Tika was having breakfast when her guardian angel called from their shared bedroom. Although she hadn't finished with her scrambled eggs and the school bus was due to arrive any minute, she scrambled to put on her black school shoes, rushing up stairs. Sprawled on the bottom bunk, her angel turned over when she sat on the edge of his blanket.
"Tika, I had a nightmare." He sniffed.
"Martin, I have to go to school." He sniffed, again, burrowing deeper into the pile of pillows that propped him up. Tugging the blanket up to his chin, he frowned. Martin had droopy eyes. Tika liked that most about him. She used to like his wings, too, until he broke them. Martin coughed into the blanket. It was half-past seven. Tika's bus was late.
"Your bus isn't here yet, girly. Stay while I tell you about the nightmare." He smiled, hoping to charm her into acquiescence. Although his sunken cheeks, peculiar cheekbones, oddly mismatched eyes, and widow's peak were all evidence of the recent high fever and incurable insomnia, when he cupped her cheeks and she felt the strength in his hands, she fell silent and stayed.
"You fell and died."
His wings were under the bed, wrapped in plastic and cloth and strewn with mothballs. The first time she saw them, she casually plucked a feather -- to use as a bookmark, as a keepsake -- and he slapped her hands away.
"I think it's a warning."
"You broke the wings, not me." She was quick to accuse and recall the Sunday she woke him at dawn. He promised she'd fly but the wings -- four feet long, gray feathers flecked with black eyes -- slid off her shoulders. He took off for a test flight, flinging himself out of the balcony. The wings shook, paralyzed, flapped feebly and finally tangled with each other.
"It came too late."
Cushioned by her mother's sprouting herbs and the sticky, wet earth of the garden, Martin lay flat on his back, the wings crushed beneath him. Tika stood over him, afraid her touch might hurt him. They stayed this way until he opened his eyes. Are you really an angel?
The bus arrived.