. . . Or, in Spanish, "Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes".

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings is a short story by the great Gabriel García Márquez. This story, along with others, was published in the novella Leaf Storm, and can be read here.

Really, go read it.

Not enough? Okay, here's a quick summary. Warning, though, I'm pretty much going to spoil the everything for you. You should really go read it, then totally ignore my summary. ('Cause, see, if you read it you wouldn't really need the summary, would you?)

Go ahead, I'll wait.


The story starts off with a man named Pelayo dumping a load of dead crabs into the sea and coming across a very old man with enormous wings, struggling in the mud and speaking some never-identified-in-story language. Pelayo runs to get his wife Elisenda and, after a neighbor woman tells them that, yes, the old guy with wings is an angel, and that he's probably there for their sick child, they both decide to do the logical thing and lock him up in the chicken coop. As you do.

This being the smallest town in the history of forever, everyone knows they've got an angel by the next morning, and a priest comes around to see if it's all legit.

After some inspection, he declares that the creature is in fact not an angel. It's far too normal. It smells like- well, a really old guy who's been out of doors too long. There are parasites crawling around in his wings, like they would a pigeon's. And he doesn't speak Latin, or recognize any of the prayers the priest threw at him. Therefore: not an angel.

Nobody pays attention to him, and crowds gather around the coop until Elisenda gets so sick of it, she starts charging people like at a carnival attraction.

People (being people) are assholes to the old winged man. They throw rocks at him to try and get him to do interesting things, they pull off his feathers in hopes of making some cure out of them, and they burned him with a poker once to try and get him to stand up. Meanwhile, the priest is exchanging letters with the Vatican, who are humoring the crazy priest who's stuck out in the middle of nowhere and thinks he's seeing gap-toothed angels with bug infested vulture wings.

The angel is stuck there for quite a long time.

After a while, though, people get bored of the angel and go to see the much more interesting spider lady down the way. Not only is her admittance fee less than that to see the angel, but she actually talks to people and tells them the sad story of how she became a giant tarantula with a woman's head. But that's okay, because with all the money Pelayo and his family have made off the angel, they now have a two story house, with nets so the crabs can't get in again and bars on the windows so stray angels can't get in.

Because- again- people are assholes, the angel's coop is the only thing that doesn't get fixed up, and they only spray it down every once in a while when the smell gets too bad. Even after the coop falls apart due to wind and rain, the angel still hangs around. They wind up having to chase it out of the house a few times with brooms in very much the same way one would drive out an outdoor dog that snuck inside.

When it looks like he really is going to croak it, they're worried about him. Not because they like him at all, but because they've no idea how to dispose of dead angels.

The angel lives, though, and once the sunny weather starts up, he drags himself to the corner of the courtyard where nobody will bug him. He sits, and he waits, and slowly, his feathers grow back.

One day, he manages to take off. It takes a lot of awkward flapping and fumbling on his part, but he eventually gets into the air and flies away. Elisenda was watching from the window. Her only reaction is that of relief: they finally got that crazy old winged guy out of their back yard.


It is a good story. Like most of Marquez's work, it's steeped in the surreal feeling magical realism tends to give off. You know the one: where you've just gotten used to one odd premise and think they story's going to stay within the confines of normality from then on, only to have a singing spider lady dropped in out of nowhere.