FROM TUNNELS, MY MEMOIRS
The sun is here today*. The light is spreading everywhere, on the walls, on the grass, on our way to the adventure. Bayonne is in a good mood. In a few hours, we go on vacation to the country, my family and I. Mom says, don’t forget.
But right now, Jacques and Michel want to go under the tunnel to watch and see the train go by up close.
And they want me to go with them.
It’s pretty exciting and I am pretty scared. The only times I have been under a tunnel is when I was inside a train.
As we walk under the blue sky with Nicole, and Estelle, and Jacques and Michel, we go past the convent, and the cages where hunters keep their dogs. We are still ten minutes away from the place, so we don’t feel the big scare yet and we are laughing. We engage into a narrow road nested between two stone walls.
Uncut grass mirrors the sunlight, which the railway, rusted here and there, slices like long blades.
And then, that big open dark toothless mouth.
I don’t want to go in, yes, I do. No, I don’t. Not only will I be swallowed with something dark, but there will be the train. Really, really close. The boys do not seem scared. Are they faking it? I don’t want to seem scared either.
Finally, I leave the sun with Jacques and Michel and enter the blackness. My feet feel every small grey stone that carpets the ground. Along the walls of the tunnel, there are niches shaped like shallow tunnels spaced at regular intervals. Jacques, Michel and I go into the first niche and wait for the train.
Will we be able to touch it when it comes? Will its roar when it arrives overwhelm us, and there will be no place to hide, just this small imitation of a tunnel?
Or will there be still time to go back to the sun?
Will it be like a huge snake with the out-of-breath noise that these things have? Will we be out-of-breath ourselves?
Will it flatten us in our niche and frame us, stupid 12-year-olds?
Or will it go through and just ignore us?
For now, it is silence that spreads all over, and draws a monster that doesn’t come.
But a monster does come.
And lungs out my name from the sun.
Is there a spot to hide into the niche? Is there is a door behind the shallowness?
“MARIE-JOSÉ! MARIE-JOSÉ! Come back out right now!”
I know she won’t take no for an answer. Neighbors are there now too, at the end of the tunnel. But they don’t wait like her with a stick for their kid. They just watch her grab me and go at it, time and time again, furious that I forgot about the vacation, furious that I worried her, and letting the sun and the neighbors witness everything now, the black and blue that will come on my legs later, like the black and blue that will come on my face years later, when I am 17, after beating me under the stars.
*I am trying, with each chapter of my memoirs, to write under the point of view of the person I was at a particular age. Here, I am twelve and writing with the eyes of a 12 year old child in 1970.