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Stephen Hawking got to the Pearly Gates only to discover that entry control had been outsourced to a Thai company.

The entrance to heaven had been transformed into an excessively curlicued arched gate as rococo as any you’ll find in a gated community in a Bangkok suburb, connected on either side to a nondescript wall adorned with razor wire, broken bottles and hastily scrubbed out graffiti of a black leopard’s head.

It still said ‘Pearly Gates’ on the top, but there wasn’t a pearl to be seen anywhere and the general hue was royal purple. But then again, Thailand has ‘Lake View’ apartments with no sight of any body of water, and ‘Forest Fields’ condos without a tree or a blade of grass.

Hawking’s problem was that the newly embellished pearl-less Pearly Gates now stood at the top of a grandiose but perfectly pointless flight of stairs. After much toing and froing in his wheelchair, he attracted the attention of one of the uniformed guards who had been variously concentrating on the middle blue yonder, the contents of their fingernails, and the football page of a legal publication devoted to illegal gambling.

He was given to understand that he should move to one side and let others in first. This was indicated entirely by gesture because Thai security guards are under strict instructions not to attempt spoken communication with non-Thais.

Eventually he spotted at some distance an elevator. Access to it was behind a glass door which had been smashed. The English part of a bilingual notice attached to the door read ‘Who make door damages you go to hell.’

The door was locked.

Hawking located a button to call staff to unlock the door. Fortunately, it doesn’t rain outside heaven, but being in the clouds, the sun was very warm and there was of course no shade. Hawking waited patiently. He did have eternity before him.

Eventually a staff member arrived and told Hawking that if he wanted to get into heaven, he would need to complete a form certifying that he was in fact disabled and therefore qualified to use the elevator.

Hawking responded that his disability was obvious and he had never been asked to verify it before, so why now?

The staff member replied that you wouldn’t credit the number of sinners who thought turning up in a wheelchair would get them into heaven by the back door and once a sinner got in, there was hell to pay for his company, pardon the expression.

Using the logic of a brilliant mind, Hawking asked what made the company think that anyone who was blatantly cheating by using a wheelchair would then honestly complete a form to say they did not in fact need one?

The employee said that it was way above his pay grade to answer such questions. He was under orders to get a signature and that was good enough for him.

Hawking then pointed out that his disability precluded him from signing anything. The guard thought about this for a moment and suggested that maybe he should come back later when he got better.

Hawking tried a different logical tack. God was assumed to be omniscient so would already know both that he was disabled and that he was qualified to enter heaven. Why not ask Him?

‘Oo no. See, since we bought the rights over entry to heaven, God relinquished all authority over executive decision-making. In fact, I can’t even call Him because He doesn’t live here anymore. He took what we paid Him and promptly scarpered off to enjoy the good life in a tax haven, er, heaven.’

The altercation became increasingly fractious until the company sued Hawking in the Heavenly Court for both criminal and civil defamation. While in one case, he was acquitted on a technicality (the alleged offence occurred outside heaven and beyond the court’s jurisdiction), he was found guilty on a second charge. He was fined 10 million baht and sentenced to 3 years in purgatory, suspended for 2 years.

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

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