Here it is. My first short story of the year. Please don’t judge, my creative writing is very, very raw right now. I need to shake off all the negative feelings I have towards writing, because copywriting is a big part of my day job, and find my groove again somehow.
It will happen.
Step by step.
(Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction, not my actual views on life and religion)
I sit on a camel-coloured wingback chair, legs crossed. For the past twenty minutes, between hopeful glances out the window, I have been half-heartedly flicking through an out-of-date architecture magazine of my wife’s. Now, when I look up I notice rain softly pattering against the glass and that it seems darker out there than it should be at 4.45pm.
He’s always 15-20 minutes late, but even though I’ve come to expect it I can’t stop myself from waiting like this, every Thursday afternoon.
… 4.47. I feel a mild panic slide its way up my chest. We meet up for a drink at this time every week. We have for the past few months since I retired, and even before then. Nothing could happen to make Him not come. Could it?
As I turn a few pages of the magazine and try to engross myself in a feature piece about decorative cornices, I notice a pale glow at the peripheral of my vision.
And then I remember. This also happens every week. Just when I start to think He won’t come, He arrives.
I look up expectantly and am rewarded with a friendly wink before He turns to close the gate and walk up the path to the front door.
Knees creaking and back straining, I rise out of the chair, slap the magazine onto the glass coffee table and move to open it for Him.
He’s beaming at me.
“How are you, old fella?”
We embrace, tightly, and it’s like we haven’t seen each other for years even though it was only last week.
“Can you really call me that?” I ask, “I mean you’re as old as time itself.”
“Hey,” He shrugs, “I didn’t invent time. But I did build aging into humans.”
“Haha… okay.” I start to reach for the coat stand. “Let me just get my hat and coat –“
“Actually…” He interrupts, taking an unexpected step forward into my house, “I was wondering if you’d like to sit in today, considering the weather is, well…” He gestures to the dark rainy afternoon sky, “… average?”
For the first time, I notice that He’s been holding a whisky bottle in his gloved left hand. He holds it up suggestively, and my surprise is hard to hide.
“Oh! Yes, that sounds perfect.”
And so I find myself taking a few steps backwards, waving my arm invitingly towards our front sitting room as God wipes His feet on the doormat.
He settles into an armchair while I obtain two glasses and a carafe of water from the kitchen.
“It’s nice in here,” he comments.
“We like it,” I reply, placing the glasses carefully onto the coffee table. “We’re very blessed, I suppose. Sarah’s the one who really puts the effort in. With the furniture and everything.”
I wonder if I’ve said something wrong, talking about material things like that. Then again, He’s the one that brought it up.
“How is Sarah?” He asks.
“She’s great.” I nod with a proud smile. “She loves her work. Even though she doesn’t really have to do it anymore. Making beautiful things is just what she does.”
“I certainly know the feeling,” He says, with a wink. “And how about you? What are you doing with your time?”
“Well,” I hesitate for a moment. “I miss my work, but I’m also happy to just be living simply now. Gardening. Reading…”
I retired from angelic service almost a year ago. We call it ‘hanging up our wings’. It’s a joke, really. Angels don’t have wings. In fact, most human interpretations of angels are way off the mark. We don’t fly, we don’t shine light, we don’t have haloes. We just look like, live, breathe and walk around like humans. Except we also commune directly with God regularly and carry out His work. It would take a long time to outline what exactly that means, but basically we’re given responsibilities and circumstances in order to be able to help people.
That is, I did do those things until I hung up my wings. It can get exhausting, especially after a few hundred years. So, eventually we’re given an option to just become human. There’s something lovely and simple about just being human. And since I worked for Him for so long, we still catch up like this every week as friends.
“I still do try and meet people and talk with them often,” I continue. “I just can’t help myself. They’re so interesting.”
At this, His face drops a little. He swirls his full glass of whisky around a bit before taking a long sip. I self-consciously take a small sip of my watered down whisky too. I can’t very well let myself lose my wits around Him can I?
“I miss that,” He finally admits.
“You don’t talk with humans anymore?”
“I haven’t spoken with a human in over 1500 years.”
This comes as a shock, and I struggle not to cough up my drink. I end up clearing my throat for about a minute.
“I didn’t know that,” I finally manage.
He seems upset, so I decide to change the topic.
“Do you remember that man you told me about… it must have been about 4 or 5 years ago? He was a hotshot accountant at a firm on Collins Street. Utterly miserable. His wife and kid left him, he drank too much. He was thinking about throwing himself in front of a train. He thought about it every day.”
“I remember them all.”
“Of course. Well, you probably know this I suppose, but humour me. I saw him the other day. You know what he’s doing now? He scoops ice cream for a living! I saw him at a gelataria in Richmond. And you know what? He loves it! Absolutely satisfied. He’s in better shape and he seems to love bringing joy to other people.” I’m shaking my head from side to side, amazed. “Ice cream. Who would have thought?”
He’s smiling now and staring into the depths of His drink.
“If I hadn’t been there with him… If I hadn’t met him at the bar, bought him too many drinks, he wouldn’t have been in a fight, ended up at prison, lost his job and been forced to see the value of his life. If it hadn’t happened, he would have been going down the same path and, well, I suppose you know what would’ve happened.”
He winces and nods again. We spend a few moments in silence, drinking and watching the rain.
“You were always good at understanding how bad circumstances could bless a person. Some angels struggle with that a lot,” He says.
“It was hard to learn,” I reply. “But I always figured you know what you’re doing.”
Something dark comes over Him then and He laughs, but not in a nice way.
“Well that’s not something I hear too often.”
His whisky swishes around in His glass as He tilts it back and forth. I know He wants to say more. And then He looks up at me, something like desperation in His eyes.
“They hate me.”
“What?” I gulp, uncomfortable about what’s coming next. “Who hates you?”
“People. They hate me,” He repeats.
What do you say to that? I never thought about this before. But of course He has feelings. Otherwise, where would our feelings come from? He’s just never said anything out loud like this before. It has never sounded so personal.
“That’s why I don’t speak to humans anymore. Because they hate me, even without knowing me they hate me. So it’s easier to keep myself anonymous.”
I nod silently.
“It’s rising, you know. Their hatred. They are so full of anger and spite. Aimed at me. Not all of them, of course. But the angry and lost people far outweigh the others now.”
Maybe it’s not my place, but I say it anyway:
“They need you.”
A spark of irritation ignites in His eyes.
“They have me and they don’t even realise it.”
“So…” I hesitate for a second. “What would happen if you spoke to them again? Do you think if they heard from you directly, things would be different?”
His expression softens a little as He contemplates this. He leans back in His chair and takes another sip. Then, He looks straight at me and shrugs.
There it is. Just like that. I feel like laughing it seems so ridiculous. He senses my thoughts and laughs Himself.
“I know,” He says. “The Creator of the world, too shy to talk to the people He brought to life. But, see, the more they experience pain and suffering, the more they direct their hate to me and the more embarrassed I am. They look to me. They all look to me at some point whether they believe or not. They want to believe, but I disappoint them. I’m embarrassed that… I can’t find another way.”
I nod in agreement.
“This is the way things need to be,” I affirm.
“That’s right. I’ve looked at it from every angle. I’ve seen every possible ending, and this is what needs to happen.”
I pick up the whisky bottle and pour myself a little more. He accepts a refill gladly too.
“Still,” I say with a subtle accidental slur, hoping it was just a slip of the tongue and not the whisky, “there was something simpler about the old days, when you spoke with humans yourself, right? So many couldn’t have done what they did without hearing from you, yourself.”
“Times have changed,” He says with a sigh. “I knew it would come to this. People have grown resistant. More sceptical. They’ve built themselves a world that they think fulfils all their desires and needs. They think they can do just fine without me.”
“And, can they?”
“What do you think?” He replies.
Three days later, on a somewhat uncomfortable 27-degree day, I can feel the white-hot sun boring into the skin on my neck as I make my way for the train station. I’m later than I said I’d be. Sarah is doing some light work from home and, because it’s a Sunday and I’m an avid believer in the Rest Day, I promised to cook her a lunch so beautiful, she wouldn’t think about work for the rest of the day.
I realise as I approach the gelataria that he’s in there. The man I’ve been thinking a bit about recently. I slow down and watch him grin his infectious grin and hand a scoop of old English toffee over to a customer.
For a moment, I consider a refreshing lemon sorbet.
But no, I’m already late. I start to walk off again.
Then, I see Him.
He’s the customer.
As He reaches out to receive the ice cream, He clutches the man’s wrist for a long, meaningful moment. The man nods, smiles and says something back to Him. They both burst into laughter and He lets go of His grip.
He waves goodbye, scoops some ice cream into His mouth, and doesn’t look at me as He steps out of the store.
But, He knows I’m there.
He always knows.