My wife, Malathi, and I recently bought a new minivan, trading in the 2000 Subaru Legacy Wagon that had served us well for nine years. As we were leaving the Honda dealership in our sparkling white minivan, my 7-year-old daughter, Divya, stuck her head out toward the parked Subaru and waved. “Bye, car! Thank you, car!” she said.
It wasn’t the first time one of us had spoken to the Subaru. When we bought it second-hand in 2002, Malathi had trouble learning to drive a stick-shift (manual) car. As she took her foot off the clutch pedal too quickly, the car would jerk forward and stall. “Go! Go! Go!” Malathi would yell, but the car couldn’t seem to grasp this simple instruction. Being a good husband, I tried to be helpful: “It’s a Japanese car. What’s the Japanese word for ‘go’?”
But after Malathi’s initial words to the car, I don’t recall any of us talking to it until Divya’s parting
words. I hate to admit this publicly, but we didn’t even give it a name. We just referred to it as “the car” –- as though it didn’t have an identity of its own, as though it was exactly like all the other Subarus. Just ask any mechanic and he will tell you that no two cars in the world are exactly alike. “Your car is definitely unique,” he will say, “and it has a unique problem that will take me many hours to fix.” And pretty soon you will have a unique bill to pay.
“You charged me for an exhaust pipe, exhaust gasket and exhaust clamp,” you say, looking at the items on the bill. “But why did you charge me for exhaust fluid?”
“Sorry,” says the mechanic. “I was exhausted and needed a drink.”
Our Subaru certainly had some unique qualities. For example, if I made a sharp U-turn, it would produce a popping sound. I used Google Translate and found out what it was saying: “Make up your mind where you’re going, you idiot!” If I went over a bump too fast, it would make a deep vibrating sound, which Google also translated for me: “Time to get your eyes checked, you moron!”
But despite its occasional complaints, it was a good, reliable car, one that we shamelessly took for granted. Even when it had carried us safely on a 30-hour trip, we didn’t have the decency to give it a pat on its bumper. If it was dirty and needed a bath, I waited for a rainy day and tossed it a bar of soap. And when it came to feeding it, I was always slow to do so, waiting until the gauge showed empty, not feeling any remorse if the warning light came on, saying “Feed me, dude. I’m not a model!”
I may have neglected the car now and then, but I never intentionally abused it in any way, either verbally or physically, even when it was at fault. When its battery died and it wouldn’t start one morning, I didn’t kick its tires and scream, “Stupid car! Why didn’t you remind me to turn your lights off?” When it almost crashed into a building while Malathi was at the wheel, I didn’t punch its headlights out and shout, “Stupid car! Why didn’t you tell her that her foot was on the accelerator, not the brake!”
I always felt a sense of loyalty to the car and was reluctant to part with it. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to hear Divya’s words of gratitude. While the rest of the family was excited about the new minivan, she had taken a moment to appreciate the old car. I should have done the same: “Good bye car! Thank you for keeping us safe. We’ll miss you. I hope your new owner speaks Japanese.”
If you enjoyed this piece, you’ll love Melvin’s humourous novel “Bala Takes the Plunge,” available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. Read the latest reviews here and an excerpt here.