The Angel That Fell To Earth

The Angel That Fell To Earth

There is no greater ignominy for an angel in his blissful orbit than to lose his bearings, flying too close to earth, his wings unable to bear the turbulence from the clutter below, and get sucked into the maelstrom. This is what happened to Philo; broken and scared, his nakedness covered only by a discarded overcoat, he was discovered sitting forlornly on a wooden bench in a commuter train kiosk by Gabriel, a writer who believed in angels. In this busy city of so many people rushing here and there with callous disregard, Philo had the great fortune of being rescued by the one person who cared, and even though Gabriel was a believer in angels, he approached Philo with caution because he couldn’t be sure if Philo believed in him. Gabriel and Philo would become faithful friends.

Gabriel, who had entered the kiosk to wait for the commuter train that would take him across town for a book signing, could tell right away that Philo was in distress. His book signing could wait, and he called his agent to inform him that he would have to cancel. His agent was enraged, screaming over the phone that it was essential that Gabriel be there; the agent was expecting a large turnout, and Gabriel just couldn’t afford to lose out on this kind of opportunity. Gabriel sighed, and told his agent that he was sure that there’d be other opportunities in the future, he just needed to have faith. “Besides,” Gabriel told his agent, “nothing is essential.”

He hung up, and turned to Philo. Even in the heat and humidity, Philo, shivering, shrank in to the corner of the kiosk. Gabriel sat down beside Philo, taking his hand, explaining to him that he was here to help him, not to cause him any harm. His apartment was only a couple of blocks away, Gabriel told Philo. Once there, Gabriel would find clothes to cover Philo’s nakedness. Gabriel explained to Philo that it just wouldn’t do for him to walk around with his wings exposed. “Most people don’t believe in angels,” Gabriel told Philo. “Why is that?” Philo asked. “It’s hard to say,” Gabriel said. “Maybe they want to, but they just have no imagination. It probably isn’t their fault.” In any case, Gabriel tried to explain, they would look at Philo as a freak, simply because they didn’t understand.

Gabriel took Philo by the hand and they walked the two blocks back to his apartment. Along the way, Philo noticed the strange looks he and Gabriel received from all the passersby. He felt exposed and alone. Gabriel squeezed his hand to reassure Philo that everything would be all right, once they reached his apartment. Even in the hot sunlight, Philo continued to shiver. Gabriel guessed that this was a manifestation of the fear brought on by an exposure to a strange place and strange creatures. In his past, Gabriel had had the good fortune of encountering one other angel, an old angel who had lost most of his hair, and whose futile wings were stuck in the mud of three days of relentless rain that had fallen on the village. On that occasion, Gabriel knew little about the comings and goings of angels, and the old angel hadn’t shared anything with Gabriel to enlighten him. Gabriel from that time until now had thought that all angels must be recalcitrant, but Philo seemed different, he seemed in so many ways vulnerable and helpless. It would take a great deal of care and comfort to revive Philo’s spirit so that he’d be able to leave.

They rode the elevator up to the sixth floor to Gabriel’s apartment; Gabriel smiled under the thought of how strange it was for an angel, with his splendid wings, to be reduced to riding up in an elevator. Inside the apartment, Gabriel went about laying out clothes for Philo; he knew that Philo needed to find solace in conformity now because he was so far away from his orbit. Gabriel had his work cut out for him to bring this angel back to his glory, but Gabriel was willing to do whatever it took to restore Philo’s courage and hope.

After heating up the red cabbage and onion soup from yesterday, he sat down at the table with Philo, now dressed in an alpaca sweater, poncho, and Colombian fisherman’s pants. After pouring out two glasses of Chilean wine, Gabriel broke off a piece of hard bread and handed it to Philo. They ate slowly and silently. Gabriel knew that Philo would need to regain his strength. He’d never forget, as a young boy living in the small village on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria Mountains on the Caribbean coast, watching the old angel stuck in the mud of three days of heavy rain, and how forlorn he looked, trapped in his own weakness, and with what superhuman effort the angel willed his wings to flap, at first unable to gain any altitude, his fingernails digging a furrow in the wet ground behind him, but with sheer will power, flapping with more and more fury, he finally took to flight, passing over the last houses, becoming a dot on the horizon of the sea. Gabriel remembered this with excitement, and in his heart he knew that he would be able to help Philo, but it would take both of them working together to restore the strength that Philo would need to once again take to flight. Gabriel knew that this city seemed very strange and frightening to Philo, but he would encourage Philo to stay focused on returning to his celestial orbit. Sitting back, sipping the good Chilean wine, he watched Philo thoughtfully, encouraging him to eat the hot soup and hard bread. He refilled his glass and pushed Philo’s glass towards him, encouraging him to drink. “It is good wine, my friend,” he said, smiling. “I find comfort in wine.” Philo returned Gabriel’s smile; he knew that this was a good man, and he appreciated his friendship. With friends such as this, nothing needed to be said, but, still, he rejoiced in Gabriel’s deep, soft voice.

“Why do you help me?” Philo asked Gabriel.

“That is easy,” he said. “You are an angel. One day, I will need the help of an angel.”

“But I won’t be able to help you,” Philo said. “I am a novice.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Gabriel replied. “These things have a way of working out.”

“Do you understand the rhythm of the world?” Philo asked Gabriel.

“Most likely not, but I feel a balance in my heart, when I allow myself this freedom,” Gabriel told Philo. “I believe in my own harmony, and with this I find balance. I’m often knocked off balance, but I believe that what I think I become, so I’m always able to think myself back to equilibrium.”

“When the time comes, you will have no problem finding the assistance you seek,” Philo assured Gabriel.

Gabriel continued to sip his wine, staring thoughtfully at Philo. He knew now that Philo would be OK, it would only take a little more time. Philo ate heartily of the soup and bread, and Gabriel was relieved to see that he no longer shivered. His strength was returning to him. Gabriel knew so little about angels, but he sensed that Philo’s strength came from his faith, the more faith he gained in the freedom of his own wings, the stronger he became, and the higher he would be able to fly. It made sense to him, but he allowed for the possibility that he might be wrong because he knew so little about angels. Oftentimes, he thought, we only see our own reality.

Philo stayed with Gabriel for three more days, each day regaining more strength. Gabriel left Philo’s side only when Philo slept, which he did sparingly. One day after Philo had awoke from sleep, Philo came to Gabriel. “I will be leaving soon, but I need to ask one more favor of you,” he said to Gabriel.

“Of course, you can ask anything,” Gabriel told Philo. “I only hope I am worthy of fulfilling your request.”

“It is a simple request,” Philo said. “I have lived with you for three days, I’ve enjoyed your hospitality, eaten your food, drank your wine, enjoyed your conversation, and during these three days, I’ve continued to gain strength in my wings, and now it is time for me to leave, but I have to be sure that I will be able to gain the altitude that I will need in order to escape the clutches of earth. You have been a good friend, asking nothing of me. I have been the recipient of your kindness and faith, for which I am forever grateful, but I find it necessary to ask one more thing of you: I have to get to the sea.”

“We can do this,” Gabriel told Philo. “By bus, it should be less than a day’s travel.”

“It is only over the sea that I will find the uplift that I need to gain altitude,” Philo explained.

“The current of expression over the sea is always uplifting,” Gabriel agreed. Philo felt a warm kindness in this man, and wondered why so many human beings suffered from nasty dispositions. It was just as easy to be kind, he thought. Why did so many people persist in their selfishness?

Early the next morning, Gabriel and Philo were on a bus to Nevamar, a small village on the Caribbean Sea where Gabriel had lived in his youth. He felt it was important, whenever he could, to revisit his youth. He’d never reconciled his youth fading so quickly and permanently, leaving only the stain of memories, but Philo had restored in him the urge to revisit the places of his youth. Angels live without time, Gabriel now understood, and in the uncertainty of having ever lived at all, both hope and despair exist. He hoped for Philo now that he would understand that blissful flight is more endurable than rooting about in the ugly clutter of earth. Gabriel had gained something very valuable from Philo: his freedom from his old age; he existed outside of time, too, once he’d acquired the belief in angels.

As the rattletrap bus made its way uncertainly and warily over the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria Mountains, threatening ruin and havoc at every turn, Gabriel looked far out to the Caribbean Sea and saw the heavy, threatening cloud bank, and his heart sank because he knew the torrential rains of the season were coming; they needed to act in haste now because the torrent was a threat to Philo. In his heart, Gabriel suffered for Philo, but he’d resolved to see Philo returned to his glory, remembering back to the old and desolate angel he’d seen in his youth, enclosed inside the high fence built by the owners of the property upon which he’d fallen in order to charge an admission to the endless line of people who wished to gawk at the captured angel. It was true that Philo was an oddity, but he didn’t deserve the same fate as the old angel of Gabriel’s youth.

The bus stopped in the main square of the small village and Gabriel, with haste and determination, led Philo through the square and out to the road that led to the sea, the road that Gabriel had traveled so often in his youth. Gabriel led Philo to the promontory overlooking the agitated sea; Gabriel believed that this would be the best location for a successful launch. The impending storm threatened Philo, but he was unafraid; he didn’t belong here, and when one feels out of place, nothing will discourage his voyage. Philo removed his alpaca sweater, poncho, and Colombian fisherman’s pants, spreading his wings, flapping them with a rare courage. Gabriel stepped forward, the pile of clothes at his feet. Nothing more needed to be said. Overcome by a deep sadness, Gabriel knew that he’d never see Philo again, but he was ardent in his desire to watch the last earthly flight of this strange and splendid angel as he launched himself from the precipice overlooking the vast sea, gaining altitude to clear the oncoming storm, flying farther and farther away from the coral coast of his youth, slowly disappearing from sight as if he’d only ever existed in his dreams, until he was no longer even a dot on the horizon of the sea.

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