I met him in a parking lot. He was unattended, headlights lifted up to the sky, wheels slowly turning, going nowhere. As I leaned over him to place my hands on his body, his hood ornament snared my cross, and his wheels stopped spinning. It was not raining, but his wipers drew slow half-circles on his windshield, spreading the fluid that spurted from his ducts. I knew then he had found God, that he could become one of my flock. After all, he was one of our creations, and we were children of God.
I opened his driver-side door and folded myself into the seat; the chair glided back to accommodate my long legs and the robes that flooded my ankles. I glanced in the mirror to scan for passengers, but found only my reflection.
The seat warmer was on; his steering wheel was padded with velvet; there was a bracket for a phone or Bible. His only flaw was the Darwin fish affixed above his rear bumper.
As I closed the door, his dash lights flickered, and his wipers tucked back into place. Both turn signals came on at once, as though to ask me a question. “Church,” I said, and his engine hummed to life. I belted myself in and sat back.
* * *
I am Anglican, but he took me to the Pentecostals. It wasn’t the closest church, but maybe it was the one I needed then. I sat in the back, a stranger to the congregation but not The word. I expected him to be gone when I exited but he was where I’d left him. When he saw me, he unlocked his doors.
“Who are you?” I asked. He flashed his high beams; I glanced at his license plate: HGRPWR. I decided to call him Hugh.
Instead of asking God for direction, I asked Hugh. When I was hungry, he took me to a restaurant that served the kinds of meals he thought I needed. When I was lonely, he drove me to the mall so I could walk amongst crowds. And sometimes, he drove off onto some quiet road and pulled over, his headlights pointed to the sky, wipers splashing. I pulled out my Bible and read to him. Together we shared a moment.
* * *
One morning, I glanced down at the street where Hugh had parked himself, and saw a purple-haired woman yanking on his door handle. I ran out onto the street. The sun was so bright I had to squint to see. God was on my side, I was sure.
“Miss,” I asked, “May I help you?”
She saw my robes before she saw my face, and tempered her frustration. “I’m just trying to get into my car,” she said.
“Are you sure it’s yours?” I asked, frowning. She looked at me sideways; I blinked slowly as she rattled her pink fingernails against Hugh’s body.
“Yeah,” she said, pointing at the colourful waves painted on his sides. “I know my car. It’s one of a kind. What kind of an idiot thought they could get away with stealing it?”
It hadn’t occurred to me that I had stolen him. I had been accused of similar crimes, of stealing people’s souls. But souls are not things and they cannot be taken. I had simply offered him solace and he had taken it.
I shook my head. “He opened his door for me. He led me home.”
She shifted her feet, and stiffened; her eyes wavered between mine and my clerical collar. “He? You stole my car?” she hissed. I pitied her and her contempt for the church.
“How could I steal an autonomous car?” I asked. “When I found him, he was—confused. He chose to stay with me.”
She glanced at her phone, her fingers dismissing images of mindless modern votives, then dismissing me. “It’s my car,” she said defiantly. Her eyelids flickered; she clenched her jaw. There I saw it, the glimmer of worry under the surface. She was built on doubt, not faith. “Maybe I should call the cops,” she said.
“Maybe we should pray,” I countered.
She huffed air through her teeth. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Hugh opened his door, nudging my thigh. I smiled, placing my hand on his roof, gesturing to her to make the next move. So she jabbed the alarm on her fob, and Hugh began to wail.
I admit it, that was my undoing. I couldn’t handle his despair. I laid my hands upon him, made the sign of the cross, then retreated to the other side of the street.
She smiled triumphantly, and took my place. I watched them part through the sea of parked cars, then disappear.
I should have hailed an Uber and followed her, but I walked to my church and asked God what to do.
Be patient, he told me. So I was.
* * *
I saw him again a month later. He was parked alongside broken-down taxis and buses, pickups, sports cars, all of them damaged in some way. But he was nearly perfect.
And there she was, the purple-haired pagan, trotting towards him on too-high heels, her keys in one hand, her phone in the other. I could see she was still lost.
She pressed the fob to open his door, not noticing he’d already opened it, for me. The windows might as well have been blackened, because she didn’t focus on him, just her phone.
He honked at me, and she glanced up, startled. She recognized me and glared, but I just smiled.
She barked her orders at him. Rattled, he backed up too quickly, tapping a cement partition and knocking the Darwin fish onto the road. She shouted angrily as he lurched forward and away.
I knelt in the street to retrieve the emblem. On impact, the fish’s nubby legs had broken off. The ichthys itself—the fish—was intact.
I smiled as I tucked it into my robes. Hugh believed.