has two golden rules for people like me. The first is to put on a good show to encourage generous donations. The second is never to bring exorcisms into disrepute. Violating either rule usually results in instant dismissal.
I had determined almost immediately the young girl wasn’t possessed. But I reckoned there was no harm in putting on a show for the parents – see Vatican rule one. About halfway through the girl started seizing and I realised it wasn’t due to demonic possession but a serious epileptic fit. I aborted the exorcism and called an ambulance. Having broken both rules, I was summarily defrocked and dismissed and they repossessed my company BMW. What did they expect me to do in that situation - continue the exorcism and pretend the seizure was demonic?
Although I was no longer ‘Father’, my reputation meant that I continued to get calls for my help, in this case from Father Conrad at St Joseph’s. I hadn’t yet found a way to earn a living from it so I was currently working part-time on a zero hours contract as a cashier with my local supermarket.
“What seems to be the problem?” I asked.
“It’s my wheelbarrow,” replied Keith. “Ever since it was painted it’s been possessed.”
“Don’t be rude,” interjected Tansy. “Invite the man in.”
“Of course, do come in. I’ll show you the wheelbarrow. It’s probably outside the kitchen door by now.”
Tansy Bickford led me through their ornate, sterile house, over-furnished with Laura Ashley kitsch, and into the kitchen. Keith then led us into a small mud-room and opened the door to the back garden. There indeed stood a dark coloured wheelbarrow, containing a couple of hefty looking paving slabs.
“I put the paving slabs in to eliminate the possibility that the wind was moving it,” explained Keith.
“Why don’t you wheel it to the end of the garden while I put the kettle on,” volunteered Tansy. “Tea and biscuits, Father O’Malley?”
Keith got behind the wheelbarrow and I followed as he pushed it to the end of the level, 200ft garden. He was sweating afterwards, obviously unused to physical labour. The rear garden was as pristine as the front and securely fenced in with tall wooden panels so there was no chance of casual chats with the neighbours or nightly visits from hedgehogs.
“Right, we’ll leave it here and go and have our tea,” said Keith.
Back in the house, Tansy followed us into the lounge with tea and biscuits and fruit cake.
“It’s nicer in the conservatory at this time of day but you can see the garden from there. The wheelbarrow only moves when nobody’s watching so I’m afraid we’re stuck with the front garden and all the frightful traffic,” said Tansy
Then she looked out the window and saw my little powder-pink Nissan.
“Heavens, who on earth left that abomination outside our house! I’ve a good mind to call the police,” she exclaimed.
“It’s not a private road, dear. Anyone can park there provided they don’t block our gate,” said Keith.
“I’m afraid I had a problem with my car and had to borrow my daughter’s,” I half lied.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said a mock-contrite Tansy. “Please forgive me, I didn’t know.”
She served the tea, biscuits and cake while Keith narrated the story of the wheelbarrow.
“We have this Romanian chap, Dumitru, who does odd jobs and gardening a couple of days a week for cash. He’s really a little gem, even though he doesn’t speak much English. When he got the wheelbarrow out of the shed this Spring, it had gone a bit rusty. I had him sand it down then paint it with the leftovers from doing the railings. Ever since then the wheelbarrow always seems to make its way to the kitchen door. I thought it might be neighbourhood kids playing a prank but it happens even when the little blighters are at school.”
For the next half hour Tansy related all the feats of their twins, Tarquin and Lucinda, currently working as interns to a UN Peace Ambassador in South America. All that stopped me sticking pins in my eyes through boredom was the surprisingly delicious fruit cake.
“Right, let’s go check on the wheelbarrow,” suggested Keith as I stifled yet another yawn.
I followed him through the kitchen and out the mud-room door. He looked a little surprised the wheelbarrow wasn’t immediately in front of him, but I was equally surprised when I saw it was halfway to the house. Could someone be playing a prank or could this really be a case of possession?
“I need to pray over the wheelbarrow,” I said, after surveying the surroundings. “Could you wheel it onto the patio outside the conservatory?”
“Of course,” Keith replied with a grimace.
After he reluctantly wheeled the wheelbarrow back to the house and onto the patio, breaking out in a sweat again, I sat on one of the patio chairs, closed my eyes and pretended to pray. In reality, I relaxed into the fugue state from which I could observe the spirit world.
I opened my eyes.
“You had us worried for a while,” said Keith. “We thought you might have fallen asleep.”
“Don’t be rude,” said Tansy, who had joined us on the patio. “He’s only doing his job.”
“Yes dear,” said Keith, and the pair exchanged air kisses.
“You used to have a tortoise, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yes,” replied Keith with a look of astonishment. “How did you know?”
“I’m afraid your tortoise died an unhappy death and now its spirit has possessed your wheelbarrow.”