It was Tuesday the 14th of May. I know that for sure because I wrote it on the calendar. I’m not very good at remembering dates so I wrote it down. I knew that one day somebody would ask me, when did you meet the angel?
I knew somebody would ask that, the same way that I knew it was an angel. That’s another question people always ask, how did you know it was an angel? I just knew.
When I woke up that morning it was as if the sun was shining right into my bedroom, directly onto my face. At first I thought I must have forgotten to draw the curtains before I went to bed. But I always close the curtains. I don’t like the dark creeping in on me. The curtains in the bedroom are deep red velvet. The lady in the shop called them cochineal. Before I bought them, I held them up to the fluorescent light. They keep out all the dark.
But this morning, this Tuesday in May, the room was full of light, a warm, gentle light. I wasn’t frightened. I knew the man sitting at the end of my bed had to be an angel. He wasn’t a fierce sort of angel, although he looked as though he could be. He had very strong cheekbones and deep-set eyes, the colour of the writing on Mothercare bags. His hair was black – Labrador puppy black. And it was a bit straggly.
He was smiling at me, a wide lovely smile. I couldn’t help smiling back.
I said, “You’re an angel aren’t you?”
“I can’t see your wings,” I said.
“That’s because they’re folded up.” He turned round and showed me. They fitted neatly together like the wings of a butterfly that had just come out of a chrysalis.
“Can I fly with you?” I asked.
“Maybe,” he said.
For a long time we just sat and looked at each other and smiled. At last I said, “Do you want something? Do you want a cup of tea or some toast?”
He said, “No, but I’d like to go for a walk.”
So we went to the park. I don’t know what time it was but it must have been early. The grass was dew-wet on my bare feet and there was no-one else around. Except for one old man sleeping on a bench. We crept past him so as not to wake him up. We went as far as the lake, not talking much, just smiling at each other, and watched the ducks.
The sun was rising higher in the sky. I said, “Have you been there?”
“Where? To the sun? No,” the angel said, “it’s much too hot. You wouldn’t want to go there. You’d burn.”
We watched a mother duck lead her babies into the water. There was one that was smaller than the rest and he was struggling to keep up. He was making a strange little squeaking sound, more like a mouse than a duckling. “Listen to him,” I said.
But then I began to hurt. I said, “Something hurts, it hurts here.” I held my hand to my belly. The angel picked me up, and ran. As he ran, his wings unfolded and carried us up above the houses.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “I feel safe in your arms.” I did. They were strong, sturdy arms, covered in soft dark hairs. I drew patterns with my finger in the hairs and rested my head on his shoulder.
When we got home he lay me down gently on my bed. I was tired. I hadn’t been up long but I was very tired and I ached.
He said, “Go to sleep now.”
I said, “Will you be here when I wake up?”
He nodded and stroked my head.
I must have slept for a long time because when I woke I wasn’t in my bed. I wasn’t even in my own bedroom. I was in a small square room, with high walls the colour of wild primroses. There was one window in the room, a long thin window; and through it I could see another just the same, with the same rusty-white paint peeling off the metal frame. The sun must have gone behind the clouds because the air outside was grey.
I looked around the room. There was a small sink and mirror on the wall opposite the bed. The angel was sitting in the only chair. When he saw that I was awake, he stood up and smiled.
“Where am I?” I said.
“You’re in the best place,” he said.
It didn’t look like the best. The chair he had been sitting on was fraying round the edges. There was an old bruised-red stain in the middle of the seat. The material was paler around the edge of the stain as if someone had tried to scrub it clean.
“It’s the shape of Africa,” I said.
He followed my eyes, “Yes, you’re right, it is.”
“It still hurts,” I said.
“I expect it does,” the angel said, “but it won’t last for ever.”
“How do you know?” I said.
“Because I’ve seen it before.”
“Will it be all right when it stops hurting?”
He looked sad and began to speak but the door of the room opened and he stopped.
“Ah, you’re awake.”
The two women who had come in weren’t at all alike. One was young with blonde unruly hair that peeped out at all angles from under her cap; the other was older and she had her hair tied back tightly in a bun, like a schoolmarm in a story.
“Let’s see what’s happening, shall we?” the schoolmarm said.
The young one moved the chair to beside my bed and sat down. She took my hand and smiled at me. “It’s going to be all right,” she said.
“What is?” I said.
She just kept on smiling. I looked from her face to that of the angel. He was standing behind her watching me, not smiling.
The schoolmarm lifted back the sheet. She said, “Hold your legs up a minute,” and she slid something underneath me. Then she put up a shield. When I tell people that, they say, ‘a shield? You mean a screen?’ They don’t understand. She didn’t want to look at my face. I looked at the blank white shield for a minute then I turned away. The young one patted my hand and kept smiling.
The angel said, “Don’t worry; I’ll be here, just over here.” He went and stood at the end of the bed behind the schoolmarm. As I watched him move, I caught a glimpse of the older woman’s face. She was frowning; her lips forming words, “It’s already coming away. It’s half out.”
I turned away and gripped the hand holding mine; it squeezed my fingers in return. I wanted to look at the angel but I didn’t want to see the woman at my feet so I stared at the young one. She had stopped smiling. She glanced towards her companion, then leaned and peered over the shield. Her face wrinkled and she bit the corner of her bottom lip. I wanted to say, “It’s all right, don’t worry,” but the words wouldn’t come out.
It was over. No time at all. The pain in my belly had gone. The woman took down her shield and pulled the sheets back into position. She tucked them in neatly. I looked beyond her direction. The angel’s head was bent over. He held something to his heart.
I said, “Is it all right?” He lifted his head. There were tears on his cheeks. He nodded.
The schoolmarm said, “Yes, everything’s fine now. Don’t worry. It’s all over. There’ll be other times, other chances.
I said, “I don’t want another chance, I want this time again.”
“Chin up,” she said, “someone will be around soon with dinner, I expect you’re hungry.”
“I’m empty,” I said.
“There you are then, soon be good as new,” she said.
The young one pushed back the chair. She was smiling again. “I’ll ask someone to bring you a cup of tea, shall I?” Then they were gone.
And it was just the angel, my baby and me.
The angel said, “I have to go now, will you be all right?”
“You know I will,” I said. I turned over so he wouldn’t see me cry. “You’ll take good care of my baby, won’t you?”
The clouds parted long enough to let a ray of light into the room. It was refracted off the mirror onto the bed. A fragment of rainbow lay just out of reach.