They arrived at the hospital where the woman thanked them endlessly.
“You are too very good, Grazie. My name is Natalia Catalano.”
Brian knew that name, why did he know it? It was on his list, of course, it was. Not Natalia but Eduardo.
“Eduardo?” He spluttered.
“Si, Eduardo Catalano, you know? You come see, Si?”
Brian couldn’t help himself, he had to see this man for reasons that he couldn’t explain, nor wanted to.
“Mel, do you mind? I won’t be too long.”
Mel didn’t mind, she was confused definitely but she didn’t mind.
“Take as long as you need honey. I’ll get a coffee.”
Azrael was already in the room, Dumah standing close by.
“I told you we should have dealt with this sooner.”
“Dumah, I understand your fears, I do, but this needs to be handled in a certain way which is in hand.”
The woman rushed to the bedside, grasping the hand of her Father as she knelt beside him. Her speech was fast and intermittent with the sobbing of a bereft daughter. Brian stood back, almost in the corridor as he watched the pitiful sight unfold. Why am I here? Intruding on the last precious moments of a family that I don’t even know. His mind was a whirl of self-jibing amid the bleeps of the machines that kept the old man clinging to life. Quietly he backed out of the room to the sound of the flat-line. He sat on the chair in the corridor, his hands propping up his face. What had he been thinking?
The tap on his shoulder brought him back to reality, the woman with her tear-stained face took his hand.
“Thank you, thank you for bringing me to say goodbye to my papa.”
Mel hugged him when he walked into the small café, she could sense that something had happened in there.
“She said goodbye to her father, it was very sad to watch.”
“You did a good thing by taking her. You see, maybe you were meant to be here after all.” She said quietly.
“Funny thing is, Martha would never have allowed me to pick up a stranger, not a charitable woman.”
The drive back was quiet, they listened to music in a strange language, neither of them minding too much.
“Oh my God! Look, look at that.” Cried out Mel as they neared the place they had rescued the woman. A lorry had all but smashed the small car to pieces, what remained of it was strewn all over their path.
“Jeez, this day keeps on giving. I hope nobody is hurt. Can you see a sign of anyone on your side?”
Mel strained her eyes to see down the embankment, spotting a man in overalls she pointed.
“There, down there.”
Brian raced down to where the man sat, he looked dazed.
“Mel, call for help. My phone is in the glove compartment, the satnav should give you our location.”
“Bloody hell you have had a day of it.” Neil couldn’t believe what he was hearing from his friend.
“We can stay in tonight if you’d rather not go out, wouldn’t blame you its been one hell of a day out for you guys.” Suggested Linda as she poured them a stiff drink.
“No, that’s not fair on you 2, you were looking forward to it, plus I think it would do us good.” Replied Brian as he sank the drink in one.
Azrael smiled at Dumah, he never gloated, that was not the way of celestials.
“Okay, I give you that one. It had to be him and it had to be today.” Mumbled Dumah as they glided through the hospital corridors.
“Chain of events, Dumah, they have to be so.”
They watched a while as Dr Natalia Catalano pulled on her scrubs and headed for the theatre. Her patient was prepped and ready to receive her transplant, it would be a success, this was a certainty.
The Doctor looked tired after the day’s events, she would cope, it was her job.
The meal was fantastic, they all ate far too much, drank more than enough, and finished off the night dancing in the local nightclub. The nightclub was mostly holidaymakers from the States, Germany, and the EU. Neil was happy that he didn’t have to keep referring to the small book to translate every sentence. He loved the Italian language and the accent but he did find it hard work. Linda had picked up a few useful words in the couple of days that they had been there, mostly grocery item essentials it was fair to say.
They slept well that night, waking when the sunlight flooded their rooms. Cries rang out from the rooms as the evening drinking caught up with the occupants of the villa.
“My head is going to explode! What was I drinking last night? Why did you let me drink so much, you’re supposed to protect me. Wasn’t that in our wedding vows?” Neil staggered to the kitchen, feeling for the warmth of the coffee pot he filled the cup to the brim.
“I’m your wife, not your nanny. I don’t remember vowing to be your mother, and can you not shout so loud?” Linda had her sunglasses on, the sun was far too bright for her head to deal with today.
“Does anybody else feel that we’re getting too old for nightclubs, or is it just me?” Mel asked as she made her way slowly to the patio ser on the balcony.
“Amen to that sister. Never again, that’s what I say, this time I mean it. Neil, our days of clubbing are over, you hear me?”
Only Brian seemed unaffected by the colossal amount of alcohol they had consumed. He had made coffee, started on the breakfast of bacon, egg and tomatoes for those that wanted it. In fact, he whistled away happily as the trio filled their systems with caffeine.
“You never get a hangover buddy, how do you do that? As far back as I can remember you have never suffered the dreaded effects of a damn good night. How? Tell me your secret.” Brian laughed as he watched his friend in all his unsightly torment.
“Luck, I guess. That and I don’t mix my beer, much. You were drinking everything on the bar list, no wonder you feel rough.”
“Rough! I don’t feel rough, I feel like I’m dying here.”
“Mel, did you sleep okay? How’s your head?”
“Shh, I am suffering. No sudden noises until the coffee has done its thing.”
“Pathetic, that’s what you are. You’re grown-ass adults that should be used to drinking. I feel let down.”
“You mock my friend, we are rebels of our time.”
“You are marshmallows, my boy, gooey on the inside and not able to hack it anymore.” Brian chuckled as he placed the steaming breakfast plates before the sorry looking trio.
“Plans for the day, Anyone?”
Linda groaned, all this perkiness was hurting her head more than it did already. Throwing the warm roll at her friend she shook her head carefully.
“Plan for today is this, I plan to get to know my friend bed a little better. Not sure what you all had in mind but that’s what I’ll be doing.”
“Noo! Linda, we have so much to see. Your head will feel better for a bit of fresh air, not cooped up in here all day. Tell her Neil, you know I’m right.”
Neil shook his head, he knew better than to disagree with his wife.
“Sorry buddy, you’re on your own with this one.”
“Mel, are you going to stay here too?” Brian could sense he was fighting a losing battle.
“Afraid so Brian, you get yourself out and explore, we’ll manage. Somehow.” Her smile, even when she looked as hungover as the others she still managed that enchanting smile.
Brian took the car, they were too far out to walk anywhere and the others had no intentions of venturing out this morning, at any rate. He drove down to the village, it was a quaint olde world village. The type of place that time had forgotten. He loved it. After parking the car he walked slowly around the centre square, it had a fountain that splayed pretty water displays into the air from the trumpets of Angel cherubs. He thought about his experience, or was it a dream? Either way, his mind took him to that place. The sound of those voices still rattled around in his head. Sitting on a bench he watched as 2 young children ran in and between the water jets, so innocent in their play as they splashed water at each other.
“You are on holiday?” Came the voice from behind him.
“Yes, are you?”
“No, I live here, my family has lived here for generations. It is a beautiful town, don’t you agree?”
“I do. You speak very good English.”
“I studied in England for many years, this place pulls you back. I hope you enjoy your time here. Try the café on the corner, it has delicious food, there is also the church on the hill if you are stuck for something to do.”
“Thank you, I will.” Brian turned expecting to see a person standing there, much to his surprise there wasn’t. Turning back to the fountain in confusion he realised that the children had gone.
“Well, that wasn’t strange much!” He said aloud in the empty square.
“Where have you been? We thought you would be back ages ago. Have you eaten?” Mel asked as Brian strolled through the garden that surrounded the Villa.
“I took a walk in the town, turned into quite a long walk by the end of it. You have to come with me, it’s so amazing. I found the church, which must have been built hundreds of years ago but God it’s beautiful. I spoke to a few of the locals too, can you imagine living in a place with so much history?”
“I’d be happy to go with you. Did you eat? We had a light lunch, Neil and Linda are feeling much better now, me too. A day off did us the world of good.”
“I did, thanks. I had pizza as recommended to me by a person.” Mel laughed.
“A person? Not a man, or woman?”
“Yeah, it was a strange conversation. They were standing behind me but when I turned they’d vanished. Mind you, it’s a small courtyard type of centre so they probably wandered off.”
Neil appeared on the balcony, his arms waving to the friend below.
“Hey buddy, you’ve been gone a long time. We were thinking of heading off for a stroll, I saw in the booklet they have a decent walking trail. Care to tag along?”
“Give me 2 secs to change my shoes and I’m there. Mel? You fancy a walk?”
Mel lifted the sunglasses to perch on top of her head, she had spent the day reading a novel of sorts.
“Yes, sounds good to me. This.” She waved the book toward him. “Started off funny, now I feel like I want to throw myself into the sea on the heroine’s behalf!”
Brian chuckled, he had read a similar book recently, they pull you in with the promise of a light-hearted read then wham! It’s all doom and despair.
“Come on then girl, get your boots on and we should catch the sunset.”
The trail was a well picked out trek through some incredible scenery, topped only by the orange sky as the sun began its descent over the hills.
Azrael sat atop his favourite resting place as he did often. He watched the 4 humans with interest as they made their way along the winding paths. He saw Brian gently take the hand of the female. The lights bounced magnificently through her hair, changing it from gold to red to orange. He wondered what the human touch felt like, for as an Angel he had never been permitted to have relations with another, their work was far too important to have anything distract them.
Had he been human he imagined he would have had many children, he was captivated by their laughter, their innocence in all things. Yes, he would have had at least 5 if not more. He sighed, it wasn’t a thing he missed for he had never experienced it. Once, he would like to have been that man who held the hand of a delicate creature as the man he was following did now.
Dumah appeared beside him.
“Anything to report?”
“No, they are enjoying the bounty of nature. Look Dumah, have you ever seen such a wonderous sight?”
Dumah stared blankly at the sky, he was not a sentimental being.
“It is simply the sun setting Azrael, it does so every night as sure as it rises every morning, it shall continue to do so for a long time to come. I see nothing more than a repetitive function.”
Azrael shook his head, how could he not see what he saw?
“I think it’s a miracle, one of the Almighty’s finest works. See, how the colours change so quickly and yet they still blend together perfectly.” He knew his words were falling on ears that did not value the intricacies of art.
“Hmm, as you wish. I came to tell you we are needed, there has been a rockslide on the other side of the earth, many to be taken this night. It was a difficult one to set, but the job is now done. Come.”
Brian loved Italy, now that he had done what he came here to do he was free to enjoy the rest of their time in the beautiful country. Part of him wished he could stay here, that wasn’t an option and he told himself that millions of people who go on holiday say the same thing wherever they go, still, if he could pick up tomorrow and set himself up with a nice little villa. Nothing too flashy, a simple home coupled with a simple lifestyle, he would be happy.
“Hey, Brian?” It was Mel, she knocked at his open door.
“In here, come in.” Mel stood at the bathroom door watching as Brian pulled on his sneakers.
“What’s all this? Is it a work thing?” In her hands, she held the notepad with all the scraps of paper he had used for jotting things down when he was out and about.
“Not exactly, it’s a little project that I’ve been working on. It’s nothing really, silly scribblings that I ought to throw away. Are they ready to go?”
“Yes, we thought we’d leave in around 30 minutes if that works for you. Is this the name of that poor old guy who’s daughter we picked up?” Mel’s puzzled expression as she scanned through the pages told Brian that she did not find these scribblings silly, more worrying judging by the changing look on her face.
“They’re nothing, honestly, that name was a fluke. I mean, there are thousands of people in this region with that name. Imagine it as the equivalent to Smith or even Chan.”
Mel nodded as she handed the pad back to its owner.
“Not my business, I’m sorry if it appears I was snooping. Right, come on, we have a boat to catch.” She hurriedly left the room leaving Brian sitting in the chair dismayed.
They were going on a fishing trip, the guys had been looking forward to this day since they had arrived. Neil was a keen fisherman when time off allowed him. Brian only occasionally, still, it was what promised to be a relaxing day on the lake. They had a cooler full of food and another containing cans of beer. Perfect!
Their guide for the day was an older man, highly recommended by the owners of the villa. He spoke some English, enough to get a conversation going along with instructions regarding safety on the small boat.
“Mel, have you fished before?”
“I can’t say I have, Neil, It always seems a relaxed sport, I’m looking forward to giving it a whirl. How about you Linda, do you go with Neil?”
“Lord no, that’s Neils quiet time where he can get away from me and the kids for a few hours. I’m honoured that he invited me along today. It’s the bait you see, I never could get on with all that worm hooking, seems cruel to me.”
“They can’t feel it, honey.” Her husband laughed.
“You don’t know that Neil, you tell yourself that to make yourself feel better.”
“Should be a nice day all the same. You ladies can have a go or sit in the sun, yapping.”
“We’re not puppies, you wiener!” retorted Linda, slapping his behind as he passed her.
“You okay there buddy? You’re quiet today.”
Brian nodded, he felt a little out of sorts. He was sensing a cooler vibe from Mel and could not for the life of him figure out why.
“All good over here Pal.”
They sailed a fair distance before the older man found a good starting point. He quickly explained what they could catch, what they should throw back and what to do in the event that a person fell overboard. All standard instruction to Neil.
“Why do they throw some back?” It was Mel that quietly asked the question.
“The young, we don’t take the young. We take what we need and no more.”
“Ah, I see.” Made sense, she thought.
Linda stretched out on the chair, carefully covering her skin with sun cream as she watched her husband cast his first line into the blue water.
Mel held the reel in her hands, she felt easier that she had been attached to a harness, the risk of being dragged into the deep lake by a shark was not one she was willing to take no matter how much her brain told her there were no sharks in the water. Gazing across the vast lake she smiled to herself, what a beautiful place they had chosen and such a glorious day. Her eyes paused as she took in the figure of the man that she thought she was beginning to know quite well, was she? The incident with the names was more than a coincidence, she was astute enough to know that much.
Brian looked across at her now, her stare intense. What was she thinking, what had he done that had caused her to have that look of mistrust? She averted her eyes back to the water below. They were both distracted from their thoughts by the screeching of an excited Neil as his reel began to spin, almost out of his control. He had hooked something and it was a large something. With the expert help of the older guide, they guided the fish closer to the boat, it was heavy, Neil had to work hard to reel in the creature that tried to get away.
“What is it?” called Linda from her sunbed.
“Not sure, hon, I’ll let you know when we get the monster on deck.” Neil’s voice was breathless as he shouted back to his mostly uninterested wife.
“Zander, he a big one. Make for you a tasty meal.” Smiled the guide. It pleased him that they caught something on their trip. Good advertising for the small business he had built over the years. Leaning carefully over the side, net in hand, the fish had no option but to swim into it. Heaving the heavy net up and bringing the fighting fish to its resting place on the deck he stood back to look at it.
“Big! Very big. We take a photo, Yes?” unhooking the monster carefully he felt proud.
Azrael never understood this human sport. Shaking his head from the mountain view he watched the whole activity of the capture, the human holding it high as a trophy followed by the picture-taking with a camera. He knew that these processes had been a necessary process for many over the years as a means of sustenance, however, he never could get on board with doing it just for the fun of it. They were a curious being in that some valued their own lives to the utmost and yet, they thought nothing of ending another’s, be it animal or human.
It had been a difficult week, as weeks go, for the Archangel. He had been called back to speak with the committee several times, he had the feeling they knew something, he was not about to offer himself up until he had exhausted all options. Dumah, he felt, would not be as generous if he were to be pressed.
Time to get back to work, his wings spread gracefully, their bright whiteness mixing with the camouflage of the clouds around the peak of the mountain he stood upon.
Brian stared at the spot high up in the distance, he could have sworn he saw a swan take off from the mountain top. A large swan too! The boat began its return to shore, a good day of fishing had been accomplished with all 3 catching something. They thanked their guide as they left the jetty. Neil held the cooler bag carefully as he made his way to the car.
“Are you going to cook it?” asked Linda.
“Are you crazy woman? There’s a place in town where they will prepare and cook what you catch, the fella said his son owns it and it’s part of the package. Not a bad deal, eh?”
“Do we need to go back to change?” asked Mel.
“You look lovely as you are, besides, I think it’s pretty casual from what the guide was saying. Neil, we don’t need to change for this place do we?”
“No bud, go as you are the old fella said.”
Arriving in the town Brian caught Mel’s arm before she went into the small restaurant.
“Have I upset you, Mel? You seem a bit quiet with me today.”
Mel gently pulled her arm away, she felt confused, she wondered if this was her making something of nothing as a way of distancing herself from any emotional attachment to the man.
“I’m okay, Brian. Bit of a headache if I’m honest, nothing personal.”
Well, that was a relief. Brian was happy with the explanation, why he worried so much was beyond him. Women get funny when they have headaches. Sorted! Mel liked the fact that men were oblivious to the ways of a woman’s mind.
The fish was prepared and served to the waiting customers. There was plenty left that they could take with them, the waiter had informed them although Neil was happy for them to use it up themselves. It was nice to have, here in this place but he didn’t fancy being the one to have the villa stink of fish for the rest of their stay. The waiter was thrilled, having had a few more customers ask for the dish the foursome were busy tucking into it made the chefs afternoon a little less arduous.
As with all things heavenly, Azrael had various tasks that were pleasant. One such task was the welcoming of new life into the world. Not that he interfered much with this side of things, more an overseeing role. This one was running later than expected, he hovered around in the background as the familiar sound of cries rang out through the dwelling. He watched in wonderment as the humans cried their thanks and gratitude for a successful arrival.
They were sweet little things, these human babies, all pink and soft as yet unaffected by worldly traits. He loved the innocence of it all. Of course, he knew what lay in store for them, that went without saying, still it was these first moments that tugged at him. The promise of what could be. Dumah, ever close by, could not see what the fuss was about. In his thoughts, he saw them as just another in the long line of humans that would grow to become the greedy and selfish beings that he saw them to be.
“Well, that’s another one safely delivered. Do you never tire of it? You watch them as though it is the first time you have seen one appear in this world.”
“But it is, it’s the first time that particular human has smelt the fragrance of their surroundings, breathed their first breath, felt their first touch. Can you imagine what that must be like? Do you never wonder?” Azrael asked of his counterpart.
“No, I never wonder. I simply ask myself what foolishness will this one bestow upon the world.”
Azrael shook his head, he pitied this Angel. They were given these tasks, not only as overseers but to learn. It would appear Dumah had learnt nothing in the centuries at his side.
“This position is not always the right one for some.”
Dumah shrugged, he could think of better positions an Angel such as he might take to, until then he would serve his time dutifully. He had leverage, he intended to eventually use it well.
The holiday was coming to its end, they had all enjoyed their time in the beautiful villa, alas it was now time to pack up and head home. Neil had spent a lot of his days taking photographs, it was a hobby he had neglected over the past years, a shame as they were extremely good. He had the eye, as Linda called it. The couple had gotten closer without the daily checklist and teenagers to contend with. Brian had noticed this, it was good to see the couple as they were when he first knew them. Mel had gotten over her headache quickly, she and Brian had returned to the comfort of their budding friendship. Yes, it had been a welcome break for all.
The rental car loaded, they said a last farewell to the villa reaching the airport in good time. It wasn’t until they were taking out the suitcases that Brian realised he had left his notepad on the bedside table, it came to him in a flash.
Dumah held his breath, what will he do? Make a decision human. Azrael felt sad, it had to be done, there was no other way.
“Damn it, I have to go back. I left something.”
“No, you’re kidding aren’t you?”
“No joke buddy, we’ve got plenty of time. I’ll take the car and be back before you know it. The plane doesn’t leave for another 2 hours.”
“Can’t you get the owners to forward it? Unless it’s your passport of course and then, Yeah, you best go get it. Is it your passport?” asked Mel quizzically.
“Yeah, yeah it’s my passport. Stay here, get some lunch on me and I’ll be as quick as I can. If there’s any problem I will get the next flight and see you back home.”
Kissing Mel on her lips he felt a flicker of electricity run through him.
“Drive carefully.” They called after their friend as he disappeared down the road.
“You can see now that he is not going to leave it alone?”
“Yes. I had hoped, no matter. This past week I have moved various things to accommodate the gap. What should be will still be.”
For the first time, Dumah could feel the pain of his counterpart, he did not enjoy it as he assumed he would. Stretching his arm he placed it around the Archangels shoulder.
“Would you like me to do it?”
“That is kind, no, I have to do this.”
Brian almost hit the wall when the large being appeared in the seat beside him. Jeez, he was hallucinating again. It must be aftereffects of that blasted accident, when would they stop? As soon as he got home he would make it his priority to speak with the doctor about this.
“Don’t be scared, Brian. You remember me?”
“Christ, now I’m hearing things.”
“You are hearing what you need to hear. We asked you, implored you to leave well enough alone. Do you recall?”
Brian could, this was no hallucination, they were back and they were very real.
“Okay, okay I get it. I’ll turn the car around, forget I ever saw you, forget I ever saw the damn list. Give me another chance, please.”
Azrael shook his head solemnly, he knew the man meant what he said, for now. Sadly, he knew that this human would keep coming back to the thing that could not be meddled with.
“I am going to give you a choice. You are human after all, your life is a series of choices whether you realise it or not. Go left, go right, simple yes? But never stand still, that’s how it works. Ultimately you have 2 paths, this makes it easier for us to predetermine fate, without it, well… It is not your concern. What is your concern right now is this choice. You, or your flight? Many people, some you are fond of or you? What do you choose?”
Brian was scared, it all sounded so final to him. He had just gotten his life back on track and was happy. Why was he such a bull-headed idiot! Why did this thing obsess him so much?
“Can’t you wipe the memory? You are Angels, right? You must have powers, if you can determine who stays and who goes then surely you can wipe a memory? I didn’t even want to know all of this, it keeps me up nights, I don’t know why or what it all means, all I know is if I hadn’t seen it, surely you can understand that? You’re things of God, God is good isn’t he?” The man was panicking, Azrael was absolute in what he had to do.
“I’m sorry, it has to be this way.”
Dumah was shocked, he expected Azrael to be swayed by the human’s pleading. He sat in the back of the rental, his mouth open yet no words leaving his lips. He watched as the man shook, his hands barely able to keep the steering wheel steady.
“Brian?” Azrael’s voice echoed throughout the car as it careered along the bends on the beautiful hillside.
“Brian, have you chosen?”
“Please, Dumah be silent. You asked me to deal with the matter, I am dealing with the matter.”
“We can do what he asked, we can lose the memory. It is not unheard of, I think he has learnt the lesson we wanted him to learn. Azrael, think about what you are doing, I beg you.”
D M Roberts copyright2022
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