Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.23
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.23

           Johan Harstad

  But you couldn’t build Rome before you knew what you wanted. What to build.

  And perhaps most important: I wasn’t in the way here. I left no tracks after me. I wasn’t there, almost.

  I thought.

  But even an invisible person will be seen in the end, as a white aura flickering through nature, and there are no places to hide. Whoever hides by creeping into a hole will pop up again, in the spring, at the opening of another. A tiny mole.

  I tramped about in the thin, slushy snow, up over the slopes, out of the village and down again, staying on the move and burning calories I probably ought to have saved. It was a small village and I had to walk back and forth if I was to be out more than a couple of minutes at a time. And I went on walking, in circles, tracing my own steps with a tailor’s precision.

  I’d passed the harbor for the fifth or maybe the seventh time when I heard the sound somewhere behind me of a front door being opened and slammed again, I turned to see Sofus coming toward me with the hurried steps of a child. He’d got a new bubble jacket for Christmas, that was obvious, bright yellow, it glowed as he came towards me and the label still hung from one of the lapels, the sort of jacket a popular kid wears on the first day of school in Tórshavn after Christmas, so big they’d see how many people could pile in at once. I stopped and waited for him on the slope down to the harbor, and he half-ran the rest of the way.

  “Hi,” he said when he’d reached me. I stretched a hand out to greet him, and he hesitated a moment, looked at my outstretched hand before taking hold of it and shaking it carefully, businesslike, then he gave a deep bow and laughed.

  “Hi there, Sofus,” I said. “Did you get a new jacket for Christmas?”

  I pointed to the expanse of yellow fabric. Sofus could get all his friends into that jacket and still have room to spare.


  “It’s great,” I said. “Yellow.”

  He flapped his arms up and down, but the chicken couldn’t fly. So we stood there not knowing what to say to each other.

  “Why are you alone?” he asked suddenly, out of nowhere.

  Did he know I’d been alone all Christmas? Was it common knowledge in the village? Had I been watched for days from behind curtains?

  “I missed my Christmas flight.”


  “It was flying too fast. Couldn’t catch it.”

  “Were you going to Norway?”

  “That was the plan.”

  “Are you sad then?”

  “In what way?”

  “That you have to be alone here?”

  “I’m not alone.”

  “Aren’t you?”

  “Well, you’re here.”


  “So, Sofus, did you get any other nice things for Christmas?”

  He nodded. Vigorously. He’d had some other nice things for Christmas.


  “A car.”

  “A car?”

  “Remote control.”


  He nodded.

  “Mum wants you to come and eat dinner with us.”


  “Mum asked me to come and ask if you’d like to come to our house to eat dinner.”

  I understood nothing, or too much. I’d obviously been the object of investigation that Christmas, and now they wanted to check if their assumptions were correct. I imagined the entire family dressed in white lab coats, gloved hands, asking me to lie down on a cold steel table in the middle of the living room. Out with the scalpels and clamps.

  “Did she? Are you sure?” I asked.

  “Yes. Do you want to?”

  No. No-no-no-no-no. I did not want to. Not at all. There was nothing I wanted less.

  “I don’t think I come today. I’m a bit busy today.”

  “With what?”

  “With … things.”

  “Don’t you want to eat with us?”

  “It’s not that I don’t want to,” I said. “It’s just …”

  “Oh, please come.”

  “No, really, I think …”

  “Mum said you have to.”

  What could I say?

  I gave in.



  “All right. Yippee.”

  He turned and began to walk quickly homeward, with me in tow. I’d not had a shower for days, had been in the same clothes for ages, had had smarter days, but I followed obediently toward his red house, walked in the door, took my shoes off quietly and stood in my stockinged feet in a strange house, sniffed the smell of the family, the food they usually made, the smells of their bodies, the unique signature you find in each home. Sofus sat down on the floor and began fiddling with his laces, the knots were hard and difficult for him to undo. He held a foot up to me, and I took it, began teasing the knot loose, and that was how I made my entrance into that house, standing in the hallway with Sofus’s foot in my hands as his parents came out into the hallway, Herr and Fru Faroe, windblown faces and broad smiles. I fiddled with the lace, finally undid the knot and stood there with his boot in one hand, and his father’s hand came whizzing across and put itself in the other.

  “Good evening,” he said, looking directly at me. “Óli Jacobsen.”

  I said my name, loud and clear, turned towards Sofus’s mother.


  My name once more.

  “And you’ve already met Sofus,” she said, tousling her son’s hair. Sofus immediately smoothed it back down. Tousled hair had no place here! And he flung his other foot forward, another knot. I’d have offered to untie that boot also, but Herr and Fru beat me to it, bending over their son in unison and each grabbing a lace, this was cooperation, teamwork, and pretty swift too. Sofus’s parents were shorter than I’d thought when I first saw them. They both seemed to be of equal height, a head shorter than me perhaps, and I was, more or less to the inch, the average height of a European man. Óli Jacobsen had short, brown hair that stuck out in all directions, and Selma’s wasn’t very different. An enchanting pair. Good-luck trolls. Tourist publicity material. Óli was clearly a solid working man, a sturdy fellow with big fists and a chunky wool sweater with three gold buttons on one shoulder, and coarse trousers. Selma was slimmer, had made herself smart for dinner, Christmas was only just over and she’d gone right to the back of her closet, I could see her digging the Marks & Spencer bag out from eighteen months ago, she’d been on a shopping trip that summer to Scotland and England, she couldn’t pack all those clothes away again yet, she had to get proper use out of them. This might be the last chance anyway. Next Christmas, perhaps already by summer, it would be too late, there’d be new clothes in the stores and more Christmas garments to stash in the back of her wardrobe. So perhaps she knew it was the last time she’d wear them, and she loosened Sofus’s boot and he ran into the living room in front of us.

  Socks padded over the wooden floor of the large living room, and then we sat at the Formica dining table, and I was the nice guest from nowhere, the spy who came in from the cold, to the family Jacobsen and partook of their lasagna. And the living room was like the others I’d seen in all the houses around here, light colored walls, landscape paintings, and an arrangement of leather sofas and carpets from the second half of the eighties, a time when people had had more money, when the country had still been on track, before the crisis and massive unemployment of the mid-nineties that had come in the wake of fishing quota changes and which threatened to strangle a country dependent on its exports. The Faroes were beginning slowly but surely to work their way back up now, krone by krone, and by the summer it might be out with the old sofa and in with IKEA. The TV with a plant on top, placed to give the sofa’s occupants the best view.

  Óli spoke softly, Danish with a Faroese accent, the occasional word I didn’t recognize, but it mostly went in, they prodded and questioned me, were kindly and polite, they’d apparently seen me going back and forth over Christma
s, up and down the streets, and they’d seen me a bit before that too of course. And they’d figured I lived with Havstein and his friends. That was how they phrased it. Havstein and his friends, like the title of some cartoon, and I wasn’t quite sure if that was a good or bad thing.

  “You’re on vacation here, are you?”

  That was a question I asked myself too.

  “Not exactly, I … well … it’s not that easy to say, really.”

  There was silence for some seconds, none of us sure how to proceed. Óli cleared his throat, Selma took the hint, but picked up the thread again.

  “So you’re not on vacation, then?”

  So I explained how things were. Said how times were hard for gardeners in Norway, how the shopping centers had won the terrain, I said, the new millennium is approaching and everybody wants to hide behind their plants, but nobody wants to pay more than they have to, and I told them I had a friend who’d played in Tórshavn during Ólavsøkan, and they seemed to find that interesting. I told them I’d met Havstein outside town, which was true in a way, and that I’d accepted his offer of a job, that I liked to make myself useful. I didn’t talk about Helle, or my parents who wanted me to go home, with whom I’d almost broken contact, or how I’d spent weeks in my room upstairs. I gave them the cut version. PG rated. The suitable Disneyland version. Didn’t mention any catastrophes, bloodied hands or envelopes that appeared from nowhere filled with large amounts of money.

  “Yes, you make those … what are they? Up at the Factory, I mean.” She turned to Óli, talking to him in Faroese, and he mumbled something in answer.

  “Tourist gifts,” I said. “Souvenirs. Wooden sheep and that sort of thing. And then I started work as a gardener again. Havstein organized it.”

  “Yes, quite. And is that going all right? You find it all right?”

  “Everyone’s got to do something,” I answered.

  Óli agreed. These were words to his liking, true wisdom, and he nodded approvingly as he went out to the kitchen to mix up some more blackcurrant cordial.

  “I think it’s so nice that there are young people who want to live in Gjógv,” said Selma. “There aren’t so many of us left.”


  “Well, apart from you lot up at the Factory, there are … let’s see now,” she shouted some sentences out to Óli in the kitchen and he shouted back, I made out that he said four or five and Selma continued where she’d left off—“yes, Óli thinks there are four or five houses that are occupied now. There was an old man who lived right down the road here, but I’m not sure if he’s moved into a nursing home or not. This isn’t the place to be old.”


  “Not at all,” she said almost brusquely, “not with the stores so far away and the weather being so dreadful in the winter. It’s better to live down in Tórshavn. And we get snow up here too sometimes, and then it’s almost impossible to go out on the roads to Funningur with those sharp bends, you know. Before the plow comes. Although it generally comes pretty fast. And a couple of people around here are so old they’re not able to drive no matter what the conditions, so we generally drop in to ask what they need if we’re going shopping in Funningur or Tórshavn.”

  “That’s kind,” I answered, taking the plates that were being continually sent around the table, supper in orbit, Jupiter lasagna, Mars bread, Neptune butter on the table before me, and at the farthest edge of the solar system—me, an astronaut who couldn’t get enough of anything, but devoured the planets one by one as they came my way,

  “Only ten, fifteen years ago we had a lot more people living here, we had our own shop, our own school, the men worked as fishermen. And quite a few scholars came from Gjógv even. Professors. The Bishop. But now? No. Now we feel more or less forgotten by the rest of the country. But it’s still a good place to live, don’t you think?” She said this last thing with her gaze glued to mine, as though she wanted me to say she was right, to confirm her statement, and by doing so turn it into an incontrovertible truth.

  “Yes, absolutely,” I said. “There’s no better place. The best.”

  Óli came back in from the kitchen at last after preparing the cordial according to time-honored tradition. He placed the jug in the center of the table, and was about to help himself to more food when he got a sharp look from his wife, she let out a little snort which instantly made him put down what he had in his hands and pour me some cordial.

  “Thank you,” I said. And I said the food was lovely, best I’d had in ages. I told them how I’d missed my plane home, the Christmas flight, somebody had messed it up, I’d meant to go to Stavanger, but hadn’t, I said, these things happen, and that I’d had to rush to get the basic necessities from the Statoil station up in Hoydalsvegur. They laughed and told me the tourists always complained about the opening times too, that everything closed so early and it was impossible to get beer except at Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins, the state outlet, and you had to rise with the sun to catch that, and I felt a bit offended that they saw me as a tourist rather than somebody who’d come to settle, felt I didn’t fit in with the community, I was a sore thumb on this country’s hand glowing crimson as it waved to the world, but that was okay, all in all, it was fine. Somebody had to be a tourist. Somebody had to do it.

  Sofus sat on his chair restlessly, he’d been quiet through the entire meal, saying hardly a word. He’d glanced at me occasionally, then glanced down at the floor, listened to his parents talking to me, and suddenly I got a feeling I’d never had before, a big brother feeling, a sudden sense of protectiveness that shot out from nowhere.

  His parents got up almost in unison, there was a rhythm in their bodies, they were finely tuned to each other, they combined forces and cleared the table, signaled that I should take a seat in the leather-department of the living room and disappeared into the kitchen. Sofus looked at me. Sat swinging his legs. I should say something. I glanced at the parquet floor. Small wheel tracks, rubber marks next to the sofa.

  “That car you got,” I said. “Is it around?”

  And a smile went right around his head. I was okay.

  “Yes. In my room.”

  “Have you tried it out? Is it water resistant?”

  “No. I don’t know.”

  “Go and get it, and we can see.”

  Sofus jumped down from his chair and ran to the kitchen, said something to his mother and disappeared into the attic, coming back down a minute later with a huge radio controlled car in his hands, a racing car with big rubber wheels, yellow too. They were all the rage. Bright colors. Like the colors they painted their houses out here on the Faroes, bright blue, red, pink, colors that broke up the monotone green of the summer and the gray landscape of the autumn and winter. I was given the racing car to hold, I turned it this way and that, it seemed watertight. Sofus handed me the box, the text was in English and said the car was all weather fun. Okay. If it could take water, then it could take some slushy snow. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad radio-controlled cars.

  “Do you want to give it a go? Outside?”



  “Is it waterproof?”

  “Yes,” I said, “it seems like it.”

  Selma and Óli came back in, put the coffee on the glass table between the sofas. But we didn’t want coffee. Neither Sofus nor I. We had other plans. And I saw the smiles come to their faces as Sofus announced we were going out to try the car, big smiles you could hang on a wall and look at.

  That evening I had a purpose. Filled an empty space. A small green dot on a blue painting. I was the lone island that makes the ocean look so big.

  Sofus carried his car in his arms, walking ahead of me across the road. Over to the church. I walked alongside him, holding the remote control. And then he put the car down next to the little gate into the cemetery, switched the electric current on, and I handed him the control, so he could show me what the car could do. And the electric buzzing of the car radiated
out of the plastic, rose into the damp air and slammed into the mountains all about us, as the car vanished down the road ahead until it was almost out of sight, then it turned and came back like a boomerang, like an obedient dog, like me.

  That evening we created racetracks along the slushy asphalt, small obstacles for the car to negotiate, a little jump, and we raced each other, alternately, against the clock. I went over to the Factory and into Cloakroom A to fetch a stopwatch and some chocolate. Sofus was achieving the best times, his fingers manipulated the controls with ease and he anticipated every hump and how to get over it in the quickest time. I got the hang of it after a while, got better, even got ahead of him sometimes. But I generally let him win, and he ate the victor’s chocolates with sticky fingers as he steered the car through the slush.

  Kodak moment. Again.

  “Your turn,” said Sofus, handing me the remote. I took it and gave the stopwatch to Sofus, who gave me my marks, ready, set, go!

  As I stood there steering the car, I suddenly thought of the friend he’d been on his way to visit the last time I’d met him, on my first day. Óluva she’d been called. I remembered. I’m good with names.

  “Where’s Óluva, these days?” I asked as I swung the car around one of the boulders down the slope.

  He glanced at me as though we were old buddies, and as though he assumed I knew her well.

  “I don’t know,” he answered.

  “Don’t you go over to her place very much?”



  “She’s moving.”

  “To Tórshavn?’

  He shook his head.



  “In January.”

  “That’s a shame.”


  The car hit the jump and hung in the air for a moment then landed with a thud, and the rubber tires softened the impact before I swung it back to us.

  “You liked her a lot, didn’t you?”

  He didn’t answer.

  “I’ll get private teaching when she’s gone,” was all he said.

  I thought about NN, and the teacher who’d defied wind and rain to get out to her on Mykenes, to teach her history, to teach her that there was always a war some place out there, at all times. That the world around her spun ceaselessly at a speed that made it almost impossible for her to orient herself, impossible to hold on, and that was why the waves were so big here, the winds so strong.


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