Time to remember, p.1
Time to Remember, p.1
TIME TO REMEMBER
By Susan Firman
Copyright 2012 Susan M Firman
Travel to the north, past Trondheim, and you will be standing in the small Norwegian town where Jenette Wilkinson had decided to begin her holiday. The old part of town, the original fishing village with its cluster of small fishermen’s cabins now servicing the tourist industry, lay huddled at the eastern end of a narrow valley, sandwiched between the long, narrow finger of the fjord and the high grey and reddish granite hills and mountains that made up the inland terrain. It was a wild and beautiful place with it steep hillsides and silver ribbons of waterfalls plunging directly into the cold, deep waters of the fjord. Directly behind the village, a huge, deeply cleft mountain loomed upwards into the clouds, its rocky face scraped by deep rifts of ice and snow that had scoured its slopes for thousands of years.
A more modern town had developed around the western flank of the valley stretching outwards over a flat rocky surface. The main reason for its existence was to provide the tourist with a gateway to the magnificent ski fields that had been opened up within the district as thrill-seekers jetted their way from one world playground to the next.
Jenette stood looking up at the huge, snow-clad mountains with their colossal sides disappearing into dense cloud that hung dark and threatening, smothering out the summit views and hiding their enduring secrets of an eternal landscape from any interested visitor that wished to look up. This young visitor thought of the more familiar scenes back home: Mount Cook, the Haast Pass and Franz-Joseph Glacier at one extreme and lumpy, bush-clad hills of varying greenness, together with never-ending pops of oozing mud at the other. And even though it had been only a week ago, it seemed years since she waved farewell to her parents and walked through to the departure lounge at Auckland International Airport.
She was an attractive girl with a deep, olive complexion and large, dark brown eyes that gave some indication of her Polynesian ancestry. Her body was slim and athletic, giving her an air of sophistication not always seen in one so young. Now here she was, on the verge of her nineteenth birthday, excited at the prospect of this holiday experience. Her own OE, at last!
“Velcome to Sleggvik! Enjoy your stay!”
A steward took her by the elbow and guided her off the deck of the ferry and onto the ramp that led down to the wooden jetty which jutted out several meters into the deep dark water.
“Thanks. It was a neat trip. I really enjoyed it.”
“You are most welcome,” he replied.
As she trod once more on firm ground, she dropped the two larger bags down beside her feet. Her third bag was lighter and smaller with a long soft strap which she draped over her left shoulder.
She listened for any familiar sounds that sounded like English but with the constant excited chattering going on around her, it was impossible to pick out any specific words. The background remained a hum of jumbled expressions.
She found a ferry counter that was open.
“Please, can you tell me where the Norgge Inn is?”
The young man presented her with a map and drew a red circle not very far from the ferry terminal building.
“It is here,” he said pointing to the place he had marked. “It’s not far and easy to find. Good luck!”
She lingered a few more minutes on the wooden jetty where the boat had just been moored, reassuring herself that her dream was coming true.
The cold, bleak winter air began to penetrate her thick coat. It made her shiver slightly. Picking up her two larger bags and shrugging the smaller airline satchel bag back onto her shoulder, she began to walk across the crisp snow towards the Inn.
The Inn was easy to find for it was situated almost opposite the jetty. Its modern red brick exterior made the two-story framework seem rather austere. Heavy, brown wooden shutters which looked more functional than artistic framed both sides of the tiny thick paned windows. The buildings either side of the Inn contrasted quite sharply, a mixture of carved wooden and grey stone walls, empty window boxes and deep-red thick timbered doors. Jenette noted that all the town houses had high, steep roofs which lay hidden under a thick pile of freshly fallen snow.
The interior of the Inn was warm and inviting after the cold outside.
“Hello,” she said to the man behind the main counter.
“Good morning. Your reservation slip?”
He began writing her details into the accommodation book. Her eyes followed his entry as he wrote.“My name doesn’t have the ‘a’,” she informed him.
“Sorry.” He crossed out the ‘a’. “I thought ‘Jenette’ had ‘a’ in the middle.”
“It normally does. My name’s a little different.”
She smiled at him to show no offence had been taken. He held out his hand.
“Passport, Miss Jenette Vikinson, vithout the ‘a’.”
Jenette handed it over. The man thumbed rapidly through the pages. He stamped her reservation slip before handing both of them back.
“From New Zealand.” He smiled as he made the observation. “People say your country’s like mine. Mountains. Fjords. Very beautiful. Is it true?”
The young tourist smiled back and nodded in acknowledgement.
“Vell, Miss Jenette Vikinson. Velcome to Norway. Your room is going up the stairs. Number 19. I hope you enjoy your stay vith us.”
He pushed a plan of the Inn across the counter and indicated the room which would be hers. It was a small, single room at the back of the building.
“Keys for you.” He pushed a set of keys across the counter towards her. “Breakfast - English or European?”
“Oh, European would be fine, thanks. After all, I’m in Europe now.”
“In your room or in the dining room?”
“I’ll come down for it. Is that OK?”
The man nodded and made a note of it.
“I won’t forget. I’m almost that age. Can I leave one of my bags here for a while? OK? I’m exhausted and I don’t think I can manage everything at once. Not up the stairs.”
The man nodded again.
Dumping the first of her heavy bags in the middle of the room and throwing the smaller one on the bed, she returned downstairs for the other. When all had been collected, she began to unpack.
To the immediate right of the door, stood a large old-fashioned wardrobe, coloured with a rich black-brown stain. She walked over to it, her arms loaded with clothing. As luck would have it, the bottom of the door made a lip and she was able to hook her foot behind and it pull it open. The wood grain reminded her of rabbits with long, drooping ears. Her brother used to hunt rabbits over the rugged land their grandfather farmed and when he hung them over the wire and batten fence, they had long, drooping ears, too.
On the opposite side of the room was a small oblong window, framed each side by pale green curtains. She wandered over to look at the view. It surprised her to find there were two panes of thick glass: an inner and an outer. The distance between them made the outside appear unreal and far away. Peering through them she could just make out the far edge of the small town. A large, imposing mountain rose up behind and dominated the scene. It was difficult to estimate its height, for its steep, snow-covered sides disappeared upwards into cold grey clouds which had hung in a low dull sky ever since she had arrived. She wondered whether all mountains in this country had names and personalities like the ones back home did.
I wonder what your name is? she mused.
But the mountain only stood silent and forbidding. If it had any secrets, it was not willing to divulge them to her at this moment.
With her unpacking done, Jenette sat on the edge of the narrow bed, brushing he
She yawned and then rubbed her eyes. She smothered another long, drawn out yawn with her other hand and it was only then that she realised how tired she had become. She decided she was still suffering from bouts of jet-lag for she found sleep unexpectedly crept up on her at strange times during the day. Squeezing her eyes tightly together for a few minutes helped. So did splashing cold water on them. But this time neither did the trick and her eyelids remained as heavy as ever.
She decided she was too tired to go down to the dining room so unwrapped the remains of a snack she had bought on the boat. She ate what remained, gave her teeth a quick brush and then snuggled deep between the thick feather covering and the warm softness of the mattress.
Early next morning, before even the low light of dawn had crept into the dark northern sky, Jeanette woke and crept quietly down the narrow stairs to the reception hall. Everything was still and she felt like an intruder slinking furtively through the sleeping building. She opened the door to reception. The lobby was well lit and the figure of a young woman was seated behind the counter.
“Excuse me, do you speak English?”
“Ja. Yes.” The blond-haired receptionist looked up from the book she had been reading. “Can I help?”
Jenette continued, in what could only be described as a whisper,
“Can you tell me if there are any guided tours up the mountains?”
“You wish to ski?”
The woman had almost no perceptible Norwegian accent.
“No, sorry. I don’t ski. All I want to do is go and look at the scenery and experience the feel of the mountains. And, perhaps,” she added, “I’d like to learn something about the district and its culture.”
“Yes, we can help you.” She reached for a brochure behind the counter. “There are tours but tours are only on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That is, weather permitting.”
“Oh, thanks . . . do I have to book?” she added as an after-thought. She thought she’d better make sure.
“You don’t have to,” the lady said, “but it would be wise to leave me your name and the day you’d prefer. I’ll pass the information onto the guide, so that he will know. You can check with me later. The tour leaves always at ten hundred hours.”
“That’s ten in the morning,” Jenette said, just to make sure.
She was going to have to get used to the European way of time-keeping. The woman behind the counter nodded.
“Shall I book it for you?”
“Thanks.” Jenette checked her watch. “I’ll have to re-set my watch again.” She laughed with embarrassment, then shrugged her shoulders. “I’d only just put it on London time and now it’s wrong again. Only arrived yesterday. Can you please give me local time?”
The receptionist checked the time.
“Thirty minutes past seven.”
Jeanette was grateful the young woman had used a more familiar way of saying the time.
“Oh, thanks.” She adjusted her watch. “I thought it was much earlier. It still seems like night.”
“Sunrise is about eight fifteen. Most visitors appear just before nine.”
Only seven thirty and still pitch black! It didn’t seem natural. Nothing was natural this side of the globe: winter months that should be summer and a sun that went the wrong way across the sky. She had always been used to a winter sunrise no later than seven. Like most new things in her life, she would just have to adapt. This was northern Europe, so far north the Arctic circle was not that far away. Her father had been puzzled at her decision to chose such a northerly destination and especially when she had decided to miss out a warm, sunny New Zealand summer but as Jenette had seemed so adamant about visiting Norway, he had given her as much support as he could and when the time had arrived for her departure, even her mother had, during her farewell hug, wished her all the best and told her how lucky she was. Her big OE. Alone. Mum’s little girl had taken the first big step into adulthood.
Now all that was left was to fill in time until Wednesday. That day seemed so far away. She hardly knew how to wait. It was just like the final week before she left New Zealand, excitement mixed with impatience. She thought her departure date would never arrive. But it finally did.
Funny thing, time, thought Jenette as she retraced her steps back up the stairs to her room. When I’m enjoying myself, like the time at my cousin’s twenty-first, time went so quickly. I’d only just arrived before Dad had tooted and I was being driven back home again. Funny - when the plane met that bumpy part coming down through the clouds to land, I thought they would never stop. How that time dragged! If only I could control time; then I’d make it Wednesday all in an instant.
She glanced at her watch again. It was only eight thirty-three. At this rate Wednesday would never come.
She sat in her room staring at the wall. Why? She didn’t really know; well, at least she had no rational explanation for doing so. She began thinking of her family back home. They would just be finishing work in the vegetable patch, just before that warm summer sun dipped behind the bush-clad western hills. Dad always got the boys to help him weed or water the cabbages and beans after dinner. She could picture her younger brother, clad only in shorts and listening to the local radio station on his transistor he had got for Christmas. It had been a good Christmas this time, for all the kids had managed to get home - her older sister, Mere, with her new boyfriend and the two older boys, the twins Jason and Jack. Jack always had been known as Hemi which was his middle name. He liked it better that way. Just think, only a few weeks ago she was with them all, laughing and sharing in all the family’ festivities: gathering shellfish, wriggling her toes deep down in the hot beach sand feeling for the hardened shells that betrayed the shellfish’s existence; or sitting around the large kitchen table, sipping cool lemonades while sweat trickled down between her shoulder-blades and made her skin tingle both sides of her backbone. Those hot days were great for their grandfather would come over and then he would tell them stories about the times when he was a young boy and had a whole wild world for his playground: the golden gorse covered hills at the back of the farm, the dense bush beyond that and the cool blue sea full of fish enough to easily feed his large family. He had not a care in the world. Now everyone seemed so far away; almost as if they lived on another planet or were in another dimension.
She wriggled onto the top of her pillow, leaning back against the wall, the soft glow of the reading light casting a dim orange hue over her body. In her excitement that morning she had forgotten that the northern winter sun didn’t rise much before eight-thirty in the morning. She waited for the day to begin and cursed that time was her master.
Jenette decided to plan her day, for there didn’t seem much else to do for a while. Maybe she could wander around the town and, hopefully, find somewhere to browse. She had read in one of the brochures that the original inhabitants were expert fishermen. Wood-carving was also a speciality of this area and she had been told that there were many small carved objects offered for sale. Jeanette found this most interesting, as her Grandfather, on her mother’s side of the family, had been a carver in his younger days before he became a farmer.
As a young child, when she went to Koro’s to stay, he would take her over to the meeting house of his people and let her run her fingers over the carved figures of his ancestors. The tactile feeling she had each time she did so would make her feel warm inside. It was Koro who had car
As she had listened, so the old man had instructed her with the customs and beliefs of a culture that expressed itself through the beautiful curvaceous carvings that adorned the meeting house of her ancestors.
It’s through the experience of culture and a knowledge of your past that you will come to know yourself and understand where your future lies, he had once told her.
Then, when she told him she wanted to travel overseas, he had actively encouraged her.
Go and discover your European past. Find your other heritage. I’ve shown you your Maori side but you must find your Pakeha side yourself. Only when you have experienced both, will you know who you are, for you’re a child of two cultures: Maori and European. Learn to love and understand both sides. Be united with all your ancestors. If you want my advice, go Jenny-Girl!
Jenette liked the way her grandfather called her ‘Jenny girl’. He had done so as long as she could remember. She felt a spiritual bond with this grandfather, her Koro. He had given her her middle name, Awhina. She was sure Koro was the one who whispered like the wind whispers secrets into your ear, telling her mother to let go the ties that bound parent and child so that the girl could spread her wings.
Eighteen, well almost nineteen, was old enough. She was no longer a child but a young woman whose time had come to discover the world.
Let this be your moko.
She knew of the ancient patterns that were used to beautify the faces of the ancient ones. It marked their identity and gave them a sense of belonging. Her connection was to be the bone carving. Grandfather blessed it and then hung the smooth, shining pendant around her neck. On its back he had inscribed her middle name.
Awhina. ‘Awhina’ means ‘to help.’ So, my girl, while you wear your moko, you’re never alone and help is always there. Travel to lands far away. Our ancestors did that generations ago. They came in waka from the north, a homeland deep in the Pacific Ocean. How else could our people have arrived here but in boats built to carry families across the seas? When you leave, you’ll always be here . . . in my heart. You’re my mokopuna, my grandchild. Part of my flesh. Never forget that and remember what I’ve taught you. Now, go, Jenny-Girl and enjoy yourself!
Jenette smiled. Yes, she remembered the old man well. She fingered the silent lizard that hung around her tanned neck. It would always be extremely precious to her.
Is it dawn yet? No, it’s still dark. The long, drawn out night. Like the dawn of time. Like the waiting of the gods in the immeasurably long night. The night with no end.
The faint dim light of dawn arrived. A softening of the blackness that was the other side of the window pane. Finally, the hint of daylight had arrived. The sky stretched and grew lighter.
Jeanette made her way down the road to where she had been told she could catch a tram. Her wool-lined boots crunched over the hard packed snow where only the day before numerous other feet had walked compressing it into a hard, solid blackened lump. She caught the tram without too much trouble and rode in it two miles across the narrow valley floor to the older much older part which had been the foundation of the original village many centuries before. Luck was on her side as quite a few of the town’s inhabitants could speak some English, enough for her to find directions to her questions.
The older part of town was an ancient established settlement with narrow cobbled pathways between pleasant wooden houses. A number of small fishing trawlers lay tied to untidy wooden posts standing like sentries on the edge between water and land. The tram stopped outside a group of small shops huddled closely together as if to keep warm, the last one being recognisable as a souvenir shop. Jenette hesitated. A decision made she pushed on the door, and stepped inside.
The quiet tinkle of the doorbell announced her arrival. A very elderly man appeared from the rear of the room. He looked very old to Jenette, at least ninety or maybe even close to a hundred. A hundred? That was an awful long time ago.
She noticed he was hunched and stiff with arthritis and leaned heavily on his walking stick as he moved.
Jenette’s eyes whisked around the interior dusting the assortment of objects that clustered its shelves. She did not immediately see what she wanted.
“I’ll just look, thanks.”
She turned away. The old man seemed to understand, for he dissolved into the shadows and left her alone. Jenette wandered around for a while. The crude wooden carvings offered for sale disappointed her. She picked one up and turned it over. It had obviously been made for the tourist trade and she did not feel that any of them were authentic. She left without buying and decided to return to the main town.
The twenty minutes she spent waiting for the tram to arrive appeared inordinately long. She stood first on one foot and then on the other trying to keep warm. These northern winters were certainly freezing, the cold penetrated deep inside her jacket and she felt herself beginning to shiver. She began to think her transport would never arrive.
“Beauty first!” quipped a voice to her side.
She turned and smiled at the young man who had just spoken. He was about her own age, maybe a few years older. His hazel eyes seemed friendly and relaxed. He winked at her.
“You English?” she asked hoping that the London shopping bag she noticed belonged to him.
“From Coventry,” he answered in a broad Midlands accent. He helped her to climb onto the tram, its engine reverberating with a low hum as it waited for the passengers to board. “I come every winter fer me ’ols.” They sat down next to each other halfway down the tram. “I do kayaking and I like to ski, or rather, practice skiing - it’s a lot cheaper ’n’ flying to Switzerland. Been there, have yer?” She shook her head. “By t’ way,” he went on cheerily, as the conductor punched their tickets, “Whar yer from?”
“Long way from ‘ome.”
He paused to look out the window for a short while.
“Know the Millars? They live out thar.”
“Sorry, no.” She was somewhat confused by his question. “Where’re they from?”
“Christchurch. I think that’s right. It’s in New Zealand. Yes, Christchurch.” He stated it most emphatically. “They were neighbours of ours before they went out thar in sixty-two.”
“Sorry.” She somehow did feel sorry to disappoint him. “There are three and a half million of us scattered throughout the country. Anyway, I’m from up North. A long way from Christchurch. Other end.”
She grinned at him.
“At the top?”
“In the tail. Ever thought of going there yourself?”
She watched him screw up his ticket into a tight ball and begin to play with it.
“Yes - .’n’ no. I’d like to, but it’s a matter of ‘aving to save so much money, yer know. The fares are so expensive now. Did yer fly?”
“Mm. Air New Zealand. See?” She showed him her teal-coloured shoulder bag with its fern-head logo on the side. “Bought this in Auckland just over a week ago - at the airport - they sell them there. And then I climbed onto the plane.”
“’n flew here?”
“No. London first. Had a few days there. Then came here.”
“Ah yea. What kind of plane?”
“Jumbo. No stop-over. Flew straight through from Auckland to London.”
“Did yer have a good flight?”
“Doesn’t last long, an hour or so. And the rest?”
“Rather boring most of the time.”
Jenette laughed and pulled a face.
“Did yer see any good in-flight movies?”
“One was OK.”
She watched him unravel his ticket. This time he rolled it between finger and thumb.
“What made yer choose this place?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It just popped out there on a map I had.”
She frowned. Now that she thought about it, she couldn’t find a reasonable explanation as to why she had chosen Sleggvik at all. It was all a bit emotional really.
“Aha. Do you ski?”
“No. I’ve always lived too far away from mountains that big. We don’t get snow where I live.”
He was surprised.
“You don’t ski ’n’ yer’ve come har?”
She felt she had to defend herself.
“I just thought it sounded a nice place. I’ve wanted to visit Norway for ages. Dad always told us kids that his family originally came from Norway. That was way back. Then at school we did something on the Vikings and I read all about their carved boats ’n’ things. I’m interested in carving. Wood carving. One of my older brothers does carving. He’s been learning how to do it for years. Our uncle’s teaching him now.”
“Yes. So, I went in to town to find something to send home but I’m afraid they only had rubbish - stuff for tourists. Nothing genuine.” She turned side on to face him directly. “Say, you don’t know where I could see some real carvings, do you?”
“Yup. If yer want the real thing, go to the museum. It’s only small but quite interestin’ - yer’ll find what yer want in thar all right.” Jenette nodded. After a pause, the young man continued in his relaxed manner. “Thinking of something that might interest yer - have yer been on one of those tours up the mountains? Yer heard about ‘em? There are several to choose from. I’ve heard they’re interestin’.”
“I’m going on one. On Wednesday.”
He appeared pleased.
“Great! Yer’ll enjoy that. Hope it keeps fine for yer.”
She glanced out of the tram window at the coloured, steep-roofed wooden buildings on her side.
“Are we almost at the museum?” she asked.
“I’ll let yer know.”
For the rest of the journey, the friendly Englishman told her about his ski exploits and how fortunate he was to be able to fly to Norway several times a year. The tram rattled its way through the traffic until they had passed the town centre. The young man pointed out the window.
“Here we are. Museum’s not too far away. Jus’ follow the red arrows. Ter-ra! See yer round sometime!”
She waved back to him as she stepped from the vehicle. She didn’t want the tram to spray her coat with a mixture of salt and snow as it left the stop.
“Thanks!” She called to him from the footpath. Jenette decided he was very nice and she hoped that she would meet him again before either of them left the town.
She watched the tram rumble away before starting to walk across the road towards the museum. She found the building quite easily, even though it was tucked behind the cinema. A short elderly gentleman in uniform greeted her with a warm smile as she sauntered in through the tall glass doors.
The museum was larger than she expected. It was filled with many interesting things to see, both national and local exhibits. There was a model of the local terrain, a section on whaling and modern history, and a detailed exhibition covering skiing. Jenette gave them only a superficial glance. She moved swiftly along the corridor with a purpose to her tread. It was as though an invisible hand was guiding her along.
At last she stopped. Before her, mounted in a glass cabinet, were three very early wood carvings. They seemed to represent some form of animals, deer or wild cattle. Although their surfaces were rough and crude, an attempt had been made to decorate them. Whether they had been intended as toys, or whether they had some deeper religious significance was not known. Jenette moved on.
Two large wooden sledges stood in the centre of the next room. Their wooden sides had been expertly carved, and were so beautiful that it took her breath away. The golden brown skids had been decorated with finely chiselled lines representing curves and spirals. The abstract designs fascinated her. They reminded her of the patterns she had seen carved on the maihi boards of the local meeting house back home. She had always felt a little jealous of Hemi for being a male for he had been the one to begin training as a carver. She wished she’d been born a boy. Then she, too, could have been a carver in the family and could have created beautiful spiral patterns in wood.
Jenette stood, transfixed by the beauty and symmetry of the two sledges that were just over a thousand years old. She tried to imagine the men who must have built them. For several long minutes, she stood, mesmerised. When she finally tore herself away, she felt relief. Tiredness had overwhelmed her.
Must be jet-lag again, she thought. I’d better take things a bit easier.
She wandered slowly on, taking her time to read the information plaques and puzzling over the lives of the people who had existed during those times.
Suddenly she caught her breath. A faint gasp escaped her lips. Before her, safely tucked behind its thick glass protection, lay the remains of a small hand-woven bag. Almost immediately, it reminded her of a kete, the woven flax bag still made and used by the Maori people of New Zealand today. She had seen other exhibits of woven bags such as this which had been made by the people of other Pacific islands but had never seen anything so similar in the northern hemisphere. Leaning forwards until her nose touched the glass, she read the English inscription:
‘This hand-woven bag was discovered in the hull of a sea-going longboat which was found buried in mud near the harbour in 1972. The bag has been carbon dated at approximately 800AD.’
A cold wind blew around her shoulders. She quickly swung around, expecting someone to be standing close behind. No-one was there. She spun around again just to make absolutely certain, but the area where she stood was quite deserted.
Ghosts, she thought, and as the thought took place, she found herself beginning to panic. Like a frightened animal, she dashed out of the building. She was still shaking from the experience when she caught the tram fifteen minutes later.
It was early afternoon when she arrived back at the Inn. She was tired and shaken. She felt as though something or someone had been playing a hideous game with her.
Tomorrow, thought Jenette, will be another day. I’ll have to take things easy. Gosh, this jet-lag takes some getting used to!
Back in her hotel room, she relaxed on the bed. She picked up the pen and paper which lay on the bedside table and began on a letter home:
Dear Mum, Dad, Koro, and the rest of Yous,
Got here OK. It’s awfully cold but the snow’s very pretty to look at. Today I went to the museum. Koro, you’d love it. They’ve got some real neat carvings.
On Wednesday I’m going on a trip. I’m told we go up a little way on one of the mountains. Bet that’ll be fun! They’re strange mountains here. Huge solid rocks and grey right up into the clouds. So far I haven’t been able to see their tops properly but. I can see the side of one big mountain from my bedroom window and . . .
Time to Remember by Susan Firman / Fantasy / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on16 votes