Until we meet again
Thirty-one years had passed—it was in 1946—before he saw Gulnare again. A joyous meeting it could not be. For good reasons one meeting was sufficient. Now—1950—four more years had elapsed, and Felicia had said: Did she know it was I who liquidated her husband? On this May day in Lier it was thirty-five years since he and Gulnare said good-by to each other below the wall of Akershus fortress where they were standing, clasping each other's hands after a Sunday at Nesodden, promising to meet on the following Tuesday. He had not been able to refrain from asking her if she realized what he wanted from her when [p. 46] they met next time; there must be no misunderstanding. She had looked up in his eyes and said, "Yes, I know quite well, Erling, dearest."
Some things were unthinkable, yet they happened. Suppose Felicia were to vanish in thin air the same way? He smiled; Felicia looked a little too real.
But so had Gulnare.
It was strange how retribution could strike quite blindly; had he felt remorse when he once left Felicia and let her get along as best she could?
Gulnare had not come. He waited evening after evening. She never came. The fact that he had failed to ask for her address was part of the misery; it would have been meaningless to use it while their happiness lasted. There was no Superintendent Svare listed in the telephone book. Not that he would have called, but at least he could have learned in what neighborhood he might hope to run across her. For a few months he often hung around the school he thought she would attend. He never saw her, but the girls began to notice him. And one day a man approached him in an alley and asked if he lived in the vicinity. The man had looked severely at him, and from then on Erling stayed away. He never caught sight of her. He read obituaries, but not hers.
Erling was sixteen. He knew this much, that if he talked to the other boys about what he ought to do, they wouldn't know any more than he, but rather mannishly would inform him that when a girl didn't show up it was because she didn't care to. Moreover, he wasn't yet at home in the city and this added to his confusion. He was more anonymous than most of the nobodies. Where could he go to inquire about a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl, the daughter of a man high up on the slippery social ladder? Living as he did in the lower depths of the city, shaped as he was by his background, and having an inexplicable misfortune as his only company, he was fast approaching the explosive running-amuck stage.
It has been pointed out by Europeans that running amuck is a special Malayan trait, a lust to murder, developing in the distorted minds of lovers who have been exposed to ridicule. Mark well that the lover is a Malayan! Perhaps in reality an unusual symptom was interpreted as the expression of a local psychosis, without recognizing behind the disease a universal mental disturbance, not at all unusual anywhere among people experiencing the tragedies of love. Erling was rather inclined to believe this was one more of those common, false excuses people invent when refusing to face reality. Perhaps it suited "advanced Europe" to proclaim that—thank Heaven!—here we behaved more sensibly. The fact was they didn't. It was only that craziness also has its local superstitions, [p. 47] customs, and conventions. Erling had recently seen suggestions that the high percentage of suicides in Denmark perhaps was connected with some such convention, some sort of suicide-convention. He himself had for years considered it a fact that in Scandinavia there was another widely accepted convention, that unhappy lovers should go to America. Now it was said that the Malayan running-amuck had definitely declined during the last century; although no one had bothered to investigate why, it seemed that the Europeans gradually had managed to make the Malayans accept European ideas as to how sexual craziness should express itself. Craziness has its own ideas as to what is considered a conventional craziness. It isn't as crazy as it seems.
Erling at sixteen might invent many a detective story and solve it himself; it became another matter to solve a real mystery. In his narrow circle he knew most of what one needed to know, but nothing of how to go about finding an upper-class schoolgirl. He lived in a confusion of hope and fear, an unmanageable longing, and an impotent hate that stimulated his destructive urge. If he saw something he could destroy he would make sure no one was watching him and then crush it. He had small opportunity to pursue such impulses, but made up for this in his imagination, until one day he almost got into trouble. He had just come into the entranceway of an apartment house to deliver a yard-long parcel, a lamp-stand or something like it. There was a girl walking ahead of him. He had a sudden cramp in his stomach, like a kick, which prevented him from hitting her on the back of her head with the package. He leaned against the package so as not to fall, and someone came and asked if he was sick. This caused him to burst into a fury of foul language and run away. He managed to hold on to the package, and half an hour later paid a boy ten øre to deliver it, while he stood at the corner, waiting for the receipt. Returning, the little imp took advantage of his opportunity and demanded twenty-five øre before he would surrender the receipt. When it dawned on Erling that the boy actually meant it he was too distraught to take matters into his own hands and deal with the blackmailer. And someone was coming along on the sidewalk. Almost ready for tears Erling bargained with the crook and managed to get off for fifteen øre. In the office they complained because he had been gone so long. The boss took the receipt, turned it over a few times, and started to swear and fume. Erling dug in his pockets but found nothing there; he knew this was the paper he had paid the boy fifteen øre for. After a severe scolding the boss telephoned the recipient, but all was in order; the parcel had been delivered and the receipt given. Erling could not understand why the boy had played this trick on him, [p. 48] but apparently everybody was like that in the big cities. A girl named Gulnare probably hid among her friends and laughed when the stupid boy from Rjukan walked by. And a boy demanded an extra five øre for a useless paper considered to be of value. Erling's mind stood still, but he learned that shame and injury go hand in hand.
Gulnare probably wasn't her name at all. Hadn't he actually suspected as much at once? Hadn't he clearly told her one couldn't have a name like Gulnare Svare? He straightened his shoulders proudly as he walked along the sidewalk, and suddenly he began to cry. He was so terribly in love with Gulnare and wanted to be with her. And then she had disappeared. Disappeared as if she had never existed. Had she been put in a dungeon on bread and water? No, one mustn't believe in those upper-class people. He would never do so again. They had had enough fun with that simpleton who was the son of someone everybody laughed at, at home in Rjukan. He was frightened about what might have happened in the entranceway. Better keep away from everyone, never see a soul; but this he had to do. At the same time that he started to bring home liquor he had a relapse into infantilism; he made up a long and self-degrading story that the girl he had been tempted to hit was a friend of Gulnare, and the boy was in on the silly plot—we'll get some money out of that stupid Erling and give him a piece of paper with a dirty word, but then they hadn't had any pencil and then. . . . But one day they would unexpectedly meet on the street, Gulnare and he, and she would be in despair, and he would be disdainful. But the one to cry was Erling, and he did it alone. He looked through tear-dimmed eyes as he cycled along the streets, delivering the hated junk people sent to each other and which he always wished he could throw into the sea. Wasn't there a single soul among all the thousands of people in Christiania whom he could go and talk with and who perhaps might help him? He pedaled a little slower and thought of Gustav—he was eighteen and perhaps for once. . . . But then he clenched his teeth—he could hear his brother: "Eh? You think you could ever get yourself a girl? Eh? The likes of you? Get back to Rjukan! Hah!"
He finally ended up by confessing to Uncle Oddvar and Aunt Ingfrid when they were drunk, and Aunt Ingfrid shook her head: "Have you ever heard the like of such a girl!" And Uncle Oddvar said, sure as hell, his wife was right, and the following day they had forgotten all about it, fortunately. By and by he started to contribute his share of the liquor supply; he had to fall for the nearest temptation, the only possibility of not being alone, he thought. With the two he drank himself away from everything each evening, listening to the children's bawling, talking [p. 49] nonsense—"sure as hell the truth"—and helped the brats unroll their Saturday presents of toilet paper and let it flutter through the windows. In October he learned that a ship in Drammen needed a crew. He went there after he had signed on at the office in Christiania. He no longer had his passport picture from that time, of course; he would have liked to see it, he was sure he hadn't looked like a human being. The ship first went up the coast, then north of the Faeroe Islands, far outside the German mine zone. His first knife wound he received in the Azores.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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