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THE

TUNNEL

She had been doing this journey for many years. Petersfield, Haslemere, Guildford, Waterloo. It was called “commuting”: and she wryly recalled that a judge could “commute” an execution to a life sentence. Perhaps someone had done so without her noticing it. In any event, that was certainly how it felt: one long imprisonment. 

 

But things could change. There was a long tunnel beyond Petersfield, and one day the train broke down while travelling through it. A voice came on the tannoy saying that they should stay in their seats and on no account should they climb down from the train. But where had obedience got her? If only she had listened to her therapist! He had said that her proclivity for routine would be the death of her, in some sense or other. Perhaps she should break the mould, after all. 

 

Some electrical fault in the train made the doors open and close spasmodically. She watched them carefully, and realised that there was a rhythm to them. If she moved immediately they opened, and rushed through, she might avoid being crushed to death. Just. 

 

She put her bag crosswise over her chest, looked around, and waited for her moment. She jumped out and sprawled beside the track. Not a minute too soon, as the train seemed to be repaired and began to rattle on its journey once more. She pressed herself against the side of the tunnel as the train roared away. What now? She was alone. It was dark. 

 

She pressed the torch on her phone and saw that, a few yards ahead, there was a gate. It was jammed, and no amount of struggling was going to open it. But escape was now a matter of some urgency, as a train was coming in the opposite direction. She threw herself against the gate, which gave with a crack, and she tumbled through just as the train was about to bear down on her. 

 

She walked for a long time. Then she saw a glimmer ahead, which became gradually lighter. She pushed through some vegetation and found herself in the bright air. She was on the side of a steep slope, on chalky ground. There were skylarks singing above her, and wild orchids beneath her feet. There were bees. The air was full.  Perhaps she had died in the tunnel, and this was heaven? At any rate, it was pleasant: sublime, almost. She did not care who she had been. 

 

She heard some voices and saw, with some astonishment, that it was a party of ramblers toiling towards her. They could not be angels, not with dirty boots like that. Listening to them, she knew that she was not dead at all. And then she became aware  that being here and now, in this sunlight and freed from that past, was indeed heaven. There was such a thing as an earthly paradise, and she had found it. Here it was.

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