Muhammad Ali is transported quickly through the clouds, fast tracking it past the queue right to the Pearly Gates. They open automatically and he walks forward through a long white corridor that is lined with towering columns clad with gold leaf and ornate lapis lazuli strands. At the end of the corridor, the area opens out into a large wide space, wisps of cloud playing around what appears to be a transparent ceiling. Ali stops for a moment to get his bearings and slowly becomes aware of the soft notes of an orchestra. It grows a little louder as he walks forward and there ahead of him he sees a choir of angels, each one holding a lyre, all of them plucking the strings in unison. From the left of the group, the ringing, echoing notes of a harpsichord float across the melody. And then an angel steps forward and begins to sing, her voice beautiful and mesmerising as her tone blends with the harmonies. Ali is captivated and fascinated all at once. A touch on his shoulder snaps him back into focus and he whirls round, hands lifting and bouncing as he instinctively shifts into a defensive motion. In front of him stands a tall angel in a long flowing robe.
“Where’d you come from man?” Ali says, his eyes wide with surprise. “I didn’t see you creep up on me. Ah must be gettin slow!”
The angel smiles. “I am Gabriel. I have come to take you to the Boss.”
“The boss? There ain’t no boss but me, sucka. Don’tcha know that? I told y’all didn’t I."
Gabriel smiles again but says nothing. He beckons to Ali to follow him. Ali does so and says, “Hey, where'd you get them wings man?”
Gabriel makes no reply and continues ahead. As they walk through the room Ali sees his reflection in a silver framed mirror. It causes him to stop in his tracks. Staring back at him is the Muhammed Ali of his peak, a tall, upright, sleek specimen of athletic power and grace. He looks down at his hands and sees that they are steady as rock; gone is the shaking that afflicted him as he fought with his illness. He looks back at his reflection, smooths his hair and says, “Ain’t ah pretty?”
Gabriel smiles and beckons him forward. Ali follows and they enter another room, a room that seems to have no confines - no walls, no ceilings and no floors. Yet they are able to walk forward into its depths. Gabriel stops and stretches out an arm, indicating a figure that appears to be sitting on an old wooden barrel.
Ali’s gaze follows Gabriel’s outstretched hand.
“Who’s that dude, man?”
“Meet the Boss,” Gabriel replies.
Ali takes a pace forward and stares at the image ahead of him. And in that moment he experiences surprise, awe, confusion and intrigue. The figure seems to have no form yet is a man; he is neither old nor young; he has no colour yet is black, white and many other shades. But his eyes are the most striking feature, ablaze with kindness, humour and understanding. A smile plays on his lips but he says nothing.
Ali’s curiosity gets the better of him. “You’re the... boss? Who are you man?”
The figure stands up and now portrays an image, tall and young. “Who am I? I am him you seek. I am who you call God. But I am no Muslim god, no Christian god, no Jewish god, no Hindu god, no Druid god, no Roman god, no Greek god, no Egyptian god, no Norse god. I am the God of all people.”
“You God?” Ali says. “Maaaan, you are somethin else. But if you’re God why you sittin on a barrel? Why you got no throne?”
God’s eyes twinkle. “Thrones are for those who would elevate themselves above the people. Thrones are for those who would make religions, religions I didn’t ask for, and seek to divide one another. Thrones are for those who wish to control my people. Somebody once said that you should not look down on people who look up to you.”
“Hey, man, I said that,” Ali says, his eyes wide.
God smiles. “I know you did. You were a good man Muhammad, and that is why you are here. But now, I have somebody who has been waiting a while to meet with you. Gabriel will take you to see him and when you are done I want to talk with you some more.”
Ali frowns. “What do you want to talk about?”
God sits back down on his barrel. “Well Muhammad, there is the matter of you telling everybody that you are the Greatest. Something we need to discuss.”
Before Ali has time to open his mouth to respond, God winks at him and then beckons to Gabriel. Gabriel takes Ali from the room, along a short walkway that straddles the clouds and stops by a door. He steps back and looks at Ali.
“You go in by yourself. I will be back.” In an eye blink Gabriel disappears. Ali hesitates, a moment’s apprehension furrowing his brow and then he opens the door.
“Hey ma man. You made it.”
A familiar voice and then recognition.
“Joe Frazier! Joe Frazier! What you doin here?”
Joe grabs Ali in a bear hug. “Good to see ya, pretty boy. You lookin good.”
Ali hugs Joe and then stands back. “Yeah, but I always looked good Joe. Why you surprised? And, anyway how come you in this place?"
"Man, they let me in, just like you. No reason why I cain’t be here. I was a good man too you know. I ain’t never done nuthin wrong. I got a right to be here.”
Ali smiles and gives Joe a wide eyed stare. “I know that. You a warrior and a good man Joe, I know it. But I’m still wondrin. With all them good singers out there, how come they let YOU in? You cain’t have passed no audition.”
Joe grins. “Don’t you worry about that ma man. I’m teachin them dudes out there some kick ass blues. They gonna be gettin rid of them fancy harps and gettin down and dirty real soon.”
“You still agitatin, Joe? You cain’t do no agitatin up here. You get your behind kicked, you do that.”
“Ain’t nobody gonna kick Joe Frazier’s behind. Ah bin workin out up here for five years. Bin hitting the heavy bag three times a week, know what I’m sayin?"
“Five years? Five years! Man, you give me six weeks and I’ll whup your ass like I’m your daddy. I’m back and I’m comin to get ma titles."
“Bring it on pretty boy. I’m smokin.”
“And, I'll be pourin water on your smokin.” Ali does a lightening quick shuffle and throws two playful left jabs that fly past Joe’s head. Joe drops into a crouch hands high and bobs and weaves towards Ali. The two of them then burst into a fit of giggles.
“We sure had some wars, ma man,” Joe says.
“Yeah, hardest fights I ever had. That fight with big bad George was a walk in the park compared to you. You one baaaaad man.” Ali grins, his eyes dancing at the memories. Then he looks serious. “Hey, Joe... is that big ugly bear, Sonny Liston, up here too?”
“Sure he is. Yeah, Sonny’s here but he layin low a while when he heard you were comin.”
“Yeah, he ain’t got no beef with you but he thinks you one crazy kid.”
“Yeah, man. I remember that. I sure got that chump worried back in the day. He didn’t know what was comin for him.”.
“Well when he knew you was on your way he said he was gonna give you some space, ya know. He said he’d let you get settled. He done want none of your crazy poems the minute you get here. He don’t even wanna hear me singin.”
Ali laughs. “That sucka ain’t as dumb as he looks.”
“Hey kid. How you doin?” A voice from behind makes Ali swivel round.
“Angie! Angie. Hey man good to see you.” Ali embraces Angelo Dundee. “I got you back in my corner Angie?”
“Sure thing kid. Don’t you doubt it.”
Ali points at Joe Frazier. “Hey Angie, Joe here’s agitatin again. Thinks he can whup me.” He turns to Joe. “You know what Joe. You think you can whup me? You gonna need to get some of them wings that these angel dudes are all wearin if you gonna get even close to me. Ah got all my speed back, all ma reflexes, ma fast hands. Ah cain’t be beat. And I don't need no wings. I already float like a butterfly. I cain’t possibly be beat. And you know somethin Joe, even you do get them wings, you only gonna get close to ma shadow and then you out sucka... in seven rounds. And talkin of poems, I got a new one just for you.”
'Joe Frazier talks the fight and sometimes he even sings
But to get close to Ali, he gonna need some wings.
Ali throws a jab and then he throws a right
And Joe starts a wondrin, why he picked this fight.
The Garden and Manila and now they fight in Heaven
But Ali takes the title and ends it in round seven.'”
Joe grins. “Keep dreamin pretty boy. Sonny was right layin low. Don’t you ever stop talkin?”
Ali laughs and slaps Joe on the shoulder. “You know I’m only teasin. Just hype man. Just selling the fight.”
“You won’t need to sell no fight up here, kid,” Angelo says. “You don’t need that baloney. All them angels will show up no problem. They need a break from that fancy harp playin all day. And they’ll come see you two get it on. Like I always told you. Styles make fights …an you two got the style."
Ali stares at Angelo. “Talkin of angels Angelo, why are all these angels white? Don’t they have no black angels, no brown angels up here?”
“Sure they do kid. Everybody... all races, all religions. Everybody’s here. It’s just that the white angels like playing them harp things so they get put on welcome dooties. God’s a bit of a traditionalist. Yeah, but you find your way around and everybody’s here, And, let me tell you, there’s a whole bunch of Viet Cong angels lining up a big party in your honour next week.”
Ali grins and nods at Joe Frazier. “Hey Joe. You hear Angelo? We got a party to go to next week man. Tell that Sonny Liston to get his best threads ready cos I want him there too. We got some making up to do.”
Angelo grabs Ali by the arm. “Kid, come with me. I got some people wanna see you. They wanna welcome the Greatest of All Times.”
“Yeah, Dempsey, Johnson, the Rock, Louis, Sugar Ray, Tunney, Willard, Primo........”