From my home it takes a good fifty minutes to get to the tunnel that runs under one of the busiest, commercialised rivers of the world at the heart of a country called Holland. When I arrive at the tunnel, I have almost reached my destination. What awaits me after I have driven through the ghastly-lit, yellow-tiled tube is terrible. Yet, I make the trip every day.
Although the tunnel splits my life in two, day-in-day-out, there is no escape, no ring-road around it. The car trip before arriving at the port of hell is experienced in a hazy pre-doom, which alternately leaves me benumbed and pugnacious but in which I still seem to have a small margin of free will. The control of the car, the sense of the sea, the arduous prayer ‘let life be merciful.’ While seagulls scream and Live sings ‘Holy water in my lungs, I am overcome’, I plod on bravely in the open air like a soldier crying ‘forward’ in a battle soon to be lost.
Before the actual tunnel dooms up, there is a kind of mini underpass that serves as a signal of warning of what lies ahead. I swallow hard that what won’t go down and blink at cameras that have no notion of time but register speed like lightning. Time, we’re running out of time! Now l can no longer stop: control, free will, that whole charade of a makeable universe vanishes in the fluorescent rear lights of the car in front of me. If I stop, I will be killed, if I continue, the essence of me will die.
So all I do – as bravely as I can – is stick to the exact 50 km/h for the duration of the one kilometre of underwater journey; stay in my narrow line, crawl forward to where I dread to go. Most days the tunnel seems endless but that doesn’t cheer me up. This is not the gaining of time that serves any purpose. Hundreds of cars stagnate in the tunnel’s stinking belly, sending foul fumes of exhaustion up the unwashed tiles, while throbbing engines roar next to me, behind, up front.
It is all too much, too soon.
I grab my water bottle, suck on it ferociously in the hope to get some cleanliness inside of me in this mad, subterranean world. But there is no escape from the drama. With a slow hiccup the trail of red lights comes back into motion. I focus on the white line in the middle of the road and on the nearness of the yellow walls. The tunnel is intensely ugly in its deadliness but I will not scream, not now, not yet. I shall suffer in silence.
There is light at the end, grey, grim daylight as we swerve out on the north side, getting still nearer to that most dreaded place on earth. I gasp for air, blinded by the luminosity and a pain so sharp it strips me of all normality.
If you knew what was awaiting me on the other side of the tunnel, you would cry for me. It was so precious, precious beyond life, the essence of me.
She was only 29 years old.