Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Last Day in Oslo, a story.

I thought of my train. And how apt of the German station to be so quintessentially German. Iron and functional form. Two fronts to fight on and a rail system in support. I don't want to remember that first night on the continent, a decade ago, but here it haunts one: there were soldiers (gendarmes, they are called in the French of my history books) apparently under special orders to hassle Norwegian sailors on sight. They know us by our fine reindeer sweaters. Which single one out for beggarly attention-- my kroner make the homeless affluent--those who have spotted me as a Norwegian cad are fortunate. For some time I seemed constantly hungry, empty, and as would please Sartre, dizzy.

I want to remember Oslo with her sun that hangs high through midnight. The park. Impossible friends. There were children. So many children!

Oslo served as a rest day between work-shifts sailing the southern fjord. Off days I first appreciated this personality quality, I've tried to since emulate; the ability (a spell perhaps) to wake those who were not visibly sleeping. She woke me, a slumbering ex-fisherman from the northwest coast of no-name villages (unfit even for cartographers). I suppose her trait cannot truly be cultivated, only admired and cataloged.

There were many stories told and retold about us. Some true. I did not like that people knew me so well, so young. I was once just a village fisherman's son, with brothers, a lifetime of fishing in front of me. A sure catch, my father had said. I would say I grew up on the sea, but maybe it was Germany when I finally aged.

At the time I believed she really did not have a working understanding of the point (or goal) of being well known. And yet, its become apparent, she really did understand. Something as ridiculous as knowing the importance of not listening to strangers tell her about her.

"Don't let others define you," she had said, "or you'll become a very poor captain." I don't think she was wearing shoes. I do remember that she often would choose to do without footwear. Remarkably, the lack of footwear usually was not a problem. But then, this is not hero worship. She sometimes would not share her coffee and I had to drink from hers when she was not looking, naturally. I can remember her voice even now. In between laughter, and merriment, her voice, amused at something the sea had thrown to us.

I can hear it. This is not something I tell the world. That I can hear her. But it must show that I carry her with me.

I was afraid. In this late moment, yes, I understand that quite well now. I was afraid but walked like I was brave. We met the same day we were assigned the Bergen line and for many hours after I thought about her. Only in fear, really, not with the intention of actually living a life with her, but being afraid to live any kind of life. What the sea does to one; never trusting a tranquil moment for its beauty, but on guard to its ferociousness.

I cannot believe it myself that such things occur. Spaniards fleeing a bank they had robbed gained passage aboard our ship. In the ensuing hostage situation, which the Norwegian Coast Guard was ill prepared to deal, she was killed. It was my fault. I was slightly maimed by the banking group, whose name I came to know as The Samurai 11. In between their violence, they inanely dubbed me the Reindeer.

Years later the Spaniards were paroled. They live in peace and prosperity as Frankfurt bankers. The irony is probably lost on them. She would not approve of the guilt and hate, but then again, she is still not here. I had planned for them a terrible and lighting quick revenge, this being the land of lightning strikes.

I discovered though that Norwegian sailors are not hard-wired for vengeance.

My family had only known sailing. My savings had gone to the homeless and I gained employment operating a commercial frigate on the Main. It was a secure wage. I thought for a time on the frigate that I was re-wiring for vengeance, to complete that task and then -- there was no after that task. I couldn't imagine it. I didn't think there was a life to live.

I hid this fact from myself--by being unsatisfied with the performance of the frigate's engine. More and more of my time was spent in conversation with company engineers, tuning and rebuilding. Designing and welding, even.

The Germans mostly appreciated the demanding engine maintenance. For three years I joined and eventually led large scale operations which rebuilt frigate engines as naturally as I would put on my boots. It surprised me to lead anything. It was exciting work. I concentrated on the work and in this way time seemed to move again. And when time again seemed to move, it moved very, very, quickly.

I wondered when I would stop, when I might return to Oslo and my village. I wondered if my parents lived. People talked of me once again. I did try, but I could not hide myself from nautical notice.

Students had found out about this engine work and came to inquire about our methods, these engine projects.

I hardly recognized my voice when I spoke. My German must have sounded soft to them. I wondered initially why they were so interested in a machine--but then again, I was as interested as they. The short ones I would call them, the short ones. I believe I learned to laugh again in their presence, which had a hopeful aura. They expected much from the future. They had high demands. If you could hear them, you would think they were running around a fountain in a sunny park surrounded by only good things--this could only make one smile.

I would say to their teachers that they knew vastly more about engines than I ever could hope for. At night, when I could not sleep I liked to think of their futures--that they would be happy as they aged, and they would build boats and trains that could not be boarded by evil.