Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.38
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.38

           Johan Harstad

  “Yes,” I mumbled, rubbing sleep from my eyes.

  “But what are you doing?”

  I lay there and talked. An extraordinary situation.

  “I wanted to make you something.” I got up carefully and brushed the wet sand from my clothes. “I’ve made you a garden.”

  “A garden?’

  “It’s a Japanese rock garden,” I said. “To achieve Zen calm. It requires almost no upkeep at all. It’s extremely simple.”

  Gunnar looked uncertain. “Really?”

  Then I took the rake and drew patterns in the sand, waves from one rock to the next, then turned the rake in the sand and made two small circles.

  “That’s what you do. It creates harmony in the world. I learned it on the Faroe Islands.”

  He looked as though he didn’t quite believe me, but I handed him the rake and reluctantly he made some hesitant strokes.

  “You’ll get the hang of it with time, no worries.”

  “Are you leaving soon?”

  “Yes, I’m leaving tomorrow.” I nodded, and he put the rake aside. “Back to the Faroes?”


  He looked almost sad. A heavy sigh.

  “Good luck, then. It’s been great having you here. You’re welcome any time, you know that? Whenever you want.”

  “Thank you,” I said and started to walk up to the house. “Don’t forget to practice,” I shouted down to him and nodded towards the garden, “it takes a little time.” Then I went in and began packing my things. Some clothes. A box of worn out books about places where nobody lived.

  Gunnar called Mother and Father of course, and they arrived that afternoon with troubled faces, sat down seriously on the couch and didn’t want coffee, didn’t want anything, wanted me to talk. And I did, reluctantly at first, but then with more clarity, more detail, presenting my thoughts for them like a prospectus, describing the episode with Jørn and how I missed everybody at the Factory, and to my huge surprise they didn’t come with any big objections. They said they understood. That they’d prefer it if I lived here, but that they understood. And they’d come and visit, it was so nice there, Father had said. The only thing I didn’t mention was the rock garden. That would be between me and Gunnar. He’d have to work that out himself.

  The last evening. I packed my things in a bag and a backpack. Father had called and ordered a plane ticket, Mother ironed clean shirts even though I said it was unnecessary, but she wanted to do something too. And she plied me with food, bags of apples, cheese, and tomatoes, clearly thought they didn’t sell food where I was going. We agreed they’d sell my car for me and transfer the money to my account.

  Gunnar dropped by and paid me in cash for the summer’s work, there was no point in making things complicated by bringing the taxman into it, he said. Right, no point, I answered. Mother hugged me as hard as on the day I’d arrived, and I had to promise to call often, once a week, at least. And remember to send cards. Contact them as soon as there was anything. Whatever it was. Look after myself, was all they said, their constant refrain. And I promised.

  Next morning, I am up early, a bright September sun over Jæren and an almost completely calm sea. Not a boat in view. I eat breakfast standing up, clear the remaining food into the trash and lock the door carefully behind me as I go. I wander up to the main road, and carrying my precious box of space books securely under one arm, I stand at the bus stop, smiling, waiting for the bus, I arrive in Sola and change to another bus that goes to the airport, check my luggage, go to the departure lounge and find the gate for the plane to Copenhagen from where I’ll catch the 3:15 flight to Vágar. I am on my way to the Faroes. And I’ll tell Havstein that I don’t intend to leave again.


  Departure terminal. Delays and cabin staff. I wandered aimlessly around Kastrup Airport and tried to kill time, without success. There was far too much time, I was surrounded by minutes. Father had been worried I’d miss the connection, so he’d arranged for there to be nearly four hours before my flight for the Faroes left Copenhagen. Forty-five minutes had gone. Time brought in reinforcements and boredom arrived with overwhelming firepower, a military parade through the terminal. I threw my hands in the air, but nobody took me to jail, so I wandered back into the electronics store I’d already visited twice, browsed through the same stuff again, electronic déja vu, the eternal junction plates, small handheld vacuum cleaners for the fastidious and portable PCs the size of a postage stamp, almost. But didn’t want that. Didn’t have enough money anyway. Instead I ended up with a Walkman and a self-help tape for only 149 kroner. A bargain. So what do we do now, little friend?

  Have you ever asked yourself what the meaning of your life is? Have you wondered where you came from? What you should do? Have you ever felt desperate? Inadequate? Small? This cassette will help you find direction in your life. You too can go places. The world is yours. Begin by saying to yourself: Every day on the earth is a good day. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

  I managed to listen to the cassette four times before the plane took off, and a couple of times more before we came down from the clouds and landed in the fog at Vágar. I knew the entire first side by heart. I breathed in. I breathed out. I repeated, and as we drove out of the underwater tunnel at Streymoy, I thought how every day above ground was a good day. A great tape in that way. So easy to remember. I sat glued to the bus window as we drove along the familiar road into Tórshavn, and I noticed how good I felt. Terribly good, and nothing could knock me off balance now. Rain on glass, windscreen wipers keeping time at the front, steering us through a contourless, green landscape, the few passengers that chatted quietly between themselves, mountains that said nothing.

  I had butterflies in my stomach as I got off the bus on Tórshavn quay at half past four and the wind hit my face. It was raining horizontally, and I was drenched before I’d even left the harbor and reached the street, yet this was a kindly rain, a forgiving rain that offered promise and didn’t bother me in the least. I lugged my bag and box toward City Burger, and as I walked along I thought the fog over Tórshavn looked like somebody had taken a gigantic roll of Scotch tape and taped everything up, sticking the sky to the land with clumsy precision. God’s big vacation project, Year One, his proudest achievement. At City Burger I bought myself a Jolly Cola and Hawaii burger, it tasted like cardboard and plastic, as it should, and I think I was a happy person at that moment, as I stood at the bus stop in Niels Winthers-gøta waiting for the bus to Gjógv, and I felt how good it was to be back, finally, because this was the Faroes and there was nowhere I’d rather be, here in Tórshavn, with its roads that stretched north and south, its mountains and gravel, its people, the boats on the fjords and lakes, and all that water that rained down on me and the people that lived here, in this country written so small, where the days were the same as elsewhere, some good, some impossible to get through, mostly tolerable, and I waited for the bus and thought how I should have come here years earlier, yet everything was a part of me already, the streets, the buildings, I could have walked with my eyes closed from the ferry terminal in Kakagøta up to Café Natúr, past the Hotel Hafnia and H.N. Jacobsen’s bookshop, up to Havnar Bio to find out what was playing at the movie theater, or I could have wandered down to Frants Restorff’s bakery at the crossroads of Sverrisgøta and Tórsgata, and farther on to the Steinnatún kiosk where we bought our late night takeout food when we were out by the harbor on weekends, I could have walked blindfolded from Tórshavn and northward over the mountains to Kollafjør∂ur, swum over Slættafello and Rey∂afelstindur, plotted my course to Funningur, Gjógv, and all the way home, I waited for the bus that would come soon and you should have taken a photo of me then, Kodak, processed it and sent it to someone.

  But there were no flashing cameras.

  Just rain.

  And it didn’t bother me.

  I took the long way, the milk route, got off at the crossroads at Oyrarbakki, and waited over an hour outside the Shell station before t
he bus going farther turned up. We stood like abandoned children, we passengers, scraped the gravel with our heels and looked at our watches. Mine said half past seven. It had said that for over a year now, and I still hadn’t managed to get myself a new one. But I had time to wait. And when the bus eventually arrived, we divided ourselves smoothly, disappearing our separate ways without a wave goodbye or an exchange of telephone numbers. I thought how Sofia had probably often stood here alone, waiting for some bus or other, whichever came first, and I could almost see traces of her on the ground. Should have been a plaque put up for her.

  As we swung down towards Gjógv, I could barely sit still in my seat, I was the first and last but one to get off the bus, an old fisherman puttered off after me and I nodded to him politely despite not recognizing him, and then half-ran the last few hundred feet to the Factory as I prepared my opening sentence and pictured their surprised faces as I came in the living room, nearly a month before they expected me, and pronounced I wasn’t leaving again. Not this guy, no. I’d decided to stay. For certain.

  But the door was locked. And nobody came to open it when I rang the bell. There was no welcoming committee or standing ovation, no arms flung themselves around my neck and said they’d missed me. Nothing, null, nix. And for a moment the same feeling of panic came over me as I’d felt in Jæren. I stopped and tugged at the door handle, it didn’t turn. It was as locked as could be. So I walked around the building, but all the windows were shut and there was nothing to be done but give up, wait for somebody to come back. I sat on my box of books at the front door, took out an extra sweater, a wool hat, put them on and put my bag on my lap, huddled up and made myself small to avoid the rain, though that was impossible. It was pelting down from all directions and seeping through all my clothes, until I was soaked to the skin, and I sat there freezing and feeling pathetic, I told myself that I should have phoned beforehand, warned them I was coming, as any normal person would do, instead I’d chosen to turn up like a jack-in-the-box. Problem was, nobody was opening the lid.

  And I think I half dozed, I know I was as wet as it’s possible to be when a car finally parked in front of the Factory and the car doors opened and they got out, the whole gang. At first they didn’t see me, I blended in with the bad weather, and it wasn’t until I got up that they stopped, stared at me, as though they didn’t quite believe their eyes.

  “Mattias?” Anna was the first to speak. She came closer. I just stood there.

  “What are you doing here?” They all came up now, stood in a semicircle and looked at me. I must have looked wet. A disheveled puffin confused about the seasons.

  “I was bored,” I answered. “So I came earlier than planned. Surprise!”

  “How long have you been sitting here?” asked Havstein.

  Hours must have passed. I was drenched.

  “Not long,” I said. “What’s the time?”

  It was a quarter to midnight. I’d been sitting there far too long, and everyone knew it.

  “Where have you been?”

  Carl looked at me.

  “At the movies. We didn’t know you were coming.”

  It was quiet for a couple of seconds before the meeting I’d pictured began to take form. And then came the hugs, then came the joy at my coming back early and the mood picked up, they all talked at once and asked if I’d swum all the way.

  “But come on in and put some dry clothes on!” commanded Havstein, I followed him with the rest in tow, Carl took my bag and we went inside, I went straight to my room and tore off my wet clothes, I was freezing. The rain had soaked into my bag too, so I had to borrow clothes from Havstein, pants that were too short, a shirt that was too big, Charlie Chaplin upside down, and we laughed as I walked into the living room, Carl opened a bottle of wine and Anna stood by the stereo, put on some music, and I looked around. They were all here. Palli. Carl. Anna. Havstein. Although things didn’t feel quite right. Find one mistake. Sofia was absent, and her absence was momentous and clear in all their faces now that I looked, suddenly I felt I’d been away for years, the emptiness was deafening, the sound of a thousand dogs that didn’t bark and I saw how vital my return was, because the whole Factory had changed, turned around ninety degrees. The furniture, the people, everything was in the same place as before, and yet it didn’t resemble the place I’d first come to at all. We somehow went on waiting for somebody to arrive, for somebody to suddenly open the door and say hi, I’m back. And behind all our laughter that night, baked into all our stories, in all the plans we laid and the ideas we had, lay the knowledge that we would have dropped everything we were doing and given everything we owned to have Sofia back. And if I’d possessed the power, I’d have turned the wind, rolled back the fog, called in the storms, changed the polarity of the world so that every compass was useless. But that isn’t how it works. There’s not a thing that can be done. The earth is not attached to anything and you can’t move it an inch. So all you can do is wait, hope things will get easier, in some weeks or months or years, and one day they will, because they must. One day your shoulders will be a little less tense, your breathing a little calmer, one day your pulse will have settled and you’ll no longer sit in your chair, staring apathetically and blindly before you, you’ll start to walk again, step by step, out of the door, into the sun or rain, but you will need to go carefully, because the world will have shifted a little to the side since you were last out, and it will have done it in the opposite direction than the one you’d hoped. But you will learn to move again, inch by inch, and one day the traffic will flow almost as it should and you’ll wait for the green man and walk with everybody else at the crosswalk, and have new things to protect, new people to care for, and summer will come, and winter, and time will fly and you’ll try to keep track, it will freeze and thaw and old newspapers will pile up in the basement, you’ll have to chuck them out in the end, fill the recycling bin in the street, and you’ll stand there holding big plastic bags and realize that you don’t know which you miss most, the people who’ve gone or the safety of life as it once was. Which is when you’ll start smiling, carefully at first, because you’ll see that the two things can no longer be separated, and even if there may not be connections between everything, there always are between the things that meant something, and you are still here.

  Carl poured some wine. We drank. Havstein drank Jolly Cola and lifted his glass. Anna danced around to music I didn’t recognize, and Palli asked how it had been in Stavanger, I told them I’d worked on a farm and seen Jørn again, it hadn’t gone well, I said, but I’d expected that, it wasn’t a surprise that it had gone that way. You lie in the bed you make.

  “But we have to try not to lie in it too long,” said Carl.

  “True,” answered Havstein.

  “I don’t intend to go back,” I said.

  Havstein’s gaze met mine.

  “What do you mean?”

  “There’s nothing left for me in Stavanger. So I’m going to stay with you. Indefinitely.”

  “Are you sure? I mean, are you moving here?” asked Carl.

  “There’s no better place, is there?”

  “Maybe not.”

  Everybody stopped talking. The room went completely silent, apart from the music. Anna had sat back down in the sofa, next to Palli, she drank from her glass quietly, looking down, her gaze slightly averted.

  “Is something wrong, or what?” I asked.

  Havstein rubbed his face with his hand, crossed his arms, not a good sign.

  “We were at a meeting in Tórshavn today,” he said.


  “They’re closing us down.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Cost cutting. They’re closing the Factory down. Too few people live here. Or we’re too far from Tórshavn. And then, on paper at least, the people that live here function too well to need support. It wasn’t easy to tell what was most important, in their minds.”

  I felt the anxiety grip my throat and I
felt nauseous, my breath quickened, I began to shiver again.

  And it tumbled out of me:

  “But what will happen to us, then?”

  “Us? I don’t know. Anna and Palli will probably get social security payments and apartments somewhere or other, further education, adult education. Carl will have to seek a residence permit or leave the country, and you’ll probably lose your offer of treatment and have to get a new work permit. I’ll help you with that. We’ll find a solution, you’ll see.”

  “And you?”

  He shrugged his shoulders. It was raining.

  “I’m not sure. I’ll probably be relocated.”


  “In seven months. The doors close on April 1, next year.”

  “Fuck …”


  “So what should we do?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I mean, we have to protest! Tell them this isn’t fair. That they can’t close us down. None of us has anywhere to go.” I was the only one talking, the others were staring into the floor, they’d talked already.

  “That boat’s gone, Mattias. The decision’s made. We have to find ourselves something else to do, that’s just the way it is.” And then he added: “You should have called before you came.”

  So the evening wasn’t as it should be, it clamped up, wouldn’t move. We opened more wine, started the wake early. I had to fight to keep panic at bay, all prospects were gone. After this there were only cliff edges to walk out from. Kjerag. Anna played old Charlie Parker records, and the mood improved a smidgen, we talked about things that were all right and went smoothly, we got drunk and danced in the living room, Anna put on another CD and turned up the volume, and I had to shout to be heard over the music that poured from the loudspeakers, I shouted everything comes out right in the end, and Anna turned the volume up more, and I shouted and this will come out right, too, and Anna turned the volume up to max, and I shouted I’m so glad I found you guys, but nobody heard and the Beach Boys won the day, somebody grabbed me and swung me around, I closed my eyes and danced blind, let myself go where my body wanted as the music wrapped itself like a Band-Aid over the room, soothing us, and I remember thinking, though I didn’t shout it, God only knows what I’d be without you, and then the song finished and “I Know There’s an Answer” began, I lost hold and knocked over a lamp, stumbled toward the sofa, eyes closed, plunged over the back of it, landed with a crash behind it and when I opened my eyes, Havstein was standing over me grinning.


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