Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.34
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.34

           Johan Harstad

  Over three hundred people came to Sofia’s funeral. Two hundred and forty more people, I thought, than she’d talked to during her entire lifetime. The inhabitants of Saksun, and the surrounding villages. Visitors from Gjógv, Mykines, Tórshavn. Family friends. Neighbors. Neighbors’ friends. Fellow villagers. We had no idea where they’d all come from. Most couldn’t get into the church and stood outside in the rain, listening through open windows. I saw Sofus and his parents too, as I walked down the church to the front pew, tried waving, but he didn’t see me, sat looking at the floor, fiddling with his jacket.

  Saksun was one of the loveliest places on the Faroes, a tiny village of old, black wooden houses with grass-covered roofs mixed in with new houses that lay at the bottom of the valley where the river flowed out into Lake Pollur, which stretched out to Vestmanna through the narrow gap between two green mountains. And the minuscule church stood on higher ground, a panoramic view.

  It was when we drove around the corner that we saw the huge crowd, a heaving carpet of black umbrellas processing toward the church. Havstein lowered his speed, and we rolled gently past them as far as we could, found the parking place that had been reserved for us and melted into the crowd, sat in the front row, and that was when I saw her again, Sofia’s mother. She was sitting on the pew to the right, with two other women of her age. I got up and went over to her, and she recognized me instantly.


  “I am so sorry,” I said, and gave her a hug. I greeted the two other women briefly, one was an aunt from Denmark, and the other was one of her mother’s friends. Neither had much to say.

  “She was so tiny that last night,” said her mother. “I could almost have put her into my bag and gone.” And then, almost as though she’d really considered the idea for a moment, she added, “But I didn’t have my bag with me that night.”

  I wanted to say something, but could think of nothing, just stood there and waited alongside her for a moment, as the church continued to fill with hushed people, little coughs, the creaking of pews, shoes scraping the floor. Havstein came over to us and gave Sofia’s mother a hug.

  “Thank you for taking care of all this,” she said, and gestured around the room. “For organizing all this.”

  “The least we could do,” he answered.

  “And for the beautiful flowers.”

  “Yes, they’re beautiful, aren’t they. I thought you might like to come up to Gjógv one day, to see how she lived, there might be something you’d like to take back with you.”

  “That would be nice.” Her face vanished into a handkerchief, which flapped as she blew her nose. I stood there between Havstein and her, uncertain what to do with myself.

  “Mattias is thinking about singing something,” said Havstein.

  She took my hand again.

  “Sofia said you were very good at that. But why don’t you sing more often?”

  “It hasn’t been necessary,” I answered.

  “But you must never stop singing, Mattias. Everybody who can sing, must sing. It’s no good otherwise.”



  It goes quiet.

  “She talked so much about you.”

  “So you said.”

  She took a pause.

  “Do you all miss her?”

  And for the first time I saw that Havstein found it difficult to answer, he just nodded, his expression blank, turned and walked across to the flowers, shifted a few wreaths, brushed off a little dust, came back and sat down.

  “More than we know,” I answered.

  The priest gave a good sermon, the same priest who’d worked in the hospital where Sofia had stayed in the eighties and early nineties. He talked about buses, a beautiful speech. There was always a bus, he said, but then, there were many buses that never came too, or that didn’t follow the schedule, that arrived too early or too late, he talked about taking random buses, about taking bus routes one hadn’t tried before and how rare it was to get where one wanted. He used simple images, maybe that was why I liked him. He didn’t try to make things more complicated they were. He didn’t say Sofia had lots of plans. He didn’t say how many things she wanted to see. Places she wanted to go. He didn’t say she’d be missed by so many friends. He said that the few who knew her, would miss her as one misses a nation that disappears, a country that sinks into the ocean. And I thought of an old song, a song about a little glass marble, and Sofia was that marble, the tiniest of God’s many colored marbles, and it had disappeared from the rest, God had lost it in the sun and now he was on his hands and knees looking for it, but unable to find it. I think that was going through my mind. But I may remember wrong. It’s possible that I sat there thinking nothing at all.

  And then I sang.

  I got up, walked forwards and sang.

  And what’s important isn’t what I sang, but that I did it, and the sound carried in the room, it forced its way several times around the church and through our heads before it squeezed its way through drafty walls, the steeple, and half-open doors and the people outside were warmed for a moment, and they took down their umbrellas in unison, stood motionless as the sound rose above their heads and settled over Saksun like a mist nobody had seen before, and I heard people crying, I heard people unable to hold things back any longer, and the priest turned away for a moment, Havstein held Carl, and Carl sat with eyes lowered, not daring to look over at Sofia’s mother, and Anna put her arms around Palli and Palli stared straight ahead, and Havstein smiled at me, and Sofia’s mother closed her eyes, and I sang with more power than ever, tried to lift the roof, tried to wrench the beams loose, to pry open the entire building, I wanted the model boat that hung from the ceiling to sail out, and the organist struggled to keep up, scrambling up the scales as I drifted further and further out into the song, and finally I abandoned the entire melody as it should be sung, the organist followed, we abandoned both melody and text so there was nothing left but sound, and the sound wrapped us in a warm wool blanket and took us aboard unsinkable boats, and I transported us across the sea and brought us to land someplace else, and held the final note for as long as I had strength, and then came the silence and you could have heard a bacterium drop from the ceiling and land on the floor.

  Not even God could have walked unheard through that room.

  And after the funeral we took ourselves to Café Natúr. We had carried Sofia out of the church, placed her on a lowering apparatus over the open grave, lowered her and shoveled the earth back, then we’d stood under our umbrellas while Havstein had a cigarette and thanked everybody that had come for their kindness, shaking people’s hands until his wrists ached. We stood there for a while, the remaining five, we looked at each other and hugged each other, before the priest locked the church behind us and we walked over to the car, in silence. And I said nothing, but I’d already decided. I was going home tomorrow.

  That night at Café Natúr I got drunker than I’d ever been. It felt like the only sensible thing to do. Because I’d decided, enough was more than enough. It was time to go on the big offensive, I wanted to go back, I wanted to be the person I’d once been and I wanted to be the new invention that made all previous models obsolete, I was sure, convinced that it would be all right this time, it was just to turn around and approach it from the other side. I, Mattias, would open myself to the world and reconquer it, no more quietest and nicest boy in the class, rather the invisible man who suddenly appears in the middle of the motorway causing cars to slam on the brakes and skid to the side where they stop, steam rising from their engines, as their drivers sat gawking behind their wheels. I was going back to Stavanger. To Jørn. I might even discuss plans for the band with him, if he was still interested in a new vocalist. So I drank everything I could find that night, until there were no more clean glasses and every bottle was empty, I was a pillow stuffed with fluffy cotton in a soft pillowcase, I wrapped my problems in dreams and sent them away, slipped them into bottles and mailed
them off to the waves, to be picked up by trawlers in deep water and cruise ships off course.

  A little after midnight, I took Havstein aside and I told him my plans.

  “I’m going to Norway tomorrow.”

  “You’re leaving now? Don’t you think it would be best to wait a little?”

  “I think it’s good for me to go home for a while. Father wanted it so much,” I answered diplomatically.

  “But you’ll come back?”

  I thought before answering. At length.

  “Yes,” I said. “In the fall.”

  Then we went back to the table, and on Havstein’s prompting I told them my decision, a murmur went around the group and Carl looked almost despairing, he probably didn’t want me to leave now, but didn’t dare protest, could see I’d made up my mind, it was time to go, before more of us were damaged. And it was high time for me to leave.

  I didn’t go back to the Factory that night, didn’t go back home with the others. Maybe it was just one of those coincidences that hits blind, maybe God had an interfering hand in it, placed obstacles in my way, placed a girl at my side as I went to buy a beer.

  Placed a girl with talking lips in my field of vision.

  Her name was Ey∂is.

  I’d seen her here a few times before, she usually sat at a table near the stairs on the ground floor, with her friends. About my age, maybe a couple of years younger, she had millimeter-short hair, and a tight denim jacket she never took off, and one of the country’s weirdest noses, it went sort of up and to the side, and whenever she leaned over the bar, her nose led the way, as if she was sniffing her way to what she wanted before stretching a small hand into the air and ordering.

  We stood next to each other.

  I was in a good mood. Laughing at everything.

  I was deeply unhappy but I didn’t know it because I was so happy all the time.

  And before I knew it, I was kissing her in the backseat of a cab on the way out to Kollafjør∂ur, long after closing time. I don’t know what came over me that night, it just seemed like the only sensible thing to do at the time.

  To go back to her place.

  The cab stopped on a road, in the middle of nowhere it seemed, I fell out of the backseat with Ey∂is, and she had to drag me along, haul me down the path, across a ford which I still managed to flop into, I fell on my back and lay there getting soaked in the water before she got me vertical again, and I wondered why on earth she wanted me to come back with her in my present state, but there you go, for all I know I was a bundle of charm as I reeled happily in front of her along the path that skirted the lake and led up to the summer house at the foot of the mountain. I was malnourished, starving for closeness, a hugs Biafra-child, ready for anything that came my way.

  Ey∂is lived six months of the year in a summerhouse without electricity, but with running water and a propane stove in the kitchen, a huge living room and two bedrooms. It was nestled in the valley a couple of minutes by car from Signabøur, on the way to Stykki∂ and Leynar, the view was like a postcard for nature lovers, a heavy mist hung over the mountain on the other side and lay across the road, reducing the cars to moving points of light that came and went. Ey∂is took a couple of beers from the fridge and blankets, and we sat up by the waterfall behind the house, talked, listened to the cows that sang or just mooed out there in mist-covered fields. She was, I discovered, three years younger than me, wanted to be a landscape architect and I pondered that there was a lot to wrestle with here, an entire country apparently left to its own devices, just grass and gravel, and there was so much she wanted, and that night I was drawn into all her plans, sounded smart enough, her ideas, sounded sensible, she wanted to open the Faroes up to tourists, wanted to break away from Denmark, show off the Arctic landscape, and it struck me that what she really wanted was for the Faroes to be Iceland, all lava and volcanoes, Björk and Halldór Laxness. It was as though an inferiority complex festered inside her, an idea that wouldn’t let her be, constantly telling her she’d been born on the wrong island, hundreds of miles too far east. The price you pay for being born in a country so frequently omitted from the world map, when even the islands of Bouvetya, Jan Mayen, Shetland and Orkney are precisely marked. She talked and talked, about all the things she wanted to do, and I listened dutifully to everything she said, and as I sat there on a rock beside the stream I realized that I’d fallen in love with the Faroes, like a teenager, with all the accompanying traumas. I realized there and then how things stood, if the USA saw itself as a big brother, and most other countries saw themselves, to a lesser or greater degree, as involuntary little brothers, then the Faroes was surely the first foster child, turned out from its family, hidden away, a country you barely think about until one day you come across a brief article about it and suddenly think well, well, so you really do exist, where have you been in all the confusion? I’d practically forgotten you, and yet I’ve always missed you. And then you think you’ll never forget it again, from today forward you’ll care, from today things will change. But they don’t, the instant you turn the page the thought is gone again. I sat contemplating this, and thought: if only you came here, to the Faroe Islands, you might find everything you were looking for, all the things you’d lost, all the keys, important phone numbers, lottery tickets, all the flashy jackets you’d bought abroad, cats that had disappeared and birds that had flown out of windows, people who’d left their apartments one morning never to return, kids you’d been at school with and who you’d never said goodbye to until the last day when you walked through the gates, when you were so certain nothing would ever change you, that you’d always be friends and never lose touch, maybe you might find them here, an entire country for everything you’d forgotten, everything you’d lost, everything that had slipped from view along the way.

  Ey∂is got up, went into the house and came back out a minute later carrying a cassette player and set it down in the damp grass next to us. Pressed play.

  Tuneless vocals and guitar strumming out through the loudspeakers.

  “What’s that?” I asked.

  “Nico. Chelsea Girl?”

  I shook my head, didn’t know it.

  “She’s from Germany. She was with the Velvet Underground at the start.”


  So we sat listening to Nico, who’d played in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, who’d been a model and who’d been involved with a couple of albums, Lou Reed had written songs for her, she’d been friends with Andy Warhol, and then she’d gone away, died on Ibiza in 1988, aged fifty. She didn’t sing that well, but that didn’t seem to matter. It was meant to be like that. I’ve been out walking. I don’t do too much talking these days. These days I seem to think a lot about things that I forgot to do. And all the times I had the chance to.

  True enough.

  But it was a bit late to change one’s mind now.

  That train had gone. And no plane could catch up with it.

  It was growing light. Mild rain through mist.

  “Come on,” said Ey∂is getting up. She took the cassette player in one hand and with the other she pulled me into one of the bedrooms, then she took off my clothes and wrapped me up in the narrow bunk bed. Finally she took off her denim jacket, folded it neatly on a chair and crept in beside me, and I clung to every bit of humanity I could grab, in terror it might slip away and that I might wake up nowhere on drenched asphalt again, I floated between the sheets, disappeared into the mattress, slept to the sound of cows that held their breath in the field outside.

  I woke up first, and I woke up suddenly. I was lying squashed up against the feeling gone in one arm, I wriggled it free and took a few minutes to get the life back into it. The room was hot, almost oxygen-less, and I wanted to evacuate it immediately. I hesitated for a moment, before deciding not to wake Ey∂is. Grabbing hold of the slats in the top bunk, I lifted myself from the mattress, and then wedging my feet between the slats farther down I hung over her, Spider-Man with a bad con
science. I shifted myself sideways toward the floor and got out of the bed without waking her, gathered my clothes and went into the hallway, shutting the door gently after me. I dressed quickly, looked at the clock, half past eleven, went out into the living room. Found Ey∂is’s cell phone on the living room table and without thinking rang Havstein, just wanted to say I was leaving. He was already up and on his way out.

  “Where are you?”

  I said where I was, and what had happened, the short version.


  “I’m going now,” I said.


  “Yes, home. To Norway.”

  “Do you have a ticket?”


  It was quiet for a moment.

  “I’m going down to the harbor now. I can drive you to the airport if you like.”

  Then a pang of bad conscience hit me because I’d given so little notice, hadn’t even told them I was going until last night at the café, and I’d vanished right after, I hadn’t even said goodbye to Ey∂is, I was just disappearing. I’d gotten pretty good at that. Going off.

  “Great,” I answered.

  “I’ll pick you up in just under an hour, along the way.”


  “No problem.”



  I was about to say something, but said something quite different.

  “My passport is in the drawer in my bedroom. Can you bring it. And my money?”

  “I’ll take care of it.”

  I hung up and crept carefully to the door, fox’s tail between my legs, I walked up to the stream where we’d been sitting the previous night, I sat on a rock and waited. Two hours from now, I’ll be on my way home. Tonight I’ll be in Stavanger again. Strange to think, the time that had passed, one week had turned into a year, that was all, but it had gone so fast, and everything was so far away, and I had no clear idea where I’d start when I got back home. All I knew was that it was time to go back, clear up the mess. I ought to call Jørn, tell him I was coming, suggest we do something. But I couldn’t remember the number.


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