Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway (Part III)

This is part 3 of a 4-part series. Start at the beginning Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway Part I

Here we are now: Florida station, on another sun-soaked morning, waiting for the DART train to come along. Dam’s having trouble getting his ticket from the kiosk, saying, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, what the shit (Wot-thuh-sheit!)?” until it spits the ticket out for him. The rest of us—Nina, Eva, Petra, Victor, Anders (no less) and I—stand quietly among the other commuters, blending in with the rush hour crowd. Anders is the only one of us who doesn’t really blend in, as he’s sporting proper Under Armour attire for the occasion, while the rest of us have on our shabby casual clothes.

Hanne is once again out of town this morning, and the girls keep it vague in regards to when she will be back. In fact, they’ve been keeping all our plans and destinations intentionally mysterious and open for interpretation—“a restaurant,” “a mountain,” which they used on us this morning, and even just “someplace,” to which, when I prodded for more, they backed it up with “You’ll see.” Always keeping us on the ropes. It’s just their style.

The train arrives, and we take it through the outskirts of the city to Eva’s old high school, where her Corsa hatchback is parked. We’re too big of a group to all fit in the car at once, so Eva drives Nina, Anders and Petra away first while Dam, Victor and I sit on a slab of concrete and wait for our ride “up.” There are so many teenagers walking around in those red one-pieces (the same kind I saw on that blonde kid back on the train) that there appears to be an insurrection going on, the F-1 military presence already liberating the high school and establishing command posts around the grounds.

All these racecar soldiers seem to suck on snus pouches instead of smoking cigarettes because that’s all I see littered between the cracks in the road.

We hang around here for about twenty minutes before Eva’s Corsa comes peeling around the corner, stopping in front of us. Dam takes the front seat, while Victor and I take the back seats. Dam flips through a CD case labeled “2000s pop hits,” with one of the CDs already playing as we drive. “Mis-Teeq,” he says. “Scandalous.” More flipping. “Britney Spears—Oooh-ooh-Baby.”

Eva swats the CD case out of his hands, and he immediately starts singing the song that’s currently playing off-key, sending the two of us in the back seat into a laughing tantrum. All the while, the Corsa continues climbing the mountainside—past those comfortable houses I saw coming into the city, past the black kites hanging skyward, and past all the dinky little European cars with those smiling drivers behind the wheels.

We stop at the fringe of one of these mountainside neighborhoods, between a power station and a grass field with a dozen or so pigeon houses scattered about it. Those from the first car ride are sitting on the grass. An old man parks his Volvo in front of us, steps out with a gallon of water, and starts walking from pigeon house to pigeon house, pouring the water through open slits in the wooden walls.

The path up the mountain begins right in front of where the Volvo is parked. Small boulders make up the bulk of the path, so a bit of limbering up and back cracking is required for the ascension. Victor even takes part in stretching with me. Then Anders says, “Tally-ho!” or something similar in spirit, and we follow him up. Hop, skip and a jump—two-step this way, bipedal that way—like so many hikes before this, the path requires mathematical precision in how one operates it. Sometimes hands are involved.

Dam’s cool-guy glasses keep slipping off his face (“Sheit”), which gets me snickering behind a covered hand.

This section of the path doesn’t last us long. The boulders begin to disappear, and the path flattens out. Nearby, two pieces of wood jut out of the ground, carved into mammoth tusks. We pass a family huddled around a water well, almost as if they’re in prayer. I try to get a look at them while we pass, but none of them will meet my eye, so I give up and move on.

Then the path completely flattens into a barren, brown field, dotted with puddles that probably sink deeper than they appear to. A single shack sits at the far side of the field, right at the edge of a cliff. The field looks like a slice of wetlands that was cut out of the Chesapeake Bay and placed atop this arid mountain, three thousand miles away. The mountain itself seems like it was taken directly out of the Rockies. I can even smell Colorado in the air. Already from this height, I can see the entire spread of the city below, but we hardly made a crack at the mountain yet.

We continue on. We make it to where the path splits off into two routes, and we take the longer, more round-about way to the top. As we ascend, the trees become sparser, no longer occupying the mountain face in a dense forest like it did near the bottom. Now the trees exist only in scattered patches. No more leaves, no more green; just dead, spindly things baked in the sun. It’s all brown and grey now, rocks and dried out grass. But then, another color starts popping up—white. Snow. All over the place, on this mountain and on all the others around it, snow is blotched across the smooth surface of the Earth. I go up to one of the patches of snow and put my hand into it. It burns that familiar burn, the sharp feeling of winter.

Anders and I, being the most athletic in the group, develop a generous lead ahead of the rest, taking the hike in stride while the rest conserve their energy at a slower pace. We reach two seven-foot-tall boulders beside the path and climb atop one of them to wait for the others to catch up. While we wait, Anders tells me fragmented details about his time with the Norwegian Home Guard: the kind of simulated skirmishes and long treks he had to take part in during the training process. He talks about it absently, like it never even happened. 

Then he says he never wants to leave Norway, which he says with so much conviction that I need no convincing of its truth.

I look out from atop that boulder at all the mountains, bald-capped and white-faced, rolling on for miles and miles, turning blue in the low-light, with spotted lakes shimmering from the sun. The mountains fall into deep valleys and fjords where the rivers run. Just from looking at this spread of the country, it feels like you’re floating over it. Here it is, I think, the kind of telluric beauty I thought I’d have to scour the planet to find, only it’s right in front of me. It takes the air out of me.

I tell Anders I’ve never seen scenery quite like this. He just responds, “It’s home to me.” The rest of the gang catch up, and we keep on moving. The rest of the path is relatively flat, with only the occasional slant and small cliff to texture it out, but it is still long, stretching several miles out to a broadcast tower sticking out of the mountain—just a little white needle from where we are.

The patches of snow seem to spread vastly, much, much wider, the size of lakes. The reflection of the light off of the snow does something to my eyes that makes the rocky surfaces rising all around appear black, even in direct sunlight, so I try to keep my eyes low.

Now the path is practically covered in snow. Anders and I end up quite ahead of the pack once again, so we experiment taking different routes through the snow—over hills, around rocks, jumping and jumping some more from edge to edge—to see who will make it the farthest without slipping up. I take a path that leads me to the top of a fifteen-foot-high cliff, where down below a patch of snow as wide as Lake George shines forbiddingly like white death.

Anders looks at me from far away and throws his hands up. “No good,” he shouts. He’s right, so I turn around and—oh shit!—I slip and go tumbling over the cliff, spinning as I fall.

The fall itself feels like half an hour as I plead there not be any ice underneath the snow to snap my neck on. Luckily, though, I land ass first in iceless snow, soft as a cushion. I sit there dumbly for a moment, completely in a daze. The rest of the gang appear from around a corner and see me sitting in the snow.

“What are you doing?” Victor asks.

“Nothing,” I say. “Nothing of particular note.”

I get up, the back of my pants now wet, ass-crack down, and walk with the group; Anders waits at a distance with his hands on his hips. When we catch up to him, he gives me a plus-minus look of “Now wouldn’t that suck if they saw that happen.” Sly fucker. Welp. Some wet pants and a little teasing is a better price to pay for clumsiness than shattered vertebrae.

Not long after, we reach the broadcast tower. Four thick cables stretch down the mountain on pylon towers, carrying up a tram at a snail’s pace. There’s a little eatery here where we get some drinks and watch the little movements of the city below. The highways, the lakes, the red-brick roofs of all the homes—it all looks like a diorama rather than the real thing. I can see the ocean clearly, sitting behind the immediate mountains and stretching outward and curving out of sight. Right beside us, the Norwegian flag ripples in the light breeze, the perfect foreground object for the rest of the city.

We stay here a while, breathing in the high altitude and listening for sounds of life far below. A dog keeps scampering around, coming up to us, walking between our legs, then dashing off again. When we’ve had enough, we gather our backpacks and whatnot and start for the short way down.

When I see what lies ahead, I turn to Anders and ask, “Uh, are you serious?”

“Sure, why not?” Then he starts our way.

This is the time when I would let out an exhausted, “Oh boy, with just a hint of dread. Our pathway down is pure jagged rock, angled at the worst possible degrees, with only a single handrail lending any defense against tumbling down the mountain in a mass of exploding meat and crunching bone. I am not kidding when I say the path down is at a seventy-degree angle. It is physically impossible to traverse it without using the railing, and even with that, it stretches down crooked and disconnected, some sections of the railing swinging free like a sideways pendulum from any support beams when grabbed on to.

All the railing represents to me is what shape my spine will take if I lose my grip and fall the rest of the way down, Lone Survivor style.

We all hug the railing close to our torsos as we descend, having to take leaps of blind faith between gaps in the railing, skittering our little feet over ten-foot stretches of hell-rock and even taking massive leaps to where the railing begins again. But Anders doesn’t care; he’s done this mountain so many times, he just slides down the railing on his butt, takes one elegant leap over each gap, and continues sliding down. While he takes this easily, I slip and tumble a few feet, my water bottle shooting off from my backpack and cartwheeling down a considerable stretch of the mountain, landing somewhere in the grove, never to be seen again.

While the long way up took several hours to traverse, this way down takes us around only twenty minutes. Now we’re back to where the one path split into two, and we make our rest of the way down to the Corsa. The old man and his Volvo are gone. His birds, I assume, are all well fed and resting. That’s what I’d like to do now: get some food in me then rest my little head off. Everyone else is thinking similar thoughts; the plan now is to head down to Bryggen and get some food, and then, in the girls’ typical vagueness, “do something fun.”

Two Corsa trips and one train ride later, we’re sitting at a restaurant outside by the water, waiting to fill our stomachs. Hanne has joined us, emerging from the crowded city street to sit right plum at our table—she has this knack of knowing where we are and just showing up. Two bikers ride by, one with a Pikachu decal over his helmet, and the other’s helmet designed like the Cookie Monster’s head. Everyone’s eyes are hidden behind aviator glasses, at our table and everywhere else. It’s an odd sight. In this natural lighting, all the glasses make everyone look less human and more humanoid, like they’re stuck in that uncanny valley. It’s just a lot of mouths moving and dark tinted glasses shifting. If this sight were a painting, it’d probably be titled something like, “Blue Sky Hiding.”

We order some food, then one by one, we get up and walk inside to order our drinks separately, waiting for the one before us to come back before the next of us gets up. I walk in alone and order some Guinness. There’s something wrong with the register when I order—something that prevents me from paying by card—which puts me in a rut. I have no Norwegian cash. But right then, Hanne appears behind me and already knows what the problem is.

She pays for my drink—“Don’t you try to pay me back,” she says—and orders her own drink as well. I wait for her before we go back to our table.

When I sit down, I notice there’s a steaming latte in front of me that I didn’t order. I flag down a waiter to tell him this, but he just shrugs and walks off. Alright, free coffee for me. I drink it all before the Guinness, but shit, it’s already 7:00 pm; that probably wasn’t a good idea. Now it feels like a drum is being hit whenever my heart beats. I can’t keep my fingers still. Not really what I had in mind for resting, but no matter, the rest will come in due time.

We spend the extra daylight exploring parts of the city us foreigners haven’t seen yet. We go down narrow cobblestone alleyways, constantly rising and dropping in elevation with clothes hanging out to dry above our heads, potted plants set out in front of doorsteps, and salient cats wandering around. Anders stops us in front of a townhome in one of these alleyways—light blue, the same color as my house back in New York—and scans the façade of it thoughtfully.

“I grew up here,” he says. “This is it, and this is where it happened.” It looks dark inside, like nobody lives there any longer. This seems appropriate, though; if Anders occupied someplace and moved out, then nobody else should dare occupy that same place. It is his and his alone, with that place’s importance derived solely from Anders’ use of it.

He moves us along out of the alleyways and into more open streets, where wall art lines every building and ordains every corner with little girls with butterfly wings, insects with a hundred eyes, and comic book italics. Anders explains that it’s a never-ending competition with art, that in the dark of every night, artists come out of their holes with new cans of paint and illustrate over the art of the prior day, thickening the walls with more color and contemporary imagination. Every day, he says, it’s like walking through a different art museum.

I think that is wonderful. NYC, Philly, New Orleans—Bergen has all those American meccas of soul beat when it comes to industriousness and rapid turnover rate.

Anders then leads us to the tip of Nordnes Park, where other people our age sit in the grass, one group listening to “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” from a cell phone placed in a glass for amplification. Some of them are smoking grass, others are just enjoying the scenery. The mountains turn black in the setting sun as we watch the huge AIDA cruise ship back out into the Bay; the people on deck lined up on the starboard side, waving us farewell before the ship turns around and sets out to sea.

We walk onto a dock and watch more ships set out. A Jamaican man in a military jacket (Corporal from the insignia) grills hot dogs beside his girlfriend, who absently swishes something in a red solo cup. He looks at us and gives us the thumbs up and says something in Norwegian, though not in a Norwegian accent. We hang out here for a while, watching the evening operation of the Bay and the shipyards, where orange and white cargo ships wait to be loaded up and sent along their way.

After that, we all head back to our Airbnb for, can you guess? Yes, you’re (probably) right—more drinking. Finally, the boys and I are able to use that cheap vodka we bought at the airport, along with some other beer and stout we buy at a convenience store on the way to our place. Also along the way, Dam, Victor and Nina get stopped by an old white-haired man, walking with two canes, who chats them up about the shorthand old days, when his body must have been more capable. He’s sweet and sincere in a way you don’t come across often, and I feel bad at the thought of us leaving him behind. But I raise my fingers to my mouth to whistle, and—fweeet!—Petra actually beats me to it, calling out from a distance, “Come on!” This gives the three of them the chance to break away, but not before shaking the man’s fragile hand.

The table we have is small, so only four of us can sit at it, while the rest of us, including me, sit cross-legged on counters or on the windowsill. We play the usual drinking game, which basically amounts to throwing out an open-ended question and everyone else going around answering it. The first one who can’t come up with an answer, of course, drinks. The drinking, at this point, feels a bit repetitive and makes my body frail and useless, but I go with it anyway, figuring if there’s a night I should be getting tipsy in Norway, it should be this one.

The questions start, and so does the drinking. Laughter ensues, blending with sideways glances and haphazard vision. I seem to laugh beside myself. There’s only a certain distance I can go with drinking before I’m completely swept away by it, mentally and physically. But there’s a threshold that, once I pass it, the mental factor subsides, and I become completely aware of my own drunkenness. It’s almost like my mind is held captive by my body.

I take liberal swigs of alcohol during this game, so it doesn’t take me long to pass that threshold.

I drink from every drink there. Hanne starts pouring drinks for me in smaller and smaller portions so I don’t go over the top. She can clearly see how wobbly my body is. I keep leaning toward her, for some reason. Whatever the source of attention is, I lean toward it. Everybody’s laughing and having a good time. So jolly, so optimistic, just sunshine and rainbows. It makes me sort of sad that people aren’t this way when they’re sober, that they can only be this way temporarily, and at the expense of their own health. But nobody around me is thinking that. Hanne has her watchful eye on me, but besides her, everybody’s topsy-turvy.

We finish our drinking there around 9:00 pm and head out. Hanne is wasted, too, yet still finds it in herself to ask me closely, “How are you feeling?” and I respond with something like, “Oh, I’m fan-tittly-tastic. F-I-N-E fine.” I know it was that bad because she starts howling to the night sky after I answer her. Then she says, “You’re so nice,” and hugs me long and close as we walk.

I appear missing in a pack of collective laughter. I’m out of it as we cross over the bridge and toward the city centre. I am so acutely aware of my own drunkenness that I am ashamed. The pistons are churning slowly in my head. My mouth is going through straits trying to articulate coherent words to the others, but I blabber away with them nonetheless. It just comes out as noise.

We arrive at a bar the girls and Anders used to visit frequently back in high school. It sits on a street corner right off a darkened tunnel with no overhead lights, just an empty black hole dipping underneath the city. Inside, everything is made of wood, with those huge barrels behind the counter from which the bartenders serve drinks. We take an empty two-walled bar counter by the windows, and I take the very corner chair, between Hanne and Victor. I’m swaying to the other voices in the bar. Shanty, shanty, shanty, I think. Let’s all sing and have a good time. Dam has his cool-guy shades on again, doing some sort of jig in an open space while some of the girls and other bar patrons watch him. Victor sits still as a statue, the ever-watchful security camera of our gang.

Hanne and I are all smiles and talk rapidly about our respective countries, who we are at our highest levels, and the cost of plane tickets. I tell her like I’ve told her before, “Now, I’ve thought about this sober—and can only say it when I’m drunk,” that I’ll pay for her plane ticket to the United States if she ever decides to cross the pond, and oh, the driving around and seeing the sights and hearing the people speak, what kind of time that would be. She always blushes when I get to talking like that. But it all comes from a deep-routed goodness in my heart that I try to let out when I’m drunk, even though I can always tell it all comes tumbling out of me as surface-level fluff. So what? My heart always feels too big for my chest when I’m like this, so I have to let it air out some way, somehow.

I have not gotten a drink. I’ve come to terms with the idea that I’ve already drunk enough; I’ll ride the rest of the night out with what I’m already on, and it should be a good ride.

But then my mouth starts to lose moisture, and something slips in my eyesight. I stand up and tell Hanne that I’m going to get some water. I walk over to the bar counter and ask for a glass, which the bartender promptly fills. I down the whole glass in two gulps, but this doesn’t fix anything. In fact, this is when the internal avalanche begins. It comes in successive waves, layer upon layer. Thicker lenses of blur drop over my eyes every few seconds, as if I were looking through a vision test machine. My stomach, all my insides for that matter, go tumbling and knot themselves up. My skin flushes completely. I feel like I’ve been wandering through a desert for three days without any water.

I ask for my glass to be refilled, then go running for the bathroom, knocking away chairs that lie in my path, as a bull might go charging through tall grass when he’s being hunted. I drop to my knees in front of one of the toilets and open my throat before the almighty drainage pipe. Oh, dear Lord, get this filth out of my body. I’m a bastard for getting myself into this state. How could this have happened? With a flick of a switch, a piano dropping five stories onto your head, here you are, you dumb, uncontrollable twit. It’s all bad now. My body is decaying from the inside. I kneel there over the toilet for a good ten minutes before I have the strength to stand up again and leave the bathroom, dejected.

I mosey on over (stumble, crash, “Oh, excuse me, sir, uh, beklager,”) to Victor and Hanne, lean in and tell them, one word at a time, as if I were explaining to them a very complicated theorem, “I’m really drunk. I’m going to head back now. Okay? I am going home.” Hanne looks at me worryingly and wishes me a good night. Victor looks at me cold and calculated. I wave so-long with both hands at the rest of the gang as I walk out of the bar, prompting them to look at each other in confused looks and ask pointedly, “Where is he going?”

I’m tempted toward the dark void of the tunnel, just to see if it will take me anywhere, but I pull myself away and start heading toward the bridge. Or, at least, where I think the bridge is. My impeccable sense of direction is absent this time, so I go wandering along darkened streets for a while in every which direction, past basketball courts and other bars and Lutheran churches that cast recriminating assertions at me from the crosses atop their steeples. I drop to my knees a couple times to dry heave, then regather myself and keep going.

Eventually, I find myself under the bridge, the Puffefjord Bridge, thinking, “How the hell did I get here?” But at least now, I know exactly where I am. I find and climb the tower with the everybody’s-getting-nuked graffiti and cross the bridge, all the car lights as bright as searchlights being shined right in my eyes. While I’m crossing the bridge, I realize that, silly me, I don’t have the damn key. Oh, oh, wonderful. Victor has it, but I’m sure he doesn’t plan on going missing tonight, so he’ll show up eventually. Guess I’ll have to wait outside the building like the drunken mess I am for him to appear.

But when I get there, like an angel, there he stands under the light of the front door, hands in pockets, scanning the street for me as I skulk in the shadows toward him.

When I come into his view, his head perks up like a bird just noticing a potential food source, and he holds his attention on me the whole duration of my approach. I stand in front of him in complete, unabated embarrassment.

“Everyone is still at the bar,” he says, taking the key out of his pocket. “But I suppose you need this tonight more than I do.”

That key is the key to everything good and wonderful in life. I walk right into his chest and hug him. I could weep right now. He unlocks the door and leads me up to my bed. He gets me some water and puts it beside me. My body recoils at every stimuli and is incapable of finding a functionary balance. Before he walks out to go back to the bar, he stands at the doorway, the hallway light casting the front of him in darkness, and says, “Dam, you, the whole world. What will be done about it?”

He closes the door. I hear his feet go farther away and disappear. I’m still writhing around like a shot animal, throwing the covers to the floor, cold-sweating, knowing hell is coming for me tonight, tomorrow, when I die, whenever it may, but it will come, I’m sure of it. The going was good but now it’s gone to shit. Great. I know what tomorrow will bring. I know exactly what it will bring. But I can’t think about it too much, as my concentration is totally physical in nature: the darkness, the sickness, my body turning itself inside out.

The only thought I can think while I roll around miserably is how so very much I want my soul to evacuate its body in three, two, one…three, two, one…, and I keep doing that until I finally give up the ghost and fall into horrible dreams: Evacuate soul in three, two, one…three, two, one…three, two, one…

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I'm an accounting major, as well as Head Editor of the Ellipsis Literary Magazine, at Binghamton University. Telling captivating stories has always been my passion, and I'm always searching for ways to grow as a writer. I still don't know too much about this thing called "Life," but I have come to find that it is short, yet sweet, and while life may seem like a bitch sometimes, you should kiss her anyway.

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Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway (Part III)

This is part 3 of a 4-part series. Start at the beginning Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway Part I

Here we are now: Florida station, on another sun-soaked morning, waiting for the DART train to come along. Dam’s having trouble getting his ticket from the kiosk, saying, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, what the shit (Wot-thuh-sheit!)?” until it spits the ticket out for him. The rest of us—Nina, Eva, Petra, Victor, Anders (no less) and I—stand quietly among the other commuters, blending in with the rush hour crowd. Anders is the only one of us who doesn’t really blend in, as he’s sporting proper Under Armour attire for the occasion, while the rest of us have on our shabby casual clothes.

Hanne is once again out of town this morning, and the girls keep it vague in regards to when she will be back. In fact, they’ve been keeping all our plans and destinations intentionally mysterious and open for interpretation—“a restaurant,” “a mountain,” which they used on us this morning, and even just “someplace,” to which, when I prodded for more, they backed it up with “You’ll see.” Always keeping us on the ropes. It’s just their style.

The train arrives, and we take it through the outskirts of the city to Eva’s old high school, where her Corsa hatchback is parked. We’re too big of a group to all fit in the car at once, so Eva drives Nina, Anders and Petra away first while Dam, Victor and I sit on a slab of concrete and wait for our ride “up.” There are so many teenagers walking around in those red one-pieces (the same kind I saw on that blonde kid back on the train) that there appears to be an insurrection going on, the F-1 military presence already liberating the high school and establishing command posts around the grounds.

All these racecar soldiers seem to suck on snus pouches instead of smoking cigarettes because that’s all I see littered between the cracks in the road.

We hang around here for about twenty minutes before Eva’s Corsa comes peeling around the corner, stopping in front of us. Dam takes the front seat, while Victor and I take the back seats. Dam flips through a CD case labeled “2000s pop hits,” with one of the CDs already playing as we drive. “Mis-Teeq,” he says. “Scandalous.” More flipping. “Britney Spears—Oooh-ooh-Baby.”

Eva swats the CD case out of his hands, and he immediately starts singing the song that’s currently playing off-key, sending the two of us in the back seat into a laughing tantrum. All the while, the Corsa continues climbing the mountainside—past those comfortable houses I saw coming into the city, past the black kites hanging skyward, and past all the dinky little European cars with those smiling drivers behind the wheels.

We stop at the fringe of one of these mountainside neighborhoods, between a power station and a grass field with a dozen or so pigeon houses scattered about it. Those from the first car ride are sitting on the grass. An old man parks his Volvo in front of us, steps out with a gallon of water, and starts walking from pigeon house to pigeon house, pouring the water through open slits in the wooden walls.

The path up the mountain begins right in front of where the Volvo is parked. Small boulders make up the bulk of the path, so a bit of limbering up and back cracking is required for the ascension. Victor even takes part in stretching with me. Then Anders says, “Tally-ho!” or something similar in spirit, and we follow him up. Hop, skip and a jump—two-step this way, bipedal that way—like so many hikes before this, the path requires mathematical precision in how one operates it. Sometimes hands are involved.

Dam’s cool-guy glasses keep slipping off his face (“Sheit”), which gets me snickering behind a covered hand.

This section of the path doesn’t last us long. The boulders begin to disappear, and the path flattens out. Nearby, two pieces of wood jut out of the ground, carved into mammoth tusks. We pass a family huddled around a water well, almost as if they’re in prayer. I try to get a look at them while we pass, but none of them will meet my eye, so I give up and move on.

Then the path completely flattens into a barren, brown field, dotted with puddles that probably sink deeper than they appear to. A single shack sits at the far side of the field, right at the edge of a cliff. The field looks like a slice of wetlands that was cut out of the Chesapeake Bay and placed atop this arid mountain, three thousand miles away. The mountain itself seems like it was taken directly out of the Rockies. I can even smell Colorado in the air. Already from this height, I can see the entire spread of the city below, but we hardly made a crack at the mountain yet.

We continue on. We make it to where the path splits off into two routes, and we take the longer, more round-about way to the top. As we ascend, the trees become sparser, no longer occupying the mountain face in a dense forest like it did near the bottom. Now the trees exist only in scattered patches. No more leaves, no more green; just dead, spindly things baked in the sun. It’s all brown and grey now, rocks and dried out grass. But then, another color starts popping up—white. Snow. All over the place, on this mountain and on all the others around it, snow is blotched across the smooth surface of the Earth. I go up to one of the patches of snow and put my hand into it. It burns that familiar burn, the sharp feeling of winter.

Anders and I, being the most athletic in the group, develop a generous lead ahead of the rest, taking the hike in stride while the rest conserve their energy at a slower pace. We reach two seven-foot-tall boulders beside the path and climb atop one of them to wait for the others to catch up. While we wait, Anders tells me fragmented details about his time with the Norwegian Home Guard: the kind of simulated skirmishes and long treks he had to take part in during the training process. He talks about it absently, like it never even happened. 

Then he says he never wants to leave Norway, which he says with so much conviction that I need no convincing of its truth.

I look out from atop that boulder at all the mountains, bald-capped and white-faced, rolling on for miles and miles, turning blue in the low-light, with spotted lakes shimmering from the sun. The mountains fall into deep valleys and fjords where the rivers run. Just from looking at this spread of the country, it feels like you’re floating over it. Here it is, I think, the kind of telluric beauty I thought I’d have to scour the planet to find, only it’s right in front of me. It takes the air out of me.

I tell Anders I’ve never seen scenery quite like this. He just responds, “It’s home to me.” The rest of the gang catch up, and we keep on moving. The rest of the path is relatively flat, with only the occasional slant and small cliff to texture it out, but it is still long, stretching several miles out to a broadcast tower sticking out of the mountain—just a little white needle from where we are.

The patches of snow seem to spread vastly, much, much wider, the size of lakes. The reflection of the light off of the snow does something to my eyes that makes the rocky surfaces rising all around appear black, even in direct sunlight, so I try to keep my eyes low.

Now the path is practically covered in snow. Anders and I end up quite ahead of the pack once again, so we experiment taking different routes through the snow—over hills, around rocks, jumping and jumping some more from edge to edge—to see who will make it the farthest without slipping up. I take a path that leads me to the top of a fifteen-foot-high cliff, where down below a patch of snow as wide as Lake George shines forbiddingly like white death.

Anders looks at me from far away and throws his hands up. “No good,” he shouts. He’s right, so I turn around and—oh shit!—I slip and go tumbling over the cliff, spinning as I fall.

The fall itself feels like half an hour as I plead there not be any ice underneath the snow to snap my neck on. Luckily, though, I land ass first in iceless snow, soft as a cushion. I sit there dumbly for a moment, completely in a daze. The rest of the gang appear from around a corner and see me sitting in the snow.

“What are you doing?” Victor asks.

“Nothing,” I say. “Nothing of particular note.”

I get up, the back of my pants now wet, ass-crack down, and walk with the group; Anders waits at a distance with his hands on his hips. When we catch up to him, he gives me a plus-minus look of “Now wouldn’t that suck if they saw that happen.” Sly fucker. Welp. Some wet pants and a little teasing is a better price to pay for clumsiness than shattered vertebrae.

Not long after, we reach the broadcast tower. Four thick cables stretch down the mountain on pylon towers, carrying up a tram at a snail’s pace. There’s a little eatery here where we get some drinks and watch the little movements of the city below. The highways, the lakes, the red-brick roofs of all the homes—it all looks like a diorama rather than the real thing. I can see the ocean clearly, sitting behind the immediate mountains and stretching outward and curving out of sight. Right beside us, the Norwegian flag ripples in the light breeze, the perfect foreground object for the rest of the city.

We stay here a while, breathing in the high altitude and listening for sounds of life far below. A dog keeps scampering around, coming up to us, walking between our legs, then dashing off again. When we’ve had enough, we gather our backpacks and whatnot and start for the short way down.

When I see what lies ahead, I turn to Anders and ask, “Uh, are you serious?”

“Sure, why not?” Then he starts our way.

This is the time when I would let out an exhausted, “Oh boy, with just a hint of dread. Our pathway down is pure jagged rock, angled at the worst possible degrees, with only a single handrail lending any defense against tumbling down the mountain in a mass of exploding meat and crunching bone. I am not kidding when I say the path down is at a seventy-degree angle. It is physically impossible to traverse it without using the railing, and even with that, it stretches down crooked and disconnected, some sections of the railing swinging free like a sideways pendulum from any support beams when grabbed on to.

All the railing represents to me is what shape my spine will take if I lose my grip and fall the rest of the way down, Lone Survivor style.

We all hug the railing close to our torsos as we descend, having to take leaps of blind faith between gaps in the railing, skittering our little feet over ten-foot stretches of hell-rock and even taking massive leaps to where the railing begins again. But Anders doesn’t care; he’s done this mountain so many times, he just slides down the railing on his butt, takes one elegant leap over each gap, and continues sliding down. While he takes this easily, I slip and tumble a few feet, my water bottle shooting off from my backpack and cartwheeling down a considerable stretch of the mountain, landing somewhere in the grove, never to be seen again.

While the long way up took several hours to traverse, this way down takes us around only twenty minutes. Now we’re back to where the one path split into two, and we make our rest of the way down to the Corsa. The old man and his Volvo are gone. His birds, I assume, are all well fed and resting. That’s what I’d like to do now: get some food in me then rest my little head off. Everyone else is thinking similar thoughts; the plan now is to head down to Bryggen and get some food, and then, in the girls’ typical vagueness, “do something fun.”

Two Corsa trips and one train ride later, we’re sitting at a restaurant outside by the water, waiting to fill our stomachs. Hanne has joined us, emerging from the crowded city street to sit right plum at our table—she has this knack of knowing where we are and just showing up. Two bikers ride by, one with a Pikachu decal over his helmet, and the other’s helmet designed like the Cookie Monster’s head. Everyone’s eyes are hidden behind aviator glasses, at our table and everywhere else. It’s an odd sight. In this natural lighting, all the glasses make everyone look less human and more humanoid, like they’re stuck in that uncanny valley. It’s just a lot of mouths moving and dark tinted glasses shifting. If this sight were a painting, it’d probably be titled something like, “Blue Sky Hiding.”

We order some food, then one by one, we get up and walk inside to order our drinks separately, waiting for the one before us to come back before the next of us gets up. I walk in alone and order some Guinness. There’s something wrong with the register when I order—something that prevents me from paying by card—which puts me in a rut. I have no Norwegian cash. But right then, Hanne appears behind me and already knows what the problem is.

She pays for my drink—“Don’t you try to pay me back,” she says—and orders her own drink as well. I wait for her before we go back to our table.

When I sit down, I notice there’s a steaming latte in front of me that I didn’t order. I flag down a waiter to tell him this, but he just shrugs and walks off. Alright, free coffee for me. I drink it all before the Guinness, but shit, it’s already 7:00 pm; that probably wasn’t a good idea. Now it feels like a drum is being hit whenever my heart beats. I can’t keep my fingers still. Not really what I had in mind for resting, but no matter, the rest will come in due time.

We spend the extra daylight exploring parts of the city us foreigners haven’t seen yet. We go down narrow cobblestone alleyways, constantly rising and dropping in elevation with clothes hanging out to dry above our heads, potted plants set out in front of doorsteps, and salient cats wandering around. Anders stops us in front of a townhome in one of these alleyways—light blue, the same color as my house back in New York—and scans the façade of it thoughtfully.

“I grew up here,” he says. “This is it, and this is where it happened.” It looks dark inside, like nobody lives there any longer. This seems appropriate, though; if Anders occupied someplace and moved out, then nobody else should dare occupy that same place. It is his and his alone, with that place’s importance derived solely from Anders’ use of it.

He moves us along out of the alleyways and into more open streets, where wall art lines every building and ordains every corner with little girls with butterfly wings, insects with a hundred eyes, and comic book italics. Anders explains that it’s a never-ending competition with art, that in the dark of every night, artists come out of their holes with new cans of paint and illustrate over the art of the prior day, thickening the walls with more color and contemporary imagination. Every day, he says, it’s like walking through a different art museum.

I think that is wonderful. NYC, Philly, New Orleans—Bergen has all those American meccas of soul beat when it comes to industriousness and rapid turnover rate.

Anders then leads us to the tip of Nordnes Park, where other people our age sit in the grass, one group listening to “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” from a cell phone placed in a glass for amplification. Some of them are smoking grass, others are just enjoying the scenery. The mountains turn black in the setting sun as we watch the huge AIDA cruise ship back out into the Bay; the people on deck lined up on the starboard side, waving us farewell before the ship turns around and sets out to sea.

We walk onto a dock and watch more ships set out. A Jamaican man in a military jacket (Corporal from the insignia) grills hot dogs beside his girlfriend, who absently swishes something in a red solo cup. He looks at us and gives us the thumbs up and says something in Norwegian, though not in a Norwegian accent. We hang out here for a while, watching the evening operation of the Bay and the shipyards, where orange and white cargo ships wait to be loaded up and sent along their way.

After that, we all head back to our Airbnb for, can you guess? Yes, you’re (probably) right—more drinking. Finally, the boys and I are able to use that cheap vodka we bought at the airport, along with some other beer and stout we buy at a convenience store on the way to our place. Also along the way, Dam, Victor and Nina get stopped by an old white-haired man, walking with two canes, who chats them up about the shorthand old days, when his body must have been more capable. He’s sweet and sincere in a way you don’t come across often, and I feel bad at the thought of us leaving him behind. But I raise my fingers to my mouth to whistle, and—fweeet!—Petra actually beats me to it, calling out from a distance, “Come on!” This gives the three of them the chance to break away, but not before shaking the man’s fragile hand.

The table we have is small, so only four of us can sit at it, while the rest of us, including me, sit cross-legged on counters or on the windowsill. We play the usual drinking game, which basically amounts to throwing out an open-ended question and everyone else going around answering it. The first one who can’t come up with an answer, of course, drinks. The drinking, at this point, feels a bit repetitive and makes my body frail and useless, but I go with it anyway, figuring if there’s a night I should be getting tipsy in Norway, it should be this one.

The questions start, and so does the drinking. Laughter ensues, blending with sideways glances and haphazard vision. I seem to laugh beside myself. There’s only a certain distance I can go with drinking before I’m completely swept away by it, mentally and physically. But there’s a threshold that, once I pass it, the mental factor subsides, and I become completely aware of my own drunkenness. It’s almost like my mind is held captive by my body.

I take liberal swigs of alcohol during this game, so it doesn’t take me long to pass that threshold.

I drink from every drink there. Hanne starts pouring drinks for me in smaller and smaller portions so I don’t go over the top. She can clearly see how wobbly my body is. I keep leaning toward her, for some reason. Whatever the source of attention is, I lean toward it. Everybody’s laughing and having a good time. So jolly, so optimistic, just sunshine and rainbows. It makes me sort of sad that people aren’t this way when they’re sober, that they can only be this way temporarily, and at the expense of their own health. But nobody around me is thinking that. Hanne has her watchful eye on me, but besides her, everybody’s topsy-turvy.

We finish our drinking there around 9:00 pm and head out. Hanne is wasted, too, yet still finds it in herself to ask me closely, “How are you feeling?” and I respond with something like, “Oh, I’m fan-tittly-tastic. F-I-N-E fine.” I know it was that bad because she starts howling to the night sky after I answer her. Then she says, “You’re so nice,” and hugs me long and close as we walk.

I appear missing in a pack of collective laughter. I’m out of it as we cross over the bridge and toward the city centre. I am so acutely aware of my own drunkenness that I am ashamed. The pistons are churning slowly in my head. My mouth is going through straits trying to articulate coherent words to the others, but I blabber away with them nonetheless. It just comes out as noise.

We arrive at a bar the girls and Anders used to visit frequently back in high school. It sits on a street corner right off a darkened tunnel with no overhead lights, just an empty black hole dipping underneath the city. Inside, everything is made of wood, with those huge barrels behind the counter from which the bartenders serve drinks. We take an empty two-walled bar counter by the windows, and I take the very corner chair, between Hanne and Victor. I’m swaying to the other voices in the bar. Shanty, shanty, shanty, I think. Let’s all sing and have a good time. Dam has his cool-guy shades on again, doing some sort of jig in an open space while some of the girls and other bar patrons watch him. Victor sits still as a statue, the ever-watchful security camera of our gang.

Hanne and I are all smiles and talk rapidly about our respective countries, who we are at our highest levels, and the cost of plane tickets. I tell her like I’ve told her before, “Now, I’ve thought about this sober—and can only say it when I’m drunk,” that I’ll pay for her plane ticket to the United States if she ever decides to cross the pond, and oh, the driving around and seeing the sights and hearing the people speak, what kind of time that would be. She always blushes when I get to talking like that. But it all comes from a deep-routed goodness in my heart that I try to let out when I’m drunk, even though I can always tell it all comes tumbling out of me as surface-level fluff. So what? My heart always feels too big for my chest when I’m like this, so I have to let it air out some way, somehow.

I have not gotten a drink. I’ve come to terms with the idea that I’ve already drunk enough; I’ll ride the rest of the night out with what I’m already on, and it should be a good ride.

But then my mouth starts to lose moisture, and something slips in my eyesight. I stand up and tell Hanne that I’m going to get some water. I walk over to the bar counter and ask for a glass, which the bartender promptly fills. I down the whole glass in two gulps, but this doesn’t fix anything. In fact, this is when the internal avalanche begins. It comes in successive waves, layer upon layer. Thicker lenses of blur drop over my eyes every few seconds, as if I were looking through a vision test machine. My stomach, all my insides for that matter, go tumbling and knot themselves up. My skin flushes completely. I feel like I’ve been wandering through a desert for three days without any water.

I ask for my glass to be refilled, then go running for the bathroom, knocking away chairs that lie in my path, as a bull might go charging through tall grass when he’s being hunted. I drop to my knees in front of one of the toilets and open my throat before the almighty drainage pipe. Oh, dear Lord, get this filth out of my body. I’m a bastard for getting myself into this state. How could this have happened? With a flick of a switch, a piano dropping five stories onto your head, here you are, you dumb, uncontrollable twit. It’s all bad now. My body is decaying from the inside. I kneel there over the toilet for a good ten minutes before I have the strength to stand up again and leave the bathroom, dejected.

I mosey on over (stumble, crash, “Oh, excuse me, sir, uh, beklager,”) to Victor and Hanne, lean in and tell them, one word at a time, as if I were explaining to them a very complicated theorem, “I’m really drunk. I’m going to head back now. Okay? I am going home.” Hanne looks at me worryingly and wishes me a good night. Victor looks at me cold and calculated. I wave so-long with both hands at the rest of the gang as I walk out of the bar, prompting them to look at each other in confused looks and ask pointedly, “Where is he going?”

I’m tempted toward the dark void of the tunnel, just to see if it will take me anywhere, but I pull myself away and start heading toward the bridge. Or, at least, where I think the bridge is. My impeccable sense of direction is absent this time, so I go wandering along darkened streets for a while in every which direction, past basketball courts and other bars and Lutheran churches that cast recriminating assertions at me from the crosses atop their steeples. I drop to my knees a couple times to dry heave, then regather myself and keep going.

Eventually, I find myself under the bridge, the Puffefjord Bridge, thinking, “How the hell did I get here?” But at least now, I know exactly where I am. I find and climb the tower with the everybody’s-getting-nuked graffiti and cross the bridge, all the car lights as bright as searchlights being shined right in my eyes. While I’m crossing the bridge, I realize that, silly me, I don’t have the damn key. Oh, oh, wonderful. Victor has it, but I’m sure he doesn’t plan on going missing tonight, so he’ll show up eventually. Guess I’ll have to wait outside the building like the drunken mess I am for him to appear.

But when I get there, like an angel, there he stands under the light of the front door, hands in pockets, scanning the street for me as I skulk in the shadows toward him.

When I come into his view, his head perks up like a bird just noticing a potential food source, and he holds his attention on me the whole duration of my approach. I stand in front of him in complete, unabated embarrassment.

“Everyone is still at the bar,” he says, taking the key out of his pocket. “But I suppose you need this tonight more than I do.”

That key is the key to everything good and wonderful in life. I walk right into his chest and hug him. I could weep right now. He unlocks the door and leads me up to my bed. He gets me some water and puts it beside me. My body recoils at every stimuli and is incapable of finding a functionary balance. Before he walks out to go back to the bar, he stands at the doorway, the hallway light casting the front of him in darkness, and says, “Dam, you, the whole world. What will be done about it?”

He closes the door. I hear his feet go farther away and disappear. I’m still writhing around like a shot animal, throwing the covers to the floor, cold-sweating, knowing hell is coming for me tonight, tomorrow, when I die, whenever it may, but it will come, I’m sure of it. The going was good but now it’s gone to shit. Great. I know what tomorrow will bring. I know exactly what it will bring. But I can’t think about it too much, as my concentration is totally physical in nature: the darkness, the sickness, my body turning itself inside out.

The only thought I can think while I roll around miserably is how so very much I want my soul to evacuate its body in three, two, one…three, two, one…, and I keep doing that until I finally give up the ghost and fall into horrible dreams: Evacuate soul in three, two, one…three, two, one…three, two, one…

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