Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Something extraordinary happened last year, and this was the reason why I went to Norway two days ago to visit a woman I have never met before.

I had an admirer.
This in itself is of course pleasant and flattering, only that this time my beau was ninety years old!

I met him a year ago in Sweden. He was one of my father’s college friends: they all studied forestry together. These old men have met up at frequent intervals over the years. They then don their traditional green waist coats; they drink schnapps, hold speeches and sing rowdy drinking songs at old-fashioned formal dinners. My mother is always invited too, although my father died a long time ago, before my birth in fact. It is not the first time that Venus strikes at these events, because Mother met MNH (Mother’s New Husband), another of my fathers study companions, 16 years ago now at another get –together. Last year I was invited too.

Kjell, my admirer, was the oldest of them all at ninety. Tall and elegant, he was one of the two Norwegians in my father’s year. I remember him quite well. I think we spoke a little, I flirted with him in a friendly sort of way, and later told my mother jokingly to let him know that he was definitely my favourite among them all…
But he remembered me in a different way. I seem to have left a deep impression on him, which I was not aware of at the time. He called me in Djenne a few times. We decided, in what I still thought was a light hearted way, to meet up this summer. Then he became ill. This is when his daughter Asgjerd entered the scene. In the last weeks of his life she and I were in constant email contact. He was too weak to speak or write himself, but it seems that I was still on his mind, and she conveyed his messages to me. I wrote to him through her, still telling him to make sure that he would get better so we could meet this summer, and finally, when it became clear that this would no longer be possible, I told Asgjerd to tell him that if that was the case, then I wanted to make an appointment with him ‘on the other side’, as it were, and that when we met up there, could he please bring my father along too? When Asgjerd told him this message, apparently he squeezed her hand in agreement, presumably. He died soon afterwards.
He had a strong faith it appears, and he was not worried about dying. He had been a little taken aback when he found out that I was a Catholic, but he had soon soon recovered and said that he accepted me the way I am!
Keita was of course aware of all of this going on, and we thought it was all quite funny, especially when Kjell said that he wished that he had met me ten years ago. This would have meant that he would have been 80!

But what lingers of this is nothing ridiculous or laughable. I feel enormously privileged and moved that I touched someone like Kjell, this grand old man, and that I might have been present somehow with him at the end of his life. His daughter Asgjerd seems to think that it was helpful in some way that I continued the contact into his last moments.

So this summer, rather than meeting Kjell, I went to see his daughter Asgjerd of course. A most beautiful woman,so elegant,soignee and accomplished that she might have made me feel like a country bumpkin, had she not also been very kind and gracious, like her father. We spent an intense few hours together, talking and talking. She picked me up in Oslo, took me to her childhood home in Honefoss, through the grandiose Norwegian countryside, which makes Sweden look like a poor relation.

The following morning Asgjerd drove me back early to Oslo and dropped me at the station since I was supposed to catch the train to Sweden, but the blasted train times had changed! I suddenly had 4 hours to spend in Oslo on my own on a Sunday. I ambled up to the splendid Oslo Grand Hotel where I thought I might spend the morning having nice breakfast, looking at the world going by. I sat down in the sumptious turn –of- the- nineteeeth- century interior, and said first of all that I was not going to eat, just have a coffee. So the waiters came up and kept filling my coffee cup up, then some other waiters came and gave me orange juice, then another one arrived with a trayful of little tiny glasses of carrot or cucumber or beetroot juice, and another with some other goodies. I kept drinking and eating everything thankfully and enjoying myself, looking at the scenery. Then I decided that the breakfast buffet did look rather scrumptious and that perhaps I should have some, so I waived one of the friendly waiters over and told him that I would eat after all. Ok, fine he said. What’s your room number Madame? I said that I was not staying at the hotel. They said that if that was the case, I would have to leave! But they told me that I didn’t have to pay for the coffee or anything else that they had given me. So I beat a hasty retreat, although rather taken aback; I mean, it wasn’t as if I was not able or willing to pay!
I therefore found myself more or less thrown out of the Grand Hotel in Oslo with another two hours to spare! Into a drizzling rain to boot… I wandered, somewhat disconsolately, towards the railway station, feeljng as if I had just been discovered in flagrante in some heinous misdemeanour!


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