The Word for Writers
Slushing Around Slussen
by Frederick Kwesi Great Agboletey
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A Trip to the Hospital
I have been working in this sales office selling conferences in Stockholm for several months. One August morning, while sitting at my desk making one of a million calls to sale conferences, I had a distinctive feeling of unease; that feeling of something not quite right, a not altogether good feeling that was still working its way up my gut when, I was informed that I had a call from a lady called Anita. I normally, don’t receive calls from Anita, who is my shared companion here in Sweden. Must be something, she had left a message that I should call as soon as possible. I made the call and she informed in not exactly quivering voices, but a worried kind of tone, that she was presently in Astrid Lindgren’s hospital in Solna, where her son, our boy had been admitted, naturally, I followed by asking what was wrong with Prince our boy.
“You can’t believe what happened this morning; I was still in bed, when I got a call from the school that Prince had been injured while playing football!”
“I asked what was the nature of the injury and was informed he had broken his leg”
She took a deep breath; her breathing fell and rose in dramatic spasmodic huffs and puffs.
“You can imagine how I felt, I threw some clothes on, rushed to the school and there he was lying on the grass, propped by his coach”
“They had already called for an ambulance and in a short time, the ambulance crew rushed into the field, he was gently lifted and set aboard the van, and they informed us they were heading for the children’s hospital; Astrid Lindgren”
“I rushed to my car and attempted to start only to realize that it had got stuck in the mud, at which point his sports teacher offered to help drive me to the hospital, and here we are!”
I managed a question in the rush of emotions and information flowing through the phone.
“So what is the situation?”
“Well, the doctor has taken x-rays and they will operate on him later today.”
‘Not so good’ I thought to myself.
“Anyway, just take it easy, now that you are in the hospital, those who are trained and capable will take care of him, so just calm down and let the process be fulfilled.”
“How is he feeling, himself?” I asked
“He is being prepped for surgery, at this moment, he has been anaesthetized.”
“Alright, let’s wait till the procedure is complete.”
Check up at Nacka Near Hospital
That was four months ago. On Tuesday, this last week of November, we went to Nacka Near hospital where x-rays were taken to determine the quality of healing and decide whether to remove the screws that were holding the broken knee bones in place to facilitate healing.
When Anita informed me on Monday evening that she was taking Prince for medical review and she needed me along to help find direction. I had only an awareness that she was going to a hospital in Nacka and not which particular one, I naturally researched directions to Boo Sjukhus (Hospital) which happened to be a hospital close to the apartment of a lady who hosted me in my earlier years in Sweden.
I assumed naturally because I did mention that particular hospital several times in the conversation. In the evening, she brought out the papers and indicated that the hospital was actually, Nacka Near Hospital. I did another round of researching driving directions to the hospital and got some very clear directions and maps of turn offs which we printed on four pages of foolscap and for good measure printed an additional page of driving direction back.
So it was that when we left the house at 8:30 am, with the temperature below 0 degree Celsius, I had taken the time to print some specific driving directions form Eniro.com; the Swedish version of Yahoo maps.
When we set off on Tuesday morning, it was downright chilly and snow had laid a fairly decent layer of white covering on the streets. We hit heavy traffic, three kilometers to Danderyd and settled after changing lanes several times behind a heavy yellow loading truck with swing back doors. The kind of truck doors that open outward flat, often, hitting construction sites with a heavy thud or clank depending on surface of construction site or dumping zone.
This huge yellow truck had clear marking in black on yellow background of the truck’s paint that read – Stay five meters away from this truck – With an arrow indicating that the following driver needs to stay a clear five meters away! –
I decided to crack a joke, “Please, stay away from, this truck”. It didn’t quite register; Anita seemed to drive even closer still.
For some reason, Anita started getting irritated from the very moment we hit the heavily trafficked lane heading into the city. The slower it got, the angrier she became. I reminded her that morning traffic into the city was a norm rather than exception.
“I don’t want to be late, that is why I insisted that we leave the house exactly 8:15 am”
I thought ‘Well, whose is to blame, not me, who had to take a cold shower because all the hot water was used up.’
But I just kept quiet. Eventually we turned into the lane heading towards Solna commune and there the right of the two lanes was almost at a stop while the left lane kept moving freely. I wondered whether both lanes were not leading to the same turn into the motor way ahead. When I asked Anita who had gone this way several times, she was curt and short.
“If you don’t know the road very well it is best to stick to the proper lane.”
Okay, I thought, but you surely have driven several times to Karolinska Hospital which is why you insisted you will only drive through Solna to reach Nacka.
We got to the traffic light and it just happened both lanes led to the same end point and then we made the turn off unto the motorway.
The traffic was fast flowing and it was to be the starting point of our driving direction that we had taken from Eniro.com. Anita again indicated that there was no need to drive all the way to the round about and turn left unto the Solna Bridge, where we would have followed turn by turn the directions as specified in the driving direction supposed to enable us reach our destination with ease.
We turned right over some motor way bridge that to all my experience and understanding as a ‘co-pilot’ riding front seat in other people’s cars, definitely did not merit the name of a commune of such significance as Solna. How could a highway bridge be named Solna Bron or Solna Bridge. Right from that point I had deep misgivings as to whether we were properly oriented. I kept my concerns to myself.
We had now entered a fast flowing stream of aggressive driving, she asked where our next turning was. I looked it up on the directions we had printed and indicated our first turn will be left unto Arstafaltet.
“it is 6.4 kilometers ahead, so just keep following the E18, E4 as indicated above.”
We were cruising with the traffic stream at just about 75 kilometers per hour. A tunnel yawned ahead and we entered the first of three tunnels that were to occasion this trip. It said, Hammarby tunnel. I still could not find any landmarks, road signs or turn offs that will reassure me that we were heading in the right direction. The thought had barely crossed my mind when, Anita apparently agitated asked
“So where are turning next?”
“I calmly replied, straight ahead for 6.4 kilometers” I was at this stage very sure that we could trust the Eniro.com maps and driving directions. Even though I had seen nothing to indicate that they were on target as far as getting us to our destination was concerned. Besides, I had very little doubt that we had driven well over 10 kilometers already, not to mention 6.4 kilometers. I took a deep breath.
We were out of the tunnel, passed two high highway bridges and even though I had already counted seven to eight turn offs since the questionable highway bridge, supposedly with a name, we had yet to see any indication of Nacka, the commune we were heading to or anything close to what directions were indicated on the driving route.
We entered a second tunnel; the almost four kilometers Sodra (southern) tunnel. It was a new road and I decided to admire its architectural elegance rather than be caught in Anita’s increasing agitation and irritability.
“So do you know where we are heading?”
“”I thought you had the driving directions, do you really know where we are going?”
‘Hello, I thought to myself, I thought you were supposed to familiarize yourself with the directions as well, when did I become the sole navigator, on this trip. I kept the thoughts to myself. Ahead, the tunnel split into two directions; one heading on the right to Gustavsberg. The other to Arsta. I riffled thought the driving directions and realized that all of a sudden, we had overlapped 12 to 13 turns by the directions taken from Eniro.com and had come to the last page of the four page driving directions meticulously detailed. The most upsetting thing of it all is that no tunnels had been mentioned in those directions. I knew we were lost, as to why I had no idea and I was not interested in mentioning that to Anita. After all you only lose your directions by making the wrong turn or taking the wrong route. It could be either, and I was not about to set off a discussion on whose lack of concentration led to what. I had no doubt though that it was not my fault.
“Are you sure we are heading towards Nacka?”
I ruffled the sheet, scanning through major junctions and read Gustavberg. The motorway sign above the tunnel read, Gustavebrgs 222. The car hurtled along at 120 kilometers per hour and my mind boggled and sought for signs that will not be for they were not.
“So why is there no sign of Nacka, it is showing Nynashamn!”
I could only keep quite. From the back seat, Prince who all this while was as quite as a mouse, intoned
“I think I saw a sign earlier that said Nacka”
“You did!, Why didn’t you say it then!”
“Just keep moving towards Gustavsberg 222, which is indicated on the road map”
I tried a consoling tone.
We kept driving, we are eventually out of the tunnel and entered another stretch of highway, huge blue signs, a few meters ahead indicated another set of road signs, as we draw nearer, we could see Nacka indicated and everyone felt a sense of relief. As we head on Gustavsberg 222, towards Nacka, I had completely lost hope in the Eniro.com map and scanned for any indication of the nearest drive off. Five minutes later, I spotted a drive off; Skuru, a felt elated, Skuru was where we were supposed to make the turn off from the motorway onto Varmdoleden.
“Are you sure it is Skuru?”
“I am sure it is, just drive off the highway and turn to the left”
We made the turn and headed left a few hundred meters, the discarded and not of much help road map from Eniro.com had still not exacted its last painful failure yet.
It indicated on the road map and driving directions that we drive 190 meters on the Skuru drive of and head down Varmdoleden. Three hundred meters down Skuru drive off we were amidst a residential area with old houses, a very narrow road, with woods on all sides and nothing to indicate that we were heading towards a major hospital for this commune. This was altogether surprising, since we were to branch off Skuru to Varmdoleden, nevertheless it was all the same frustrating, to say the least and unsettling as Anita mixture of anger and anxiety increased.
We were back to our early angst, only this time, we were 15 minutes into our appointment time and it was the wrong time to engage in experimental drives to find where which road led where.
We drive back to the motorway and there was nothing to indicate that if we go further up the road we would be going where we expected. We simultaneously decided to drive further down the narrow road from which we had turned to find someone to talk to. By a bus stop an Asian looking lady, furiously puffing on a cigarette while waiting for a bus, responds to our enquiry about location of Nacka Near Hospital in clear British English. –
“I am a stranger here, I don’t live here.”
I had a gut feeling that the narrow road might lead somewhere. It turned out that Anita made the same assumption. For once, on this trip, we were on the same page, she accelerated down the narrow winding road, it happened that every 130 meters or so there was a bus shelter. These shelters were of the old wooden kind, unlike the glass and plastic roofed kind that lined city centre and until so far all previous bus shelters I had ever seen, except those that lined country roads were of this kind. It lent an aura of surrealism to the whole situation, but for the fact that the highway was a few hundred meters removed, I would have said we had just made the transition to another world where everything was peaceful and far removed from harried modern life. A brand new Volvo turns the corner and passes as with speed clearly indicative of someone who is familiar to these narrow roads, so much for time travel.
So here we were dashing down a narrow dark country lane, looking for someone standing at a bus shelter to confirm we were on the right path. Up ahead, in a sharp curve that broadened to make place for a bus shelter, she stood, dressed in black body hugging black wool tops and spandex trousers, accentuated with sharp toed black leather boots. She held, loosely, a classic pin box handbag, a sort of throw back to the sixties. On her head a cute leopard skin round hat. It all so sixties and modern classic, that it called forth an automatic admiration. A blond in full flourish, she stood in calm elegance of balanced maturity. That sort of relaxed look that only Swedish women seemed capable of pulling off with delightful ease.
“ Hej” She greeted first and drew near our frozen car window that took its time to wind down.
“Hello, we are trying to get to Nacka Near Hospital, is this the right road” Anita piped.
“Yes, it is, you just have to drive all the way to almost the end of the road and then turn right”
She continued with the same smiling ease
“It is actually a bit strange these unclear directions to the hospital, more than a few persons have gotten lost as well. Anyhow, it is a straight road up this windy road till you come to the right turn, turn right and you will drive a few meters and the hospital is to your left, you will see the sign.”
She contemplates a little and then suggests –
“If you have room at the back I can show you the way, I was actually expecting my man to pick me up here to drive me to the city, but I will tell him to drive up to the hospital bus stop”
“Come in” “Make room, Prince”. Anita invited her in.
As she indicated it was a straight drive up the windy road, a couple of thousand meters and then one right turn and we were there. We packed and headed in the wrong direction from the main entrance and retraced our steps after finding the back of the hospital upon turning the corner and confirming that the entry was in the opposite direction. The tension has lessened but there was this nagging feeling that we were late for the appointment. There was a faint possible that we could be rescheduled to a less preferable time or another time, however, there was normally thirty minutes of flexibility scheduled into every appointment, I believe.
We asked directions at the reception and were asked to walk straight up the corridor and turn left towards the operations department.
“walk all the way to the end of the corridor and enter the room indicated as operations.”
We went in and there were already several surly looking men in the waiting room. It is a hospital and you hardly expect or do you find smiling faces waiting to be cut into, of course minus the nurses who always manage a smile of comfort in what is construable tough situations.
The attending nurse ushered us into an inner room and after a few minutes of sitting another nurse came to apologize that the anesthetist was going to be late. Well, so were not late after all!
The Drive Back
It was a period of calm in the waiting room, necessary tests were taken and instructions were given as to how our boy should prepare for the next day’s operation procedure to remove metal screws used to hold in place a shattered knee that had been confirmed by the doctor who treated the injury as having healed perfectly.
On the way back home, we decided to take the entry on to the highway from Nacka Centrum, it was actually a very quick turn right and round the roundabout branching right again and then we were taking the direction indicating Stockholm, in broad signs. Relief had wormed its way, creating a relaxed state of comfortability, completely erasing our previous state of tenseness and we drove happily following the sign towards Stockholm. Before we realized, we were cruising through Slussen which for decennia was the sole link between the northern and southern half of Stockholm’s archipelago.
Now for some poorly explained reason Anita had over the years conjured up and firmly lodged in her mind a fear of driving through Stockholm central, so here we were heading right into central Stockholm. We looped through Slussen, hit the upper decks and swung over the rather long bridge referred to as “Sailors bridge” or something to that effect, ahead in the distant, loomed the light yellow massive structure that housed the former central post office beneath which is Stockholm Central Station. On its right outlined against the skyline was the Stockholm World Trade Center adjoined by the five stars Hilton International. My mind was working very quickly to configure how my walks and bus trips can enable me define a path out of Stockholm central.
“Where do we turn?’”
I naturally opted for known paths and indicated the right swing towards Central Station; she accelerated and took the left turn heading for the Klarabergs tunnel in the opposite direction. We entered yet another tunnel and it was all of some three thousand meters. It opened with relief into Jarla Birl’s gatan (street). This was refreshingly good, because some eighteen months earlier I had been on the same route with Manfred my cousin’s husband from Germany. I knew that it led straight, eastward towards Technical High School and Frescati; the Stockholm University area from there it is a straight drive towards Brottby on highway E18 that goes to Nortalje.
That is the direction we headed towards, while there were no close calls as far as Anita’s long nourished fear of driving through Stockholm was concerned, on the contrary, one detected a cocky edge with some deft swerves around the ubiquitous red busses, a few choice comments to show that they ought to watch their driving! So much for fear of driving through Stockholm central.
This amused me a lot, how quickly could a morbid fear of driving through the city vanish and be replaced by this arrogance characteristic of an old, big city, cab driver. I wondered how one who drove as aggressively as she did could be wary of bullying her through the city traffic. Certainly, there were a few times when she, to my opinion, displayed chinks in her otherwise expert driving by stopping for pedestrians waiting a red light. Was she deliberately pretending to be vulnerable?
It brought to focus her excessive efforts to be far too perfect in public places, may be some minor inferior complex complex. If it is, it irritates me to no end, all that pretense to be “lady perfect” when in public places. Well, I put it down to a characteristic female personality trait. Anytime a man pretends to play to the public gallery their phoniness is irritatingly effeminate and indicative of a distinctive lack of individual personality. I put it down to a female personality trait, all this trying to be what you normally are not in public places.
Return to Nacka Near Hospital
The next day, Wednesday was the day that the surgery to remove the screws were scheduled, we decided together that there was no point pulling any Eniro.com driving directions and or maps, we would simply follow the street names and road numbers as indicated on the highway. We hit the road at exactly 9:15am, making sure that we had pillows, blankets and bottled water to ensure that our boy was comfortable both before and after the procedure.
We had a pleasant ride, averaging a decent 100 kilometers per hour all the way to Nacka tunnel where there was a small traffic jam that quickly thinned out. The radio was playing some relaxing Christian music and our souls were at rest, it was an enjoyable trip till we got to the right turn that should lead us to the hospital itself. Naturally, we missed, it drove by it, met a crooked, untruthful “old gizzard” processing his rubbish at a rubbish sorting and dumping station, he sent us in the wrong direction; which is why he is “an old gizzard”; no hard feelings. We asked another more reliable older gentleman and swung into the right street and packed in the hospital parking lot. It was a comfortable thirty minutes before scheduled appointment time.
Hours came and went by, I finished the days Metro, the Stockholm City, I read SE City all were free newspapers packed on stools at the entry way to the hospital and available at all public places, I even read the Nacka Commune weekly, with its peripatetic collection of grubby bad guys and soulless youth in random destructive acts. Then the good articles about community developments. I then went through my carried along Time International, Fortune magazine and was about to start the rather oily collections on display, oily by dint of being flicked through by hundreds of waiting companions to many anxious sick persons in the waiting room. When Anita came from the inner chamber with Prince, where they had been all the while and informed that it was over and we could set off back home I was a few nods from a full blown nap.
By this time, evening had already set in, it being winter, when daylight hours were rather short. Everyone was weary and I had, an hour or so earlier, downed a huge loaf of minced meat and ketchup ladled sandwich, which I purchased at the hospital kiosk. It was not sitting comfortably in my stomach, and I felt fairly bloated. Who ever heard of minced meat used as a filling in a sandwich. It made me remember another sandwich, I had at Astrid Lindgrens hospital, which was a decent sized long loaf, tea bread which is salted instead of tasting sugary, filled with dried tomatoes, very dry ham and a good dapple of olive oil. Now, that is what sandwich is supposed to be. I made a mental note to tell the nice lady at the hospital kiosk to consider that recipe. Naturally, I never did.
As we entered the road leading off Nacka Near Hospital, Anita swung to take the exit to the motorway that was off Nacka centrum, it required avoiding the first right turn and making a right turn at the round about. Since she insisted on using the Sodra tunnel again back home, I recommended that we go back the same way we drove to the hospital. It will require driving the long winding back road to Skuru exit and hitting the motor way from there. At the back of my mind I knew that both exits may enter the same highway but from the previous day’s experience and frustration and with no driving direction, maps and relying only on previous knowledge, road signs and intuition, I was not ready to take any chances on a dark wintry evening, not with a freshly operated child, already complaining of nausea in the back seat.
She wanted to complain but missed the turn and in the mild confusion decide to follow the road back to Skuru and that is how we ended on the highway to Stockholm, only this time we were intent on using the Sodra tunnel and upon hitting Solna, to continue through Danderyd on to Brottby, heading towards Nortalje, on the E18.
That was the plan, anyway.
Now if there are any questions as to why Anita is driving, and not the writer, the simple answer is that I never quite got round to wasting the huge amount required to acquire a Swedish driving permit, it was just not worth it hitherto.
Anyhow, she was cruising at her usual aggressive 120 kilometers per hour and just ahead we saw information displayed on the overhead sign that the Sodra (southern) tunnel was closed due to an accident. I just ignored it. I wondered ‘how does a whole link to the northern half be closed off?’
Besides a few other drivers were heading in complete defiance of the warning of a road closure in the same direction.
Now, if there is a question that irritates me more than any other, it is asking the obvious.
“Should we take right or left?” she asked.
“Left lane leads to the tunnel, right leads to Stockholm central, same route we used yesterday.”
“I don’t want to go through Stockholm central.”
She almost shouted at me.
“Then remain in the left lane.”
I tried to keep it friendly.
She was still doing 120 in the middle lane and was heading straight for the tunnel entry’s wall and the horizontal road marking indicating a no drive zone.
“Do you think, I should remain in the middle lane?”
“I think it is better to remain in the same lane”
Now she sees, that she was heading for an abrupt end smack into the wall ahead.
“Should I move the left lane?”
“I told you already” I replied irritably.
She made a hasty swing, rode the edge of the horizontal marks and effused-
“This is dangerous.”
Into the tunnel; all seemed normal, a few thousand meters into Hammarby tunnel, traffic is being switched to the extreme left lane, the middle lane that should take us to Solna was closed to traffic. Now this Sodra tunnel is a switch-by drive that completely takes traffic off the main city lane into the southern parts of Stockholm, so as we entered the traffic streaming slowly in the extreme right, the directions above indicated Farsta and Nynashamn. These are areas way off Solna, which lies to the east and as far south of North as it possibly could be. As we exited the tunnel, we entered the Globe area of Central Stockholm, I was far too focused on looking for Solna in the road signs above the road than notice we were in Arsta area of Stockholm, not that it would have made any difference because I had no idea how to orient towards Danderyd, which is the right way to our dwelling place. Hmmph! She was still doing a steady 80 kilometers and in ten to fifteen minutes we saw that this was a highway leading to Nynashamn, the southernmost suburb of Stockholm and we had to get off it.
“Are you sure, we are on the right road? You were supposed to come along to help find the way. Where are we going now?”
I thought to myself ‘Why are you asking me?’ But I took a more matured approach when responding verbally.
“I think we should get off this highway and head back to Stockholm.
“How do we do that?”
“Exit at the next exit.”
The next exit was rushing towards us, it was right off the underground station to Trumde, after Farsta station. On the underground this was decent twenty minutes ride from Stockholm central. I had lived in the area before with an Irish roommate when I first moved from Umea to Stockholm, almost a decade ago. We turn into the exit and turned around and made it back onto the highway heading towards Stockholm again.
The highway was powdered with fine snow and set against the yellow lights and the dark background of the woods through which this particular stretch of road run, it created an ambiance of calmness and infused a sense of peace despite the almost ten to twenty kilometers we had run off of our correct route. We passed the exit to Farsta and after that the walls of Stockholm regional cemetery. A vast, heavily wooded stretch of mortal resting land.
“There is the regional cemetery” I tried to make conversation.
“”You know I used to live here, sharing flats with Chris, the Irish fella, you remember him?”
“On the brighter side how often to we get to drive through this section of the Stockholm? Let’s just pretend we are making a trip to know our city better”
“Yeah, it is a good side trip” She intoned.
A few minutes later and we had re-entered the Arsta area of Stockholm, the Globe, which is a modern theater shaped like a huge plaster globe was colored blue by light. We, or more to be the point Anita, avoided the looming tunnel whose opposite side we had earlier exited and swung right and in a few minutes was swishing over the long and high Arsta bridge, that leads into Stockholm proper. This is a bridge of such heights that it gives a unique oversight over Stockholm central.
It was just a brief respite, the view that is. We, well, she drove on the right lane and we were on the street to the left of Kungstradgarden (These are the royal gardens of Sweden’s kings and is a vast open park behind the castle). Far to the left, commanding a grand view is Grand Hotel, Stockholm’s grand five star hotel, in eighteen century architecture, visible at about 350 meters distant away.
I had taken many lunch walks around this part of the city. This, certainly was known territories, I knew that we only need to take a left turn and a straight right on Nybroplan and then left which will take us to BirgerJarls gatan (street) and, then, it was a straight cruise towards Stockholm’s Technical High School, which is the way towards Brottby. I felt a sense of ease and even showed Anita where my workplace is located.
Now, the previous day we had used the Klaraberg tunnel, due to an oversight when we turned right, I knew there was a a tunnel; Klara tunnel that run right under our office block, on Regerings gatan, which as I assumed would take us straight to Birgerjarl’s gatan. It probably would have, only that in when we got to the end of the tunnel, we turned a sharp left and found ourselves right back on the bridge heading towards Slussen which is where we entered Stockholm central some hour and fifteen minutes ago.
It was to be costly mistake, if only we had only gone straight ahead another 25 meters and turned left, I would have avoided under going the excruciating experience I was about to undergo; totally emotionally draining it turned out to be.
“I thought you knew where the road was going!” She lashed out and one could almost taste the bitterness of the anger.
I took a deep breath and tried to be the reasonable one.
“Look, we just missed a turn, let’s turn around and retrace our route.”
“Shut up! Just shut up!”
The anger burned red hot like a metal rolling through my whole body.
“Hey! It’s not like a have been driving around these streets forever’
I kept the thought to myself. I let that warmth feeling become a positive energy source. I just could transform negative energy and make it a useful source of driving force.’
“Now, where do we go?” She was not reducing speed, before long, we were over the bridge and had turned into the highway through Slussen. All along, I thought whe would do the obvious, which is turn the car and retrace the route to find the right way. No, that did not happen. Ahead the broad four lanes were going to have a middle demarcating barrier and that would mean a u-turn was out of the question..
“You have to turn around.” I said.
That comment only made her accelerate even harder.
“You think you can just turn anyhow?”
She yelled in a weird kind of strangling voice.
“You have to slow down and make a u-turn otherwise we would be heading back to the South where we have just come from.”
“O just shut up!” She yelled with refreshed aggression.
‘Alright if these “shut ups” make you feel fine, that’s fine by me’
I kept my thoughts to myself.
My bruised pride took a little work of control to harness for all the talk of negative energy management. I took another deep breath; deep breath always helps in these situations. It’s sort of like a calm chi-yell. Then, I just kept quiet.
She hit 120 kilometers again and ahead loomed the blue road sign, Nacka commune. I took a quick look to ascertain whether we had enough petrol left. The gauge was right on the center indicating a half tank. I felt a heat wave streaming through my body and then a resigned feel that it might take a while. Five minutes or maybe longer because time had become distorted in this meaningless up and down, south to south trip just to find the way north. Exit to Nacka Centrum loomed ahead and she took right and then asked –
“Where should we go?”
“I don’t know, go wherever you want to.”
Too late I had said what I ought not to. She did decided to keep her thoughts and emotions to herself and that was helpful, for a potential couple bickering simmered into quietness.
She drove a few meters and we were fast approaching this elaborate tunnel entry indicating Nacka Strand (beach). “I guess it would be better to turn around and head back the way we came.”
This time the words seemed to reach her and she made the obvious turn that she should have made at Slussen.
We, well she managed to orient towards the highway heading towards Stockholm. This time, I decided to only suggest when she asks. Obviously it would be the same trip till we get to Nybroplan. That ought to be easy to find.
“I thought you said you worked close to this place and you knew your way around the city, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did, we shouldn’t have turned into that tunnel, we should have gone straight to the traffic light and turned right”
“If you knew that why did you said we should turn into the tunnel then”
I wondered, ‘why is she constantly attacking me?’ I did not respond.
At this point, light traffic and light powdery snow made the driving less stressful than it normally would have been, given that all this was occurring at the peak of closing hour between 5 pm and 6 pm. Soon enough we were back at Slussen, up the bridge again and by Kungstradgarden, left onto Regeringsgatan and then inevitable right turn onto Nybroplan. We avoided the tunnel; Klarabergs tunnel and drove to the traffic at the junction of NK and Salenhuset and drove right heading towards the east. I knew this patch of the city very well since it was right behind our office block and I was one for a good brisk walk every lunch.
There were no right turns; it being all one ways and so we drove straight till the aggregation point of three major streets to join Birgerjarl gatan. I had some idea we were heading towards the right direction, the only catch was I had rarely gone down the whole route; we drove on until we were getting close to the round about before Technical High School. I did hot realize we had already passed Technical High School and I was looking for some familiar landmark which I never quite made out. The definitive landmark which actually happened to be on the street parallel on the right to the route we were traveling on was the major bus station at Technical High School. When we drove to the round about, it was sickening to realize that all road signs indicated south again, with Nacka prominently displayed, Nynashamn and nothing to indicate Nortalje.
“Where do we turn … Where do we turn?”
“I don’t know I guess we have to go back.”
My gut feeling tells me to drive forward a few more meters, but that gut feeling has worked against me a few times these past two hours, unless of course I was misinterpreting what it was telling me.
To the right is a car park and a kiosk selling hotdogs. She branched towards the parking lot with the kiosk. A Kiosk I had seen a thousand times from the bus and now could not effectively recognize, so much for knowing the territory. The absence of the expected can actually throw our reality of balance, making the obvious and familiar assume a faint similarity, a sort of déjà vu, yet completely out of place. This thought only occurred later.
Presciently, Anita was at it again.
“Go and ask from the kiosk the direction we should go!”
I wondered, ‘given the circumstances, would you not be better off listening to the directions yourself?’
“Why don’t you come along and listen to the direction yourself.”
I requested of her.
The kiosk was manned by a couple of Middle Eastern looking men and when I knocked on the window they invited me in to make my purchase from inside the café.
“Well, I just want to ask for directions”
The window rolled up and I asked with whatever little dignity I had left.
“Where is the way to Technical High School?”
He pointed the way we had just come from. I was just silent. This time I did not wonder, I was simply out of opinions. If there was a Technical High School down the road we had traveled it was conspicuously out of my scanning sight.
“Where is the way to the University?” She quipped from behind.
“Right ahead, continue in the direction you were driving.”
I wondered, ‘did she know the way all the time?’
I refused to contemplate further that thought for its full ramifications short of being a mean joke I refuse to engage in. I do not put the idea beyond some pairs in very bad relations. Talking about relations how exactly would I classify ours. Grade it a class A or B?’
Anyhow, knowing that Frescati was right up ahead was re-assuring, suddenly, the kiosk, the car park and the buildings came into focus and I believed I knew where we were. We were actually on the right road. I wondered why the roundabout lacked a distinctive indication as to the directions towards Frescati, Nortjale. I comforted myself with the thought
‘After all these years one would think they would get these simple things right. Why assume that everyone is a “Stockholmer” who ought to know the obvious way is right ahead.’
I was under no delusions at all, that whatever reason there was for not indicating Nortalje at that definitive roundabout was as good an explanation as my irritated observation.
We entered the car again, Prince, was sound asleep, curled in the back seat. We were tired, we just wanted to hit the home road. Ten meters ahead, the blue sign indicated Nortjale. It was superfluous, for one could see the Aquamarine towers of Stockholm University and of course you turn left and drive 24 kilometers straight home. That is if you were a regular on the road, then you could always orient yourself using the University towers otherwise the road sign was the sure indication that you were on the right road.
Half way through the 24 kilometers Prince wakes up and the mother wonders
“What should we have for dinner? Maybe we should call for noodles?”
Prince loves noodles and assents vigorously.
“We turn on Arninge road, and stop for the call for the noodles to be made. The restaurant was in Vallentuna and we drive at a fairly comfortable speed to get there.
“You know, it is not the best to react with extreme emotions when under stress, you did not have to drive all the way to Nacka to turn around”
“It is over!” she yelled.
“Did you have to bring it up again?”
I wondered what she was all heated up about. I was just trying to carry forth some pointers from the experience. After all it is a learning experience.
I kept my thoughts to myself. Better agree and let it pass, all these hot air and heated emotions, could be used to warm a body this cold winter night.
“You are right, it is over, sorry for bringing it up”
We drove in silence till we turned into the parking in front of the Chinese restaurant.
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