Angel at My Calling
by Ludmila Sharga
Translated by Yuri Bunchik
“The ceiling is kind of low here. Had it been on the top floor, the roof, not the fifth... But if it were that way, it might be much worse: broken bones, hospital. Though I won’t break my bones, I will end up in the hospital anyway. Maybe another kind of hospital, where patients are tied to their beds for their complete relaxation and relief...”
“Seryozha!” his mother’s voice took him back from obscurity and returned him to a Christmas morning in January. “Don’t stand on the balcony, you might catch cold. Don’t...”
“But, Mom, actually I am sitting.” Once again he took a long look at the entrance of the house across the street. The house was just a regular house. Nothing special about it.
* * *
Last night he had been sitting by the window and watching the snow fall. At night, things change, and the slightest snow in the lanterns’ light seems magical. The windows of the house started to disappear, one by one. Always, in two or three windows, the light stayed on all night long till morning.
Seryozha imagined bookcases or shelves filled with books that he has not read yet; cozy armchairs; the soft light of a desk lamp under a green lampshade. Or maybe a light coming from the Christmas tree decorations. Christmas time...
Over there, behind those windows, people would be drinking tea from dark-blue cups with golden-thin rims. In the blue sugar bowl there would be little pieces of sugar, and next to it, jam in the blue rosette. Cherry jam, it seemed... Oh, yes, cherry jam. And the pits lie like dark drops in the saucer.
People at the table would be talking, smiling, and seemingly happy... But were they, really? Maybe they were very unhappy. and he, having finished his tea, went to the bedroom, lay down and couldn’t fall asleep.
Mother washed the dishes, looked at the window for a long time and cried. No, everything was not the way it should be. The whole world appeared different from the way it looked.
* * *
When Seryozha had finally realized that his life would no longer be as it had been, horrible thoughts came to him and swallowed him up in a dark tunnel of hopelessness. Last night, he had been reading a book about angels, his mother’s Christmas gift.
Angels, it seems, exist on earth too, but they are quite different from the way people think of them. Even a drunkard or a homeless man or a disabled person could be an angel... A disabled person?
Seryozha looked at his lifeless legs and opened the balcony door. A young girl appeared on the deserted road as if she had come from Heaven itself. A black car passed by at a high speed and, on the narrow white line that separated the road, a thin silhouette appeared from nowhere, as if in a dream.
Under the snow, the line could not be seen, but at the spot where the girl had passed, a barefoot print remained. She was walking barefoot in snow that had just fallen as if she had always done that, and to walk on the snow was something quite normal for her, like walking in fresh young grass at the end of April.
Where did she come from? It was too soon for the first streetcar, too late for the last. Seryozha knew very well when the first streetcar and when the last one would come by; he slept very lightly. But what seemed strange was not even the fact that the girl was walking at half past three in the morning, barefoot, in the new-fallen snow but the fact that there were... wings behind her, white wings, it seemed, huge white wings!
Still doubting whether it was a coat collar or the ends of a long scarf thrown behind her back, he tried to raise himself slightly in order to see her better and, when he did, his heart sank: it happened so... Someday even I might stand up!
She came closer, and he could see not only her wings — and they were definitely wings — but also her tiny face. It was pale, with huge eyes. The girl turned toward the apartment building. He could hear the slapping of her bare feet on the wet sidewalk. At the entrance, she caught her right wing on a bush, turned around, and suddenly, quite casually, as to an old friend from whom she just had parted, waved to him with her hand.
* * *
“Seryozhka... So you’ve been sitting here by the window all night?” His mother’s hands smelled of shortbread and valerian drops.
“Mom, do you know everybody who lives in the new apartment building?”
“God forbid! That building is so large. I don’t even know tenants living in our building, only their faces. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know. I think I saw something.” He opened the balcony door once again and looked at the neighboring building. The snow has almost melted, and a white line appeared on the road. On the bush, next to the entrance, something white could be seen. Snow? A small feather?!
“Mom, when you go to work, could you walk by that bush, you see it, near the entrance? Take that white thing off of it, and whatever it is, bring it to me, please...”
“But today is a holiday, Seryozha. Christmas. Oh, well, I’ll go out and bring it to you. Why are you so excited? Did you see something?”
“I’ll tell you later.” He could see his mother go up to the bush, take something off of it, then turning around, she waved with her hand.
And, suddenly, an apparition appeared: the snow, the girl with the wings turned around and waved to him with her hand. He could hardly wait for his mother to come back.
“What is it?”
His mother silently opened her hand: on her palm there was a small white feather. “Did you see a bird?”
“I saw an angel, Mom. And... I will live.” He held the small feather on his palm, hardly breathing. The feather felt alive. It was tender, warm and light.
“Seryozhka...” His mother embraced his head and started crying. “You lived before too, sonny.”
“No, you never knew. I didn’t want to live anymore after what had happened. My father died; I survived but was left in a wheelchair. Why should I live? What for? And I decided — please don’t cry, Mom...I decided not to be a burden to you. Please, don’t cry. Everything passed. I’m telling you all this because everything has changed.
“I did cut the railings at the balcony. But I got scared that I wouldn’t die but would end up in the hospital again. But tonight I have seen an Angel. And all of a sudden, I could stand up a little bit. You understand, Mom? It means that someday I’ll be able to stand on my own!”
“Yes, of course, you will be able to, sonny. Together we can do anything.” The tears ran down her exhausted but still beautiful face, and the man in the black-trimmed portrait resembling Seryozha was watching both of them.
* * *
Nika walked in on tiptoe, trying not to waken Yulka, but Yulka was already awake.
“Look at you! Are you still cold? Maybe you want more tea?”
“The client seemed kind of crazy.” Yulka yawned and wrapped herself in a blanket. “‘I want an angel,’ he said. And then he left the angel in the middle of a roadway. ‘Go on flying,’ he said. ‘That’s why you have wings, in order to fly. Better yet, it is not far from your place, otherwise I would freeze to death.’
“He left the angel barefoot; only the shirt was left. But the truth is that he had paid well, as promised. Now we will be able to return our debts, buy more gifts and go home. It is still Christmas, by the way.”
Nika took a suede cellphone case from her neck, took out a few $100 bills and put them in a pocket of a black leather jacket. The white wings that had been cast off were lying on the floor.