When dust rolls in like an eruption and you can hardly see across the street, and everything else (city, mountains, sky) is hidden by a tan cloud, people say, “This is the haboob to end all haboobs.” Only it isn’t. It’s just another day in El Paso, the dust capital of the southwest, made worse by a multi-year drought we’ve been experiencing.
A haboob is a sand cloud caused by the downdraft of a desert thunderstorm system. It’s like something you’d expect to encounter on Mars. Experiencing one for the first time can be truly frightening, and even wild animals seek shelter until it’s over.
I know, I know, you’ve heard enough about haboobs. But I want to make sure and convince you that even an angel on some important errand could get lost in one. And that’s exactly what happened, according to my neighbor Lily.
Lily lives down the street with her mother, who’s in her eighties and used a wheelchair for a while. Lily, divorced and childless, became her widowed mother’s caretaker a few years ago. The two of them live in a small brick bungalow that’s falling apart on the outside, with decaying eaves and an unkempt yard, though the inside remains immaculate. From freshly polished ebonized wood doors and trim to carefully ironed gold satin upholstery-covers on the living room sofas, the place is like a tiny palace. And even though Lily lost control of the yard at some point, she lovingly tends a jungle of potted aloes and ghost plants that live in the bedrooms.
It happened on an overcast Friday afternoon in August 2018. The aloes and ghost plants were enjoying a little fresh air on the front porch, as was La Señora Maria Luisa Ramos, Lily’s mother. When the wind picked up and a haboob approached, Lily went and retrieved her mom in her wheelchair, even though Señora Ramos was more than happy to brave the storm. Lily returned to rescue her precious aloes and ghost plants, only to find an elderly man standing at the foot of the ramp leading to the porch. He was breathing heavily and rubbing sweat from his forehead.
“May I help you, sir?” Lily asked the strange man in a husky voice as she collected her succulents. The dust was already irritating her throat. Another haboob to end all haboobs.
Raising her eyes from her work, she noticed his antiquated robe and enormous wings—and realized he was not a man at all.
“You’re an angel,” she gasped, before he had a chance to say anything.
“Yes,” he answered softly. “I do not wish to trouble you, but I’ve lost my way in the storm and was wondering if I might rest on your porch for a little while?”
“Why, of course,” Lily said to him. “But look at the dust. You can’t sit outside. Please come in and have a seat on our couch.”
“You are very kind. I’ll rest for a moment and be on my way.”
Lily took his arm, which weighed no more than a feather, and led him to the sofa that faced a big-screen TV.
“Would you like a glass of water or a little iced tea?” she asked him.
“No, thank you,” he said. “I really don’t want to be any trouble.”
“This is my mother, Maria Ramos,” Lily said as she moved her mom closer to the stranger.
“Mucho gusto,” Señora Ramos said, holding out a friendly hand. “So, you’re an angel? I hope you’re not the dreaded angel of death.”
“Oh no, nothing like that. I’m simply a messenger.”
“I’ve been in this wheelchair for several years now. But I’d really like to get around on my legs. When you get back to heaven, could you put in a good word for me. I’ve been praying about it for a long time. Poor Lily does nothing but look after me, and I’d love to be able to look after myself a bit more. You know, for her sake.”
The angel nodded sympathetically.
“Are you sure you won’t have a little tea?” Señora Ramos asked.
“And I can make you a plate if you like,” Lily added. “We had family over last night and there’s leftover mole poblano in the fridge. I can warm it up for you and mom.”
“No, no,” the stranger said (he never mentioned his name). “I’m an angel, so I don’t need to eat. Wait . . . did you say mole? Homemade? Hmm, maybe I will have a small plate. And a little crema on the side.”
“I see you have a good appetite,” Señora Ramos said. “Especially for a celestial being. Just don’t forget to mention my legs when you get back home.”
“Mom!” Lily said under her breath as she went to the kitchen to microwave the leftovers.
A few days later, I was out on a walk with my dog. The storm had passed. I ran into Lily in front of the little shop on our corner that used to be a grocery but now sells “pet houses,” whatever that means.
“Good morning,” I said to her. “How are you doing?”
“Very well,” she said.
“I saw you tooling around with your mom the other day. When did she start walking again? She looked great.”
“Well, let me tell you. You’re not going to believe this, but we had a visit from an angel during the dust storm on Friday.”
“Really? That was some storm, huh?”
“Yeah. Tell me about it.”
“No, you tell me. An angel? And now your mother’s walking?”
“I’ll explain it all to you when you’re not trying to walk your dog. He looks like he needs to go. Listen. Let’s just say that I’m really glad I didn’t let my nieces take all the leftover mole and rice with them when we had a party at our house the other day.”
Charles Haddox lives in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and has family roots in both countries. His work has appeared in a number of journals including Chicago Quarterly Review, The Normal School, Folio, and Stonecoast Review. charleshaddox.wordpress.com