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The Tunnel

Joe steered the narrowboat. I laboured the locks. That was the way things were always done. The waterways of Birmingham, like butterflies, have gone through a metamorphosis.

The ugly, tatty, towpaths, are now tidy, block-paved walkways - yet still Joe steers, while I still labour.

It was October 1898 when we first wound our way south of the city, into Wast Hills tunnel. Freddie was eight years old; our youngest boy, legging the tunnel with his siblings, for the first time in his little life. His squeals of delight caused my mouth to widen, and my eyes to sparkle - for a minute.

Squeals turned to screams. Jack. Bertie. I still don't know who it was that screamed, 'Dad, Mam, the babby's fallen in.'

It took only minutes for Joe to yank his little body out of the dark, dank water. They tell me we buried him. They tell me I never cried. I don't remember.

I don't understand how it happened. I travel that tunnel every single day trying to recreate that journey. Maybe if I understand how it happened I can accept it.

It's 2016 now and I never hear squeals of delight in that tunnel - only screams. Blood curdling screams.

The screams of my Freddie. The screams of me. The screams of the boaters as they glide past our boat.

Story by:

Leigh Walton

17 October 2016