Where Victors Surrender

Angel is a foreign term adapted by locals as name for their children: Angel, Angelica, Angelo. Angel is just an adjective to describe something beautiful. It is a used an abused term. There are many stories of meeting spirits or supernaturals and experiencing miracles or curses; but with angels, meeting one – flesh, bones, and all – is not possible. You don’t meet angels. They either kill you or summon you.

There are seven named angels in this religion; one standing for each day of the week. You don’t get to decide which angel would become your guardian, but the celestials choose what day you would be born, and – apparently – who you’d compete with to replace that angel.

It was my birthday but also the day of my demise. When they said that man would come and leave this world the same way, I didn’t think it would also be the same date. That fateful day, I was at the verge of life and death at St. Luke’s Hospital, but my soul was standing in front of prospective archangels. The celestial responsible for the choir of angels during my nativity was also the host of my last banquet.

Everything in this plane didn’t touch. I could be flying, hovering, or drowning for that matter. There was no ceiling, no floor, no edge. We were in a space where we were both dead and conscious at the same time.

I say we, but I couldn’t see anyone as if each were shrouded in an invisible veil of darkness. Nevertheless, there were presences. I felt them. I turned my head, sensing movement, fumbling in oblivion. The space seemed darker as the void suddenly showed its texture: swirls of gossamer-thin webs and mists of onyx particles flashing to steady beeping sounds.

One would think that every candidate was righteous in his own way: adults proud of their sagacity, teens of their purity, and children of their innocence; but the current archangel seemed to be none of that.

“Welcome to the 22nd century where swords are so medieval, and angels and demons look like you and me.”

From nothing, a flight of spiralling stairs allowed the descent of a man wearing leather jacket, slim jeans, and a pair of personally coveted Doc Martens. A young man with white, unkempt hair, but juvenile and youthful. You could tell he was once a rich kid with the dignified way he carried himself and his thick British accent. Most especially because the glint in his blue eyes told the story of his death: living life in the fast lane, chasing an immoral who hurt a dame he was trying to impress. None of the sufferings and miseries in Third World Countries like thirst, hunger, or a murder where the end supposedly vindicated the means.

“This isn’t heaven.”

He looked at me but at the same time looked at all pairs of eyes invisible to me.

“None of you are ready.”

I expected to see a horde of zombies – sickly people just as confused as me – but still nothing.

“None of us.”

It was a whisper. The next thing I know, he was breathing on my scorched neck.

“No one is ready.” He stepped back, his voice looming over the invisible crowd. “That’s why there is another chance.”

I must have blinked, resuscitated from drowning. I involuntarily opened my eyes, my vision flickering, but images were blurred. The light was too bright like the fire that consumed me. The pain seeped in again. My body winced. “Are you awake, ‘nak?” said a voice. “Go get the nurse, I think she’s conscious.” In the background, feet shuffled and the door slammed but they didn’t mask the annoying sound, a regular beeping pattern. The pain – the heat – was piercing me constantly, consistently with thick scorching hot metal tubes like getting a tattoo from hell. I succumbed to the agony then my body receded to relief.

Oblivion became visible again.

“Slay your demons.” He maneuvered an invisible sword in his hand then plunged it at the heart of an unseen enemy under his boots. “Victors reincarnate.” The young man paused. “That’s all you need to know.” He vanished without so much as asking us if there were any questions. Muted sounds of chaos and screaming were starting to surface. I need to get out of here, I thought. Someone might kill me. Again.

I managed to leave this void a while ago somehow. How did I do it? Mother must be calling to me then that’s why my body responded. Prayers! I thought. That must be what the envelopes for the dead are for. If money mattered in the celestial domain, I would have given up whatever the mission was. But harvesting prayers in the 40-day period my people accumulate might be long, but in nothingness eternity is both long and short. I could say I have time, but time doesn’t exist here.

I need to get the money to pay for my sister’s education, I thought. I don’t want her to be late in paying again. So even though time didn’t exist, I worried about being late because I know how embarrassing it was to run in admin offices pleading for promissory notes. I have to get out of here, the thought became cyclically debilitating.

Slay your demons, he had said. The only enmity I considered back then was the school my sister attended. I have to go back, then, I convinced myself.

I imagined my finger twitch. Then I felt cold, pressed sheets under my hand. My left limb, particularly my shoulder, felt hot, my skin probably dilapidated, but the bandage held me together. I wanted to speak. I had to. “Ma,” I yipped overpowering the slow and steady beating of the heart monitor.

’Nak?”

With my good arm, I tried to point to a desk on my periphery. Bag, I wanted to say, but the door opened and my sister cried. “No more,” I heard her say.

“It’s ok,” I imagined my mother wrapping her arm on my sister’s shoulder, “Ate’s awake.” In my head, I smiled. Then I gave in to a dreamless sleep.

Back then, I couldn’t tell the difference between sleep and the dream world versus heaven and the peculiar void.

“Teacher said I should just finish this semester and stop for a while. To be realistic, they all said.”

“They’re giving you chance?”

“Only until this semester because they know.”

“Even ‘til the end, your sister looked out for you.”

The beeping sound started to become loud and annoying as it muffled the dialogues in my head.

“Mrs. Angeles? Are you sure–” a beep – “this?”

“Say good bye–” another beep – “sister.” A long drawn-out sigh and the sound of tears pressed on my cheek after they had taken the mask on my mouth. Then the annoying beep censored everything that had happened afterward.

Winners reincarnate, my precursor had said. That was all we had to hear back then. He didn’t want us to be disheartened by the fact that some might just exist in limbo and others fall to the infernal caverns. He didn’t want to create envy, as well, by revealing that a chosen one would replace him. Nobody needed to know those because where there are winners, there are also failures.

But victors don’t always have to be the last standing warriors in Armageddon. “I’ve always wondered what it was like to be a martyr,” the old Michael had said. “But I wasn’t made for that.” This was his way to initiate me. “If everybody was meant to be a savior – Jesus from Israel, Jesus from Canada, Jesus from your country – then what would disciples be for? What are we for?”

I wondered where he’d be after this.

“’We guide. We pave ways. But those aren’t our journey.’” He paused. “That’s what the original archangel had said,” he smiled.

Just like that, he was gone; the next thing I know, the responsibility was already on my shoulder. And in another instant, I would have to summon souls to stand or surrender victorious. What happens after that? Who knows. That might not be my journey.

(image made by yours truly using neon flames)

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