It was during the time the Angel lived with us. I could no longer bear sweeping the feathers. I didn’t mind the intoxicating celestial scent his nesty-nasty room exhaled. It only started to bother me when I took a guy home to spend the night and a filthy halo had been left on the couch. He asked me what it was, forcing me to explain the whole story. That long and dreary story … of how we met, the vision of unravelling paradise, the divine splendour, the apparition, etc., etc. As expected, the mood couldn’t survive such a blow and we ended up spending the night on theological themes—a subject I learned to loathe, like an acquired distaste. Please don’t go, don’t leave me alone with him. My other roommate, the more mundane one, spent the entire day out, at the office. I expected she’d feel flustered with my sudden absence. I explained it would be just for a month. I needed to unwind, away from that miraculous ambience our apartment had acquired. How am I supposed to take care of him by myself? Well, he can be mostly unattended. Just refill his water in the morning, and at night, restock the fridge with ripe avocados—his favourite food. Lies. I was well aware he would be a handful for her to deal with. Conceived on another existential plane, the Angel was accustomed to a certain pattern of life and spent hours, days, sometimes weeks in serene contemplation. What did he contemplate? Hard to tell. Something like the wonder of creation. Anything regarding how God’s image glowed upon each earthly silhouette. I would question just how bad divine aesthetic taste was, especially when we overlooked the dirty dishes and tiny maggots sprouted, squirming around the kitchen sink. Anyhow, while he contemplated, the chores would pile up. Without my assistance, Helena would suffer.
Fearing they would stop me, I decided to spare us the farewells. I fled at dawn, so to speak. The Angel was awake, as he does not sleep. He must’ve feigned not noticing, in his infinite kindness. Actually, he might as well have been indulging himself under some spiritual meditation or poetic prayer, so distracted as to not notice the casters swivelling on the floor, or even the stumble that got me a bruised knee and an enraged cry which had been long banished from our home—at least since we decided to shelter that enlightened being whose name ended in “el.” Funny how I never memorized his name. Miguel, Gabriel, Raphael, those angelic names sounded all the same to me. I gave him a nickname, “Fel,” during a get-together in which we both got utterly drunk. He laughed, somewhat implying he could never understand the intricacies of human thought. His perennial stance of creational superiority would grind my gears. He could at least sometimes pretend to exist at the same fucking level as the rest of us. Only a couple of times, was that too much to ask? I didn’t think so. He agreed, but nothing ever changed. Maybe he could not change, like a plant that persistently gazes on the sun no matter how much one turns its vase.
When I conquered the world, I simultaneously lost myself. Or, on the contrary, in order to win the world over, I had to get myself lost in it. That’s what I did. After a fortnight I no longer knew where I could be found.
– Spare me the enigma, Pedro. Where the hell are you?
– Wow, hell. He must be in the kitchen.
– I’m calling from the office.
– I don’t know where I am.
– What do you mean you don’t know?
– I got on the subway, then the train, then a bus, and I dropped off when I thought I was far enough from myself. I’ve been drifting for the last half hour. I don’t even recognize the street signs.
– You mean you are still in the city?
– Perhaps. I can’t be sure. I remember an airport, at some point. But I’m not even certain of that. It could’ve been just the screech of an airplane.
Coincidentally, the power of eventuality had me stopping by a church. An eroded chapel, built on a hill, so on the edge of what one conceived as a church as the dirt road that took you to it. Its empty seats annoyed me. In fact, it was the echo produced by the abandoned place that so unnerved me. I caught myself angered by my own voice. Not that I was unacquainted with such self-destructive feeling. I just thought it inappropriate there, so out of circumstance, so far away from daily norms. In the end, I left the building.
It worsened in the summer. The scraps vibrated with the heat, perspired, loosened up. The result came in the shape of dim waves of reeking light. The dumpster would be plagued with that odour, and one could not escape it even at the train tracks, farther away, where we roamed randomly on the warmest days. “You are hilarious,” she told me. I thought the remark to be an exaggeration. I resumed balancing myself on top of the track. What was hilarious indeed was the fact that I had been wandering for so many years, only to settle there, of all the places I could’ve picked. And that they would arrange me a partner so similar, if only at first glance, to Helena, with whom I had shared a different life. Since the cellphone broke, I had lost the notion of proximity. Even though they allowed me to use the company’s device—as long as the words exchanged were compensated for with corresponding work hours—I did the math and realized it wasn’t worth it. I preferred killing time with that metallic girl, who always found a way to follow me around with her up-and-down clumsy movements. “You are brilliant,” she told me. I noticed that one of her eyes had popped out and fallen a few feet behind us. I went back, picked it up, dusted it off with my shirt, and aided her in putting it back in the eyesocket. She needed them to see, if she actually saw anything at all. On the other hand, they were also a vital part of her scarce resources of expression. Without them, the chalk-scribbled eyebrows would look even more pathetic. We reached the property’s boundary, indicated by the crossroad. Danger lay beyond, for the locomotives still roamed freely since the blackout. Father had forbidden her from crossing the border, and I refused to proceed alone. We walked back, slower now. “You are stunning,” she told me.
They found me sleeping on the sidewalk. Without me noticing (due to dehydration), they took me inside and tossed my inert body over something that only resembled a bed. I remember accepting food and water—lots of water. Little by little, I came back to myself, though never fully, never completely. I reached an intermediate state of awareness, and in it I remained. They showed me the junkyard, explained how to make a living down there, how to survive. The employees of that second-rate venture were nothing but considerate. They ended up finding out, in all their politeness, that I was named Pedro and that I had run away. The flight was a lie, or at most a stretch. Elaborating on the situation demanded an effort I was unwilling to perform. They took me in and presented me to Father. Father commanded the place. He ordered; the others complied. He reminded me of the Angel, but in reverse. Not that he showed signs of mercilessness or sadism. But because of the misery of which his life consisted: he found the need to impose himself, while the Angel simply compelled servitude without issuing a single request. I contemplated rebelling against his authority. He dissuaded me by assembling a metallic girl from the scraps of a deactivated android and giving it to me as a gift.
As soon as I left the apartment, I didn’t know how to act. I lacked vision. The plans I had made were only good till there—till the street. My first reflex was to open an app and call a driver, but this would leave a trace and I already meant to disappear for good. I did not know it would take so long to come back. A month would drag the rest of the year along with it—and the next one, and the following to come—until I forgot the way home. Later on, it no longer made sense to return. Even if the Angel were gone—even if he ascended, or took shelter in the holy skies, or simply flew away, disappeared, reincarnated, or whatever it is that angels do when they leave—Helena would have probably moved on. She would have found new roommates, in order to replace those who had forsaken her. So I myself moved on. I walked to the station, and the subway became a fishing boat unwillingly giving me a ride across the canal. I’d heard rumours that there was hope on the other side. In hindsight, I should have been wary. I drank bountifully at a bar close to the harbour, in the companionship of fifty men and a few women. Despair was by far the loudest voice there. And where panic reigns, hope is eager to be mentioned, painted in gold, clad as a princess, prophesied to the four winds like the promised land. The other side of the canal was just like this side.
I met Helena at the farmers market. I was buying bananas, she was carrying a sample of each legume or fruit ever invented, like a Noah’s Ark for produce. That was how I struck up a conversation, by helping with the bags. The myriad bags that just didn’t burst, out of compassion. I walked her to her place—“just a five-minute walk”—if I could give her a hand, she would be very thankful. I let myself get dragged along by her easy manner and ample bosom. I’d always had a weak spot for straightforward women and shy dudes. She asked me to come inside, of course. “Just leave it at the kitchen, thank you very much.” In weeks, we were living together, without ever even bringing up the boyfriend-girlfriend talk, nothing. It would always be that way between us, rushed footsteps that would take us nowhere. Until what we had—which I could never quite pinpoint—cooled down and eventually perished. Even when we began to share the shy dudes, it wasn’t enough to mend us. She certainly expected me to get a proper job, to get myself educated, to become someone in life. She wanted kids. We constantly argued because of that unbearable subject of kids. That’s what turned our household cold. And then, the Angel, with his scarce ways and spare feathers. A twisted blessing, because suddenly we had a grown son and what terrified me were babies. I had to run away.