Banlieue Sunrise Over River Of Cars

“Oh how we loathe to be alone and unloved”

Our Coach Driver was crazy and authoritarian, he didn’t speak any language and he wouldn’t let anyone take any sort of bag onboard, so everyone had to carry all their bits of crap in their arms and it all rolled around the floor and got mixed up with everything. He just said baggage in a sort of French accent but didn’t respond to any French or say anything else. He drove wordlessly in a little bunker below where everyone else sat. We thought maybe he was brought up learning solely Esperanto, which explained why he now just travelled around driving a coach, stateless and international, nowhere and everywhere.

 

We took the midnight ferry to Calais. Men who drive lorries secured territory, expanded over sofas, seeking shut eye. They were all lined up  sitting on neighbouring sofas facing the same way like birds on a rooftop. Only men, lone men, once more unto the night, what can they all be possibly delivering, are they happy in their lonely existence, traipsing across the continent, in this dead boat, in their dead lorries on the dead motorways.

We chose to be awake. We staggered round, the sway of the boat making our bleary views seem like the dizziness of a horror film scene, everything unreal, just prone bodies everywhere, as if we were staggering through Jonestown post-massacre, empty and silent and unsettling.

The lights everywhere inside were bright, then we went out on deck and I stared into the black abyss of the sea. The wind was going wild buffeting me, and it was loud. I looked at the waves below and imagined falling in and knowing immediately that nobody would ever see or hear you down there from up there and you’d watch the boat eke away and feel very cold and infinitely lonely and scream and scream and then just whimper, ‘help,’ to no-one, and that’d probably be as long as you’d last.

We went back inside. We browsed the shops and they were mental, every bit of crap was designed to try and catch your eye, and every bit of crap never ceased from its task, it all screamed ‘buy me,’ even though it was the middle of the night and we were mocking it. They sold lots of books about war and battalions; everything cost too much.  We stumbled to the Food Court. I thought I saw Them cross-examining a fat person for genocide, whilst a chip weeped in the witness box, the only  one who survived.

They weren’t selling the world’s largest fish and chips/ the world’s smallest tub of ice cream, but they had an advert for it:

Tiny Ice Cream

 

We finally reached France. Calais was like Dover, a non-place with harsh lights and lorries roaming everywhere. The lorries queueing up to get on our ferry  back to England were all clustered together like a herd of animals, occasionally their engines revved like they were communicating with each other.

Onto the motorway; we slept..

Hours later we were woken by a sudden screech, a scream and a crunching smashing sound. A man tumbled from the seat into the aisle. He was okay, and I thought smug thoughts about seatbelts.

We were stranded in the fast lane of the motorway, and dawn was making its presence felt.

Nobody knew what was going on. Everyone hated the coach driver because of the baggage debacle, so nobody went down to his little zone to check if he was okay. There was just  silence.

The cars just swept by endlessly.  The driver wasn’t telling us anything. Would we be here forever? I wondered what would happen if we could never escape. Could we run across the lanes? Like the sea, the endless cars were bleak and unforgiving.

The rising sun revealed the Parisian banlieue around us, and it was like the sea and it was like the motorway.

Graffiti across the lanes said ‘Triste et Sordide’ – ‘Sad and squalid.’

sad and squalid

Someone discovered the driver was fine and he was hauled upstairs. A speaker of whatever romance language the driver could string together a few words in was also found, and we received translated news that They were coming to help us.

When we got off the bus, the windscreen was shattered and  we were shattered, and the cars trundled by and soon we plunged back into the river of cars on a new coach.

 

{Concrete Island is a 1974 English fiction novel by J. G. Ballard.}

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