Angel was, at first sight, a normal child.
The day he was born had been warm, the sunlight coming through the window making the smile on his mother Serena’s face seem even brighter. She had spent months worrying about this moment for she had a lot to worry about. She was very young and she would have to leave school for a while. But all her anguish disappeared when Angel looked at her with his shiny, dark eyes. His father was there too, but now he was not, so they don’t talk about him anymore.
Angel didn’t have a name back then, his parents thought they would know the moment they saw him. He didn’t look like anything in particular yet, he just looked like a regular baby, so they decided to wait a little. See what happened. The birds seemed to know something would happen, because despite the beauty of the day and their usual chirpiness they had stopped singing. They had been too busy watching.
A few weeks passed and Angel started to develop a strange characteristic. Right in the middle of his shoulder blades, wings began to grow. Serena, who had always believed that there were even more peculiar things out there, decided that “Angel” was the only appropriate name. But his wings looked nothing like the wings of an angel, at least not the ones he has seen in paintings and statues. They were thin and frail and had a murky gray color and were not even big enough to cover his entire back. Angel once joked that they should’ve called him Pigeon. His mother lightly smacked him with the wooden spoon she was holding on the back of his head and told him not to speak that low of himself. Angel was not trying to put himself down, though. He thought pigeons were gentle, smart, and beautiful, even when most people thought of them only as unsanitary.
Ten years had passed since the day Angel was born and two years since his grandparents had passed and it was only him and his mother now. Angel asked about his father once, when he was old enough to notice the absence in his family. His mother scoffed, turned to him and said “It was you who grew the wings, but it was your father who flew away.”
He never asked about him again.
Serena was smart. Very smart. But like most people, she didn’t always make the best decisions. One of those decisions has a name that is not mentioned anymore and an unknown address. But perhaps that is one of the only choices that she cannot be blamed for, because in the end it wasn’t really her choice. Angel’s father had left at his own accord. She had made the vow of loving him unconditionally, and one cannot be blamed for not knowing that someone didn’t intend to do the same.
Because of his Serena’s reluctance to talk about him and Angel’s eventual loss of interest, there were many things he didn’t know about his father. He knew that he had gone to high school with his mom and he knew what he looked like because of the picture he had found a long time ago stored under his mother’s bed. But he didn’t know why he had left. He didn’t
know that unlike his mom, who had learned to see his wings as something beautiful and unique, his father only saw something unnatural and disturbing. He didn’t know that he had gotten up in the middle of the night and left without a trace while his side of the bed was still warm. But he knew that they didn’t need him and that he clearly didn’t or wanted them, so for him, that was enough information.
Being an introverted child, he liked to spend most of his time alone, and to his mother’s comfort, almost never went outside. His few interactions with the outside world included occasional trips to help his mother run errands and rare visits to the local park where he spent more time with the flowers than with other kids, always with his wings hidden under his shirt and jacket. He stopped going to the park when another particularly rude kid pushed him of the seesaw. He had a tendency of thinking that he had provoked this type of behaviour from other people, even when he had nothing to do with it, and decided that if would be better to avoid all interactions with strangers altogether rather than risking being mistreated again.
Tonight, like most nights, you could find him lying in the roof of his house with his wings coming out from the holes on his shirt and spreading open under him. He was looking at the stars trying to find some of the constellations he saw in the book his mother brought him from the library. But he kept getting distracted thinking about what she had said about stars. She told him that even though they looked like were close together, they were millions of light years
apart from the Earth and from one another. He wondered if people were the same. It would make sense, he thought, why he felt so alone.
Orion. Alone. Ursa Major. Alone. Leo. Alone.
His mother yelled at him from the ground snapping him out of his thoughts.
“Angel, if you fall I swear to God…” Serena said.
“Don’t worry mama! I can just fly down,” he interrupting her and flapping his wings.
“Well, I’m not going to pick you off the floor this time.”
She was referring to an accident that had occurred a few years back. Angel had been curious about what his wings could do and decided to test them out. He climbed ten feet to the top of the tree in his backyard and leaped out like a newly born bird discovering the world beyond.
He broke both his arms that day. He never tried to fly again.
He couldn’t help to be disappointed and angry about it. He would have been less bitter about his condition if he at least could fly, but he seemed to be stuck with his useless wings for the rest of his life.
“Very funny,” Angel said, without any humor left in his voice.
His mother’s face softened and she reached to him, putting her arms out for Angel to fall into. “Now go inside and help me set the table…I need to talk to you about something.” Angel knew more about science and literature than most kids his age, but he hadn’t learned to fear the phrase “I need to talk to you”. So, without giving it much thought he went inside with his mother trailing behind him.
Their home was modest to say the least. They lived in Serena’s late parents’ home. It was a small house, but they were a small family so they fit just fine. They didn’t need much furniture so they sold off most of it. The money went to more useful things like books, bills and Serena’s translator certification which she needed so she could work from home. Everything in their
house had a purpose and was well loved. The walls were still the same color they had been when Serena’s parents lived in the house. Serena’s room was still sky blue and Angel’s room was still purple. There weren’t elaborate decorations or vases filled with flowers on every table. Instead, there were papers, magazines, and books everywhere. There was probably not a single spot in the house where you couldn’t reach out and grab something to read or write on. Despite the disorganized nature of the house, it looked like everything was exactly where it was supposed to be.
After eating and cleaning up, Angel’s mother urged him to go sit down again. And while he sat, she paced. She was always moving, walking around the house, her body as restless as her mind.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” Angel asked.
She stayed silent for a beat.
“I enrolled you in at school,” she said, letting all her breath out at once. “You start on Monday.”
A few weeks earlier, when Serena had told Angel that she was going to go do some “boring adult errands” she had actually gone to the public school a few miles away along with all the documentation necessary to enroll him to the upcoming year. The deadline had already passed, but seeing that Angel was a bright kid, they were willing to make an exception. She thought it was better to keep this a secret for now. Again, she not always made the best decisions.
Angel didn’t say anything for a moment, he wasn’t sure he heard right. Then “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I said you start school on Monday,” she repeated, slower this time. “Wh…why didn’t you ask me? Why didn’t you say anything?” he stammered.
“Because I knew that you would look at me with those sad eyes you have and talk me out of it if,” she said trying to justify this to him. Or maybe to herself.
Angel indeed was making those sad eyes, and they were making his mother kind of regret her decision. Not enough to change her mind, though.
“And,” she continued, “I knew that if I told you about it a week ago you would’ve overthought it to insanity.”
He stayed quiet for a moment. He was trying not to make his conflicted emotions too evident.
“But why can’t you just keep teaching me like you always have? Is there a problem?” he asked, trying to make sense of the situation he was now in.
For as long as Angel could remember, his mom had taken care of his education. They had settled into a routine, and he liked that routine. He would wake up in the morning, have breakfast while Serena finished whatever job she had left from the day before and then hit the books together. They would usually try to follow whatever it was kids his age were learning in school, but if there was a topic that Angel really liked or something he saw and wanted to learn about they would spend all the time they wanted learning more about the subject. He once spent three whole months on Greek mythology. He read the myths over and over until the names and stories of the gods were ingrained in his memory. He liked Hermes the most.
His mother sighed and kneeled next to him, looking down as if looking for the right words to say by Angel’s feet. “It’s not that,” she said, “I just don’t think it’s fair. Just because you’re…a little different shouldn’t mean that you don’t get a chance of doing what you want. You probably think that because I’m your mom and because I’m an adult I should know better, but we make mistakes too, sometimes we are just as lost as everyone else. I don’t want this to be one of those mistakes. You shouldn’t stay hidden just because I’m not brave enough to let you out.
Angel nodded, both in agreement and because he didn’t know what else to do.
“And well, wouldn’t you like to meet other kids? Make friends?” she asked. “I have you. You are my friend.” Angel protested.
“You should have more than me. We both need more, don’t you think?”
Angel remained quiet. He had never stopped to think that his mother could be feeling the same things he was. She always looked happy to him, but she was always good at keeping secrets. He looked down at his intertwined hands, he wanted to say yes, he wanted to look at her in the eye and say yes mom, I do want friends. I do think we need more. But he couldn’t help but be afraid, so what he said was “What if the other kids don’t like me? What if they see my wings and think I’m a freak or something?”
“We can’t live in the present making assumptions about the future, don’t you think? And well, I know about your wings and I like you,” she said passing her hand through Angel’s hair.
“But you’re my mom, that’s like…your job,” he said, a little of his desperation leaking out of his mouth.
“You would be surprised at how many mothers don’t like their children.” “I thought that was only the stepmothers.”
“And where did you get that crazy idea from?”
“TV?” he asked, thinking about all the movies with evil stepmothers trying to make the young protagonist’s life impossible.
“Don’t listen to what TV has to say about women, love,” she stood up and shook the dust off her knees. “Now go to bed and try not to go insane, okay? We will talk in the morning.”
The next morning came and they talked some more about his worries, Serena reassuring him that everything was going to be okay. He still wasn’t entirely convinced, but before he realized it was Monday and Angel was seriously considering trying to fly away. If he succeeded there was no school, if he failed maybe he would break his arm again and there would be no school. A win-win situation.
“Are you ready?” his mother asked coming into his room.
Angel was sitting on the floor in front of his bed, wearing a loose sweater that covered the lines of his wings. “I feel like I’m going to explode.”
“That is very unlikely,” Serena said. “Then yes…I guess I’m ready.”
“Are you sure you want to wear that?” his mother asked, really asking if he was sure about hiding his wings.
“I don’t think I’m ready to yet,” Angel said without having to explain what he didn’t want.
“Okay, your choice.”
She helped Angel get all the things he needed into his bag. “Let’s go then,” she said clapping her hands together and walking out of the room.
“Hey, mom?” he asked stopping dead in his tracks.
“Yes?” his mother said.
“If all goes well today, will you go back to school, too?”
She was stunned by the question. Ever since Angel was born, she couldn’t help but feel that her life was on an indefinite pause, and she had been aching to go back to school ever since, but it always seemed to be something stopping her. She had resigned herself to see her dreams only as a fantasy. But if she was honest with herself, most things in her life seemed impossible dreams. All the excuses she had made for herself not to try were ringing in her ears. She looked down at Angel, he looked scared but there was determination in his eyes, something she had not seen in a while. She thought that if he was brave enough to get through today, she could be too.
She nodded. “You promise?” “I promise.”
They walked together to the bus station, Serena had insisted that he take the bus instead of walking. “It’s part of the experience,” she had said. They got there too early and the bus stop was empty except for some birds that chirped and picked the invisible crumbs of food in the street. Angel could feel his heartbeat beating faster with each passing second, it bumped against his ribs so hard he was sure his heart would leave a permanent indent on his chest.
He didn’t know why he was so nervous. Well, he did know but the reason felt silly to him. His mother was right in some ways, he did want to get out of the house and explore the world. He wanted friends. He didn’t want to make friends, though, he wanted to have friends. He wanted to get to school and already have people to talk to and eat lunch with, he didn’t want to arrive at a school where everyone probably already knew each other and have to go through nerve-wracking introductions. What could he say? What did kids his age talk about?
Minutes passed and other kids started to arrive at the bus stop, and they were staring at him. Oh God, they hate me already he thought. But really, they were just staring because they had never seen him there before and because they thought it was a little weird that his mother was waiting with him. Angel, of course, had no way of knowing that, so he spent every last second until the bus arrived panicking. When it finally did, the door opened and the rest of the kids went inside, but Angel’s feet were suddenly a thousand pounds heavier.
“You coming or not?” the bus driver asked from inside the bus.
“It’s going to be okay, Angel. I’ll be right here when you get back” his mother said reassuringly.
Angel exhaled, gathered all the strength he could muster and went inside. He took a seat by the window where he waved goodbye to his mother as they drove away.
A voice called him as he was settling into his seat. He looked up, a girl with orange hair was looking down at him, but it wasn’t her hair or the unusual green of her eyes that surprised him. Her pupils were not circular, they were shaped like a vertical slit. She was still staring at him expectantly, as if waiting for Angel to say something.
“Sorry?” he said a few seconds after still dumbfounded.
“I said you dropped something,” she said putting her fist out to him.
Angel put his palm up and the girl dropped something light and soft on them. He looked down at his hand and when he realized he was holding one of his own feathers he scrambled to hide it in his backpack. He looked up again but the girl had already walked over to the back of the bus where she had been sitting before Angel got inside. Her eyes were still a striking green, but her pupils were now an ordinary circle. When she saw him staring at her, she turned to look out the window and smiled.