Angel #526 looked at the Christmas rota. His heart sank; of all places he been given Europe and its offshore islands. That meant that he had to go and watch over an assortment of selfish, greedy people who had largely handed the meaning of Christmas over to hedonism, commercialism and indulgence. Of course there were exceptions: altruists trying to help others, save lives, improve communities, but in the angel’s opinion such people were a minority.
For more than two thousand years he’d been working his way up the hierarchy of angels, but a mistake he made during the reformation, when he’d prevented the desecration of some early medieval stained glass in a church in England, had all but put paid to his chances of joining the ranks of even the minor seraphim. When his interference came to light THE BIG BOSS had made him write out the Non Intermixti directive 14 million times on the head of a pin. The NI directive was essential to all angels. Do not interfere, ever. THE BIG BOSS had explained to him at great length about free will; mankind was able to make choices and if they made bad choices it was their problem and they had to sort it out. The angel knew all that, he’d help draft the blasted directive, but he didn’t really agree with it.
So it came to pass that on Christmas Eve the angel was hovering about over various churches, chapels and grand cathedrals keeping an eye on proceedings and wondering about a lot of things. Uppermost in his mind was the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people with no home to go to; no chance of a square meal, no warm place to sleep and no one to look after them. He saw them crowded into makeshift camps, risking their lives on stormy seas, facing dogs and water cannons; political pawns used and abused by unscrupulous traffickers and conmen.
This was nothing new to the angel. He’d been on duty in the Middle East two thousand years ago and seen a baby born in a stinking animal shelter to a refugee, an unmarried mother with an old man trying to look after her. How neither the mother nor her baby died of gangrene or septicaemia was nothing short of a miracle, but they didn’t and all the angels who could play an instrument had to fill the freezing night sky with heavenly music.
What did surprise the angel was that people still celebrated all this but saw nothing wrong with keeping people in the same situation in even worse conditions. The words of THE BIG BOSS thundered in his ears. ‘They have free will, non intermixti’.
Against his better judgement, the angel spent more time observing people’s misery in the freezing camps than he did by admiring the beautiful cathedrals and local churches. Behind a barricade of razor wire he saw a young couple huddled together under a flimsy piece of cardboard. He could see she was in labour, not long to go now until there was another life amid all this chaos. Concerned and angry, he made a decision.
Over millennia angels have acquired an extensive set of skills, not the least of which are in information technology. So Angel #526 went to the camp commander’s office. This was in a brick building that used to be a school; the camp had grown up around it very rapidly and what little infrastructure there was had been completely overwhelmed. There was no one about, except a night watchman who had clearly discovered the commander’s stash of vodka. So the angel went to the computer, turned it on and found the latest files of incomers. He noted that the file of leavers was blank. Scrolling through the thousands of names he finally found what he was searching for.
Jerzy, the man who did his best to keep control of the refugee camp, was not a bad man. True he was weak, he was greedy and his politics and opinions could best be described as reactionary, but he wasn’t a sadistic bully as many in his position were. So when his phone pinged with a ‘Red Alert’ message he read it straight away. From the very top brass, using a code that only he knew, he was being instructed to procure immediate medical evacuation for a woman in the late stages of labour and take her and her partner to hospital. Jerzy made the necessary arrangements without leaving the comfort of his armchair. Somehow the exact position of the woman and her terrified husband had been given in the message. He briefly wondered how this had been achieved; with so many desperate people milling about, finding one or two was more difficult than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. But he didn’t dwell too long on the problem; he had other issues to sort out.
So on Christmas Eve while his wife and family were celebrating with a delicious meal of carp, borscht and dumplings, Jerzy was busy persuading the housing department to find a suitable flat for a young couple with a new baby. To his surprise it was a remarkably straightforward process, and a two bedroom flat with a balcony would be ready for them as soon as they needed it.
‘It’s a miracle’ Jerzy exclaimed to his grumpy wife, ‘usually these things take months and at the end of it all I find the place hasn’t even been built.’
‘Come and have your Christmas dinner and think about your own family for a change,’ Mrs Jerzy was fed up with cooking all day only to find that her husband was more interested in two louse-infested refugees than her home cooking.
‘Won’t be long sweetheart.’
Angel #526 was on a roll. He made sure that the Mayor knew that the first baby born on Christmas day should be given gifts from all the businesses in town. He hadn’t reckoned on the President of the Chamber of Commerce giving a job to the new father; the President owned a construction company and was only too pleased to find a skilled carpenter in need of a job. Passports and paperwork were delivered instantaneously to the new address; a new life beckoned when only hours previously the future of a couple under a piece of cardboard had been bleak.
But the angel knew that trouble was only just around the corner. He’d comprehensively broken the NI directive and it was distinctly possible that he would soon join the company of fallen angels. The call came soon after midday. He had to report to THE BIG BOSS and could only bring one angel to support him. He went alone; there was no point in dragging any other heavenly being into the mess he’d knowingly created.
It wasn’t an easy conversation. In fact it wasn’t really a conversation; it was a one-sided remonstration of hurt and disappointment. Angel #526 was demoted to #999, the very bottom of the celestial ladder. He’d have to start working his way up all over again. He also had to spend a thousand years sorting out the gCloud, the badly organised and impenetrable eternal equivalent of the iCloud that was essential to mankind in the 21st century.
Angel #999 was dismissed and made his way disconsolately towards the door.
‘One more thing…’ The angel turned towards THE BIG BOSS, surprised to see a faint smile on his normally impassive face ‘…You will be pleased to know that a baby girl was safely delivered to a young mother just after midnight. Her parents have called her Angela.’
About the author
Penny writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry. She has been published in print and online. She is the reviews editor for SOUTH poetry magazine.