after Leonid Andrejew
from the Russian
There were times when Sascha was a stubborn little boy, wilful and disobedient. He didn’t want to get up in the morning, he didn’t want to wash in cold water, he didn’t want to go to school. Being only eight years old, he wasn’t sure how to go about getting his own way, he therefore did as he was told but he did it badly, lazily. When it came to Christmas and the end of year school report, his was not good at all.
Sascha went to his father, whom he loved very much. He hoped that father would not be so very angry with him.
“Sascha”, father said, “why ever are you such a stubborn boy? And look, the Sweschnikows have sent you an invitation to the gift giving ceremony under their Christmas tree.
The Sweschnikows were rich people who paid for Sascha’s schooling. Before Sascha’s father fell ill and had been retired on a pitiful pension he had worked for them.
Sascha really didn’t want to go, they were sure to ask how he was getting on at school. But his mother insisted and his father said “do go, Sascha, perhaps they will give you a small present for me, it has been a week since I last had tobacco for my pipe”. Sascha went.
The children were shouting with excitement and running about madly before they were allowed into the hall where the gifts were to be distributed. Then the doors opened and, holding their breath in anticipation, eyes wide open, they ran in and came to where a wonderfully tall Christmas tree stood, gleaming with decorations and blazing candles.
The children circled the tree, admiring the many beautiful things hanging from its branches. Suddenly, Sascha stopped. High up, near the top, he had seen a wax angel, transparent wings trembling a little in the warmth of the burning candles. The angel looked as if it would fly off at any time.
Sascha stared for a long time. He wanted the angel, wanted it for his own.
In spite of being a shy boy in such splendid surroundings, he ran to the lady of the house.
“Please, let me have the angel, O, please do”, he pleaded.
“Dear boy, that is not possible, everything has to remain on the tree until New Year’s Day. Only then will the decorations be taken down and given to the children”.
Sascha’s heart sank. “O please”, he begged, “ I promise to be good from now on, I will do my work and I will never be disobedient again”.
The lady smiled but remained firm.
Sascha changed tack. He fell on his knees. “I must have the angel”, he sobbed.
The lady grew disturbed. “You silly boy”, she said, “it is only God to whom you pray on your knees; get up and you shall have the angel”.
When Sascha held the angel in his hands, he looked up at her, smiling blissfully through his tears. He ran from the hall, found his coat and made for home.
His mother had gone to bed, tired out by the hard cleaning work she did.
His father was waiting for him in the kitchen.
“Look how beautiful the angel is”, he said to his father.
“Yes”, his father replied, “there is something very special about him; watch out, or he might fly away”.
They took the angel and put its string over a nail by the stove.
As they sat and looked, the angel seemed to change, grow larger and more luminous; it’s wings trembled more than ever. . . . . . . . . the room and everything in it sank into the background, the smoking lamp, the rough furniture, the grimy wallpaper, all vanished. The old man once again inhabited a world where he was strong and able to work, a time when life was good, bright and full of hope . . . . . . . the angel had come to him and sent a ray of light into his grey, monotonous existence. Next to the old man sat the boy at the beginning of life, his eyes shining, as happily lost in dreams as the old man. Presence and future disappeared. The angel absorbed Sascha’s nebulous dreams of beauty, hope and the yearning he carried in his soul, absorbed them and gave them back, radiating light and warmth. The wings trembled mysteriously.
Sascha and the old man slept.
The angel hung on his nail. Gradually the heat of the stove softened the wax and the first heavy drops fell. Thick rivulets of wax ran down his legs and feet, and, finally, the whole angel quivered as if he were really about to fly, and fell on to the hot plate of the stove. A cockroach came to investigate the shapeless mass and hastily withdrew.
Morning entered the room, the milkman clattered his cans in the street – the angel had gone.
The angel had gone, but it did not matter. His brief existence had given great happiness to two human beings for this one night.