Mission impossible

I am twelve years old. I have been taking ballet lessons for several years. The ballet school is on Rapenburg (Leyde), a very long canal with stately houses and the old university. Our classroom is on the third floor of the building. We are taught by An Pasman, accompanied by a young man on the piano. We are all girls. In preparation for our performance of Sleeping Beauty extra rehearsals are needed. One evening, after class, my teacher asks me to stop by the young woman who dances the part of The Angry Whitch. She lives with her mum on Hooglandse Kerkgracht, which is not far from my home.

Me and my friend Hansje walk along Rapenburg until we get to Nieuwe Rijn, the canal on which we both live. She has to turn left to get to her home, whereas I have to turn right. Today, however, I have to walk straight ahead through a narrow alley, then around the Hooglandse Kerk (an old church) onto the Hooglandse Kerkgracht, which is a former canal. It’s pitch dark and walking through the alley scares me to death. This is impossible! I cannot do it, especially now that it’s so dark and the gigantic gothic church looks ominous. I get more and more afraid. Without further ado, I run home.

The next morning, before school, I set out to Hooglandse Kerkgracht. I ring the doorbell. The first floor window is opened and a woman leans out. What do you want, she asks. I give her the message: there will be an extra rehearsal at the end of the afternoon and her daughter’s attendance is required. She tells me that her daughter has already left for work (in The Hague) and that she cannot be reached by phone. Now I understand the urgency of reaching her last night. At my next class, I’m faced with a very angry An.

Why didn’t I just ask my friend to come with me? Or ask my brother to accompany me on this mission? It did not cross my mind to ask my parents for help. All alone, without helping hands, I keep struggling.


  1. A beautiful atmospheric picture, and this post brought back many memories as my grandparents (on my mother’s side) used to live in the Rapenburg in Leiden above a doctor’s surgery. I still remember the house so well with the heavy velvet drapes downstairs to separate it from the surgery. I’m quite surprised how much I still remember from those faraway days.

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