My eyes were forced open with a start, as if I were conjured back to life from death. He won’t stop yelling unless I wake, and why would he. He needed his breakfast. In this world, the man of the house holds up the sky. It’s tough work, apparently, so I do my best to keep his belly full and his bed warm. The baby was wrapped in moth-eaten rags, deathly quiet. She knew better than to start whining in the morning. Her father saw to that. I laid her next to her brother and sister, still fast asleep in their patched up blankets. Once he saw that I was awake, he muttered something, spit a lump of phlegm, and went on his way. I let out a sigh of relief and rushed into the kitchen where each and every day of my life started ever since I fell from the heavens to this miserable world.
I was trying to lift the iron pot from the stove, when my arms committed an unforgivable mistake. They were sore and bruised. They faltered. Grains of uncooked rice scattered across the cold kitchen floor. I followed them with my eyes until I noticed the long shadow approaching. I bit my lower lip. He hated it when I bit my lower lip. There, in that moment, my instincts told me he won’t be out woodcutting at least for a while.
But eventually the rice had to be cooked, the floors cleaned, the clothes washed and dried. And eventually he would tire of the beating and the yelling, and go his own way. In this world, the man of the house has better concerns than to discipline his wife, so the wife promises to be better the next day and the next. It was easier when he was out selling wood in the market, then I would have the time to cry.
The children would cry too. Mostly out of hunger and fear. Theirs were tears of innocence and ignorance. Little did they know that their mother descended from the heavens. Little did they know that their mother once had wings to fly with. Mine were tears of sorrow and resentment. For five years, I had been left here in this miserable world only to look up at the skies in sorrow and longing. As long as he had my wings, I had no way to return.
My sisters used to read stories to me, stories woven in gold thread on lush sheets of silk. One night, they told me the oldest story of all. They called it romance. “Of the forbidden sort,” my eldest sister hastily added. Others giggled and blushed. I demanded to know more.
Once upon a time, in the dark depths of the forest, a deer narrowly escaped death with the help of a kindly woodcutter. As a token of his gratitude, the deer led him to a secret lagoon where angels would come to bathe. For centuries, this had been the enchanted place where angels would lay down their celestial robes and their luscious black hair. The deer also told the kindly woodcutter that the angels cannot fly without their celestial robes. Perhaps he could hide one of the robes. Then perhaps one of them would be left behind. “What a brilliant idea for a wife!” thought the kindly woodcutter. “How romantic!” I thought. I then demanded to know how the story ended. My sister smiled dreamily. “The angel fell in love with the kindly woodcutter and they lived happily ever after.”
Until then, my sisters and I had never seen kindly woodcutters in our magical lagoon. On our weekly visits to this lagoon, each of us disrobed with the tantalizing dream that perhaps we would be the chosen one. Then one day, stepping out from the water, I noticed my robe had disappeared. My heart started pounding.
Five years from that day, my heart began pounding once more. Today is the day. I had already told the children to hide in the shed, never to leave until I called on them at the door. I sat silently by his side as he wolfed down his breakfast. I complained of a pain all morning, begging him to bring medicine from the village. Only when I pretended to faint, did he realize that his lunch was at risk. “I thought you angels were immortal. I must have got the wrong one. Just my luck!” he mumbled as he prepared to leave. I stood at the door, watching his back silently as he walked away, farther and farther until he was the size of a tree, then a rock, then a speck of dust. Gone. I had less than an hour. I rushed into the room and plunged into the heap of clothes. Then the blankets. Then the drawers. Then the cabinets. I dug up every possible corner of the crumbling house. He would have reached the village now for sure. He could be on his way back. I stood in middle of the ransacked room, gazing at the far away forest that led to the village. Any moment now.
Just then, I noticed a tiny crack in the wall. I clawed at it like a demented cat. There in the hidden compartment I found the cloth of a much too familiar sheen. There it was. As I tugged at the robe, I saw the speck of dust reappear in the horizon. He’s back. I tugged harder and harder until the rest of the robe came tumbling down in all its heavenly glory. The speck had grown larger by the time I rushed out to the shed. He knew. Thump, thump, thump. I could hear him running. He was less than half a mile away. I heard his harsh breathing like was right beside me. The horrors of the past five years of my life swept through my mind as I screamed for my children at the door the shed. He was no more than a few steps away, when I swung open the door and grabbed the baby and three-year old girl in my arms. I screamed at my boy to grab my legs, watching my wings spread in magnificent splendor. Gliding further into the skies, I finally gained the courage to look down. His face had disappeared into a blurred scenery of brown and green. When I looked again, there was nothing beneath me but a gaping void. This was what we had called “romance.”
It has been a while since we returned to the human world. My children were born here after all, and I decided they would be better off amongst their own kind. We are not well off, but we are happy. It’s dinner time. They rush into the kitchen, screaming and giggling, each eager to report what fascinating new story they heard at school. It’s usually the youngest who has the most to tell, stories of cunning tortoises, scary tigers, mischievous goblins, and bearded mountain gods. Today, she tells me of a kindly woodcutter who married an angel. I smile.
“Well! I bet your teacher didn’t tell you what happened afterwards.”
They all look up, dumbfounded.
“The angel got so homesick she decided to find her robes and fly back to the heavens with her children. And the silly woodcutter cried every day and night until one day he became a rooster. You can still hear him, my dearests, every morning, crowing for the wife and children he lost.”
They look a little confused but soon return to their meals. After all, their mother cooks the best chicken stew in town.