Ululating sounds wavered out from the shadows of the arches, soft and mesmerising. “Who is singing?” the boy asked his uncle. “It is an angel,” the uncle replied, “with long white hair under her scarf and pink wings folded under her robe.” The boy paused. He would remember this moment all his life. It would affect his destiny and colour his actions until the day he rode his horse to the edge of the canyon, the day he scattered his mother’s ashes into the sirocco. “Huh! I don’t believe you!” scoffed the boy, who was quite a young boy, nutty brown and dark-eyed. He skipped from his uncle’s side and ran to the pool in the centre of the courtyard. The little fountain splashed and splished and made water droplets in the air catch the sunlight, winking. The sound of the fountain accompanied the singing like a high-pitched oud. “Angels don’t have white hair,” said the boy, “their hair is red. And their wings are blue!”
His uncle smiled in his beard as he sat amongst the cool greenery and watched his small nephew gallop thought the fern glades. He was an ancient man, deeply wrinkled, and he could barely walk using his knobbly stick. That’s why he was sitting here in the courtyard with women and small children. He lifted his old face towards the sun filtering through the green tracery of the plants. The boy finished his skipping circumlocution of the courtyard and returned to his uncle.
“What’s more,” said the boy, “that angel sounds like my mother.” His uncle nodded slowly. “Ah yes, my boy. You may know nothing about the colours of angels, but you are smart. You have guessed the secret.” “Secret? Secret?” said the boy, his voice rising excitedly.
“Hush,” said his uncle, his old brown hand, palm down, pushing towards the earth to indicate that the boy should lower his voice. His own sank to a whisper, and the boy drew closer as if he were metal drawn by a magnet. “Your mother is an angel,” whispered his uncle. The boy’s jaw dropped: “No!” he whispered back.
“Yes,” said his uncle quietly. “You see her only as your mother, but if you knew the three magic words, you could see her in her angel shape. I myself have seen this. I can tell you. She is an angel. That’s why her singing sounds like music from Heaven.”
“Three magic words?” gasped the boy. “Tell me, tell me! I want to see! I want to see!” “I can tell you only one now,” said his uncle, quietly and seriously, “because you are only six. You may learn another when you are seven, and the final one when you are eight. But you must never write them down or the magic will vanish. And you must never speak them aloud, until you know all three, or misfortune will befall you. You must remember each word in your heart and guard it with so much care.”
The boy’s eyes were wide with the wonder of it. “What is the word?” he asked, so quietly that his uncle could hardly hear.