There was an angel living down our street. He was tall, lean, dark haired, a hint of Mediterranean with brown eyes and a thin handsome face.
I thought angels were pale skinned, with blonde hair, blue eyes and gave off an air of calm detachment on account of their role in the hierarchy of the religious firmament. Gary was a bit of a geezer. Which is not to say that he didn’t keep his hand in with the occasional miracle.
He was reluctant though, unwilling to get involved unless he absolutely had too. That was the reason he was down here and not up there so they said. None of us were too sure that he hadn’t done something wrong, raised the ire of the one who matters and been sent down, like those University’s do to recalcitrant students. Few too many drinks, back after lights out, heroin for breakfast in front of the Dean, without offering him a toot off the silver foil; a sliver of the roiling black snake. Gaz the Geezer never owned up to any misdemeanour just smiled enigmatically as angels do and carried on.
Mum had a soft spot for him as soon as he turned up just because of his looks said he reminded her of dad, I’d never met dad so the comparison was lost on me. When she discovered he was an angel you’d have thought he could walk on water, which he probably could, he had free meals and she did his cleaning and treated him like one of the family without the orders to tidy up, do the washing up, keep your bedroom tidy, clean your teeth…you know what mum’s are like.
Gaz had that air about him that attracted a lot of attention from the girls and the ladies but it never seemed to bother the men-folk. I suppose he was androgynous, a bit like Bowie, not when he was singing about Major Tom stuck in his tin can but when he’d taken on the persona of the Spider from Mars. Which was lucky in a way because if Gaz had stood out like the proverbial sore thumb he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did without becoming some sort of Messiah and that wasn’t his role. At least that’s what he put about to those in the know, not that my old mum believed him; it was that water-walking thing she could never get over. Strange because she wasn’t religious in the God fearing, drum thumping gotta be good otherwise it’s a trip down and not up kind of way. But she left a toe in between the door of belief and the frame of atheism just in case, she was a canny old bird.
You’d have thought that Gaz’s local miracle working would have firmed up her attitude to the hereafter but you see Gaz never actually said where he came from nor who sent him, if anybody asked him in a direct way, you know, ‘So, where you from then Gaz?’ he’d reply that he chose his role on this Earth, the tone he used suggested there might be more of them, earth’s dotted here and there around the universe, there’s a thought to conjure with, like we all did; not conjuring, choosing what we were and who we would become.
Lucky in a lot of ways that all this was going on before the recent Internet, Social Networking thingy otherwise his shennanigins would have gone viral and he’d never have had any peace. Nor would we. It was pre fifteen minutes of fame as well. Having said that Andy Wharhol had made his statement about just that; fifteen minutes of fame, he was wrong of course not everybody wants to expose themselves and become a celebrity for a few bob more. Not then anyway, not sure about now.
Gaz might not have fallen to earth perhaps he was just a relic from the 60’s. Striped Djelabra faded jeans that judging by the patchwork quilt repairs had probably travelled with him since he left home when he was 15. He was about 25 when he washed up in our part of Hackney. His little two up two down, kitchen out the back in a single storey addition probably a post war improvement in the 50’s was decorated in a way that today you would probably call a minimalist style. White ceilings, white walls, sanded wooden floorboards big over stuffed sofas, multi coloured pillows, a clean kitchen stocked with state of the art utensils which became somewhat superfluous what with my Mum cooking most of his meals.
And out the back, in the immaculately kept garden a lean-to wooden shed, leaning to the brick walled boundary with the neighbouring property. Most nights ethereal light pulsed through the thin clear glazed window of the shed a sight only seen by those of us brave enough to venture into his haven of peace and calm and from there to stand in the back garden to listen to him playing guitar. Think of Jimmy Hendrix on speed and you get the idea, no disrespect to Jimmy but he could have learnt one or two things from Gaz if he, Jimmy, had hung around long enough. Gaz said Jimmy had completed his mission on earth which all seemed a bit far out in those days although I did read it in one of those books by the other messenger, Richard Bach he of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull fame. And Gaz just was you know, here and now, in the moment he never seemed to push himself in any direction.
He earned his money as a high quality cabinetmaker, posh carpenter a bit like Lord Lindley and there was some of the religious persuasion that suggested he might have been related to Jesus but when he heard the rumours Gaz scoffed at the idea. He just loved working with his hands in a natural way whether it was crafting top quality sideboards, chest of drawers, beds whatever you wanted or whether it was placing his healing hands above, never on cuts and bruises, arthritic limbs whatever ailments the human body suffered. And some he cured and some he didn’t and those he didn’t he said they didn’t want to be cured and that seemed fair enough. He said anybody could do it and the local GP took him up on that and had a lot of success pulling in patients from far and wide until his fame got too much for him and he retired early down to Marbella in Spain. But Gaz never retired, thankfully.
There was some talk amongst the boys who hung out on the far right that perhaps Gaz’s androgyny was camouflaging a deeper homosexuality as if it was some kind of disease. They never threatened him or indulged in what they euphemistically called queer bashing ’cause they were never too sure about how much power he really held and whether the rumours that he was an angel were true. And when a truly stunning blonde lady, rumoured to have fallen for Gaz’s charms when he lived up Kensington way, moved in with him over one night those playing right wing moved on to other subjects.
Because of Mum’s devotion and me being in close proximity at meal times I got to know Gaz and Lilley very well. He was a really nice bloke and she was lovely. They lived in peace; no one bothered them, not locals anyway.
In the 70’s when Gaz was amongst us the Mums still had the power. I suppose that was a hangover from the Second World War maybe or the way things had always been so that when Mums got together and decided something should happen it happened. They somehow created a shroud around Gaz so that although rumours of his power leaked out now and again anyone snooping around trying to find out more about him found their enquiries deflected and the instructions they were given on how to find him led them out of the borough, often times out of the city. Gaz had to get them to moderate the defence system as genuine searchers for whatever truth he could give were also deflected from their paths which as he said would defeat the object because those searchers might sometimes need to follow the path that lead to his door.
The first stirrings of interest that pierced the protective shroud around him came via the red top tabloids. They were interested in his ability to heal. He taught the crusty old journalists how to do it confirming it was just an every day practice and so they went away and never wrote any stories about him. Well they had reputations to protect. No, it was my old Mum who inadvertently upset the apple cart destroying the equanimity, the calmness surrounding Gaz.
Gaz didn’t blame her. No one blamed her if anything they blamed the driver of the number 13c bus.
It was a blue-sky morning in early spring the daytime pollutants had yet to permeate the air it was a time that Mum always enjoyed. Up early cup of tea and a bowl of cornflakes and on that particular morning she thought she’d walk down by the old canal. She loved the idea that this water usually calm, always with an oily sheen and full of rusty old bikes and discarded twin tub washing machines was linked to other bits of water that climbed out of the grime into the country. She loved the country. She was a country girl. Dad had persuaded her to move into the city with him where they created me in love or lust and then he buggered off, strangely the last thing she knew he was working as a labourer out on a farm somewhere.
Anyway on this particular morning she perambulated along beside the canal. The water’s surface was as smooth as a long thin mirror reflecting the dirty brickwork of the warehouses that backed onto it and as always the warmth of the day and the proximity of the water and the joy of watching the straggling green leaves of weeds and sunflowers that bathed in the sunlight had somehow left Mum a bit dazed, ‘meditational’ as Gaz would say.
After about a half a mile she decided to climb the worn stone steps up from the canal side cross over the bridge and walk back home on the other bank. To get to the steps going down the other side she had to cross the road.
So Mum climbed the steps up onto the bridge. She said she felt a bit hazy as if she had been sitting talking to Gaz over a cup of tea and a bit of fruitcake. After a while his presence got to you like that, in a good way and you felt as if you were meditating, away with the fairies totally relaxed and your mind spinning its wheels with no engagement in the day to day. After stepping up onto the bridge Mums mind is a total blank until she came to tucked up in her own bed her bedroom window the focus of countless long range lenses and hoards of reporters unwilling to move on so that the Police had to close our street at both ends.
At the moment she came to she had no idea that she had become a celebrity and even after she had worked out why so many people wanted to talk to her she remained confused for years.
Whether it was a low sun or school children refusing to shut up and sit down the driver of the No 13c failed to notice the somewhat dazed 50-year-old woman stepping off the pavement directly into his line of travel. He braked hard but there was a sickening crunch. Luckily for Mum she bounced off sideways back onto the pavement albeit flying through the air and impacting with the ground flat on her back with the back of her head bouncing a few times before coming to rest. There were several eyewitnesses and they all said she had died.
Gaz called it synchronicity, some called it the luck of the Irish, Mum’s great great Granddad was Irish. Others called it good old-fashioned luck but unfortunately for us the media labelled it a miracle. And it was.
Gaz had an order to fulfil and he had to go and buy some fancy veneer and his beaten up mini van had broken down and Lilly had been spending a few days in the country with her parents and instead of taking the underground out to where he wanted to go and come back on the bus or even catch a cab Gaz had fortuitously embarked on his journey upon the very No 13c that hit Mum and even then he had almost missed it he had to run a couple of hundred yards to jump on the open platform when the bus had got caught up in traffic just before the bridge over the canal. So there were a lot of circumstances that had to slot together.
Gaz was the first off the bus and the same eyewitnesses that had declared Mum dead at the scene were overcome with emotion at the sound of the anguished cry when Gaz recognised who the bus had hit. The eyewitnesses crowded around, one or two having run off to the nearest telephone box to dial the emergency services and they stared in amazement as Gaz, casting decorum aside placed his hands on Mum’s forehead and belly. They said there was a creaking sound like broken bones knitting together then there was a brilliant yellow gold light that first of all surrounded Gaz then surrounded Mum.
The driver had a turn and Gaz laid hands on him. One or two women seeing this handsome guy being liberal with the miracles had a touch of the vapours and enjoyed his attention. For someone previously so secretive with his abilities suddenly he was the manic messiah. It was as if my mum’s brush with the hereafter broke a dam inside him.
When she opened her eyes Mum was a bit concerned why there was a circle of heads looking down at her with shocked expressions and she did wonder for a few moments whether that golden light that had seemed to pulse through her was the one people spoke about that you walk towards when your number was up. She had a vague idea that Gaz had something to do with how she felt but none of the faces resembled his although from the excited gabble from everybody surrounding her suddenly coming out of their trance and talking at the same time she got the idea that someone who looked liked Gaz had been responsible for what the general consensus of opinion appeared to suggest was a resurrection. Hers. She passed out again and came to in her own bed.
‘The Miracle of Harmsworth Avenue’. And they searched high and low for Gaz. For months. And then the interest died away and the story changed from resurrection to resuscitation, a collective reworking of the incident. Those who were there knew what they saw but ultimately didn’t believe it. Not for the TV and papers anyway.
Mum believed it though and thanked Gaz every time him and Lily drove up from the coast to see her. They came to her funeral and one or two of those who loved mum and all she’d done for those around her after she’d died and come back and had conveniently ‘forgotten’ what had happened asked Gaz if there was a miracle left in him. ‘Not this time,’ he said gently.
I bumped into him the other day. He was delivering some of his furniture to one of the gentrified properties that Hackney is cultivating due to its proximity to the city. He still looked the same, about twenty-five. ‘Still healing?’ he asked. ‘Low key,’ I replied. ‘Me too,’ he said with one of his smiles that gave you the impression he knew, he just knew. ‘Come on down to the coast, Lily and the girls would love to see you.’
And I will. When I get time but there are so many people who are seeking help now. I just hope I don’t have to perform a miracle, the worlds still not ready for that yet, maybe in a few more years.