“Oh, look.” Mya spoke first. There was a puppy on a leash. It looked right at them, wagged its tail and panted with its tongue. It was a little Labrador and obviously very young. Mya let go of Nathan’s hand to get down and pet the puppy. She did not think about it, she just did it, and the puppy responded with a lick. “Oh, cutie,” she called it. The woman on the other end of the leash was gabbing with another woman. Mya did not care about that. “Yes, cutie,” she said, and she looked up at Nathan who smiled. “Come and say hello. He won’t bite.”
Nathan was reluctant to squat down. He was very afraid for his knees, but as he did, he found that his knees were well up to the task and did not hurt at all. That was as much pleasure for him as a chance to pet the puppy. The puppy responded by lifting its paws to his shoulders and it gave him a lick. Everyone was smiling and happy until the woman jerked the leash.
“Egbert, behave!” The woman spoke sternly and tugged a couple of unkind tugs on the leash until the puppy came to obedience at her feet. The woman had a cruel streak in her and Nathan was surprised at how strongly he felt the woman’s cruelty. He looked down at Mya and saw that her eyes were wide. She felt it too. Nathan and Mya did not interfere, even when the puppy looked at them, sadly. “Yes, Egbert is an old family name.” The woman was saying. “I promised my mother I would use it for one of my children.” The woman laughed; or at least Nathan and Mya guessed that the sound was supposed to be a laugh. The two women returned then to their inspection of the disaster, and since neither Mya nor Nathan were interested in going there, they said good-bye to the puppy and walked, hand in hand in the opposite direction
“Poor Egbert,” Mya said. “He is going to have to live his whole life with that name.”
“Poor Egbert,” Nathan agreed. “And with that woman,” he added, but his mind was on other things, and at once he saw what he was looking for. There was a distraught looking young man sitting on the curb, ignoring everything that was going on around him as if lost in deep thought. Nathan stopped their forward progress for a good, long look. The young man’s black hair appeared unmoved by the wind, though of itself that meant nothing. He decided a comparison was in order so he looked back at the woman and her dog. He was astounded. The woman behind looked as real as any he saw in life, but the young man on the curb looked more real. It did not make sense, but that was the only way he could understand it.
Mya, who stood still and patient, got it at about the same time. “He’s a ghost,” she said. Nathan nodded, and he was fairly sure that this was the ghost of the suicide bomber.
“Hello, friend.” Nathan interrupted the man’s thoughts. Nathan had decided that he had no ill will toward the man. After all, he had lived a long and rich enough life in his own small way. He did feel strongly for Mya, however, that this man’s actions were decidedly unfair to her, young as she was. That was why he refused to abandon her, he told himself, though the truth was he felt he needed the little girl as much as she might need him. “Friend?” Nathan reached out to touch the man’s shoulder, but the man turned suddenly to stare at them with dark eyes filled with fear and hatred.
“Go away!” The young man shouted. “Why can’t you demons leave me alone? Go away!”
Nathan squatted, now that he knew he could do that, and he looked toward the man, eye to eye, though he kept his distance and made no further move to touch him. “Can I help?” He asked and felt Mya squat down next to him.
“Maybe we could help.” Mya agreed with Nathan, and there was a slight softening in the man’s eyes as he turned his eyes to take in the girl.
“There is nothing you can do. It is done,” the young man said through gritted teeth.
“But what is the matter?” Mya was very sensitive to the young man’s pain, though that was just a blessing of human sensitivity sometimes found in the very young and rarely found in adults, it was not a hyper sensitivity such as they both had felt in the cruelty of the puppy owner. Nathan had to catch Mya’s hand to keep her from reaching out to touch the young man softly, as she had petted the puppy.
“It is done,” the young man said again, and then he shifted his gaze to the heavens. “Why am I not in paradise? They all said I would be in paradise!”
Mya took the question seriously and responded with the only answer she could come up with. “Maybe they did not tell you the truth.” She spoke in her most encouraging voice, but Nathan had to move fast. He grabbed Mya around the middle and pulled her out of reach just as the man’s face turned wicked, and his arms, with hands formed like claws, reached out to scratch her, to grab her, to hurt her in whatever way he could.
“Leave me alone, demons! They warned me about your wicked tongues.” The young man shouted, but very quickly a voice of reason interrupted. It came from the side of the confrontation.
“Surely you did not believe the slaughter of the innocents was your ticket to heaven,” the voice said.
“Liar! You are all liars! I will listen no more! Leave me alone, you demons! Leave me alone!” He slapped his hands over his ears so there would be no talking to him, and he turned his face back to the curb.
“There is no reaching him at present,” the voice said, and Nathan and Mya turned to see something they both expected to see and dared not hope to see. Mya shivered and went straight to her knees. She drew a hesitant Nathan down with her. It was not that Nathan did not believe in what he saw, but rather his rational, worldly mind was more developed, and after all, he had never seen an angel before. He felt it, though, in his deepest marrow; that sense of awesome wonder, and not a little fear that showed in the trembling in his bones and in the pit of his stomach. He felt in a sense that he was naked in a way he had never been before and that feeling came with the realization that not every corner of his naked life was exactly clean. It made him lower his eyes, not that he could have looked into the golden glare of those orbs regardless of how much they smiled. He imagined Mya, being seven, had far less filth on her plate, but then he did not know for sure. It does not take some people very long at all to build up all sorts of wickedness in their lives. Maybe she felt it more strongly and that was why she humbled herself first of all.
“Some people prefer to live in a box.” The angel spoke and both Mya and Nathan could do nothing but listen. “They imagine they have put God in a box and believe that they understand his eternal, almighty nature, but in reality, all they have done is box up their own minds and hearts. You must pray for him before the box becomes as hard as concrete.” The angel paused and both Nathan and Mya ventured to look up. Perhaps they were drawn to do so. The Angel was looking at someone beside him. It was the old woman from the bus. Nathan was sure of that, even if she no longer looked like the old woman. She had become, well, it was hard to tell what age exactly. It was like she was ageless, young one moment but very old as well. What is more, she looked all sparkly, like Christmas lights on a grand old tree, and the lights were blindingly bright even if they looked dim beside the glowing presence of the angel. Anyway, her eyes were on the angel and she smiled, even when the angel turned again to look at Mya and Nathan.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel said. “For you there are two times, a time between and a half time.” And then it was gone – the angel was just not there anymore. The young suicide bomber had gone as well, probably run off somewhere. The sparkling woman turned toward Mya and Nathan. Nathan was not quite sure where the woman’s eyes were focused, so he could not be sure if she saw them or not or if her smile was for them or not, though he liked to think it was. All he could say for sure was her sparkling presence got very bright for a moment before she vanished as surely as the angel.
Nathan had tears in his eyes from the strain of all that bright light, or so he told himself. Mya also had tears in her eyes, but neither of them felt sad in the least. Indeed, when Nathan helped the girl up from the sidewalk, she seemed elated. Her hands had been held palm to palm in the classic image of a child at prayer, and though she readily gave up her pose to take Nathan’s hand once again, she still seemed to be praying, so Nathan kept quiet. Thus, neither said a thing as they walked the many blocks to the hospital.