For the third time in the afternoon, I rang Econorent. For the third time, the same voice answered and I told him the good news. He sounded relieved. I knew exactly how he felt.

Back inside the green and white fortress, I handed over the wallet with the precious papers to the friendly police officer. He looked them over and flashed me a smile.

“That’s better,” he said. “Now I just need the details of your insurance company.”

“I don’t think I have that,” I said. “I’m sure there’s nothing else in the glovebox.”

The officer smiled again. “That should be alright. If you ring the rental company, I’m sure they’ll be able to tell you.”

I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of calling Econorent for a fourth time so I made a pathetic plea. “Would you be able to call for me?” I asked. “I find it difficul to talk on the phone in Spanish.”

Thankfully, the friendly officer was still feeling friendly. I dialled the number and handed over my phone.

“Hello, this is Officer A_________, calling from Pisco Elqui Police Station. I’m here with a Teemotee Deexon who had a small accident in one of your cars…”

The voice on the other end didn’t have the policy details at his fingertips but he promised to call back with them in a few minutes. While we waited, the police officer started taking down my details, including my profession and maritral status. I was surprised he didn’t want to know what I’d had for breakfast.

Just as we had begun to go through my personal information, someone walked in the front door and said: “Hello, I want to make a constancia.” It was the man I had crashed into. We looked at each other for a moment and then the other driver smiled. It seemed like the friendliness was contagious. We explained the situation to the police officer and he chuckled.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled to the other driver, realising it was my fault that he was there.

“Don’t worry,” said the other driver, who’s name was David. “It could have happened to anybody.”

My phone rang. It was the man from Econorent. I took down the policy number, triple checking the details and then handed them over to the police officer.

While I had been on the phone, David was joined by his girlfriend. A Chilean who had lived most of her life in California, she spoke perfect Spanish and English. After we had introduced ourselves, she said something very strange: “David just told me you’re a teacher. Where do you work?”

“I teach English at an institute called Tronwell in Santiago,” I told her, wondering why she would possibly want to know that.

“Tronwell? Wow,” she said, smiling. It really was contagious. “I’m a salesperson at the Tronwell Branch in La Serena. You know we have a real need for more teachers at the moment. If you’re interested, you’d be able to start straight away…”

It was my turn to smile again. A job prospect was the last thing I had been expecting.

Now that we all knew each other, we started working on my statement. The officer asked me a string of questions about the accident and David and his girlfriend helped out with the answers. Things seemed to be on the up.

After twenty minutes of questions and corrections the draft statement was ready. The officer read it back to me to check that everything was in order. With just one more minor alteration, it was ready and the friendly policeman printed off the constancia for me to sign. He explained that the actual document would have to stay at the Pisco Elqui station but he would gave me a receipt of the statement, along with all the other documents I had handed over to him.

Now it was David’s turn to make a statement. I was gathering my documents and was about to say goodbye when it became obvious that there was another problem. Apparently David only had compulsory insurance and was therefore unable to make a constancia. This meant he would have to contend with Econorent’s insurance company without an official statement outlining his version of events. He was worried that they would try to deny fault, even though I had clearly been in the wrong, forcing him to pay. I felt it was a bad time to walk away so I hovered in the background.

“What can I do?” David asked.

The friendly officer now came to his aid with a sympathetic smile. “Well there are two options,” he said. “We can wait for the insurance company or, as it’s just a minor accident, the other driver can agree to pay for the damages to your car…”

Here, the officer paused and looked at me. “The insurance company will still pay for the damages to the rental car…but we would have to make another constancia. This statement would be an official record of the agreement between the two of you.”

I looked at David. He was worried. The accident had been my fault. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” said a voice inside my head. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” it continued.

“OK,” I said, “I will pay for the damages to your car.”

Together, we started nutting out a second constancia. In this statement, I agreed to reimburse David for the cost of the repairs to his car within a timeframe of three months. If I failed to comply, he could notify the police who would force me to pay or suffer further consequences. It wasn’t the most comfortable feeling in the world but at least it was a solution. Well that’s what I told myself anyway.

David and I signed the new constancia and started to say our goodbyes.

“I’m really sorry for the inconvenience I caused,” I said again.

“Don’t worry,” David replied. “At least you stopped after the accident. Lots of people wouldn’t have.”

Sensing that I was still feeling daunted by the whole situation, the police officer turned to me with a warm smile. “It’s OK,” he said. “It’s only a matter of money now. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Just like the motto said: ‘Always a friend’. I smiled back. It had been an interesting afternoon.

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