Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.29
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.29

           Johan Harstad
 

  But he was congeniality itself.

  We had to sit on the ground around a little table and drink tea first, while Magnusson talked about the green plains of Japan, at great length, I pitied this journalist, he’d accepted this garden assignment to have a peaceful day. Now he had to decide which of his two subjects was less crazy. It was a tough contest, and when we’d finally begun work on the winter garden and Magnusson had disappeared inside to do whatever he did with his days, it seemed as though the media man grew a little calmer, and went back to his notebook. Ready, set, go.

  “So, you’re Mattias. Mattias …?”

  I repeated my whole name, slowly, so he could get it down, and then sat down to inspect the plans for the garden layout. Garden designer. I’d moved up in the world, and had to work out where everything would go. I began with the rocks, the patterns, doing my best, and apart from the presence of the reporter who’d already spent more time than he’d hoped with me, I was pleased, liked making it nice, giving Kimono-Magnusson the garden of his dreams.

  “So, Mattias, you’re from Norway, aren’t you? And you’re a gardener, I understand. When did you first come to the Faroe Islands, and why?”

  I laid the rocks in a semicircle around him, and he moved out of my way.

  “It was in the morning, I think. I came for the climate. Doctor’s orders. I suffer from reverse rheumatism. Sun and warmth are bad for me.”

  “Havstein Gar∂ali∂ told me that you’d been here since last summer.”

  “Yes.”

  “That he found you outside, one night.”

  “Somebody told me it was going to be a fine, starry night. But they lied.”

  “And you’ve lived up at the home in Gjógv ever since. As a guest.”

  “Yes.”

  “That must have been a special meeting. What’s it been like living there, in an post-psychiatric home like that, what’s it been like living with the other residents, and what’s it been like living in a village like Gjógv, so remote and almost deserted?”

  “Great.”

  Pause. He tried again.

  “So do you plan to live on the Faroes permanently?

  “No.”

  “How long do you think you’ll stay?’

  “A quarter to fourteen days.”

  “What do you think of our little country?”

  “It’s green. And gray. Grass and grit. In the winter everything’s gray.”

  “Can you tell me something about what you’re going to do here today?”

  “I’ll plant plants.”

  “What else can you tell me about what you’re doing?”

  “The plants are Japanese. Which isn’t always the case. Sometimes they’re Norwegian. Sometimes you don’t know where they’re from.”

  Olaf Ludvig gave a heavy sigh, poor man, stroked a hand across his face and concentrated hard on burying the desire to punch me on the nose, he was hot and red in the face, and I was the most childish man in the Western Hemisphere. I went on doing my thing, set the rocks in place so I could get to the part I’d looked forward to, the difficult task of planting Japanese plants I’d never seen before, plants I’d had to look up in gardening books to see how they should be handled. The reporter changed tack now, began photographing me, from every angle, a shimmer of petals each time the flash went off. I avoided looking at the camera, turned my back, but couldn’t escape, he followed me around continually, stomping through that little winter garden without looking left or right, until I suddenly exploded.

  “Stop it, for fuck’s sake! Stop! You’re trampling the whole flower bed! Can’t you fucking get those god-damned pictures taken so I can do my work around here! There’s nothing to look at, I don’t want to be interviewed, why are you taking pictures of me! MAGNUSSON!”

  I screamed for help.

  I screamed for a man I didn’t know.

  I screamed for Kimono-Magnusson and he came into view in the doorway seconds later, saw me down on my knees before the journalist who stood there, terrified, hands hanging helplessly at his sides, camera round his neck, looking as though he’d been caught in the act of tearing my clothes off and raping me. Magnusson in his kimono scratched his head, unsure what to say, so he said:

  “It’s looking good already. Fantastic! Would you like some sake?”

  Olaf Ludvig nodded desperately.

  I stared straight ahead, on the verge of tears.

  “Excellent.” Magnusson disappeared inside for the sake, I got up and took a step toward the journalist who still stood there like a poker, staring at me.

  “Is it so difficult to understand?” I said. “I don’t want to be in your newspaper, I want to read it. I’ve never been interviewed before, and I never want to be. I didn’t ask for this. What, who, where, why, how, and not least, how long, they’re all my business, and they have nothing to do with anybody else.”

  “You could have said that up front,” said Olaf Journalist. “Do you really think I wanted to do this damn garden article for housewives? Can’t you see that I’m doing you a favor? I’m trying to help you? Or are you so out of it, you can’t even see that?”

  “What is it you really want?” I said, limply. “Are you under some illusion I’m a patient too, is that it? That it’s all gone totally down the pipes for this Norwegian, and that’s why he’s worth writing about, some columns on a man who’s making good, against all odds, a feel-good story, dandelions breaking through the asphalt?”

  “Oh, forget it. I wanted to do something for all of you, up there.

  That’s all.”

  “For us? We’re doing just fine, thank you.”

  “Yes, that’s obvious, I must say.”

  There wasn’t time to say more before Magnusson came back out, smiling and carrying a tray with three cups and a bottle of sake, he put it down on the ground and sat next to it, filled the cups and began talking, sunlight itself.

  I spent most of the next three days at the Faroese-Japanese man’s house, only going home to sleep, talking to nobody, leaving at about five in the morning, before the others were awake, letting myself into the winter garden, and Magnusson would come out later in the morning, following my work eagerly, excited by each bit of progress, he asked questions and was curious about the plants, we read the gardening book together and talked about compost, and now and then it felt as though I was back at home in the safety of the nursery in Stavanger, a thousand light years behind, and by the time I left him on a Wednesday, Magnusson was standing in the loveliest Japanese garden in the country, a flash of green in a wintry gray, enclosed by pretty glass walls with dark brown ornamental wooden frames, purchased from a firm that built winter gardens, and I realized I was sad the job was over and that I’d have liked to stay longer, to perfect it, I saw how much it meant to him, how he stood in his garden and smiled, it could have been Japan, and I waved as I drove away.

  But when I parked outside the Factory, I turned the motor off and sat there.

  My patience had run thin.

  My precious patience that I’ve always prized. I was fuming inside, and for a moment I glimpsed a quite different Faroe Isles, a place where you can never slip away, where you’re constantly being watched, where you’re not allowed a moment’s peace in the day.

  I fling open the car door, reach for the last remaining plant that I hadn’t found space for, a little bonsai worth 2,000 kroner in a ceramic pot, get out, slam the car door behind me, go up the stairs, into Havstein’s office, he smiles as I come in, rises from his desk, walks towards me asking Well? How did the interview go? Before he realizes I’m not smiling, and the corners of his mouth straighten, and we stand face to face on the soft carpet.

  “What did you do that for?” I ask quietly.

  He says nothing.

  I’m on the verge of tears. Quaking inside.

  “What do you want from me?” I yell, and I throw the tree, chuck the plant into the wall behind him and the ceramic pot smashes against the brick wall and soil rains down o
ver his office and in a split second I’m terrified he’ll kill me, I’ve never seen him like this before, neither have I seen myself like this, but then he softens, controls himself, pulls himself together, clasps his hands psychiatrist-like in front of his chest, and talks as though nothing has happened.

  “Mattias,” he starts.

  Pause.

  “Mattias, I thought it was time you came out of yourself. Time you met the world. You’re clever. You know that? That you’re good at what you do? Has anybody ever told you that? I’m proud of you, Mattias.”

  “What do you want from me?” I repeated. “Who the hell gave you the right to make decisions over my life?”

  “Who gave me that right? You. You, Mattias, gave me that right, from the moment you arrived, from the moment I found you in pieces down in Kollafjör∂ur, when you didn’t get up for weeks, when you chose to stay because you couldn’t face going home, then you put everything you had in my hands, and I’m doing the best I can, Mattias, don’t you understand? Was I supposed to let you rot away here, like NN, like Palli and Anna? To let you believe, as they do, that this is just an in-between place, before everything turns out all right again, before everything sorts itself out, before the world looks different one morning and you can just pick up your bag and leave, all possibilities open, no fully booked flights? Unlike them, unlike with Palli, Anna, and NN, things haven’t gone so far that you’ve got to be sick forever.” He was silent for a moment. “But they will go that far if you don’t unlock yourself soon. That much I can promise. So to answer your question, what do I want from you, Mattias, the answer is frighteningly simple, I want you to pull yourself together, because you’re about to vanish into yourself.”

  “Why do you think everybody’s so frightened of being forgotten?” I ask quietly.

  “Is that what all this is about? Then I can tell you now you’re going about it in completely the wrong way. Because you’re not trying to be forgotten, are you? You’re just trying to get away! And if you think you’ll make yourself invisible like that, you’re mistaken. My god, you’re more and more visible with each day! And you’re not fitting into the system either, you’re creating a new one, and then you’re forcing everyone else to follow it. I know what you want, and this isn’t the way to go about it. You’re just being a big spoiled baby who thinks the world’s done him a huge injustice, but it hasn’t, it’s been on your side almost all the way, you’ve been the damned captain of this team! I didn’t let you live here so you could turn into a snot-nosed brat who cries because somebody’s taken his toys.”

  Which is when I lash out.

  I punch Havstein in the face, as hard as I can.

  I punch him because he doesn’t take me seriously, because his arguments don’t ring true.

  I punch him because he doesn’t know how I feel.

  I punch him because the words he’s saying are getting to be true.

  And Havstein’s head jolts backward, he loses his balance and staggers towards the desk, instinctively I’ve closed my eyes, and only hear the sound of his body as it meets the table, his body, arms dragging down the files, telephone, and cup of ballpoint pens, and when I open my eyes he’s sitting on the floor with soil on his face, strewn with pens and documents from lives that have been rescued, mine excluded.

  I held my aching hand against myself, and walked carefully over to Havstein who was pulling himself up by the desk, I helped him to his feet and sat him back on the table, he held a hand over his nose, blood running out between his fingers.

  “I’m sorry,” I said.

  Havstein wiped away the blood with the back of his hand.

  “That’s fine.”

  “I just want some peace. That’s all I want.”

  “I know,” he said. “I know.”

  “You’ve never asked me why I want to be alone. Ever. As a psychiatrist you should know how to relate to people like me. You’ve read all the theory; you know what questions to ask.”

  “No, Mattias. It’s you that never told me that before.”

  I was angry for a long time. Fucking furious. But more than that I was getting scared. Because it couldn’t possibly be recommended in any book that I should be subjected to the events of the last few days. It couldn’t possibly be good therapy, unthinkable. So, why had he done it? Doubtless from the goodness of his heart. But suppose this heart no longer knew what was best for anybody? Then it was Havstein who was coming unstuck, and with him we were cracking bit by bit too. He’d lost his grip, surely, there certainly wasn’t much left of the doctor who’d fished me up that night from the drenched asphalt of Hvítanesvegur, and I no longer felt sure who he really was, wasn’t sure at all.

  Yet after we’d shaken each other’s hands and reassured each other that things were still okay between us, after he’d said he loved me, and after I’d gotten some toilet paper for him from the bathroom, and been shouted at by NN who’d come in and seen us, and after I finally left his office and closed the door behind me, I caught sight of him hunched over a little dustpan and brush, alternately sweeping the soil and remains of the plant off the carpet, then plugging his nose with fresh tissue, then I felt the stab of conscience’s deep-sinking nails; this wasn’t how things should be, and I’d made the world harder for all the people around me who had more than enough to do holding their heads above water.

  It ended as you’d expect, of course. The interview. The journalist wrote a long article, a double-page spread in the paper four days later. Its main focus was Magnusson who’d finally fulfilled a dream with his all-year Japanese garden in Vestmanna. Magnusson clearly liked talking and had nothing against being the focus of a big report in the papers, quite the opposite, he’d talked about Japan, about his life, his riches and family, all his businesses and where the best silk was made, the journalist had written a gushing article, and Magnusson had thrown himself into it, sake flowing, opening himself more and more to this nationally acclaimed reporter. But there was more than enough about me too. Of course the journalist had taken umbrage at my outburst and did what he could to describe me, not in the best, but under the strongest light. He used the brief interview he’d extracted from me in its entirety, verbatim, and I was consummately portrayed as a genius gardener who lived in a post-psychiatric ward. Additionally, he’d filled the greater part of one of the pages with a picture of me, over the caption: God’s gardener in full swing. The picture showed me in an absurd pose in a flower bed, halfway down on my knees and trying to avoid the camera. An idiotic picture and not included from any affection, so far as I could see. Neither the picture’s caption nor the parts of the article dealing with my purportedly supernatural gardening skills were meant to be complimentary, they were there because he knew they’d raise the number of phone calls, create an explosion of inquiries for gardening work and give me exposure, everything I didn’t want, everything I wanted to avoid. But it didn’t matter. I’d made my decision. I’d done my last gardening job on the Faroes.

  Since Havstein had arranged all the necessary paperwork, had got everything stamped and approved, and creatively reproduced any documents that had been refused, it would be relatively easy for me to get a job, so I went down to Tórshavn a week later, went into the local government offices and half an hour later left with a new job, and the following day I was in full swing planting trees on the Faroes, three days a week. A lumberjack in reverse, I worked on extending the woods by the field at the end of Hvítanesvegur, together with two other workers from Kvívíkm, Herluf and Jógvan, my age, they’d worked for the local government for years, and we planted, laboriously following the laws of art and nature. Most of the trees would never grow, they’d be so much stillborn driftwood due to the saltwater spray, the wind, or sheep, but it was an okay job, and I also seriously started getting myself together, opening myself up and growing more sociable, I drove into Tórshavn and ate lunch with Herluf and Jógvan, went into the office once a week and talked to the secretary, had coffee with the boss, was lovableness
itself, polite and obliging, could have sold sand to the Saharans, but I don’t know whether I was just acting or whether I’d really shifted gears, as Havstein had suggested, opening myself up and making a point of being seen.

  Some afternoons I’d take Carl for a drive, take him on trips, show him various places in this little country, he’d huddle up in the front seat of our small communal car and we’d drive uphill and down, crisscrossing the country, this way and that, and all on the orders of Havstein who was convinced I was the man for the job, he figured two foreigners in a car had to find something of interest to talk about sooner or later. The truth was we talked a lot on these trips, I pointed things out, explained where we were, everything I’d learned, why the mountains were so round in the South and had sharper peaks in the North, I showed him the intricate patterns of fjords and rivers, the unique sprinkling system, explained why the trees didn’t grow here naturally, and what a battle it was to get the ones we planted to take, I showed him the cafés where he could check his e-mail if there was anybody he wanted to contact, I took him on a boat trip out to Vestmanna, the bird cliffs, we took the helicopter out to Mykines and barbecued sausages in hushed silence. I talked about Norway, Iceland, the Faroes, and about the cod wars, about why Mi∂vágur was the best harbor for the pilot whale slaughter, and how it was carried out, tried to teach him as much as I could, hoping all the while that he wouldn’t tell me to stop, tell me he already knew these things, or that he wasn’t interested. All I wanted was to contribute. To be useful again and again, and in doing this, find a purpose. And he didn’t come up with any objections, instead he listened, asked questions that I answered as best I could. NN came along too sometimes, in the afternoon or the evening, sat in the back seat as I talked and gesticulated, helped me with the occasional phrase when I couldn’t remember the English, and we usually drove around until it started to get dark, and we’d stop off at the ruins at Kirkjubøur, the courts in Tórshavn, the NATO radar base at Sornfelli, places like that, before driving to Café Natúr to drink coffee as the room slowly filled up, voices and music drowning out the sound of the rain.

 

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