As the street lights slowly passed by, illuminating the inside of my cab like a slow-motion theater, I let my thoughts drift back to the years I spent as an important man. Living the high life and having the world in the palm of my hand was a distant memory, but a pleasant one – and a bitter one. I would have been the first billionaire in my family, but it turned out to be a terrible lie. It was that same old, sad story; markets changed, stocks fell, and I squandered what I had left with lawsuits, alcohol and reckless abandon. After years of loyal, backhanded, cutthroat service, rising near the top of my corrupt industry, I was an aimless drifter and a hopeless drunk, out on the streets and forgotten; doomed to dwell in darkness until Death saw fit to claim my wracked body.
But that changed. Someone found my sorry form lying in the street one frigid winter night, and I was saved from that fate worse than death. My guardian angel sailed down from heaven, and plucked me off the street, speaking comforting words and smiling. At first, I thought she was the hand of Satan himself, sent in a comforting form to drag me down into the darkest pit of hell – where I belonged. The look of her nearly set me to screaming, addled as I was, but I lacked the energy; so I stared wide-eyed and agape at nothing in particular as she gathered me up and put an arm under mine, steadying my drunken stupor and walking me through the bitter cold air into shelter.
As I lay on a cot, I heard her sweet voice explaining how she had found me nearly dead and frightfully cold, lying behind a dumpster, and couldn't leave me there. I remember smiling at the sound of her voice, and that's when I knew she'd been sent by heaven -God himself, maybe, if he existed- to save my sorry existence and offer a second chance to a two-bit crook. The social worker thanked my beautiful angel and I heard her whisper an apology for the late hour, and then she was gone; back up to heaven to sing with the choir and pray for my recovery. I was touched, then I passed out.
I never even caught her name.
I lay on that cot for nearly three days before I had the strength enough to stand, and since then I've been walking on my own. The sound of my angel's sweet voice echoing in my foggy memory pushing me forward, telling me to live and be good. The way I figured it, if heaven saw fit to send such a vivacious seraph to redeem me of and set me upon some righteous path, I was going to listen. I kept her voice close to my heart, and the single image of her beautiful face in my mind, and it made the hours of driving melt into a serene bliss.
A light in the city, another car passing in the night, beamed through the windshield and I averted my eyes for a moment. Quickly looking back, I nearly had a heart attack seeing a woman standing in the middle of the road. My teeth clenched, I slammed on the brakes, praying the snowy road is kind and lets the wheels grip true. The car sputtered and twisted on the slippery road, letting out a horrible screeching wail, and I felt my heart leaping into my throat as I closed my eyes. I began to mumble a prayer, knowing the only thing that could possibly stop the car was my angel. My taxi shuddered and slowed, and I saw the image of my angel flash in front of me, her beautiful face upturned in the most content of smiles.
Finally, the skidding ended and the car came to a stop, but my eyes were still slammed shut as I silently cursed myself for losing my attention. The clamor of the idling engine was all I could hear, rattling and shaking like it always did, as I stood with my foot on the floor brake, and my hand wrapped around the emergency brake. My heart thumped against my chest and I started to notice the sweat on my brow, even in the cold of the night. My heart raced and I felt pain shoot down my left arm, but it dissipated as my breathing slowed. Slowly, I sat back down, relaxing my white-knuckled grip, but remaining fearful of opening my eyes.
Then I heard a voice.
It was my angel's voice, but it wasn't in my head anymore. I heard it coming from somewhere, but I was too fearful to open my eyes and look. I could feel tears welling up, and I bowed my head feeling ashamed, anguished, terrified and hopeless.
There was a tapping on my window, and I was filled with dread. I recalled the years I spent as a corporate stooge and felt the guilt for a thousand broken homes left in my wake. The truth of my past fell in on me like a terrible tsunami and I began to cry, no longer able to hold back the tears. They flowed like an avalanche, pummeling me into deeper despair. The image of my angel faded from my mind, abandoning me as I gave in to the hopelessness; as I decided I was ready to accept death for what I had done – for what I had allowed to happen.
I felt a cold rush of air as my door swung open and someone's cold, dainty hands reached for my shoulder, then my face. I kept my head bowed in shame, unable to look into whatever stranger's eyes had thought to pity this awful wretch.
Then I heard my angel's voice again.
Closer than before, I felt its dulcet tone sweep over me and I withered at the sound. Her words were foreign and I felt my heart sink. Surely my angel would have spoken to me such that I could understand. Was I condemned to forever hear her voice but never understand her words – was that to be my special hell? Steeling myself, I finally opened my eyes and tried to focus through the mist, but what I see disturbs me even more. I blinked and looked again, and nearly screamed in fear as my angel looked in on me through the door.
Why is she here? Doesn't she know what I have done?
I looked away, ashamed, but I listened as she spoke, and suddenly her words became familiar. Her sing-song tone was jilted and accompanied by an occasional stutter, but the words she spoke were honest and kind, just as I had remembered. I turned back and smiled at seeing my angel's beautiful face. This time I saw her through sober eyes, and I felt strength -and lucidity- return to my ailing body – my broken mind. In that moment, I was granted the power to lean forward and inspect the front of my cab.
There was nothing there.
No stricken woman laid there, only a patch of thrown snow and my headlights boring a hole through the darkened street. I smiled and leaned back, suddenly overwhelmed with serenity. My angel had saved me again; descending from heaven to turn the wheel of fate back just enough to let my taxi stop short of ending another innocent's life.
And now she was asking a question.
“Hisao,” she said, and I felt lighter than air. Hearing my name pass through her lips made me feel as though I had already touched heaven. “Hisao, are you alright?” she asked, and I smiled again at hearing her sing-song tone.
Recognition suddenly hit me, and I felt a moment of clarity even more powerful than at the shelter. I focused my gaze upon her and felt the world slipping away as I absorbed the look of my angel's smiling countenance. The wintry garb she wore was puffy and darkly colored. The plush hat on her head was folded up, and her long hair cascaded like a purple waterfall from around its edges. Her rounded, smiling face was cloaked on one side by a carefully draped shock of hair, and her pale skin was rosy from the cold. Her sparkling eye -the one I could see- was reflecting the lamp-light; and within that deep, purple well, I saw nothing but love -and concern. I felt cold and warm at the same time as I remembered my angel's name and it slowly passed through my lips for the first time in fifteen years, “Hanako?”
She smiled, and I nearly passed out from shock. The clouds in my head pushed back and I recalled those years-gone-by when I was still a happy teenager – before I became a monster. Before I sat on a golden throne and lorded over an army of yes-men and toothy-grinned fools, slowly twisting myself into a miserly, miserable wretch. A boy and a girl in love without a care in the world except what the future might bring. My tears flooded forth as I felt Hanako -my angel, my Hanako- touching my cheek and speaking my name like she had in those years long passed.
She leaned in and kissed my cheek, but I turned away. The memory of our years rushing back to my addled mind, I remembered what I had done to her. I had turned our happy lives into an endless, desperate and futile search for material wealth and power. My avarice had been unmatched, my prowess was superior and I was a vicious, coiling snake ready to strike anything that considered challenging me. Hanako had born the brunt of my assault, feeling the lash of my tongue and the threat of my hand -never striking- recoiling into our house and retreating to darkened rooms, avoiding her awful husband.
I remember my hatred when an old friend escorted her away, and the darkness I slipped into – a cold, black well of despair and doubt I had wallowed in since. I never wanted her back in my life again, for fear of finally destroying that which I loved so much; and as she hugged my sorry form, I felt terrified. Of all the people I had hurt in my climb to the top, and my inevitable downfall, my poor Hanako had been the most devastated, and I could not bear seeing her go through that again. I didn't deserve her.
I start to speak, but she pressed forward, enveloping me in a deep kiss, breaking my concentration. My senses blurred and I felt my heart racing as my memories continued to whirl and my consciousness drove deep into my past – our past. In that moment I was transported through time, back to a warm summer street, outside a little tea shop where she gave me her first gift. Innocent and honest, we confessed our love in that place, truly for the first time, and I was there once again. I felt the warm breeze again, smelled the pastries and the fresh-cut grass again, I heard the hushed voices again, tasted her strawberry lipstick again and saw the careless young lovers we had once been, wrapped in an honest embrace. I wanted to live in that moment forever, for in that moment I felt nothing but serenity – and hope.
I felt freed.
When she leaned away, her eyes were closed and I could see tears running down her cheeks. The infectious, honest smile she wore spread to my lips, and I felt the fear leave me; sailing somewhere into the wintry night sky, replaced by an overwhelming feeling of joy. She giggled and cooed, and I felt my heart leap. She whispered forgiveness, and I was impassioned. My angel, my Hanako, she had come to save me – again. Lifting me from an icy death; delivering me to warmth. Stepping into the street; risking her life to save mine. My guardian angel. I could no longer hold back my elation, and I wrapped my arms around her, sighing contentedly, feeling her warmth again. Our fates entwined once more, I leaned in and kissed her more deeply and passionately than ever before; feeling that warm summer day the moment our lips met, and every time after.
My angel, my Hanako.