Photography by Devon Butler
I’ve been woken up. I mean, I still miss my boy back home, and I still think the guy I’m visiting here is a horny asshole. I still slept my entire day away and didn’t get out of the apartment until three in the afternoon (and it’s dark by four this time of year), but that hour of daylight gleamed in symbolism. As romantic a habit as it is, imbuing my surroundings with meaning connects me to them. And today, I was quite forced to open my symbol-seeking eyes, to leave my own fleshy garrison and connect with this city.
While wandering I stumbled across an empty public square, absolutely filled with pigeons. I sat down on an empty bench and was preparing my camera when the entire flock lifted and flew towards me – then circled me, surrounded me on all sides, landing inches from my lap on the bench beside me and stumbling around my feet. Aside from the pigeon shit that now covers my boots, it was one of those moments I’ve always attempted to create by running into flocks of seagulls on the beach, yearning for their acceptance, or at least their indifference. But I always scare them off. Today I was approached, embraced, held in the beat of many wings.
As soon as they realized I had no food they lifted, and revealed a man standing in front of me, carrying a sleeping bag in bloody hands.
“Do you know me?” he asked in English, initiating the first sincere conversation I’ve had since arriving.
“No,” I answered, surprised, apprehensive and pleased. “Do you know me?”
“Yes,” he replied, gesturing to the bench, “I must, because you are sitting on my home.”
His name was Gabriel – a fallen angel with curly, blond hair who spoke twelve languages. He smiled when I told him I was studying literature, and quickly offered quotes from Tolstoy, Voltaire and Dostoevsky. I shuffled my feet and replied that I liked Canadian poetry, but no, I couldn’t really quote any for him. He told me when he sleeps outside, people give him too much money – too much he said, because alcohol is so cheap. When I pointed to his bleeding hand he simply replied that he lives a scary life, but I shouldn’t fear him, he wouldn’t hurt me. He said he falls down a lot, but never remembers, and never knows why he’s bleeding. He told me about his rich family whom he denounced when they sold his childhood home, and became emotional while revealing he likes me because I remind him of one of his five sisters. I looked at him in his wet eyes and wished I were gutsy enough to comfort him.
One day an angel woke Gabriel from a drunken stupor by touching him on the shoulder – “Like this,” he took a step towards me and reached out to demonstrate on my own shoulder, a light but lingering grip that I tried not to shrink from. Presumably intuiting my hesitation he again assured me, “Do not worry, I do not wish to hurt you.” He slid his hand away, but I still felt the physical gap between us bridged. My shoulders released a tension they had been carrying well before Gabriel approached me. The angel told Gabriel that God would forgive him of everything, but that first Gabriel would have to survive twelve years of homelessness. That was ten years ago.
“What’s going to happen in two years?” I asked.
“I do not know! I forget!”
Our exchange ended with my thanking him, as candidly as I knew how, for giving me the gift of his company. I didn’t realize until after that he never asked for money – or anything – just appeared through a cloud of wings and with a touch of his hand, released me from my jetlag, my loneliness; my melancholic attitude. He connected me to the world outside of myself, and allowed me to cross into this new land.
So here I am, stuck between two touches; missing the one back home and denying the over-reaching one that’s here, accepting the hands of a man who has probably not been viewed sexually in a long time. Gabriel; named for an angel, touched by an angel, and desiring to pass that same angelic touch onto me. I wish I had touched him back.