They call us “Angels”
She has no name but is known by all in her village. She is the woman who weaves baskets faster than anyone else. She is the the one who knows exactly when to pick berries to get the perfect ripeness. She is the mother of a boy who refuses to paint with the other children because the texture of paint against his hands doesn’t feel right. She is the creator of the first paintbrush.
She is my first human, my first assignment as a protector. I guard her from all I can and hope I do well. When she grows ill I hold her hand while she begins to nod off. Her son is in the other room- she did not want him to see her like this. I will look after him too.
In her sleep, she smiles, lacing her fingers through my own. To have a body is still foreign to me, but I manage to squeeze back. She should not be able to feel this. I don’t let go.
Our task is simple. Protect the humans. Let them grow. Do whatever we can as to not stall their progress.
And goodness, do they make progress.
He is the first to learn how the scraping of flint and steal can cause sparks to fly. I watch as he grows- he’s a curious one, this one. Many times I lead animals away from where he sits, always too distracted to notice. He has many names, for the grunts and murmurs of vocal chords are still adjusting, and sound is something they are still trying to find the boundaries of. “Ma” seems to be his favorite. When he figures out how to turn sparks to fire I put myself between him and the flames to keep him from being burnt. They don’t leave marks in the same way they would him.
Everything is fast after that. Suddenly things can be cooked. Meat is much more edible than before. Suddenly water is safe to drink without the risk of disease. Suddenly warmth can be found in places other than the curves of another person. He hands it to everyone he knows and they take it with clumsy footing, no doubt leaving singed earth along their path. We will worry about it later; they learn quicker than anything we have seen in a long, long time.
They won’t stop growing. There are so many- we are in the millions but it is only a matter of time before they surpass even that. There are many other species that grow at similar paces. But none of them take so much time to mature. None of them have so
much to learn- none of them have all that and more.
We were not built to worry. We do, however, wonder.
They tell stories. Nothing has ever done this before.
Then again, I imagine nothing has ever been this lonely either.
I am assigned a boy named Jack. He is born on a ship, the moistness of wood replacing the soft of grass while the world moves beneath him. When night falls and the waves grow rocky everyone gathers in the middle of the deck, taking turns weaving tales under the stars. They discover religion. They discover us.
We have a name, now. Angels. We have never had a name before- nature never referred to us with anything close to that. It feels foreign against my tongue, yet it’s surprisingly fitting. We grow into our new labels.
Jack slips and nearly falls off deck, but I am there to keep him steady. His mother thanks me for my efforts. Calls it a blessing from the gods. I am no god, but I appreciate the sentiment. She tells him, “Be more careful next time. These waves will only grow more rough.”. She tells him, “The sea is no kind beast. She will balance us above the dangers below but she is not to be held responsible for anything- or anyone- who sinks further.”. She tells him, a bit teary up, “I may be the captain of this ship, but not even I could save you from waters like this.”
He learns how to stay standing when the wood beneath his feet refuses to still. We listen to stories together.
The children’s favorites are the ones told by his mother. She leans against a cane and speaks of adventures she has had, run ins with other pirates, loves she has cherished and betrayals she is still bitter from. Most of them, I’m sure, aren’t half true. Jack does not seem to mind.
Eventually she grows too old to run the ship. He takes her place, leaning against her- his- cane and telling tall tails of danger, run ins he has had with other men his age. Men who he had a fondness for and those expected better of. Most of them, I know, aren’t true in the slightest. The children do not seem to mind and the crew are not the type to ruin a good story.
He dies in his thirties after a particularly rough storm. As careful as he was, nature does not hold back or those who are weary. I keep the pressure off his lungs for as long as I can. I try to make every gulp of water taste sweet and calming. It takes everything in me to make his death peaceful.
But some people are simply not ready. He trashes till he can’t. Panic only clears when his vision darkens.
His body is never found. The crew mourn him like they mourned his mother. They keep the cane in their honor.
They won’t stop dying. They pass from the tiniest things, always so quick, always before we can do anything to help. Sometimes we can’t, even given the time. Sickness is everywhere now. People are dying in the streets. We can’t do anything to heal them. The best we can do is prolong the inevitable- that, however, is much too painful a death to seem like a blessing.
They call it the plague. They call it a punishment from god. Our names go from ‘angels’ to ‘demons’ very, very quickly.
We are only able to bless things that already exist. You cannot eat a cake when you have no ingredients. The doctors don’t know how to fix this- they are not yet advanced enough to deal with something this big. We can only sit and watch, horrified, as those we have been sworn to protect die by our feet. I am assigned more people than I can count. Their names become a blur. By the time it’s all over, humanity has changed. They have lost so many. We have lost so many.
For a while, each miracle leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
The most stressful assignments, although also very amusing, are the ones who need to be protected from themselves.
His name has been passed down from generation to generation, yet he much prefers to go by Eric. I help him breathe through his corsets and let time pass faster when he’s forced into a face full of make-up. On the few occasions he steals pants from his brother’s room I make sure his footsteps are quiet, because such things are life or death in times like these.
His family is rich and he is tired. They throw parties of plenty, and I hold his tongue when he’s pressured into dancing with the other men there. He steps on their toes and I laugh. Eric is all too ready to rebel in ways that girls his age get disowned for. I let the small things through, smiling at his internal dialog, filled with sass and curses and things that would make his father turn purple. Nothing too big. Never what he really yearns for.
A boy lets go of his hand and gives a terse smile, excusing himself to the food table. We watch him limp away. Eric grins.
He dies young. With a tongue that sharp, it was to be expected. He is caught kissing a woman with undamaged shoes while they both are wearing pants. It was the only time I let him. Witches, they call them. I do my best to save them both, but it’s useless. Heels are not meant for running.
They are buried in unmarked graves. It’s the only blessing I can give.
They recover their numbers quickly. It seems no matter what, they always bounce back in a relatively short amount of time. It’s amazing. It’s terrifying. We get assigned more than one person at a time.
My first household is a family of three. It’s a mother, a daughter, and a child that’s somewhere in-between. Mostly I look over the children- their mother works from home and is much less prone to mistakes than them. And goodness, are they reckless.
Their names are Rose and Julian. Rose is a night owl and I have to make sure on more than one occasion that she doesn’t spill mugs of hot coffee on herself. It’s a brutal task, especially when she refuses to sleep when she should. I urge her to drink colder drinks. She refuses.
She is stubbed toes and dropped papers, noise when it should be quiet. She is clumsy. A long, long time ago, this would have been a dangerous trait to have. But things have changed. This world was built by people like her. She will be okay.
Julian is young but they are not stupid. They know more about the ways of the body than any human I have watched over before, bookshelves filled to the brim with pages upon pages filled with the morbid details of what makes humans blood flesh and bone. They flap their hands when they’re frustrated and chew on whatever they can get their hands on. This world was not made for them. I hope it will be rebuilt by the time they’re old enough to live in it.
They are experiments gone wrong and the urge to learn more, even when it becomes less than safe. I bless their hands to stay uncut while experimenting on a dead frog, holding knives that are much too sharp for someone their age. I don’t stop their mom from waking up to scold them. I do make sure they get to keep the frog.
I grow more connected to these children than anyone else I have ever looked after. Jack would have liked them- he would have told them so many stories. I’m with them while they take their driver’s test, pressing their feet down with just enough pressure on the gas petal for smooth sailing. Rose refuses alcohol for the first time and I am there to make sure she doesn’t give into peer pressure. Julian studies for a medical degree, studies how to make this world better for people like them. They don’t need much help on their tests, but I’m still there to lead their pencil on particularly hard questions.
They move out but they stay connected. I watch them bring new people into their lives, watch as their create families of their own. Over the years they change, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. But they are always kind. They are always Rose and Julian.
I’m not as foolish to say I forget how they died. However I don’t like to think about it, so that’s as close to forgetting as I’ll get.
They were good.
I was not built to miss people. Yet they still linger.
Our task was simple. Protect the humans. Let them grow. Do whatever we could do as to not stall their progress.
There were many we could not save, and even those that we did were still doomed to the same end. Fate has it’s limits- you can only bend it so much. We were already testing it’s patience by simply existing. And that was fine. Death is normal, death is natural.
But these humans- these humans are different. They create and they are kind to a fault and there is nothing else like that. We did not expect to learn from them. We did not expect for this to hurt.
We did not expect to care.
There’s a woman who lives to be 94. She is one of the lucky few to make it so far. She has grandchildren of plenty and their parents are happy. We all call her Nana. I watched over them for generations, the longest I have for any family before. In her last moments she prays. She tells me I did a good job.
Her grandson dies at age seventeen because I am busy helping his brother clean up glass. I do not pray- such things are better left to those who have faith. But I do hope she forgives me.
I try my best to keep them safe. But this family, this family is not meant to last. There is always something wrong, always something broken, always something that needs to be blessed. It wears me out in ways I have not experienced for centuries. I can’t- I can’t help them all.
In the end there is only one left. She cannot bear to be alone.
No miracle can help someone who does not want to be helped.
The sweetest boy I’ve ever protected is in a family full of rotten people. He is the best thing in that house. I give blessing after blessing, miracle after miracle, and he lives to be happy. He finds a husband and a wife- I bless them too. When he dies it’s a shock even to me. The world seems to dim. I protect his spouses and everyone else he cared about. It’s the first time I come dangerously close to grieving. He would not have liked that.
While the family sleeps, their cat nuzzles into the couch and gives me a slow blink. I always end up sitting with it for the next hour. I cannot touch it, but it seems to appreciate my presence anyway. I miracle it mice to catch.
They are sisters- there is nobody left but them. How reckless they are, spray cans routinely clanging against the cement while they take off from the police. They laugh while they run, and it would be sweet if it weren’t so dangerous. They get caught, once, because I feel they need to know just how serious this is.
The cop lets them off with a warning but also makes the one with darker skin lay on the floor while the other stands.
I do not let them get caught again.
When they pass I make sure their graffiti stays up, soon surrounded by many similar pieces by people like themselves. My next assigned family passes it on the way to the subway and I have to pause for a moment. I come very close to smiling. It would have made them happy.
We love them,
We grieve them,
We miss them.
We are angels. We are guardians of humans, protectors of families. We are the small miracles, the big blessings, and we play a balancing act with death just for them. Because they are growing and they are evolving. Because they love in ways we did not know were possible and they love us in ways that can only be described as ‘human’.
They have taught us so much. They have taught us to feel.
There is nothing we would not do for them. Challenging fate is just one of our many favors.
We are angels, and they are human. They are learning and so are we. Because of them we know love. We would not trade them for the world.
Our task is simple. Protect the humans. Let them grow. Do whatever we can as to not tall their progress.
And my goodness, do they grow.
But to our shock, so do we.