I’d just come off the bridge on to the highway when I saw the car.
I’d normally have taken no notice of that car. It was just a dark red hatchback, like a million others, like probably fifty or more I’d already seen today. But I was irritated, and looking for something to work off my irritation on.
And the car was parked directly in front of a NO PARKING sign. The sides of the road were bare as far as the eye could see, except for this one place where there was a NO PARKING sign, so whoever had parked it had naturally selected this one point.
The police hadn’t done their duty of teaching the malefactor the error of his or her ways. Not only was I irritated already, but as a god, it was therefore my right to do so.
Not, of course, that I’m all that much of a god. I am, as my divine colleagues will attest, strictly minor grade. Once I might have grown powerful on the back of beliefs and prayers, but the chance had passed me by. I had never accumulated worshippers and offerings, and so there was no chance of a heaven made from hopes and dreams to which I could ascend and rule over. As a consequence, all I could do was roam around the earth like a restless ghost, doing minor-godly things, and moving on when I got tired of a place.
It is actually extremely easy to get tired of a place when you do minor-godly things and don’t get any reward for them. By reward, of course I don’t mean money or gold. As a god, even of the lowest grade, I could have arranged to become rich at any time I chose. What I mean is to develop enough of a fan base to be recognised as a god, instead of a wizard or a magician. But of course that’s never going to happen, and I realise it fully by now.
I ought to take a moment to explain that there are no such animals as wizards or warlocks, witches or genuine magicians. There are tricksters, and there are minor gods. That is all.
Major gods? They don’t live here. They’ve got heavens and things to live in.
I’d spent an increasingly disappointing two months at a little town up in the hills. I’d gone there because I’d heard that it was being “developed”, with new roads and bridges and buildings coming up, and of course where there’s “development” there’s money and corruption, which in turn means there’s anger and despair. And where there’s anger and despair, there’s opportunity for a god to make his mark.
Unfortunately I was too late. The place was filled to the brim already with all kinds of fakirs and astrologers, gurus and other parasites, and most of all a self-styled maharishi who’d opened an ashram and was raking in money hand over fist from people who actually gave him worship.
That’s right. They were giving this transparent fraud worship, while I, a genuine and actual god, had to go without. I am not making this up.
Still, I hung on. I hung on for two months, doing my best to make my mark. I’d hung on right until the previous evening, refusing to give up hope. And then I’d seen her.
She’d been an obviously distressed young woman, wandering the streets behind the maharishi’s ashram, crying. A crying young woman wandering the streets at half past nine in the evening, not surprisingly, had caught my attention. I’d at once decided that the maharishi had done something to her, and that this was my chance to get rid of him.
So, trying to look as helpful and non-threatening as possible, I’d gone up to her. “What’s the matter, young lady?” I’d asked. “Did that dreadful wretch, the maharishi, do something to you?”
But it wasn’t that at all. Someone had stolen her new iPhone. That was why she was crying.
Still, it was something that I should be able to handle. As a god, getting her a new iPhone shouldn’t have been out of my powers, and of course it wasn’t. The only problem was that it was half past nine in the evening, and all the stores had closed. It was a small town, as I said. So – since even a god doesn’t burgle electronic shops – I’d have to wait for the morning.
She didn’t want a new iPhone, though. She’d wanted her own one back. It had numbers and files and photos and things, she’d explained between sobs, that she didn’t want to lose. So I’d begun to think of other ways I could get her phone back to her. I’d exerted my powers.
Therefore, just then, who should wander by but one of those fakirs I mentioned, and right next to us he’d taken out an iPhone from his bag and started looking into it.
Of course it was the girl’s phone. When she’d screamed and thrown herself at him, the fakir had merely glanced at her and given it to her at once.
“I found it lying on the ground behind one of the benches in the park,” the rascal had said. “I was using my powers to look for the owner, and I found you.” And, equally of course, the girl had believed him.
That was the moment I’d realised once and for all that this was no place for me. Not only could I not dispose of that fraud of a maharishi; even a fakir was too much for me. Leaving the girl ecstatically pressing her phone to her breast, I’d turned around and walked away. I’d walked all night, all through the day, and now, in the new evening, I was still walking.
Therefore, I was irritable, and I was tired. Even a minor god can get tired. And the car was there, parked in front of a NO PARKING sign, a sin looking for punishment.
Ten seconds later I was inside, and driving away. Keys? I did not need any keys. I’m a god, as I said, and I’d be a godawful god if I couldn’t even do what any car thief does every day.
The engine was rough, coughing as though it had a respiratory tract infection. Also, the gearshift was as stiff as the struggle to gain recognition as a deity. For some time I drove without lights on, because of course I didn’t need lights to see. Then I decided that I needed the headlights on so that other vehicles didn’t run into me. And then I discovered that the headlights barely even worked.
I decided that instead of punishing whoever it was who’d parked the car, I was probably doing them a favour.
Even for a minor god, actions don’t always bring the results expected, as I can certify.
Early in the morning, I picked up a small group of hitchhikers. There were three of them, standing by a roadside trucker’s stop looking for a ride; a middle aged man with a round face and a thin moustache, a younger man with spectacles, and a woman who might have been his wife. They looked like people I might want to pick up, so I picked them up.
They wanted to go to another little hill town, down south along the highway and then a little to the east. “Fine,” I said. “That’s where I’m going, too.”
The man with the thin moustache was beside me in the left front seat. He glanced down at my lack of a seatbelt, and opened his mouth to say something. I exerted my power a little, and he decided that keeping his mouth shut might be a good idea. And then I trod the accelerator to the floor to make sure his mouth stayed shut. No, I didn’t know exactly how fast I was going. The speedometer wasn’t working either.
We drove all morning. I stopped once to take on petrol. Even a minor god can’t change the way an internal combustion engine works. Money? There was a little in the glove compartment. Enough to pay for a full tank and a little left over.
It was nearly noon when the man with the moustache looked over at me and opened his mouth again. “We just passed the exit road,” he said.
I’d not even noticed the sign. It was on the other side of the highway, and there was a barrier down the middle. So it was some time before I could turn and come back. It was a miserable little road, less than half the width of one lane of the highway, and uneven and twisting besides.
We’d been driving down it for about half an hour when we came to a fork in the road. To the left it climbed up a hill, and to the right it went across a small bridge and along a valley. I glanced at my passenger. “Which way?”
“Wait.” These people never said “please.” He leaned over and began talking to the man and woman in the back seat. The woman said they should go to the right. The two men said they should go to the left. Naturally, therefore, the male opinion won.
“Women have no sense of direction,” the man with the moustache told me with a shrug. “We’ll go to the left.”
The leftward road was even narrower, and steep besides. Even I couldn’t drive fast on it, and as we went higher it became narrower still. And people were parked by the side of this road to enjoy the view!
We’d just passed a huge green SUV that blocked a good part of the road when the spectacled man in the back seat, who’d been whispering with increasing urgency to the woman, leaned over my shoulder.
“We made a mistake,” he said. “It was the right hand road after all.”
“You’re sure?” I asked.
“I’m sure.” The one in the front seat wasn’t, of course, and turned round and began yelling. But now he was outvoted, two to one, even if one was a woman.
“The other road was the right one,” he said finally.
It was a winding thread down on the valley, and we’d have to turn round and go back down. The road wasn’t just narrow and steep, it even sloped to the side, and the overall width was less than the length of the car. In other words, it was impossible to turn, unless one was a god. I said so.
“We’ll go up until we find a wider place, and then turn,” I said. I am a god, but after all, only a minor one. “It’ll be much safer and easier.”
“It’s urgent that we get there,” the woman said, talking directly to me for the first time. “We can’t afford the delay. Please.”
“All right,” I said. At least she’d said please. I stopped and turned the wheel, backing the car until the rear fender kissed the rock. To our right and below us, the green SUV bulged like a swollen tick. I swung the wheel over and began turning the car round.
I almost made it. In fact, I would have made it if the moustached moron to my left hadn’t panicked and grabbed at the wheel when the front end of the car went a little over the edge. He didn’t manage to make us go over the edge, but my front end touched the swollen green hide of the SUV. I stopped.
A window rolled down, a round red face appearing. “Hey, you!” It was a voice that would make even a deaf man wince. “What do you mean, wrecking my car?”
“Wrecking your car?” I looked. There was a minor dent in the metal, little more than a wrinkle. “You call that wrecking?”
“You’ll pay for this!” he bellowed. “I’m calling the police.”
“We need to get down,” the woman whined behind me.
I suddenly had enough. Even a minor god has a breaking point. “Right,” I said, opening the door. “You can have the car. Take it and go and do what you want.” Climbing out, I slammed the door and began walking up the road.
“Where the hell are you going?” Red Face shouted after me. “Wait for the police!”
I didn’t wait for the police. Nor did I wait for my erstwhile passengers, who, on discovering there were no keys, began following me up the road, alternately bleating at me and threatening. None of them was particularly fast, and I soon left them some way behind. They didn’t give up, though, following and bleating and threatening. And behind them was the red faced man, who had to climb after me because the car had blocked the rest of the road, and he was only threatening.
I’d wanted followers, yes, but not followers like that.
Maybe I lack the temperament for a proper god.
It was late afternoon when I came to a little town right on top of the hill. It was mostly a resort, with a few shops scattered on both sides of the road. There was a large red-painted hairdresser’s advertising a competition for hairstyles for tonight. I saw a couple of women getting their hair fixed inside.
Ice caps were melting. Forests were turning into deserts. The atmosphere was turning into a brown haze. Cannibal jihadis were busy hacking off heads. The major powers were getting ready to fight a nuclear war. I was a minor god without a hope in the world. And here they were advertising for a hairstyle contest.
A beggar came up to me, holding out a hand and looking hopeful. I was probably the first new mark he’d seen all day. “Alms,” he said. “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”
Apparently he was an educated beggar, though he didn’t look like much, small and stoop-shouldered, bald and scraggly-necked, wearing an old overcoat despite the summer afternoon sun. He looked rather like an old vulture. “Is there some way I can get away from those people down the road there?” I asked him.
He glanced at them and back to me. His small eyes glittered knowingly. “This way.”
I followed him down a side street. We turned left, and then right, and then left again. In a couple of minutes even I had no idea where I was.
“Go down this way,” the beggar said, pointing to a flight of steps that led down the hill. “They’ll bring you down to the main road by the river.” He held out his hand again.
“Thanks.” I wondered how to reward him. After all, I had no money. Then I had it.
He was still fingering his rich, beaded head of dreadlocks as I set off down the steps. All he had to do was enter the hairstyle contest, and he’d win for sure. What he’d win, I had no idea, but he’d win.
Sometimes I have these strokes of genius, and then I think that being a minor god is good enough for me.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2016