Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Fallen Angel in Brooklyn (short story)

Publicado: 16/10/2008 - 15:10
A Fallen Angel

By Azael Alberto Vigil (2002)

Adam Santa Maria is a homeless person that lives in the streets of Coney Island, Brooklyn. He sleeps wherever the night finds him. He is approximately thirty-three years old, five and a half feet tall, and according to the police profile, “A Latino with a heavy accent.” Many think he is Puerto Rican, others think he is Mexican, but Adam considers himself a man of the world, and hates to explain his nationality to any-one, which is one of the reasons why he has landed in jail more than a dozen times. The truth is that he is a Salvadorian political immigrant that came in the first massive immigration wave of 1983. His dress code goes hand in hand with his social status, an over-used T- shirt with the Che Guevara picture almost unnoticeable in the front, stone washed jeans with holes on the knees, a New York Yankee hat from the 60’s, and a pair of un-matching shoes without laces nor socks. An old fashion red rosary hangs from his neck. On first impression, Adam does not resemble a typical homeless, he has what many people call charisma, a good nature and an unexhausted sense of humor. He gives the impressions of one who has been raised in a very religious home, however, he would never talk about his past or future, he lives the moment. When I asked him why he was living on the streets, he got serious for three seconds and then said, “Society is crooked my friend, so I opted to drop out of the rat race.” Then he smiled and pocked the dollar bill I have given him and ran across the street to the liquor store. “What a shame” I said to myself, and went back home to my family without giving it a second thought.

About three weeks later, as I was coming out of Sunday mass I bumped into Adam again. This time, He was standing in the corner looking all shaky, in a very not good shape. As soon as he caught a glance at me, he approached and asked me for money so he could get something to eat. Knowing well his inclination to alcohol, I desired to take him personally to a place where he could actually eat. (Now, the liquor store clerk was probably cursing at me for deflecting his customer, but I paid no attention to it.) We walked a few blocks to a restaurant near by, and I ordered for Adam one of those soups that is famous for its capacity to extinguish the worse of hangovers. After he finished the soup, he became more eloquent and started asking me questions. Weird questions I must say. “Did you know?” he started saying, with the gesture of a philosopher “that according to Erick Frum, the Catholic church is one of the richest institutions on Earth?”

“No, I did not know,” I replied, while trying to figure out where was the conversation heading, or what was the point of Adam question. He continued, “Well, now you know my friend, and I will tell what else I think.” At this point, I realized that perhaps it would have been better for me to have use the church side exit door instead; in order to avoid Adam’s blaspheme rhetoric. However, it was too late and Adam had so much to say.

“Jesus gave everything he had to the people, even his own life. He cured the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the sinners and was out looking for new souls to transform their lives. Jesus did not believe in earthly richest or luxuries. Jesus was the Son of God my friend, and his love is been mistranslated, and worse of all, misunderstood by most people. God is love I heard a good priest once said.” On this small pause, I felt the need to interrupt Adam conversation, but he was transfixed and did not allowed me space to interfere, so he kept on talking, “If the church uses all the money they have made throughout the centuries to better the lives of its most unlucky members, the world will be a better place. I am sure that is what Jesus will do. He would help those who cannot help themselves in every aspect. Some people say that the Church is a rehab for sinners, but what I see is that sometimes resemble a club for the blind.” After hearing this, “Adam,” I said, trying not to loose my temper with all the slanders that were coming out of his mouth. “Have you ever heard about free will? People are free to come to church if they want to; it is up to them. The Church is still trying to carry out Jesus’ message, but the times have change, this is not ancient Jerusalem. Moreover, about the money that you are talking about, do not forget that there are bills that need to be paid, electricity and heat, for example. In today’s society, nothing is free, you know that.” While I was talking, Adam kept his head down as a sign that he was listening, but I could sense his uneasiness by the way he breathed. He kept looking out the door often. In a fruitless effort to keep him interested in conversation, I tried to change the subject, for talking about religion or politic between friends only leads to misunderstanding and broken relationships, a great misfortune of course. Where is your family, anyway? I asked, attempting to evade taboo subjects. However, he would not answer. Do you believe in a higher being? I asked again. He skipped the first question, but to the second he replied. “I used to be Catholic and maybe I still am because I was baptized you know, but the church’s Priest in the town I grew up, refused to let me in to hear the mass.” Adam’s eyes got watery and his voice began to sound broken. “What fault did you commit for the priest to deny you access to the church?” I said. He looked into my eyes for a few seconds, took a deep breath and somehow found courage to spit out the suffering that have been inflicted upon him by some unscrupulous, loveless creature posing as Jesus’ ambassador. “My only fault was to go to mass without shoes,” He answered trying to withhold his tears. “My parents were very poor so I did not own a pair. I remembered how embarrassed my mother got when ‘El Cura’ said in his Sunday sermon that to come to the house of God, one must come in the best attire, and at least wearing a pair of shoes.” My heart sank into sadness listening to Adam, and I wanted him to stop talking, but he continued. “Although he did not say it to me directly, he was talking while looking at my naked feet and everyone laughed. That was the last time my feet ever touched the church floor. Nevertheless, I have never stopped praying to Jesus and Mary. You see my friend, my only sin was to be born poor, and when I went to Jesus’ house looking for him, the doorman there in charge, treated me as a leper and shot the door on my face. Too bad, because my mother always thought that I would grow up to be one of Jesus soldiers, and to be honest, deep in my heart I feel like one. Even though, from a simple look my appearance might deceive most people. That is why I get so mad and sick, and denounce the atrocities I’ve seen and keep seen in this world, and I don’t care if the Inquisition burns me at the stake.” “What Inquisition?” I said, already alarmed. Adam had been talking for a while, and I had been listening attentively, even though I knew that people who drank a lot of alcohol tend to often hallucinate and talk disparate. He responded with, “Yes! Inquisition my friend, you don’t know that.” I told him that I had read about the Spanish Inquisition in history books, but that was all, simply history. He laughed and told me to re-read history. I felt like an ignorant and wanted to end the conversation right away, so I looked at my wristwatch, and Adam got the message. “Vaya con Jesus,” Said Adam. “May Jesus be with you too,” I said and we parted our different ways. On this particular day, the summer Sun was happily shining, the sky was clear blue, and flocks of white and black doves were flying playfully and peacefully in the same direction Adam was heading. I could not help a sudden presentiment of a good omen in the horizon. I said a prayer for Adam that day.

Three weeks went by again, and every time I came out of Sunday mass, as an instinct reflex, I would turn my head to the corner where I saw Adam last time, to no avail. Somehow the image of a man beaten up by bitter circumstances, and men-made cruelty kept popping up in my head. Poor Adam, he was one of the many souls, who take out on themselves all the anger and hopeless they see in the world by trying to drown their misery in alcohol or drugs. Adam has the type of tortured soul, who would try any method, just to numb his emotions, and to avoid thinking. I felt a strong urge to help him find his way “home”(back to himself), but I did not know what to do. When I got back to my house from church, I was surprised to find a note hanging in the front door. Apparently, somebody left it there for me to find it. The note read something like this: “A man enjoying a reputation for eloquence takes his position before a human judge with a crowd of men standing round and attacks his opponent with ferocious animosity. He is extremely vigilant in precautions against some error in language, but is indifferent to the possibility that the emotional force of his mind may bring about a man’s execution.” (St. Agustin, p, 21.) At the feet of the note said: “Adam Santa Maria. I had a dream and need to discuss it with you.” I was shocked because I could not figure out how Adam knew where I lived. I wanted to speak with him. Perhaps he had desired to join one of those peaceful groups that provide help to people in his condition, AA or other rehab center. On the other hand, maybe his dream was to go back to his family. I was eager to know what was on his mind, but I had no idea where to find him. I went out to look for him in the immense street crowd, but he was invisible to my eyes, I could not find him anywhere. What does the note intended to communicate to me? I kept thinking. Was there a hidden message in it? San Agustin? Wow! I had no idea Adam read such a heavy duty books. I guess there were many things I did not know about him, or any other people who lives on the streets. The days went by like turtles in a marathon while I waited for his return.

On the third day of the third month of the year, as I was walking on the boardwalk in Coney Island, one of my habits after Sunday mass, a hand gently tapped my shoulder. I turned to see who it was, and Adam was walking right behind my shadow. “Hello, my friend!” he said in a happy tone. I handed out my hand to salute him, man! Was I glad to see him! We walked side-by-side talking about the latest incidents in our lives. He looked in better shape than last time we talked in the restaurant. We finally sat on a bench facing the beach. He took out a piece of paper where he had written, according to him, “The plan to save the world.” To be honest, I thought he was kidding, and I guess he sensed my disbelief because right away he told me what his whole plan about was.

“Look my friend,” said Adam in a very serious tone of voice, sounding semi-prophetic. “I finally figured out what the church can do with all the money it has. It is a very simple plan. I am surprise that this idea has not occurred to any one in Rome or Washington yet, or maybe it has and we do not know about it.” What that hell I have gotten my self into, I said to myself while he continued, “I saw a vivid dream the other night while riding the train and decided to write it down, so I would not forget it the next day. In my dream, there was a group of celestial beings doing Jesus work in the most modern way, totally in another level my friend. Spiritual leaders and healers, Scientist, Psychologists, Social reformers, Teachers, Billionaires, Poets, Writers, Artists, Philosophers, Film Producers and a lot of other people from all walks of life, working together to build G-d’s Kingdom here on earth. They all believe in the incorruptibility of the soul, well aware that flesh is what makes people sin. They were carrying a white color flag with red ancient letters on the top, and a red rose in the center; I think it said Universal forgiveness on it. In my dream, I saw them going out, like Jesus did, and create miracles in the modern way, that is, helping people find their way back to themselves. The way they did so was by using all the resources in their power to change any negative circumstance surrounding the life of a Christian and non-Christian person. I can only see it in my head the way they operated; all I can say is that this group is really a miracle maker spiritual machine. They know about every malady of the soul and know how to heal them. The persons that are treated never knows that is been treated, and that is what helps keep his/her free will to stay intact. After the person’s external forces that create evil in their life is been removed, the soul is free to choose.” Again, at this moment, I felt the need to stop Adam from talking for I was getting dizzy already with his wishful –thinking utopian theory. So “Adam,” I say, “are you sure you are not using drugs?” He gave me a dirty look and wanted to continue, but I stopped him with another question. “So what is your plan?” “My plan is that all the money the church has and keeps accumulating, it should be use for saving souls. A sort of opposite of what the Inquisition [does] used to do. Instead of looking for people to destroy, it would (aided by technology and human capital) look for people who are striving to better themselves and help them to achieve their spiritual goal. They should use the money this way, and not to build big cathedrals with painted well-fed naked angels hanging from the ceilings, while the rest of us die slowly with an empty stomach. I am talking about real angels, doing what (according to some ancient accounts) the Apostle used to do, real miracles in the name of Jesus.” Adam’s eyes looked transfixed in the distance, as if he was actually seeing what he was talking about it. I guess Adam realized that I was not comfortable with the subject at hand and said, “You think I am crazy, don’t you?” Then he ripped off the paper he had in his hand, where he had written his dream, and walked away. I stood there motionless hearing the soft sounds of the waves hit the shore. I looked up to the sky and said a prayer for Adam once more, for I thought he was possessed. At the same time, a popular song was playing in a radio nearby, I couldn’t help paying attention to the lyrics: “What if God was one of us- just a slob like one of us- just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.” As I was hearing this song, my eyes became watery. I wanted to run after Adam, and keep listening to him no matter how senseless his topic was, and maybe take him to church to get him exorcized, but he had already disappeared the same way he had appeared, unannounced and suddenly. I never saw him again, and the note, the only physical evidence of his interaction between us, became just a blank empty piece of paper, an irrational thought. Today, when I think of him I wonder whether Adam really existed or if it is just a product of my wild imagination.

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