Wandering Oslo

August 1990

The morning weather is overcast and midland – cool enough for your long-sleeve shirt, yet warm enough to keep the coastal breeze confined to the bay. Your breakfast at the Hotel Fønix of sliced meat and cheese on wafer bread is far from hardy, but filling enough. And bland as well, like tired streets and dim buildings where pavements and hallways share the ghosts of Nazis and the dreams of expatriates. An old war ended long ago while a new one begins to brew somewhere far away.

The lazy sounds of an approaching workday seem quiet, reserved. Traffic sputters and hums along while pockets of teenagers mill around, milking the minutes away, smoking cigarettes and yo-yoing. An oddity, as breaths from young lungs go up in smoke, while nonchalant wrists flip yo-yos toward the sidewalk and fingers pull them back, over and over. They may never disperse, this latest generation happily engaged in communal nothingness.

You wander through the meadow at the foot of the hill, long since covered beneath commerce and industry, progress and change, life and suffering. The old generation rests, seated on park benches or in cafe booths, while ancestors hover above, like the shade trees up and down the boulevard. At times, the pallor of an idyllic stillness and the quiet Munchian scream of despair. And at other times, frolicking with indifference while burdened with the uncares of a divided world.

Bakeries. Art studios. Corner shops. A small office where you see someone, through the wide window sitting at a desk, who’s distracted from the revolving world outside. You’re reminded of a desolate place when suddenly you feel a tap on the shoulder. Startled, you turn to see a young woman, petite, pixie-like, with auburn hair bobbed and a pretty nose, standing, holding an unfolded map in one hand and a banana in the other, while resting her palms on the top of the handlebars of a bicycle. She appears out of place, just like you. People quickly pass by.

She says something.

French, you assume. You don’t understand.

She shows you the map. You each hold a half of it, your hand and hers, each crumpling the paper inked with the place where you both are standing at that very moment, shifting it in a joint grasp, with foreheads slowly converging, and two sets of eyes scanning and tracking to that one spot on the map that will proclaim “See! You’re here! You’re not lost!”

Hesitant, you tell her, “I think we’re here.”

She’s not so sure. Neither are you.

There’s doubt and a persistent gap in communication, followed by light laughter. Nothing’s concluded, as far as you’re concerned. Either she’s still lost or she realizes you are and can’t possibly help you find your way. Time blinks. The world refuses to pause. You’re not surprised.

Au revoir.” She’s off, on her way.

The sky begins to clear. Back to wandering. Not toward the bay, but inland. In search of something you’ll probably never find or never knew you found, even if you did.

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