By Carl Franz
By Carl Franz
The trolley had one wobbly wheel. I wondered if fate somehow always made sure I picked the same one every single shopping trip.
I smashed it into its evil twins and retrieved my precious coin token.
When I got in the van it was already alarmingly warm from the bright sunshine. I glanced back at the melting mountain range of frozen food. It was time to get home and no delaying.
I slid the window down as far as it would go. Air con was one of the many little luxuries my old jalopy was not burdened with. Actually I considered myself lucky it had electric windscreen wipers.
From nearby a familiar rhythmic tired tune wafted in on the breeze.
It was the swan song of an exhausted starter motor turning an unresponsive engine over and over.
The battery sounded healthy but I knew from experience it would quickly flatten at that rate. Poor guy, I thought. It was an all too familiar scenario usually culminating in that gut sinking feeling. The one where you finally have to admit there's a problem. Then tradition dictates that you go and look under the bonnet at all the meaningless metal jumble.
Help him said a voice in my head. It wasn't exactly a voice, more of an urging. but my mind interpreted it as a voice. It's hard to explain but I knew it was spirit.
I drew up behind the shiny red four door.
The driver got out just as I did. He was wearing the grey jacket and flat cap favoured by so many pensioners.
There was something neat about the way he dressed, or was it his poise? I don't know, maybe both. But I had the impression he was an ex-service man.
Maybe it was the spirit standing behind him. He wore the flying jacket and leather helmet uniform of an airman. I guessed this was the owner of the voice.
“Anything I can do to help?” I asked.
The old gentleman shrugged.”It keeps doing this. It's fine until I stop for a few minutes and then it just won't start again.”
Not being a mechanic by any stretch of the imagination I fumbled desperately through the long list of my own wretched auto medical history.
A little light sparked up in the gloom. I knew this from somewhere.
I once had an old battered pickup, even worse than my van. That old rust bucket was always doing this self same trick. It would run as sweet as a nut all day but if I stopped even for a moment it would stubbornly refuse to fire up again. Leaving me stranded for a while before inexplicably repairing itself. There was nothing wrong with the electrics. No loose wires or bad contacts.
Eventually a shrewd mechanic found it to be a blocked fuel tank breather.
I glanced up, catching sight of the airman standing quietly nearby. He seemed a little more solid than before.
“It's the fuel,” I blurted out.
The pensioner slowly shook his head. “No I don't think so,” he muttered. He began turning away, obviously not at all impressed by my on-the-spot expert diagnosis. I couldn't really blame him.
“Try unscrewing the petrol cap and putting it on again,” I added.
He sighed. But seeing as my vehicle was blocking his only escape route, he complied.
It suddenly occurred to me that there might be any number of alternative reasons for his car refusing to start.
So why did I feel so sure?
As the cap opened we heard the tell tale sound of air sucking down into the tank.
“Yep, airlock,” I confirmed, completely forgetting my earlier doubt. Glowing with utter smugness I added, “You have a blocked breather tube. It’s creating a vacuum in the tank”.
I'm not sure if he really grasped what I meant but when he tried the starter again the engine sprang readily to life.
He was delighted (if bemused) and thanked me.
I wanted to explain why I had stopped and that his spirit friend was really the one to thank. But then how do you even begin?
I got back into my van. The airman appeared just in front of me. He was sitting in the glass observation bubble of an old time aircraft.
He raised his hands in a double thumbs up and grinned.
“You’re welcome”, I said.