This is his story.
Bryan was walking along the Arkansas highway shoulder with only the moon to guide him. He had a backpack slung over his shoulder. It was cold. Blisteringly cold.
He was a kid, 23 years young. This was not a friendly evening, weather-wise. Tonight it was colder than a brass toilet seat in Nova Scotia. And it was sleeting.
He had a long way to go before he hit the nearest town. He was wet. His feet hurt. His back hurt. His whole mind hurt.
His family was a downright mess, and his homelife was a wreck. He had decided, tonight on this walk, that he was going to end it all. He didn’t have the details worked out, but he’d made up his mind nonetheless.
A pickup truck practically materialized out of nowhere. The headlights were blinding. The vehicle pulled over, crunching on gravel.
Inside was an older woman. The heater was blaring.
“Get in,” said the lady.
And she didn’t say it as a question.
Bryan piled into the bench seat. The heat felt good on his wet body. They shook hands and swapped names.
“Where you headin’?” she said.
Her hair was gray and messy, like it hadn’t been combed since the Crimean War. Her eyes were wild.
“Don’t know,” said Bryan. “I’ll go anywhere you’re going.”
She just looked at him.
“Are you an angel?” she said.
He laughed. “What?”
“Tell me the truth.”
He wasn’t sure if this old woman was pulling his leg.
“I’m no angel,” he said.
She stared at him like she was boring a hole through limestone.
“I can take you as far as Little Rock,” she said. “That’s where I’m going, I’m meeting my granddaughter tonight.”
“Little Rock would be great.”
In a few moments, they were careening down the highway. Bryan noticed the woman kept staring at him with an odd look on her face.
The interior of her truck was plastered in religious paraphernalia. The kind of devout garb that old people are known for in certain parts of the Bible Belt.
A Jesus air freshener. A dashboard compass that said, “Straight is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life.” A crucifix gear shifter.
The old woman broke the silence first.
“My granddaughter’s in labor. She’s having her baby as we speak.”
“Yep. You’re looking at an honest-to-goodness great-grandmother.”
She stared again. Longer this time. “Did God send you?”
This gal was stone-cold nuts.
“Nobody sent me,” he said.
“Then what were you doing on the side of the highway in the middle of the night?”
He looked out the window.
“It’s complicated,” he said.
“Maybe you’re one of God’s messengers, not a full blown angel. Are you a messenger?”
During their long drive, the lady received a phone call. It was her granddaughter. There were complications with the birth.
After the truck squealed into the hospital parking lot, the woman rushed into the maternity ward while Bryan changed out of his dripping clothes in the bathroom.
Once he was dressed he went to find the old woman to say goodbye, and to give her gas money for her trouble. But when he found her in the waiting room of the maternity wing, she was weeping uncontrollably.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
“The doctors,” she said, “they don’t know if my great-grandson is going to live. They say he might die.”
Bryan could think of nothing else to do. So he held the frail old woman as she wept into his chest. And he stayed with her that evening. The two of them survived on cheap coffee and Funyuns.
Four hours later, a doctor came into the waiting room. The doc gave the old woman good news. Her great-grandbaby would live.
The old woman shot to her feet. She grabbed the young vagrant by the arm and together they went into the hospital room to see the child.
No sooner had Great-Granny entered the room than she presented the infant to the young man.
At first he declined to hold the child, but the old lady was insistent.
He took the newborn into his arms. He pressed the baby against his chest and felt the warmth of its little body. He smelled the scent of its flawless skin. He touched its smooth features.
“We’re naming him after his guardian angel,” the old woman announced. “His name will be Bryan.”
“I don’t care who you are,” said Bryan in an email he sent to me today. “I believe we are all someone’s angel. And that’s a good enough reason to keep living.”