Meg and I are sitting on the stairs outside the school. There’s a tiny wee boy from Carly’s class sitting with us, looking very shy. Meg’s phone rings. Yep. No, don’t worry. There’s only one student here at the moment. OK, see you later. She hangs up with a grin. Carly and Ninì can’t get through on the B-road – apparently it’s all closed. Checking my phone, I see that they’re already late, and the detour out to the motorway is going to add a good 20 minutes on to their journey. This probably means that none of my students will turn up either. Not, of course, that I’m hoping for just that to happen so that I can catch up on my admin backlog and get ahead on my lesson planning. No, not at all. Ahem.
We’ve had dreadful weather for a couple of days and at lunchtime there was a storm of biblical proportions. As Meg and I came off the motorway earlier we had to drive through a flood, and that road’s a lot better than the one that Carly and Ninì are on, so it’s hardly surprising that they haven’t been able to get through. Given that the B-road appears to be made of nothing more than crackers and good wishes, it’s probably been completely washed away. Meg and I settle down to wait.
Finally, the other two arrive, apologising profusely. Ninì unlocks the door and we clatter along to the staff room. Hang on, though. Something’s not right here. This light isn’t working. Oh, and neither is the one in the corridor. Hmmm. Ninì appears at the staff room with a nervous giggle. Er – the electricity isn’t working … It’s not just the fuse box – he thinks the whole town’s out. Meg, Carly and I all go into teacher panic mode. But I need to photocopy! I need the CD player for my third lesson! I need the OHP! 10 seconds later we realise how daft we sound. If we have no electricity, then neither do we have any lights, and it’s going to be pitch dark in about an hour and a half, which means that we ain’t teaching nuthin’. The likelihood is that we probably won’t have any students anyway, as Italians are incapable of going outside in the rain, so it looks like today’s going to be a write-off. In true British disaster spirit, however, we settle down to wait out the remaining hours of daylight, munching biscuits as we do so.
By 5pm, we still have no electricity and it’s far too dark to do anything. Ninì announces that the school is now, officially, closed, and we should head back home. The problem being that between us arriving and leaving, there’s been another opening of the skies, and more roads have been closed. Ninì tells us to head for the motorway, and tells us about a great little shortcut. Grinning and cock-a-hoop at not having to teach two more lessons, we leave the school and find a tailback stretching right the way through the town. This is unheard of. Feeling terribly smug and clever, however, we decide to take Ninì’s advice and get onto the motorway via his clever, secret route.
5 minutes later, we realise the error of our ways. The reason there’s a big queue of traffic through the town is because the motorway exit is closed, and everyone’s been diverted. Swearing a little, Meg swings round the roundabout and heads back towards our start point again, following the diversion. I chat to Carly in the back, not paying attention to the road. Turning back to the front, laughing at a joke that Carly’s just told, I look out of the windscreen and stifle a shriek as Meg slams on the brakes hard.
Ahead of us is what can only be described as a lake, where there should be road.
Meg goes pale. She only passed her driving test in February and has no experience of driving in conditions like this. I can’t say that I’ve got a lot, either, but having a father who’s managed to blow up three different car engines by driving recklessly through floods, I know how NOT to do it. Meg. Go slowly. Do NOT, under any circumstances, stop. If we end up with water in the engine, we’re buggered. OK. Go.
Meg inches forward. At first, the water doesn’t seem too deep and we heave a sigh of relief. As we get further in, however, that changes. Massively. It’s now a good 30cm deep and we can’t see the end of it in either direction, ahead or behind. There’s a nervous squeak from Carly in the back. Girls. I don’t want to worry you but … there’s water coming in back here … Meg throws a look of horror over her shoulder and speeds up. Trying (and failing) to keep my voice calm, I tell her to slow down. We’re catching up with the car in front and if we have to stop, we’re absolutely screwed. SLOW DOWN, MEG. Her knuckles are white on the steering wheel, and any colour she once had in her cheeks has drained down to her toes. I’m sure my face is much the same. There are wisps of steam beginning to creep out from under the bonnet and we’re still nowhere near the end of the flood. Carly, in the back, is ominously quiet. All I can do is stare at the rear lights of the car in front and take comfort from the fact that the water doesn’t appear to be getting any deeper. No shallower, either, but at least the wheels are still, just about, on the road.
Inch by tortuous inch, we creep through the murky brown water.
Meg and I are both leaning forward, noses to the windscreen, straining to see to the end of the flood. There’s no sign of it. Suddenly, however, Meg gasps. Look! The car ahead of us has made it through. We throw each other terrified glances, holding our breath and daring to hope that we might be nearly there. We’re not out of the shit yet, though. In true Calabrian fashion, the driver ahead of us has anchored on the brakes in the middle of the road, blocking our exit. Meg blares the horn. I’ll say this for her – the girl knows how to deal with Italian drivers, even in moments of crisis. There’s some rude gesturing, but they get out of the way. We are finally back on dry land. Meg pulls into the side of the road, lights up a cigarette and starts to shake. She takes a deep drag of smoke into her lungs, coughs, and giggles. I look at her in confusion. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, she gives a wry grin. Tell you what, girls. That’s the last time I trust a Calabrian’s idea of a shortcut …
Image by Sylvain_Latouche on Flickr