The Journey series
This week’s Mustard Seed carries on from Paris. The theft of our passports soured our appetite for France. The delay waiting for new ones only exacerbated my sister’s disdain. New documents finally in hand, she insisted on a hasty exit. Our next stop was Antwerp, where my cousin, Reynold, was studying medicine. Yves suggested we visit Brugge enroute. We retraced our steps back to Calais rather than try to navigate an entirely new route.
It grew dark and began to rain as we approached Calais. Our van seemed to jerk as I drove but we pressed on. A little later our van began making odd noises. Still, we pressed on. The jerks and noise intensified. At De Panne I decided to get off the freeway to investigate. I stopped at a traffic light and when the light turned green our van made a loud clacking noise and refused to move. There was an empty lot across the road so, in the dark of night and in the pouring rain, I pushed our van as my sister steered it into a parking stall. I climbed back in the van, cold and soaked to the skin.
“What are we going to do now?” My sister asked.
“Sleep,” I replied. She sensed I was not open for more discussion.
The next morning we were amazed to see that we were parked across the street from a Volkswagen dealership, directly opposite the service bay doors. I went in to negotiate repairs and was fortunate to find a customer fluent in English and happy to interpret. The manager said the engine was shot and I’d need a new one. He was willing to do the repairs for $8,000 US cash. It may as well have been $1,000,000. I asked if there was any cheaper option. He suggested a used engine for $3,000. It was still beyond our means. The manager suggested we could leave our van there. He’d deal with it for no charge and we could continue on our way.
The customer intervened to say he’d just seen a used engine for sale in front of a farmhouse. After a bit of coaxing, the manager said he would swap engines for $500 but I would have to get the engine there without his help. The customer didn’t have an address, but he pointed out the right direction and assured me I couldn’t miss it if I kept my eyes open.
I went back to our van and updated my sister — minus the fact I had no address. I hitched a ride down the road and, sure enough, there was a Volkswagen engine sitting on a table in front of a farmhouse. I got out, thanked the driver, and knocked on the farmhouse door. I bargained the price down to $300, paid the owner, and carried the engine across the road to hitch back to town. Surprisingly, someone soon stopped for me and my engine. They were kind enough to make the short detour to drop me and the engine off at the dealership.
With the van in the service bay, my sister and I roamed about the decidedly uninteresting streets in that area of De Panne. The repairs were finished, thankfully, before closing time and we were on our way again. We spent the next day touring Brugge and the following day headed for Antwerp.
Again we left the freeway at a random exit. We drove for quite a while looking for a service station to ask directions. Finding none, we stopped outside a drug store to see if they might have a map for sale. They did. We were two blocks from my cousin’s flat. After relating our adventure, Reynold told us de panne translates idiomatically to automobile breakdown.
Despite unfortunate occurrences and our lack of planning God, with His wry sense of humor, still guided us and the people we needed to meet to the places we needed to be.
Next week: We Continue
Peter T Elliott