by Jon Hepworth
The early morning fog was dense and all that Ed could see were swirling shades of grey. Even the grass looked grey.
Ed did not believe in ghosts.
His Wellington boots made a flopping sound as they smacked his bare legs with each step. It was supposed to be very warm that day so Ed had decided to wear his shorts. The cold air raised goose pimples on his bare skin.
The fog sapped the sound out of the air. The peace only disturbed by the sound of cattle moving and the rasping noise as somewhere they grazed the grass.
Ed’s obedient Collie, trotted along by his heels and covered the ground in easy loping strides. He whispered, ‘Go way back,’ and waved his hand, pointing into the distance. He did not want to disturb the stillness. The Collie knew what was required and darted into the fog to round up the cattle and push them towards the farmyard. Ed noticed the grazing sounds stop and heard scuffing noises as the cattle started to trot towards the buildings.
He could see nothing more than the swirling fog until he saw the ghost. He stopped. He felt the blood drain from his face and his mouth going very dry. It was definitely there. It was tall with a white robe, the shape diffused by the fog but resembling a man. He had an impression of gold sandals and a gold halter around its neck. It disappeared. Ed decided not to follow the apparition.
It appeared again, but now there were two figures, one in a white and the other in a blue robe. Ed began to wish that he had not drunk so much of Freddie's Elderberry wine the night before. He held his hand up close to his face and blew into it to see if his breath still smelt of alcohol, but there was no trace.
The blue robe beckoned to Ed. Ed noticed that the wide sleeves of the robe were edged in gold. The blue robe came closer and appeared to be carrying some carpets over its arm. Ed was paralysed. The lads in the pub would not believe him - he decided that he would never touch another drop of alcohol.
‘Who are you and what are you doing here,’ asked the blue robe, in an imperial voice that had a heavy foreign accent.
‘Oh dear!’ thought Ed, ‘a foreign ghost as well.’
‘I may ask you the same question,’ said Ed, surprised at his own boldness; encouraged by the sound of his own voice he added ‘and who may you be?’
‘I,’ said the blue robe ‘I am the head servant of Sheik Bedu. Answer my questions.’
The warmth of the morning sun was starting to evaporate the fog into a light mist.
Ed knew that the estate was owned by Sheik Bedu but no one had ever seen the Sheik or his retinue.
‘I'm Ed, assistant herdsman and I'm supposed to be rounding up the herd to bring them in for milking.’
The head servant looked across at the white robe which gestured towards the ground and pointed at Ed. The servant spread out on the carpets on the ground.
‘The Sheik would like you to sit down,’ said the servant.
‘But...’ started Ed. The servant raised his hand, ‘with the Sheik there are no ‘buts’’
Ed sat on one corner of the small carpet. He wondered if they were facing Mecca, if he was sitting on a prayer mat.
So it was that on a cool July morning, in the middle of a meadow, in the middle of England, a Sheik, his chief servant and the assistant herdsman all sat down to watch the day awaken: The sheik pushed back the cowl of his robe and breathed in the pure morning air. His hair was black and framed a long and lined face, which looked immeasurably old; the complexion was dark. But it was the eyes that Ed noticed most, large, brown, sunken and sad. Ed wondered if it was very difficult being a Sheik. They sat in silence absorbing the serenity - sharing the stillness. The sky started to appear in its infinite blue. The black shape of a swallow swooped in a graceful curve in front of them, up far too early to catch any flies.
‘Perhaps he misses the peace of the desert and the freedom of the Bedouin,’ wondered Ed.
Soon the curtain of mist would disappear altogether and they would be seen from the main house. Still the Sheik remained seated on the ground, cross-legged, his hands resting on his knees.
The spell was eventually broken when a large Range Rover raced across the field, bristling with security men, and skidded to a stop a few yards from the Sheik. The armed guards were about to rush at Ed when the Sheik slowly put up his hand to indicate that everyone was to stop. Everyone froze in their tracks.
‘What power!’ thought Ed.
The Sheik said something to his head servant who then got up and went over to the security posse. There was a rapid, urgent conversation with occasional furtive looks at the Sheik.
With a weary sigh the Sheik got to his feet and walked majestically over to the car where one of the guards opened the door. The car drove slowly back to the main house and drove the Sheik to the tumult of the day.
The head servant collected up the carpets and walked back to the servant's quarters in the main mansion. Ed walked back to the farmyard.
The head herdsman was not pleased with his assistant who had not helped with the morning milking and who had given some ridiculous story about sitting in a field with the Sheik. The head herdsman said he was going to see the estate manager to get Ed sacked. Ed tried to make amends by finishing the cleaning of the milking equipment and getting all the equipment ready for the afternoon milking.
It was late morning when he trudged down the farm drive to his home for breakfast. Half way down the drive he was overtaken by a fleet of three stretch limousines with dark tinted windows. Suddenly the cavalcade stopped. A man in a smart Armani suit got out of one car and came over to Ed. It was the head servant whom Ed had met earlier that day.
‘The Sheik would like to thank you,’ said the head servant.
‘For sharing a moment of your life!’
Ed felt unexpectedly moved, he would have liked to have had some clever remark to make - all he could do was stretch out his hand. The head servant shook Ed’s hand and then returned to his car.
The cavalcade started off again leaving Ed standing there looking down the empty drive, the grassy banks on either side looking verdant in the sun of a summer day.