By day, the street was really quite an ordinary street. Though narrow, the route past the morgue was a pleasant short-cut in an otherwise lengthy and tedious walk to the University. If one could ignore the vehicles bringing corpses to be examined and prepared that is.
As was my good fortune, at the naive age of 19 year old, I only somewhat acknowledged the true purpose of the small road my friends and I used as a detour on our way to classes.
(To be honest, it was more of a frontage road than an actual thoroughfare).
That vehicles made frequent deliveries to the small, squat gray stoned building had little impact on my daily activities, and thus, I was able to traverse the narrow service road with no concern for what happened behind the reinforced-steel double doors.
At the end of the frontage road, we turned onto the main street and continued to class having saved fifteen minutes or more on our walk, valuable time we needed to talk in the cafe before class.
(Now that I’m remembering all this, the frontage road only had one point of entrance and resembled a driveway more than an actual street with through traffic. Cars drove in and backed out).
Okay. We trespassed. Maybe we knew we were on private property or maybe we were too ignorant to care. Either way, it was an ordinary looking street, er…frontage road…I mean driveway. (Look, it beat the alternative: an overcrowded bus in which we spent the entire ride clasping ceiling straps in a futile attempt to retain our personal space).
We had never walked it at night much preferring the less crowded evening bus or a brisk walk. Of course, we had never ventured quite so far or at such a late hour as we did one starry April night.
Being the socially minded activists we were, my friend and I joined a woman’s rally to take back the night. Had I known the rally was on the opposite side of the city (pop. about half a million) and that I had to contend with the morgue in the dark, that night I might have chosen to read a book on the patio instead.
Regardless of distance or time or buses which ran once every two hours that late at night, we went to the rally. We marched. We chanted. We took back the night.
Then it was time to go home. Groups of men and women walked off together or got in their cozy cars and drove home. My friend and I weighed the merits of waiting for the next bus (another hour and forty-five minute wait) versus walking home in the dark. Knowing our short cut awaited, we waved au revoir to our amis who had decided to wait and we began our walk back home.
Forty-five minutes later, we were nearing our short cut, both of us tired and eager to be home. Forty-six minutes later, we turned onto the small ‘frontage’ road, oblivious to the looming shadow in front of us. Forty-seven minutes later, we realized we were well and truly screwed. For what none of us failed to notice as we traipsed down the morgue’s driveway was that on either side of this seemingly normal road stood two massive, solid steel gates which were closed shut.
I looked to the top of the 12′ pointed, metal bars and I looked at my friend.
“We could always walk back,” she suggested.
“But by the time we return, the bus will have already left and we’ll have to wait another two hours for the next bus,” I said.
“What choice do we have?” she asked.
I jiggled the bars, just to check they were securely locked. Then I kicked the gate. After much swearing and a polite reminder from my friend about how steel is impervious to my size 9 leather docs, I spied our salvation.
A half wall bordered the lane and abutted the gate. Before I had even voiced my idea to my friend, I had scaled the short wall and jumped as high as I could. Clinging half-way to the gate, I shimmied up the remaining distance and half-straddled/half-suspended my weight over the spiked poles.
Let me say this again. I was relying on my upper body strength to keep me suspended over the wicked sharp metal poles. Me. A woman who hung for 3 seconds on pull-up day in gym class before falling to the ground. The same person who used to put the rope between her legs and swing because she could never climb one. The same woman who pretended to run when the gym teacher was looking before returning to a much more sedate walking pace. An athlete, I am not.
Yet somehow, I had not only climbed a wall and shimmied up metal poles, but I was balancing over them like an Olympic gymnast on the uneven bars!
Sparing my friend a quick glance to ensure she pursued me in my reckless and truly awe-inspiring act, I swung my legs over the fence, shimmied halfway down the bars, found purchase on the half wall (on the other side, thank you very much), and jumped to the ground.
I almost expected to see a panel of judges waiting for me on the other side, all 10s flashing for such a grand escape. (Sadly, no judges made an appearance for this once in a lifetime event, but maybe that’s a good thing because I’m pretty sure if we had been caught, we’d have gone to jail).
Once my friend made her way down the gate, we continued on our way home, not once mentioning what had happened. After that, we rarely frequented our short-cut, perhaps knowing as we did what awaited at night.
But I do enjoy telling people I once escaped from a French mortuary. At 2 a.m. no less.