On the Town With a Drunken Angel
What do you do in a small town on a Tuesday evening with a drunken angel to entertain? Not that Algy needed much entertaining, he trotted beside me delighted with everything he saw. I answered his stream of questions as well as I could.
“They’re traffic lights, Algy. Cars stop when the red light is on and go when the green one lights up. No, the lights don’t stop the cars, the drivers do it. No, it’s not an instinct, they have to be trained to do it. They learn as children that red is stop and green is go and the idea is constantly reinforced throughout their lives. Sorry, I don’t know what brown is. Or blue. Yes, I suppose it would reduce the cost of a police state if people would brainwash their own children. I’m not so sure that they don’t. How do you know about police states, by the way? That was an odd choice, but I chose sausages, so I’m in no position to criticise.”
It’s funny how disconcerting innocent questions can be. Great art is supposed to make you look afresh at everyday things but it can be done much more cheaply with children and angels. I’d avoided the complications of marriage and parenthood in case I chose to go home at some stage, but I was now beginning to understand how uncomfortable parents must feel when confronted with everyday things they just can’t explain.
Do those innocent traffic lights really contain the seeds of mind control? It’s true that people with a total disregard for the law in all other aspects of their lives will stop at red traffic lights. Even in the early hours of the morning, when the streets are deserted and it can’t possibly make any difference whether they stop or go, people stop at red lights. A policeman, who might regard a mere burglary as his entertainment for the evening, would be personally outraged if he saw anybody driving through a red light. Noddy didn’t do it so why should you? Surely somebody must have noticed this before?
While Algy chattered on and I made noises in the appropriate places, I tried to think of other examples. People respond to uniforms, of course, and all symbols of authority. Isn’t that too obvious? No, because it’s not what they respond to that’s important, it’s how and when they learned to do it. Why don’t they laugh when they see an adult in a ridiculous costume? Does it all stem from Mr. Plod and Constable Growler? I’d have to consider this further but I had the feeling that the combination of Algy’s innocence and my experience and detachment could add up to a formidable dictator, a sort of Jedward the Great. Papa Jedward? It was an intriguing idea.
I had to get some food into Algy before his blood sugar plunged and he collapsed. I didn’t fancy carrying him around and I couldn’t just leave him in a doorway. Or could I? I’d been quietly minding my own business for thirty years and had so far avoided attracting any unwelcome attention, now Algy could blow my cover in an instant. Why did I feel responsible for someone I’d only met an hour or so ago? Was it just because he was ‘one of us’? Was I still ‘one of us’? After thirty years on Earth I didn’t know how much angel was left in me. But humans, even those who were once angels, don’t think much, their brains aren’t made for it, they just do what comes next. Food it was.
I fancied a curry and, since Algy had no opinion on the matter, I headed for an Indian restaurant I hardly ever used. I pushed open the door. For a moment I was afraid we’d be the only customers and have waiters hovering around us throughout the meal, but there was a couple at a table in the corner and a party of noisemakers, probably an office outing, on the far side. I chose a table by the window and we sat down.
“This is nice,” said Algy, determined to see good in everything. “I like the perfume.”
A waiter brought menus. Algy was about to speak, probably to compliment the waiter on the aroma of his restaurant, but I frowned and shook my head and he seemed to understand. Algy looked at his menu, then at me. “Is this something to read while we eat our pigs? I don’t know most of these words.”
“It’s a list of food, Algy. You choose what you want to eat and the waiter brings it to you.”
Algy looked back at the menu, flipped the page, then looked at me again. “I just want a pig,” he said, “or a tiger. Can’t we have those? I thought humans ate animals?”
I gave him the benefit of my knowledge about cooking and the relative sizes of a pig and a human stomach, and expressed the opinion that if he tried to eat a tiger it would probably eat him back, only harder. In the end I chose a selection of curries and side dishes for us both to dip into.
I was interested to know what Algy had packed for his trip, the police states and brainwashing had been a surprise, but amongst angels it isn’t polite to ask direct questions about such things. I suppose in human terms it would be like asking somebody the capital of Peru. If they didn’t know they’d be embarrassed, and if they did, and you told them you were just interested to know what was in their head, it would lead to an uncomfortable conversation when they tried to prove they had more stashed away than you.
“It’s Lima,” said Algy.
“The capital of Peru. It’s Lima. I don’t know what a capital is, or a Peru, but I know the capital of Peru is Lima.”
Now I was seriously shocked. “You read my mind! You’ve smuggled out angel abilities!”
“What of it? It’s a silly rule anyway. This food stings. Is all food this painful?”
“Algy, they’ll know. They’ll be coming after you.”
“But you’ll help me, won’t you?” he inquired innocently.
Oh hell. Now what had I got myself into?