Sophie first saw an angel when she was five. She knew what it was, because it had great white wings and it glowed with some internal fire.
‘Look,’ she said, but no-one did.
They did not all have wings, but they were all different from ordinary people. She would see them in the street, on a rooftop, and one one occasion, hovering above a boat on the river. That one did have wings, but was not bothering to use them.
She never did see any of the winged angels flying like a bird, and as she grew up, she began to think that their wings were only metaphors.
As she grew up, she also became more aware that no-one else saw them, and she wondered why she did. Sometimes, she tested people. ‘Who’s that on the roof,’ she would ask, but never got any answers except ‘Where?’ or ‘I can’t see anyone.’
Could the angels see her? They never looked at her. Each one was intent on something, a frown of concentration on their glowing features, but they never spared her a glance.
It went along like this for many years, and she became quite used to seeing them, as if they were birds or butterflies. An alien species going about its business in the midst of human life.
Then one day she came home to find an angel in her living room. It was an awkward situation. Should she acknowledge its presence or pretend it was not there? And then, it was a worrying situation, too. Had it come because she was going to need it? She really hoped not.
The creature was a monumental presence, standing in the corner, head bowed under the low ceiling of the room, the curve of its wings compressed in the tiny space. This one was dressed in a featureless cream-coloured robe of some fine fabric, and it glowed as they all did, illuminating the room softly with its presence. It did not move or speak.
Sophie chose to ignore it. She had never been quite sure that interacting with them was allowed, and this one was so close that she was a little afraid of it.
She just went about her evening as she would if the angel had not been there. She prepared and ate her dinner, watched TV, had a shower, went to bed. All the while the angel loomed motionless in the corner of the living room.
She did not sleep much, waking constantly throughout the night to check if it had come into her bedroom to stand in the corner, watching her.
When she woke in the morning she was fairly sure that she had dreamt the whole thing — but there, in the living room, the angel still stood, as if it had not moved the whole night.
Sophie tried to pretend she could not see it, but the looming presence weighed on her. At last she cracked.
‘Just what do you want?’ she asked.
The angel raised its head and looked directly into her eyes, and she knew she had made a terrible mistake. It crossed the room in a single step, raised its hands and laid them over her face. The weight of them was immense, and they burned. When those hands withdrew from her eyes she could no longer see the angel, though she knew it was still there. Then it left, taking a part of her with it.
‘It’s like I’m blind,’ she told me. ‘Of course, I can still see the way other people do, but it’s like living in a fog. I know there are so many things that I can’t see.
‘Sometimes they brush against me, or there will be a change in the light, and I know one of them is there, but I can’t see any more. I don’t understand why they would take that away from me.’
‘Do you think there’s one here now?’ I asked.
‘I think so. I heard feathers. It came in with you.’
I looked around, but there was nothing for me to see or hear beyond the ordinary world.