Ella strode past the cherubim without a glance. They shifted, wings rustling. One of them muttered under its breath.
“Fallen angels underfoot everywhere,” Ella complained as she mounted the bus steps, sensible shoes clacking on the metal. She dropped three bright coins in the bus receptacle, where they jingled unhappily.
The bus driver glanced wearily at Ella. He was an older man with an owlish face, sideburns protruding like ear tufts, and duct tape on his eyeglasses.
“They come here for the work,” he said philosophically.
Ella sat by a window, clutching her purse, gazing straight ahead. The cherubim passed by on their way to the back, throwing dark looks at Ella.
Ella smoothed her hair, checking the steel-gray bun was neatly centered. She glanced at the cherubim in the back row. They stared back, whispering, pupil-less black eyes reflecting the fluorescent lights.
“The police should check your papers,” she huffed.
A tall angel boarded. Everyone looked up. Seraphim were rare. It moved deliberately down the aisle, eyes darting from side to side, its halo grazing the roof. It paused at Ella’s row, looked her over sadly, then folded its wings carefully as it settled in the seat beside her.
Ella stiffened. Her mind raced. Angels sit at the back of the bus. Everyone knows that. It’s not discrimination. It’s a health issue.
“Excuse me, this row is for humans,” Ella reprimanded. “Corporeal humans.”
The seraph turned to her, eyes huge and sky-blue. Its skin was hard, dark, and wrinkled like a walnut. It opened its mouth to reply, but the sounds came out as a choir, car horns, explosions, Metallica guitars, and church bells.
“I don’t speak Beatific,” said Ella frostily.
The angel shrugged. It closed its eyes as the bus lurched forward. It looked exhausted.
Ella grew exasperated. “You angels barge into our world. You refuse to learn our language or eat our food. And now you break our rules.”
The angel appeared to be asleep.
“You really can’t sit here,” Ella insisted.
She stood. “Driver!”
The bus driver squinted at his mirror. “What’s your beef now, lady?”
“There’s an angel sitting up front. Right next to me!”
The driver frowned. He wrestled the bus to the curb and turned in his seat, donut cushion squeaking. Horns bleated outside. He peered at the sleeping angel.
“Hey you,” he said. “I’m sorry, but you have to sit in back with the others.”
The seraph opened one blue eye and closed it. The driver’s seat squeaked as he rose stiffly and came down the aisle. He poked the angel with his finger.
“Did you hear me?”
The angel opened both eyes, sighed elaborately, then uttered a torrent of screeching tires, shattered glass, sirens, and George Bailey singing “Buffalo Gals.” The driver grimaced and returned to his seat.
“Gotta look that up,” he grumbled. He took off his glasses, pulled a worn Beatific-English dictionary from the dashboard, and thumbed through it. He groaned and turned to the angel. “Fine. I’ll make an exception. Just today.”
The driver steered back into morning traffic. Cars scattered, horns squealing outrage.
Ella was indignant. “What did it say?”
“He says he’s your guardian angel.”
“Nonsense.” Ella stood, forcing her way past the angel, and marched to the driver. “Let me off this bus.”
“Fine by me,” answered the driver. The bus doors opened with a pneumatic sigh. “Hurry up. I’m behind schedule.”
Ella moved carefully down the stairs. The bus jerked forward before she had both feet on the ground. Ella pitched forward. She screamed as the grimy underside of the bus opened like a hungry mouth.
Then she was in the arms of the seraph. It held her tightly as the bus rumbled away, gazing down at her with sky-blue eyes.
The angel answered with a swell of harps, mariachi trumpets, Mussolini rallies, jackhammers, and ocean surf.