It was during the break in the rainy season when he arrived in our village. I had just woken up, and was contemplating whether I should start preparing to sweep the backyard to clear the debris the monsoon had left behind. Mama had already left the house to go the market. I was alone in the house. I was basking in the calm after the storm; birds were already flying from tree to tree, their songs breaking the stillness of the morning air. The world had a fresh, clean smell about it: it was as if Mother Nature employed storms to help in cleaning up the world.
It was when Nunzio called out to me across the bamboo fence that separated our houses. “Tybalt, come quick! An angel has fallen in Pelayo’s backyard. ” As Nunzio is a bit excitable, and more often than not, inaccurate, I paid him no heed. He might be talking about one of the characters in the carnival that is coming to town soon. After all, it is carnival season. I want to see what this new carnival has, but I am still too lazy. Mama says in the morning, I am like a crocodile lying under the sun: I do not get excited easily. However, Nunzio is persistent.
He continues to call me, telling me about the angel the other people are going to see, that I manage to get myself out of bed to give him a telling-off about the racket he is making. When I reach our fence, he babbles excitedly about the angel, when it arrived, and why it came. I listen, still half-asleep. “Salvina was asked for advice by Pelayo on what it was. He and Elisenda thought it was a lost sailor at first because of its coarse language. They could not understand the angel. Salvina proclaimed that it was an angel, and it might have come for their ill child, but it was too old to fly away, because of the rains.
It fell into the mud, and unable to free itself, got stuck. ” I have not seen an angel, not even a picture. They only taught us words in catechism school. But I knew that angels are fearsome beings, strong, young, handsome. They have resplendent wings and eyes of fire. They wear robes of white and sandals of gold. They carry flaming swords and battle with Satan and his minions. I did not know why Nunzio wanted to see such a creature. He was never a pious student; Sister Maria was always pinching his ears for always being late and having all sorts of things in his pockets.
He had frog spawn which he said will turn into red frogs someday because he fed them red gumamela. Purple mushrooms. Dried polka-dotted tails of lizards. He collected bizarre things, then experimented on them. I decided to come along, and see what this creature really is. When we arrived at Pelayo’s place, a crowd is beginning to form. Almost a quarter of the town is already there, and more are still arriving. They were starting to throw pieces of food at him. We had to squeeze ourselves to fit in spaces between the people.
By doing this, we were able to get a clear view of the angel. He was inside a chicken coop. The hens were still inside, and some were pecking at him. He looked very much like a big bald chicken: he was bald save for a few strands of hair on his head, had wings in such a sorry state, the hens’ wings are in better condition than his; his wings are still muddied; clumps of dry soil stuck to them. The pair had its feathers disarrayed, some feathers going in every direction. His feet were dirty, almost black were dirt was stuck in them. He had a withered look about him.
He was lying there, among the hens’ feathers and dung, very much unlike the pictures in my head when I try to imagine what angels look like. He looked more like my grandfather strapped to a pair of wings, except I could not see the straps attaching the wings to his body. He is no more an angel than I am God. Instead, I watched the people throwing food at him, like he was some animal in a zoo. He barely acknowledged us, not even to look in the direction the food was coming from. He seemed to be preparing for a long time inside the coop; he was trying to settle in with the hens.
The hens were almost motherly, picking off parasites from his back. By then, I was growing tired of the spectacle. I have not brought my breakfast with me, unlike the people who were throwing theirs at the fellow inside the chicken coop. I was hungry. But Nunzio seemed not to be in the mood to go yet. He was looking for small pieces of rock to throw at him so he would react. “Nunzio, let’s go. I have not had breakfast yet, and I still have to sweep the yard,” I told him. “I want to see what happens when I throw rocks at him,” he replied.
Nunzio So I helped him pick rocks up. My hands are almost full, when I saw an almost round smooth stone near the coop, so I stooped to pick it up. Just then, the winged old man looked up. His eyes were so light in color, they seemed white. But there were still traces of blue in them. I saw that they were not of fire; looking into them was like trying to see a ghost in a fog. Around us, they were talking about what we ought to do with him. The fool Bastian wanted to make him mayor of the world. Old man Cipriano wanted to make him a general.
Rosa the dreamer wanted to make him a stud, just like an animal. Around his eyes, there were numerous lines, criss-crossing each other. Some were hairline-thin, while others formed deep paths, like a canal for tears and sweat. Shame and rage washed over me like waves of the ocean. This is not an angel, I steadfastly thought. For angels are God’s defenders. How can God allow one of his defenders to lie here, in indignity with no flaming sword? How can He allow his most beloved creation to treat His defender this way? He is not an angel, but he is not a thing to be ridiculed also.
I turned around to drop the rocks, and saw my townsfolk: they looked like wolves fighting over a strip of meat. Their eyes were small, vicious slits full of malice as they laughed at the activity of feeding the creature. Their mouths were wide, cavernous holes, their sharp teeth gleaming. As I turned to walk away, frightened, Father Gonzaga walked towards us. I tried to talk to him about the prisoner, about the wolves, but he seemed deep in thought, his catechism in hand. I walked away and never looked back. The townsfolk kept on visiting the creature everyday.
Soon, Elisenda started charging everyone an entrance fee. Five cents for a view of a sad, neglected creature inside a chicken coop. Elisenda and Pelayo grew rich. In the end though, they also left him. A new carnival came, with a new attraction: a gigantic spider with a head of a woman. They flocked to her instead. They had grown tired of the creature, not being able do any of the abilities angels supposedly possessed: to heal, to inspire awe and courage, to fly. We left him the way the heavens deserted him. Years later, the old man flew away. He flapped his wings and ascended into the air. He