Gabriel sat under the throne, glorifying in whispers. For two days after The Event (by earthly time) there had been no singing about the throne. All angels, save the rain-makers and rainstoppers who were working on the annual Egyptian storms, were present, moving about, glorifying. Their heads were lowered, and occasionally an angel or two would break down weeping. Very few orders came from the throne above. At one time, Gabriel had felt a shaking of the aerial seat over which he sat, and when he looked about him, every other angel’s seat was shaking too. He wondered if The Lord had decided to destroy everyone and start over. It was a most sullen and heavy period.
Down below, The Earth was covered in dark clouds, sprawled over the entire expanse, waterless and sinister. Gabriel remembered his bewilderment when he overheard the orders being given to the rain angels two earthly days earlier.
‘But Lord, waterless clouds are… smoke,’ one of the angels had stammered.
‘Clouds they will be…’ came the crackling response from above. ‘Are you to decide whether it shall be smoke to have water, or clouds to have none?’ The angel, quivering, repented for his ignorance and descended forthwith to implement the orders.
Gabriel remembered the cry. It was a frightful and affecting sound. Of all the times he’d been sent to destroy nations in the past, he’d never once slowed down in his work long enough to hear them cry. And now, finally, he’d heard the cry of The Beloved. If sound was visible he would have seen it, he thought. To think of the sound was frightful enough; to remember the source was heartbreaking. Gabriel heaved a sigh, glorified some more, and wiped away his tears with a feather from his right wing. He’d destroyed many a nation, by the Lord’s orders, and would have loved, above all things, to destroy this particular nation.
As it approached earthly dusk, he prostrated beneath the throne and made his request for the last time. ‘They killed The Beloved, Lord,’ he said. ‘Let me fold the mountains over them from left and right, and release the waters from above and below. You destroyed Noah’s people, Lord, and they were no worse.’
‘Oh Gabriel,’ came The Voice, ‘thou art dearest of mine angels. Have patience and yield not to vengeance. Do you not know the slain and the slayers are all mine?’
Gabriel, humbled but grumbling, was about to withdraw when he heard:
‘Tarry by thy seat for the hour is nigh.’
‘The hour?’ Gabriel lingered in his prostration but the answer to his question did not come. He remained kneeling, and only warily lifted his head. Could ‘the hour’ be the time that his request would be granted? He considered standing up and flexing his wings—the lengths of which could reach the two ends of The Earth—in preparation for what would likely come. But knowing that that was a sign of merriment, he fought the urge lest The Lord’s wrath came upon him. Flexing of wings, like the playing of harps and loud singing, had been forbidden since The Event. He recalled the fate of Lucifer, the angel who disobeyed commands, and it made him shudder to imagine himself inclined so. He whispered his repentance immediately.
Gabriel reflected on the time when, along with some colleagues, he’d carried out the edict on Sodom and Gomorrah for their mischief, and several other nations whose names he was too strained in the heart to recollect. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘this nation is a far more wicked lot. To kill The Beloved in this manner? Lord, allow me to teach them a lesson!’
At that moment the following order boomed down, startling him:
‘That’s of a gone time, Gabriel. I command thee to love along.’
Gabriel couldn’t comprehend the command. For hadn’t it been the tradition to destroy disobedient and ungrateful nations? In recent times, he’d seen the channels between the heavens and The Earth open twice. The first time was shortly after his return from delivering the glad tidings to The Virgin. The Lord had torn the heavens asunder, and proclaimed his love for The Beloved. The second time was on the day of The Event, when The Beloved’s cry came through: ‘Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani.’ And shortly before that he’d heard The Lord respond to some inaudible sound which only He could have heard, saying, ‘Take heart. I know the flesh is weak. But your spirit is ready and so is your seat, to my right.’ Right then, Gabriel had wished to go down and rescue The Beloved, but The Lord, as usual, heard his thoughts and warned him against it. ‘I know what you know not, Gabriel.’
With the break of dawn over The Earth, The Lord called on Gabriel to prepare for an assignment. Gabriel stood upright beneath the throne, his angelic body wrapped in his glossy wings. He looked upwards, arms outstretched in supplication and praise, and asked The Lord how he could serve. The orders were simple: he would descend to The Earth at once and return with The Beloved, fully restored to life. Gabriel, unable to help himself, said, ‘Lord, isn’t he with you in spirit already?’
‘Speak not of that you have no knowledge of, Gabriel. Or would it be your wish to be one of the transgressors?’
Gabriel, who’d been weeping for two earthly days straight, recovered his faculties in time and repenting for the hundredth time since The Event, descended at once to carry out the Lord’s will.
His descent was not easy. Covering the Earth were layers of black, thick clouds, which were difficult to fly through. He forged down, his wings tight against his sides, until he broke through to a clear expanse, below which the Earth could be seen faintly. Astonished at his own fatigue, which was in part due to the dark clouds and the sorrow that pressed on him, he wished he’d brought the white horse. The journey was familiar, and by no means expected to be hard, but the two previous earthly days had been no ordinary days.
Soon he was close enough to the Earth to see Jerusalem below him. He looked a short way to the east and saw the Euphrates, where thousands of earthly years earlier he’d witnessed Noah’s people meet their deaths in flood. The ark, he recalled, had floated over the floods and stopped at Mount Ararat, where he beheld a multitude of animals disembarking for a new beginning. ‘Lord,’ he thought, and shook his head, marveling at the perilous times earthly creatures have come through. The last place he viewed before swooping to land was the river Tigris. There, he remembered seeing one of the condemned men from Noah’s people clinging onto the wreckage of a house to keep afloat on the endless waters. Gabriel had flown to the spot and eased the wreckage from the man’s grip. ‘Drown, for thy Lord’s will must be done.’
Once on the ground, he went first to Golgotha and witnessed for himself the site of the dreadful event. Then, having transformed himself into a young man, as he’d done many times before, he made his way to the sepulcher where the body was laid. With one soft shove he rolled the heavy stone out of the way and was at once face to face with The Beloved’s corpse. Gabriel, never having imagined such a moment, broke down in the tomb and wept. The body lay wrapped in white linen, strangely similar to Gabriel’s own robe, but bloodied in parts from the wounds. Gabriel stood by the body and invoked the spirit of the Lord. No sooner had he said the words than he saw The Beloved sit up, alive and whole. Contrary to Gabriel’s expectations, The Beloved showed neither delirium nor enquiry; he stood up, ran his hands across his face and stumbled quietly out of the sepulcher.
Overwhelmed by what he had just witnessed, Gabriel couldn’t leave the tomb for a long while afterwards. He sat therein and gave countless thanks to the Lord for fulfilling his promise. Moments later, as he was standing up to leave, he heard the shuffling of feet outside the sepulcher and looking, beheld two women. From the sweet spices they carried and the grave look about their eyes he understood that they had come to anoint The Beloved. At the sight of him, the women were taken aback and made as if to retreat. But Gabriel spoke quickly to allay their fears. He informed them about the rising of The Beloved, and where they could find him before his final departure to the heavens. Their tears of lamentation turned to tears of joy, and they hurried away to spread the word. Leaving the tomb in his human form, and therefore without wings, Gabriel proceeded upward as by an invisible flight of stairs to a spot between the Heavens and the Earth. There he waited for The Beloved, and the two of them ascended to the heavens, hand in hand.
Below them, the sun shone with a kindly light over the Earth. Birds chirped merrily. Gabriel himself felt revivified. Suddenly a feeling at once of reverence and admiration for earthly creatures came over him. He looked down to where he’d just come from and a smile —from whence it had come from he didn’t know—illuminated his face. He could see the entire Earth all at once, seemingly mellow and comforted, save for a few spots where the rays from the sun hadn’t yet reached. The Euphrates, the Tigris, and the seas close by reflected the sun’s beauty. In spite of all that he had seen over the long ages, the glad tidings he’d brought, nations he’d destroyed, souls he’d saved, it seemed to him that life on Earth was just beginning.