They had lived by the pool for most of their lives. They knew the lapping waves that splashed mostly in silence amidst the colonnades, where the hanging pots gingerly dipped their connected trail of leafs into the waters. The water lulled them to sleep and the same sound would greet them hours later, when they awoke to their aches or their wounds oozed or when one of the suffering’s screams would echo through placid halls. They found out rather quickly that sleep was but a lapsing dream, even in this calm paradise.
The last time the water was troubled was far enough back that only a few could remember it – and remember it, they did. They remembered it for everybody, these old men who would travel around the columns, speaking to the pilgrims and the tourists about when the Angel of the Lord made her last visit. How she hovered above the pristine pool, causing a maelstrom with a wave of her hand. Of course, the story become more embellished each time it was told. By now, an established twist of the baroque was how you could only see the six wings of the Angel, with a quiet, fearsome face gazing out from between the feathers. One of the old men claimed that he was only strong enough to glance through his fingers for just a glimpse. The stories included (but were not limited to): the brightest of lights, the view of the seraphic splendor of the heavenly spheres and the curious high-pitched ringing that echoed through the room.
The sufferers knew these stories well, so at all times, they kept one eye on the water and one on the other maimed/wounded around them (that is, if they could see). How many hours were spent in dark contemplation around that pool, wondering which one-legged man, blind beggar or leprous woman would they have to push out of the way when the Angel made her appearance? Who would they have to climb over in order to get to the troubled waters first? Which of the sufferers were truly honest when they assured the others, “If you help me to the waters, I will stay and help you next time it happens!”? Which alliances would pay off in the end? No one knew. All they knew were the stories.
But, under the far shadows of the peristyle, lay a man for thirty-eight years who came to the pool without hope and (mostly) against his will. As a young man thirty-nine years ago, he had contracted a mysterious condition that, baffling the doctors, sent he and his wife to every shaman, healer and learned sage in the area. For almost a year, he had been dipped, anointed, prayed over, cast upon and given more advice that he cared for. Advice like to bury himself in the sand every new moon or to drink a special concoction every morning at the first sign of dawn, while chanting the Shema Yisrael and Benedicite, Omnia Opera. He grew tired of chanting “so-and-so, bless ye the Lord” over and over again and, usually, whatever he was given burned like hell.
After several months of drinking panaceas, vomiting, singing, and tiresome journeys, his legs finally went out one morning. That morning, when he fell out of bed, he laid on the floor for sometime, then he scooted himself towards the wall, so he could be propped up upon it. This took quite a bit of effort. He was tired, as we was most days, so he slept off-and-on against the wall. When the sun was high in the air and the dust floated in the bright beams from the windows, his wife returned to their bedroom. She said to him, “Do you want to get up off that floor?” Surprisingly calm, he said to her, “My legs do not seem to work today”. Standing above him, with her hands on her hips, she eyed him for some time. Then, she let out a heavy, purging sigh and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
And later that afternoon, he was carried on a mat by his cousins in a queer little procession from his home to the pools. Leading the way was his wife, who was singing quietly her remembered parts of the Benedicite, Omina Opera. A few times, he thought he caught a smile on her face when she sang, “Blessed art thou O Lord, in the firmament of heaven; and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.” But, he couldn’t tell for sure because being carried was not as easy as it looked. They had to stop several times so he could vomit in the road. Mostly, he just looked at the sun.
He thought about that day, thirty-eight years ago, as he sat under the shadow of the peristyle. He was right, though, his wife had been smiling. He learned this when his mother came for her usual visit two weeks after his arrival at the pools. “You’ll never guess what that whore of a wife of yours has done”, she exclaimed with disgust. She told him that his very own cousin had been a “source of solace” for his wife for sometime, even before he had gotten sick. Their divorce quickly followed and she was married, with the full blessing of their community. The day of their wedding, he thought he could hear their sounds of jubilation in the air (if he focused hard enough) but all he could hear was his own sighing and the occasional screams of the other sufferers.
Thirty-eight years of waiting for an Angel to reappear, waiting for a creation ex nihilio, waiting for miracles ex miseriam. And yet, nothing. Thirty-five years ago, he would have wept at the thought.
This is how he spent the butt-ends of his days and he contemplated these things when the sky turned black and the wind picked up one morning. The others around the pool scooted, rolled and hobbled to the shelter under the peristyle as the gut-vibrating booms of thunder and the hot lightning struck in the heavens. He sat, watching the wind blow the rain like a wall of water just beyond the covering. He watched the rain and he listened to it without hope, without even hope for hope and without sound, save for the silence between the wails of thunder. Thirty-five years ago, he would have been terrified.
And for a few moments, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, because hovering above the waters (and obscured by the rain) were four feather-covered wings, two pointing upwards and two pointing downwards. He rubbed his eyes to make sure. It was most certainly a member of the Host. Also, he could see her face because it shone like amber through the rain, like a distant light. For a moment, they stared at each other and he thought she smiled. He made no effort to move, but just looked at her. But no one else moved, either, because no one else saw her. Thirty-five years ago, he would have been elated.
But, then suddenly, she turned her face downwards, towards the pool. Two more smaller feathered wings suddenly covered her face, but he could still see the amber light of her face glowing behind. He chuckled to himself, thinking that even the host of heaven cannot bear to look at me. He thought, is it nothing to you, you who pass by, even you angels of his? Look and see if anyone’s sorrow is quite like mine? Look at my afflictions! Will no one look me in the eyes? He sighed as her covered face continued looking downwards.
Then, quite slowly, he gradually became aware of a presence behind him, like the far-away hum of traffic. But he dared not look away from the Angel hovering beyond the wall of rain. He ignored this presence for sometime, until a man’s voice spoke from behind him over the tumult of the storm, “Do you want to be made whole?” He laughed and thought, of all the stupid questions I’ve ever been asked, this must be the stupidest. And, frankly, it was the stupidest question he’d ever been asked in his entire life.