I killed an angel this morning.
I thought I was swiping away a mosquito; one whose wings did not buzz but rather sang, like perfectly tuned notes on a church organ. At that time of morning, however, one’s ears are not tuned for such beauty and so (semi-comatose) I did what anyone who hears buzzing around their ear does:
Whatever I hit could not possibly have been heavier than the average well-fed mosquito. And so I returned to sleep, the night’s silence only occasionally broken – according to my wife – by the sound of my snoring. It was Shari’s fault we had stayed up so late, watching two of her favourite TV programs – Women Who Kill and the new season premiere of How to Get Away with Murder – uploaded to my laptop by friends who cared enough to share. Thank God for community.
That night, Shari and I gorged on all the chocolates and biscuits a recently returned friend had brought us from abroad. Expensive shit. The government eventually intervened, turning off our neighbourhood’s power; their tax on citizens having fun. The laptop died soon after. It would take a few paydays before we could afford the new battery it needed.
It had been Shari’s turn to do the dishes and lock up. She hated cleaning up, but if we did not put things back in our mostly empty fridge, ants would get to everything by morning; something Shari hated even more than cleaning up. She was still getting used to all of Africa’s insects and microbes, and how much of a say they had in the speed at which food had to be consumed. Europe had been like a fridge; the cold keeping everything crisp and fresh. She would tell me she was surprised she missed it, but such conversations always ended with tales of crime and racism and the rise of the right. If others could make it here, she could too.
African nights are long without power. No electricity means no fan, which would not matter so much if all the new buildings like ours, rented out at ridiculous Accra rates, used louvre-bladed windows, instead of the new sliding ones that halve ventilation. Worse still for us, because several local evangelical churches were doing well enough to own generators, Shari and I had learned to live with the hum of such machines. We were still taking lessons on how much screaming and singing was involved in bringing people to God. New entrepreneurial churches on every other street corner with loud sound systems, vie for congregants through various forms of noise pollution: criminally loud preaching, passionate at times off-key singing and chanting in tongues. Without electricity, the only way to keep the cacophony out is to have your fully-charged mobile phone loaded with music and to sleep with your earphones in. Those without this option often resort to hot and uncomfortably sweaty sex, or to church. The kind of love expressed in peaceful neighbourliness is no longer practical in our modern metropolis. We live in the spiritual world. The physical one can burn.
I looked at my phone’s playlist: Poetra. Worlasi. Akan. Akotowaa. The FOKN Bois. M.anifest. The new Blitz. All dope, but too wordy to sleep to. I should have loaded some smoother sounds on there: Adomaa, EDWVN, Cina Soul, Sutra and such. The new Moses Sumney. The laptop that held all my goodies had died, and I fell asleep weighing up my options, waiting for Shari to finish up and come to bed.
Getting out of bed at dawn, I tripped over something and was surprised to land in a phenomenally soft pile of feathers. As I lifted myself up and my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I did not see the burst-open pillow I expected, but rather a six-foot-something, face-down Caucasian with curly blonde hair on its head under me, with tan leather sandals on its feet.
I recoiled with a scream I could not stifle, fighting for enough muscular control to push myself as far as possible from what my eyes could see but my mind could not understand.
Shari, awakened by my scream, did not at first see the creature from her side of the bed. She saw her husband on the floor, lifted herself up on her elbows and her curiosity followed my wide-open eyes into the darkness. There, she too saw the creature glowing and smothered a scream with one hand, snatching a bedsheet across her naked body with the other.
Her voice broke through my confusion, my mind connected the foggy memory of swatting a mosquito to the creature lying dead on our ceramic floor, and drowned as it tried to reconcile the processes involved in transforming insects into dead angels.
I realized Shari was calling my name.
“Kobby… Kobby! Why is there a man on our floor?”
Through the haze of my terror, I noticed a gap between our understandings of what was happening.
“What do you mean a … a man? Can’t you see? It’s…”
I could not believe what I was about to say, but my eyes had not moved in minutes. Its wings were majestic; tall enough to hide most of its torso; folded, one over the other; aglow with whiteness, consisting of lattice upon lattice of feathers in perfect order.
“Shari, it’s an angel. What’s an … angel … doing? In our bedroom.”
I heard the incredulity in her voice as she simply asked me whether it was dead. With what little courage I had, I crawled tentatively towards the mythological creature, and poked it with my foot. When nothing happened, I poked again. Harder. Still nothing. I kicked it.
It did not move.
Pausing, I started wondering if angels were even capable of death, but before the thought could take full form, Shari got off the bed and knelt beside the being, reaching a hand behind one of its wings and into the creature’s long curls.
“What are you doing?” I (thought I) screamed at her.
“Kobina, I’m feeling for a pulse. Why are you whispering?”
“I wasn’t … wait. Shari, why would an angel have a pulse?”
By now, she was holding its wrist and – supposedly feeling nothing – she let it drop lifelessly to the floor. Ignoring me, she moved her hands onto the being’s back and ran them over its feathers; gently at first, until her hands reached between the feathers. I saw her pause to gather strength and, realizing what she was about to do, I grabbed her and wrestled her to the floor.
“What are you doing!” we shouted at each other at the same time.
“Are you crazy, Shari? WERE YOU TRYING TO TEAR OFF AN ANGEL’S WINGS? Do you know what the consequences are for that? I mean … I don’t, but … but THAT’S A CREATURE OF GOD. Not like us … like … this thing is from heaven oo! Heaven, Shari. HEAVEN. Or some other dimension or…”
There was enough daylight now to see her face turn from attention to confusion and then to concern as I continued:
“Look, I … I thought I killed a mosquito last night. It was making this weird sound – a bit like a church organ – and somehow, I think it transformed. I … I read this about how the Greek gods would turn into animals when visiting mortals. Like … you know, Zeus turned into a swan once, and maybe it was all true and the mosquito was an angel … or maybe all mosquitoes are angels. Or maybe just this one, but then … when I hit it, I…”
Any more thoughts were knocked right out of my head by the sharp Nigerian movie slap my wife landed across my right cheek:
“Kobina Ankomah-Graham! A costumed white guy is dead on our bedroom floor, and you’re bleeding, and I don’t know what happened or how he got past our locked doors and barred windows, but we need to get it out of here before… Look, just pull yourself together and focus!”
She jumped up, skipped over the body towards the wall, and flicked the light switch, but the power was still out.
“I can’t believe you slapped me.”
“Kobby, I love you, but – I swear to God – I will slap you again unless you get up and help me move this body. Go and wash the blood off your hands and then we can take these wings off. It will make him easier to move.”
I looked at my hands and there was indeed blood inside my right palm. I thought twice about saying anything about the swatted mosquito and headed to the sink. My beloved was not done berating me:
“I really don’t understand you sometimes. An angel. Can you imagine? Tcheew. Renaissance paintings are just paintings. Or do you also think Jesus had straight hair too? Kobby, you’re a university professor. What are you doing in there?”
I wanted to shout something academic back at her but instead turned the tap and looked down as the flowing water refracted the morning’s light. I wished it could wash my shame away. She was right. I had panicked. Angels are obviously not real. I had read once about how we forget all our programming when we are faced with fear, pain or death. The masks come off. We revert, like Ghanaians taught to say “ouch!” revert to “agyei!” when in pain, to our earliest selves. We speak our local languages in our nightmares. I hated the fearful self I had just manifested: a reminder of a more religious me. As I watched the water strip my hands of blood, I cursed my Methodist upbringing and wished Shari had found me sooner. We would often laugh at how I ended up an educator while she went into risk analysis. She broke free from the constraints of dogma somewhere in secondary school, devouring entire libraries worth of books on religion and philosophy, in addition to all the Fanon, Baldwin, and Carolyn Cooper she studied in school. How could I not fall in love with her? No one in my circle seemed to fight more fearlessly for love and truth.
There was a new terror in her voice that made me leave the water running, and dart immediately back, only to collide with her in the corridor. We fell in a heap to the ground.
“Kobby. It… It’s not…”
“What? What’s not what?”
The morning was now bright enough for me to see how wide open her eyes were. My earlier panic gave way to resolve. I did not know what had scared Shari in the moments I had been in the bathroom, but if he had done anything to her, the winged weirdo on our floor would die a gruesome second death.
Mute, she pointed towards the bedroom and I got to my feet, picking up one of the shoes I always left in the corridor when I got home, raised it above my head and slowly approached our room.
The scene was almost the same as I had left it, except for a pool of blood that now seeped out from under the man’s body. And a very strong smell of strawberries.
I heard Shari walk up behind me as I knelt. Something seemed off about the blood: it was thick and gooey. I thought I could see tiny seeds in it.
“Kobina, it’s jam… It’s bleeding jam.”
The strawberry smell was overwhelming. I put a finger in the stuff and stuck my tongue out.
What started out in my taste buds instantly spread across all my other senses, as though it was taking all my mind’s power to process the data being sent from my tongue to my brain. The first fruit of Eden must have tasted of this; a sugar to end all sugars.
“Shari,” I heard myself say. I sounded distant and astral. “You have to try this.” Floating above, I could see her on her knees, holding another me by his shoulders, and shaking him with heartbreaking love and violence. I loved this woman, but entire universes were standing naked before me, drawing me in. Lacking the ability to resist their pull, I picked one out and dove into its darkness.
I woke up back in my bed.
A mosquito buzzing around my ear made me sit up with a start. It was dark again. I looked at the floor. The creature was gone, the floor was clean, and Shari lay asleep at my side. I sat still, trying to process why everything looked perfectly normal while I felt anything but. I heard a sound from the corridor, got up, walked out, instinctively flicked a switch and immediately regretted it as my eyes flooded with light. The sound was clearer: a tap was running, coming from the bathroom. Still dazed, I walked over and stared at the clear water for a second before splashing it on my face, closing the tap and looking at myself in the mirror. I looked exactly like myself. Why did I expect myself to look any different? I looked at my hands.
They were blood-free.
In the bedroom, I closed the door a little too loud and Shari stirred in bed, mumbling something. I lay next to her and listened as she tried again.
“I handled it,” she said. “It’s in jars in the fridge. The ants won’t get a thing.”