MY FLIGHT from the ghost town was on. The Lithuanian students would drop Mark and I off, on their way south, next morning. As they’d been far from happy with the paltry wages they’d received from Olau, in return for their long hours of labour, there was a sense of schadenfreude in the arrangement. Even though they felt they’d been cheated, at least the old skinflint wouldn’t be getting his sign painted through assuming he could pay less than I’d asked. And we’d all have the added pleasure of him realising they were aiding my escape. The term escape wasn’t too much of an exaggeration either. The ghost town was literally the end of the road, with practically no traffic, and I wasn’t at all sure I could depend on Olau for a lift to the nearest bus stop at Myre. Though he’d originally picked Mark and I up in the town, he certainly hadn’t mentioned anything about taking us back.
The beautiful Jurga told me he’d invited them for a farewell drink at his bar. Just one, mind. She asked if I wanted to join them. Though I knew Olau wouldn’t offer me a sip water of water, even if I was dying of thirst in the Gobi desert, without charging, the devil in me made me tag along, just for the hell of it, and the perverse pleasure of witnessing Olau’s discomfort.
But I judged him too kindly, the old Norwegian turned out to be as thick-skinned as a rhinoceros. He pretended I wasn’t there. Not only had I drawn some sketches for him at no charge, and paid him for my accommodation, but I’d also given him the best part of a loaf of bread when he asked, even though it’d left me without. Not that he needed it because he was hungry, but so he could prepare a snack for some Swedish tourists at his cafeteria. He had sold it, yet all he could think of was that I wouldn’t paint his sign for the miserable fee he had in mind.
Next morning the weather had turned warm and sunny. Mark and I packed up our few bags while the Lithuanians gathered all their gear to pack into the Transit. Then they set to cleaning the house they’d occupied over the previous weeks.
Before we left, Olau wanted us to take some photos of him with his crew. At least he’d given them a small bonus, and for that he got photos with smiles. Though they promised him to return the following year, they’d already told Mark and I there was no way they’d work for so little next time.
We set off. Though it had only been a couple of days, it seemed as though Mark and I’d been in Nyksund much longer.
We’d only driven a few miles before stopping at a minmart for beer. The Lithuanians wanted to toast to their freedom before dropping Mark off in Sortland. He was heading for Finland. From there he intended to work his way down to the Baltic States.
The rest of us took the ferry from Lødingen to the mainland. In a symbolic gesture to mark our arrival, we pooled our food for a picnic by the roadside. The Lithuanians laughed and joked, so happy to be on their way to Greece, at last.
As we resumed our journey they invited me to join them in downing the barrel of beer their student friend in Trondheim had waiting, throwing in the offer of a lift all the way to the delights of Amsterdam to persuade me. Though we’d only known each other for a few days, we’d got on well. However, as tempting as spending more time in the company of the beautiful Jurga seemed, I’d come to Norway to finish a the first draft of a manuscript, not take the first opportunity to get wasted in Trondheim and Holland that came along.
The road south hugs mountains and dives through many long tunnels as it winds through stunning mountain scenery. We flew past the town of Hamarøy, in Nordland, notable for the fact Knut Hamsun spent his childhood there from the age of three. Hamsun had a profound effect on me as a young teenager. My Uncle Remi, who worked for the writer’s publisher, in Oslo, had presented my father with a collection of his books translated into English. I’d never read anything like them before. And it was through Hamsun I learned to appreciate writers like John Steinbeck and Fydor Dostoyevsky.
The weather remained good until the last few miles before Fauske, where I was to be dropped off. Having looked at the two southernmost inhabited islands of the Lofotens, Røst and Værøy, on a map back at Nyksund, I’d decided one of them might be just the job for the solitariness I craved. Isolated from the rest of the chain, and much smaller than the main islands, both seemed the sort of places any half-decent writer worth his pen and ink should be. On paper, at least. I could buy a pipe, and sport a tweed jacket. If only I had one. The island ferry left from Bodø, and the turn-off for Bodø lay at Fauske. Conveniently, a bus stop, and a railway station, with an open cafeteria, also lay at the junction.
It was time to take my leave of the Lithuanian students. Though we’d only met a couple of days previously, we’d got on well. There were hugs and kisses. They’d been both generous and hospitable. Wishing them well for their long journey to the Aegean, I waved them goodbye with a tinge of regret. One side of me was dying to throw my cares to the wind, jump back into the van, and head towards Amsterdam with them.
I went into the railway station cafeteria for a coffee instead, and asked the waitress what was the best way to get to Bodø. She thought there was a bus at nine o’clock, adding I’d better ask at the railway ticket office to make sure. There was, so I went back to the cafeteria to have something to eat while waiting. With a couple of spare hours to while away before the bus came, I got out my laptop.
As luck would have it, hardly ten minutes had gone by when a harassed looking German bustled through the door, and seeing I was the only customer, asked me if I spoke English. I said I spoke a little, as I was English. The coincidence of the only person in the cafe being an Englishman, just at the point he needed one, didn’t seem to occur to him. He went on to tell me what he really needed was a Norwegian who spoke English to translate for him, as he was driving to Bodø, and wanted to reserve a room at the town’s youth hostel by phone. Of course, the real coincidence was that the Englishman he’d come across spoke some Norwegian. The next set of coincidences, when I said I was heading for the same hostel in the same town, and needed a ride, could’ve almost sounded suspicious. Things couldn’t have turned out much better. I felt as chuffed as a mad axeman on the run in search of a hapless new victim might’ve felt.
Finding the railway station phone only took cards, I asked the waitress if there was another public phone nearby that took coins. There wasn’t. But northern Norwegians are a friendly lot, and she handed me her mobile as though it was the most natural thing in the world to give it to a complete stranger. Once I’d booked a couple of beds, we set off in the German’s car.
Though he must’ve been more than sixty, my new aquaintance told me he’d been driving through Norway, Finland, Sweden to plan a cycling trip for the following year. You just have to admire some people. He’d just dropped a Dutchman off at the railway station. Another traveller in need of a lift he’d run into along the way. Some days, you can’t help but marvel at what a friendly place the world is.
As we got nearer to Bodø, the weather got worse. By the time we arrived, the town was shrouded in sea mist. Having gotten used to small places wihout so many people, for a while it seemed a little overwhelming. After booking into the youth hostel we went to our room, which accommodated four. Just a few minutes later, a Swede arrived. As soon as the introductions were over and done with, we all went for a beer together, the way seasoned wanderers often do.
The German told us he was an occupational therapist who went around factories trying to improve working conditions for the workers. The Swede worked in plastic moulding. The German went back to the hostel to get his head down after one beer, while the Swede and I stayed on for another. He told me more about the southernmost islands of the Lofotens, Røst and Værøy. He made them sound so good, I determined to catch the first ferry next morning.
Copyright ©2013 Bryan Hemming