I live alone, so the voice, melodic, and full of confidence, surprises me as I enter the apartment, home from another long day spent on campus. That would usually mean trouble. And yet, even as an unexpected stranger has announced himself to be in my place of residence, something about the words — maybe the tone of it all, probably my own idiocy — disarms me, sedating the genetically hard-wired instinct to either fight or flee.
Okay, fine. At 5’5, and 145 pounds, in my case, it’s mostly flee.
Okay, fine. Always flee.
Apparently undaunted, I approach the source of the sound, coming from around the hallway. As soon as I reach the four familiar, poster-adorned walls that make up my bedroom, it’s immediately clear that my visitor isn’t interested in robbing me. My electronics, my television, and my books all appear untouched, with the room still as messy as I left it, although it’s true that that last part wouldn’t really be any help in identifying if I’ve been robbed. The only difference, it seems, is straight out of Goldilocks, because somebody’s sitting in my chair.
I find my rolling office chair occupied a large, white-robed man, the wings on his back visibly fluttering against the armrests that more or less restrain them. Each beat leaves loose feathers drifting down to my wooden floor. I can’t tell how long he’s been there, but he seems strangely comfortable, doing little more than reading from my Kindle. The fact that the lights are off don’t seem to bother him either — the soft glow from his white-gold halo is more than enough for visibility. He looks up.
“Tolstoy. Good stuff.” He says, setting the Kindle on the desk behind him as his divine features form each syllable. “Now, do you know who I am?” Dazzling white teeth, flowing dark blonde locks…yes, the media and traditional depiction have it right. Angels look exactly like people imagine them to be. I mean, it’s insane. His skin is so pure that I’m sure there’s a shade of it somewhere at Lowe’s. Flawless White, or something.
“Well, your get up kind of gives it away,” I gesture at the halo and the wings, both of which are clearly preferable to, say, a menacing hood and a scythe. That doesn’t really tell me why an angel has decided to pay me a visit, though, and given my long-time lack of belief in the powers that may or may not be, I proceed do what any curious person would.
“So…why are you here? Is it finally my time or something? Has your boss decided to sentence me to eternal damnation for blaspheming?” Can’t be too safe here, I figure. Better to be straightforward. He chuckles, as if he can hear the hint of anxiety hidden underneath my sarcasm. Well, maybe he can. I wouldn’t put it past him.
“Slow down. Relax. You’re not in trouble. I’m not even the guy in charge of taking people to the afterlife,” he replies, pointing to the nametag I somehow missed in my first once-over. Pinned to his robe’s navel, the small metal rectangle shines shyly: Jake — Guardians Agent. Khakis, if there are any, are hidden beneath the robe.
“Oh, thank God.” A half second later, I realize how silly that expression is, especially given who I am talking to, but Jake only smirks and keeps talking anyway.
“And between you and me, the black cloaked guy you’re looking for? The Grim Reaper? To tell you the truth, there isn’t even just one of them. Our PR(eachers) just don’t bother to comment otherwise because it’s a lot more effective to pretend that death belongs in the hands of a single being. Really, though, that job is carried out by the entire Transportation department. You’ll be meeting one of their representatives later.”
My eyes widen with alarm before Jake laughs again, soothing and breezy. “Just a little heavenly humor. That’s not going to be for a while. I’m actually here to talk to you about your policy,” he continues. Figuring at this point that the conversation is going to take a while, I feel comfortable enough to move from the doorjamb to a seat on the edge of my bed, and do. “I’m your guardian angel.”
This, predictably, confuses me. “Wait, how is that possible? My family is Buddhist, and I’ve pretty much never been religious.”
Judging from his response, Jake has long heard similar concerns, and answers with well-practiced precision. “Everybody has one assigned at birth, regardless of eventual affiliation, gender, ethnicity, whatever. It’s just that some of us care more about our jobs than others, and actually take care of who they’re assigned to.” There’s a slight edge at those last few words, clearly weary from intradepartmental conflict and overwrought bureaucracy. “That’s another secret, Nam. Negligent guardians cause more deaths than anything — not cancer, not heart disease. Us. When one of us forgets to file the correct prevention paperwork, or falls asleep on shift, or phones in sick, or decides to ignore dangers.”
“Luckily for you, you have one of the guys who cares about his job.” He intends to continue, only to notice that my expression betrays disbelief. “…You’re still not convinced that guardian angels exist, huh? Okay. Go ahead and take a look at this.” The sentence has barely ended when a thick file of paperwork appears right in my hands, complete with poofing noise for effect. I don’t really blame him for the theatrics. Hell, if I was that powerful, I’d never stop showing off my abilities.
Thumbing through the details of my meticulously put together life history, I skip right over the mundane facts about my age or eye color, and find myself reading a written record of moments I’ve never spoken of or shared with anyone. Like the time I crapped my pants, and someone in my afterschool program smelled it. I lied through my teeth about it being me. The time when I was 6, playing with my little brother and — accidentally? — locked him in a toy chest, so my dad had to sprint through the house to get him out before he suffocated. The fact that my mom made me wear a suit to my first day at my second elementary school. The time in seventh grade when I sent this girl — she started it — a mean email, felt bad about it, and told my mom, who then sent her one of her own: an apology in unmastered English. I’m not sure if it’s my foolishness or my lingering embarrassment that causes my face to cringe awkwardly all these years later, but it, like everything else listed here, is true. All my secrets, big and small, are on file in official, looping Garamond script.
I keep thumbing through, reminiscing through a whirlwind of memories and moments I thought were long gone, when then my eye catches another section beginning in bold: Deaths Prevented. This one is much shorter.
Age 6. Prevented fatal cranial collision with dresser.
Age 9. Prevented fatal cranial collision in schoolyard accident.
Ages 14, 16, and 17. Prevented client from being struck by various oncoming vehicles.
Age 21. Prevented potentially fatal car accident. Client error.
Wryly, I note the recent, antagonistic trend between me and vehicles.
As I am busy reading the report, Jake keeps himself busy by playing with his hands, although not in the way that you or I would twiddle our thumbs idly. He amuses himself by shaping a cloud, tugging and pulling at the wisps of smoke to make what appears to be a surprisingly realistic lion. His handmade king of the jungle disappears into the ether only when he notices that I have looked up.
“Yeah, that last one was kind of a close call, wasn’t it? Right on 20th and Ortega, on your way home from the DMV…because we are bound by free will, I couldn’t stop you from accelerating into the intersection. The best I could do was I was swerve the other car just enough so you didn’t get t-boned.” Jake now takes my silence for a lack of objection, recognizing correctly that I am satisfied. “Like I said, I’m here today to talk to you about your policy. Think of it as a check up or evaluation meeting, with your representative from the divine. Now, our agents are supposed to sit down with policy holders during every elapsed quarter, and because we have you down as expiring in…” Jake pauses here as he checks his notes, which also appear out of thin air.
“…2079, this is right about the time for that first meeting.” Hearing my predetermined expiration date strikes me strangely — equal parts farther off and far closer than I think, a rising awareness stirs internally about own mortality and the near invincibility I have until then, the resulting battle wiping out almost all of short-term fears. If that number means what I think it does, then it changes absolutely everything. Caution and danger would have no more jurisdiction around these parts, the end of their 22-year reign brought about all by Jake’s visit.
The next half hour takes a more formal tenor, as he salts and peppers me with scripted questions about my satisfaction with his service. Has this meeting been informative? (Yes.) Do you have any objections or complaints with your Guardian or their performance? (Hell no — er, I mean…no, none.) Would I like to subscribe to LiveAlert, Heaven’s prayer priority service? (No.) Are you sure? The price is only your belief and everlasting loyalty. (Still no.) Has this meeting made me more or less likely to believe in the existence of the Lord and Savior? (Um. Not sure.)
After what seems like an eternity, the string of queries comes to an end, and as Jake looks ready to leave, I slip in one more of my own. “Just to be clear, even after we’ve met now, you’re still obligated to perform your duties, right?”
“Yep. I’ll be taking care of you right up til your policy expires. You don’t make Employee of the Century up here by slipping up…and I’ve been working for it for a good while now.”
I believe him.
“Fantastic,” I reply. “Then I think that’s it. Thank you, Jake. For everything so far, and whatever’s to come.” I get up from my seat on the bed and reach over to shake his angelic hand, which is, as you can imagine, firm, yet comfortingly warm. Almost as if a campfire lives in his palm or something. His massive wings touch each side of the doorjamb as he heads out, and somehow I find it within myself to call out snarkily again, smiling as I deliver the parting lines: “Yo, do you guys even have angels of color up there? Are minorities underrepresented in heaven too?”
He chuckles softly, but genuinely, before closing the front door behind him. And then he’s gone. Til our next 22 year reunion, anyway.
Me? I pull up a blank email draft, putting down all the outlandish, absurd ideas that now no longer seem so far out of reach, thanks to Jake.
The first entry: “Monster. Truck. Driver.”