Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone
Ever have an experience that felt surreal, as though you’d been suddenly transported into the twilight zone, where time seemed to warp, perhaps slowing down or speeding up?
The year was 1996 and it was almost Christmas. It was almost a year since I began dating Loly, the woman I would later marry and come to know as the love of my life. She was heading off to Germany for a few days, then on to France where we would meet, together with her brother Chiqui and his family. We were going to stay at a little cottage that belonged to a friend, nestled deep in the French countryside a few hours drive from Caen.
I have two children by a previous relationship that had broken down quite acrimoniously, and I had been offered a rare chance to have Wayne and Danielle to stay for a few days. I was desperate to take them away to France with me as they had never had a holiday, let alone traveled abroad, but there was no way her mother would have allowed it. She would often deny me access to the children out of spite, and I was excited to have them for Christmas
I realized that the only way to take them was to break the law, and I decided that the end justifed the means. The problem I faced was that the children didn’t have passports, and without them there was no way to take them to France. How could I get the kids passports without their mother knowing? I had very little notice that the kids were coming to me and time was rapidly running out.
I had one shot and it was incredibly slim. I couldn’t pick up the kids until 1pm from their home in Ringwood and everything had to be done that day. To get a passport I needed birth certificates, passport photographs, and the permission of their mother which I didn’t have and would never get. I also had to drive from Ringwood, where they lived, to Salisbury where the Registrar was, to get the birth certificates. After that, it was on to London, which was two hours away on a good day, to apply for and hopefully collect the passports.
To add to my difficulties, it had begun to snow heavily and the snow was settling on the roads and providing extremely hazardous driving conditions. I collected the children, but my ex dragged out the whole business and it was 1.30pm before we set off on the half-hour drive to Salisbury. Incredibly, despite the snow we arrived at 2pm and I left the children in the car while I raced to the front door of the Registrar’s office. To my absolute despair, the door was locked and a sign had been sellotaped in place to say that they regretted that due to adverse weather they were closing early.
I was about to turn away in defeat when a woman came out of another door, about to lock up and go home. It was the Registrar. She saw my distress and took pity on me, taking me back into the building where she duly wrote out two new birth certificates for my children. I thanked her, and raced back to the car to find that the snowfall was reaching almost blizzard conditions. I had an eighty mile journey ahead of me into the heart of London during peak Christmas shopping season and I didn’t have a prayer of making the passport office by 4pm, which was the last time for admittance.
In desperation I prayed to God for help. I knew we didn’t talk much, but would he please just do this one thing for me, just help me this once and I would do my best to always be good, if he would just help me make this happen. We had been driving for about half an hour and had just turned on to the M3 motorway at Southampton when I began to notice something very odd.
As I drove up the motorway towards London into the blinding snow, I became aware that there didn’t seem to be any other cars on the road with me. It was quite surreal, I glanced across the central reservation at the oncoming traffic and all three lanes were bumper to bumper with almost stationary vehicles, yet I had three lanes almost completely to myself.
Anyone who has ever driven into central London will tell you that there is always heavy traffic and at Christmas time it is virtually gridlocked. Yet I made good time, with only light traffic in front of me, even in the midst of the city.
We parked the car and walked the last mile to the passport office and it was still touch and go. We arrived miraculously at 3.57pm and only two people walked in after me before the door was locked with us on the inside. I took my ticket and waited my turn, carefully filling the forms, a forged letter of authority from their mother in my hand, consenting to the passports.
There was a photo booth in the waiting area and I took the children’s pictures while we waited. At half-past four I was called to the booth and gave in the applications, photographs, letter and fees and the man behind the counter asked me if I wanted to wait for the passports or return another day. Eagerly, I said that I would wait and we passed an hour and a half in the waiting area before being called back to the booth to collect the shiny new passports.
We went to France that Christmas and had the most glorious time, skating on frozen ponds and playing in the deep drifts of snow. Logic tells me that my quest on that day was an impossible one, yet time seemed to stretch out just long enough to let me do what needed to be done. I don’t know where all the other cars went that day, I have simply never known another day like that one, and I feel a tingle in my skin when I remember it.
I know that I broke the law that day, forging their mother’s permission for the passports. Yet it seems clear to me that right truly prevailed. I felt the hand of a greater authority intervening on my behalf on that incredible Winter’s day when everything went right. Sometimes, when the Law and Justice are strangers, all you can do is pray.