I knew an angel once. An archangel with a broken wing. His fleshbound shell was afflicted with renal failure. The set of kidneys his body came with started crapping out in childhood. He had transplants, but, eventually, those kidneys, a gift, the last true act of altruism, ceased to function as well. The entire space of our acquaintance he was on dialysis.
So it goes. After all, which of us is perfect? Besides, perfection is boring.
I was dancing with the dead for money when he tried to get on the transplant list again. It became a motivating factor for me in that gig. Years later, the bruja told me that doctors told him he was not eligible for another transplant. He resolved to die at the next available opportunity.
Whether or not that opportunity was a heart surgery he underwent whilst I was helping my father put his mother in the dirt, thousands of miles away, is conjecture that could be debated until the stars fall out of the sky...
He was a hero of mine. One of the smartest cats I ever met. There was a way he carried himself, perpetually smoking and almost always dressed in black suits that made him infinitely cool to me.
"Don't let that suit fool you," Madam Lung said to me one night. "He is a dirty, dirty, man."
True to fact. Even his memorial announcement described him as an unrepentant letch. Both the bruja and the gypsy had some stories. In fact, the best opening line of one of the gypsy's stories involved a tawdry moment with our mutual flawed angelic friend. It would be uncivilized, and, stealing a friend's tale, to go into much more detail.
So it goes. I learned long ago that not all angels are from Heaven and not all demons from Hell, and the wise know to make allowance. He was dying in hurried degrees since the day I first heard his name and probably a lot longer. The fact he was endeavoring to go out with a bang instead of a whimper-maybe a little of both?-is perhaps the metaphoric and metaphysical license given to one with so little to lose.
When I see ghosts, they tend to be donned in a topcoat of breathing flesh. Inevitably, this seems to always happen when I have obligations. I suppose this makes sense; I live where others come to vacation and tourism sustains more places around here than it doesn't. What do you do? My day had started with a group from Argentina and a beautiful dark-haired Brazilian girl who thought peachy was the coolest English term she'd ever heard. I've met monks from Bhutan and midwestern housewives.
What I was doing at the time seems trivial, even if perhaps it wasn't, but I stopped dead when I saw him. He was older, which seems logical, given we'd all aged in the years since vials of ashes were partitioned out amongst our lot. I scattered my share at Netherworld the last night Sabina and I were out before moving to the mountains. The spectacles were the same shape and, instead of the shaved-head Lex Luthor look of his final years, he had the shoulder-length sandy blond hair like when I first knew him.
"Jibril?" I whispered to myself.
The others had spoken of seeing him in dreams. Stories of his phantasm haunting the juke joints we all used to frequent. I never had any such experiences, partially because I dropped out of that scene shortly after he died. It seemed to me we'd already said our goodbyes, so it was unnecessary to see him again.
And yet, there he was, behind the Voodoo mask of someone with similar features, with perhaps longer hair...
The man smiled warmly at me. Jibril's smile. It got me to react, at least realizing if I didn't watch it, I might just start staring. I inclined my head respectively.
He was joined by a woman on the way out whose countenance was somewhere between the bruja and the gypsy. A warm sort of familiarity that spoke of history, which might be uncivilized to inquire about, but might come out over late-night coffee whilst the rest of the world slept. It got me smile bittersweetly.
Usually, when seeing a fleshbound phantasm, I find myself rattled. The rest of the day is just a little off in ways language fails to describe. After this encounter, I found myself strangely at peace. My friend, that archangel with a broken wing, never had occasion to see me seized with the madness of leaving the greater metroplex for the mountains. Although I believe it is vanity to second-guess the dead, perhaps in that moment, he finally got see, and that familiar smile said it all.