The Town You Can Never Leave

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Gecko Bleu

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“Will you calm down, back there?”
The three children instantly sat still.
“Do you think driving is easy? I need to get my bearings! Keep quiet!”
The oldest shuffled on his seat, trying to avoid getting another fit of the giggles. He was saved by his little sister who announced,
“We’ll be there in thirty-five miles. At more than thirty-seven miles an hour, we should be there by dinnertime!”
The father glanced at his wife, who was pretending to sleep, and fiddled with his sat nav for a moment.
“I don’t understand, we should have avoided this town. I don’t even know what this place is called…”
“Well, I think…”
“I said be quiet! Let me concentrate…”
The little girl folded the paper she was looking at and stared at the road. A dirty suburb, run-down industrial zones, withered green spaces, the only light coming from the reflections of a train in the gloom they had been driving through for over an hour. There were road works at the main exit and the diversions had taken them from minor roads to deserted car parks, from roundabouts with no signs to the banks of a dried-up river, and invariably brought them back to the same road.
“Go through the field!” ordered the little girl.
The mother decided to wake up to avoid disaster. 

“No, darling, we’ll go and play in the fields tomorrow. Right now Daddy has to find the way.“
She glanced out of the window.
“I think we’ve already been past here.…”
“Three times! Look for something to point us in the right direction... We’re going round in circles… I can’t do everything!”
“What does the sat nav say?”
“It’s gone into a loop, saying the road is closed…”

***

“Daddy, it’s dinnertime!”
“When will we get there?”
“Daaaady, I’m hungry!”
The father stiffened, trying to keep calm.
“You have to go through the field! There, down that road!”
The little girl pointed insistently with her chubby finger at a stony track through a field that spread out before them its remnants of crops strewn with garbage. Exasperated, he braked sharply and turned down the track. His jaw still tight, he continued despite the debris and finally emerged onto a tarmac access road. He stopped the vehicle, got out and walked straight ahead. On his right, a sign indicated the road they had missed. Beyond was a lay-by. He turned to the child.
“How did you guess?”

“I didn’t guess!”
From her little backpack she pulled an old road map, unfolded it carefully and held it out to him with pride.
“It’s Grandad, he gave me it and he taught me to read it. Look: there’s the field, those little dashes are the track and that there is the road!”
The father smiled, and stroked his daughter’s cheek.
“Will you lend me it for the rest of the journey? You can help me read it!”

Translated by Wendy Cross

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