Note – The following story was my entry for the Indo-Norwegian Writing Competition. Unfortunately I did not win a prize but I still would like to share it with all of you. I welcome any feedback that you may have. And of course, all characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Through the window of her office on the 5th floor, he seemed like just another tourist lost in Oslo city centre. With a look of wonder on his face, he was strolling leisurely, taking in the surroundings at his own pace. Camera around his neck, backpack on his shoulders, a few days of unshaven beard and unkempt long hair – he resembled the typical student traveling during the summer break. This was hardly a traditional summer break though, with the temperatures in Oslo around 15C, it resembled winter in most tropical countries. Few brave souls still ventured here to experience life in one of the world’s richest nations and of course, hope to catch a glimpse of the world famous Northern Lights.
Life is funny, she thought to herself. People travel thousands of miles from across the globe to see the Northern Lights yet she never took the time to see them. Then again, she could hardly afford to go globetrotting as and when she pleased. While her pay packet kept her well fed and watered, it barely allowed her to indulge in life’s luxuries. Living alone had its own pros and cons, the positive side being the independence and the negative side being the lack of instant access to her father’s wallet which was always bursting at the seams thanks to Norway’s vast oil reserves.
She brought her gaze back to the tourist. There was something about him that made him stand out from the rest of the five million people that travel to Norway every year. He had an air of childlike curiosity around him. He looked like he led a life of adventure, excitement and endless thrills. He did not seem like someone who would be satisfied with a desk job, working nine to five, dealing with paperwork and office politics. He looked like he was living the life that she had always wanted – to break free from the clutches of capitalism and travel the world.
“Maria, your lunch break is over!” Her boss’s sharp voice broke her daze. She quickly composed herself, stopped staring out of the window and got back to work. Tourists come and go every day, there was no point distracting herself from her work just for a stranger. Besides, promotion season was coming up and she had to perform her best to get a raise. Before she started tapping away on the keyboard, she took another peek out of the window to get one last glimpse of him. But he was nowhere to be seen.
He stared at the skyscrapers looming above him. Occasionally he spotted a sharp dressed businessman through the partly tinted windows of one of the office blocks. Donning their crisp white shirts, navy blue pinstripe suits and bright patterned ties, they seemed to have the world under their feet. With an annual bonus larger than most salaries, sky was the limit for them to indulge in their weird and wild fantasies. Movies had taught him to believe that they did nothing all day apart from shouting loudly on their phones. Long lunch breaks were an essential part of their lifestyle and with a personal secretary at their constant beck and call to take care of all their worldly needs, life could not get any better. Or so he thought.
He lusted after a stable job, a steady income, no stress and a fat paycheck at the end of the every month. To live in Norway, a country with one of the highest standards of living in the planet is all that he wanted – a life behind the closed doors of the some of the world’s largest financial institutions. He would give up everything to work in one of the towering buildings that surrounded him. But perhaps it was not to be; perhaps he was forever destined to be a struggling photojournalist in a developing country.
Friday night after work drinks was always a drag. A long standing tradition of her office, the partners of the firm took the newcomers out for drinks to learn more about them and make them feel more welcome to the firm. In reality, they merely wanted to appear that they were socializing with all strata of the company for the media and corporate social responsibility side of things. You could see the dullness in the eyes of the partners as they daydreamed about the other places they could be spending this time at – home with family and kids for the married ones or at fashionable nightclubs for the single ones.
Maria glanced at the clock on the grimy wall of the pub. It was still only half six. Oh joy, just another half hour to go. As she scowled to herself, she spotted him out of the corner of her eye. He was sitting at the bar counter by himself, slowly sipping a pint with a travel guide in one hand and a smoked salmon sandwich in another. He briefly looked up from the book to look around the bar with the same childlike wonder that had captured her attention earlier during the week. A flood of thoughts emerged in her head as she debated with herself whether it would be a wise decision to go up to him. It was now or never.
She politely excused herself from the table, went to the bar counter and ordered a Gin and Tonic for herself. Turning around to face him, she smiled and played with her lustrous Scandinavian blonde hair to catch his attention. He was lost in depths of the book and hardly noticed her efforts. Slightly miffed that her charms were not working on him, she took a deep breath and asked him “What’s that you are reading there?”
He had never imagined that a casual evening out at the pub would end up this way. Last night had been like a dream come true. He lay awake on the queen size bed staring at the textured white ceiling of his hotel room. Quietly laughing to himself, he turned to his side to see her beautiful face asleep next to him, dimly lit by the red light of the digital clock on the bed stand that glowed a dull 6:12. He was never a late sleeper and would have normally been awake by now, doing his daily exercise. But today warranted a break from his rigorous schedule – he was willing to give up a bit of his workout to spend more time in the company of a beautiful girl.
As he lay his arms around her, she half woke up, playfully grabbed his nose, gave one of those award winning smiles before turning around and going back to sleep. Life sure had mysterious ways of solving one’s problems. Fantasies of a future working and living in Oslo built up in his mind. The woman next to him had been an angel sent from heaven in answer to his prayers.
He stood up slowly, taking extra care not to disturb her sleep and gently trundled to the window. With a sense of vigour, he threw open the curtains and took in the vast landscape that lay ahead of him. The sky had never looked bluer, the air had never smelled sweeter and city had never felt more alive. He was in love – with her, the city and a new lease of hope.
Monday morning 9am. Work was the last place she wanted to be. After a magical weekend, she felt on top of the world. A casual stolen glance followed by a coincidental meeting turned out to be the best thing that had happened to her all year. She spent the rest of the weekend in his arms, slowly falling in love with him, his passion and the endless possibilities of life that he brought. He said he was a photojournalist! The very thought of traveling the globe capturing breathtaking moments made her heart skip a beat. She had waited a lifetime to meet someone like this, daring, dashing, and leading a life filled with never-ending voyages.
Life with him would bring something new every day. A new problem to solve, a new challenge to conquer and new joys to be experienced. She leaned on her desk and twirled the standard company issue ball point pen around her nimble fingers. It would be crazy, her parents would call her insane but hey, you live only once. With that thought in her mind, she stood up, straightened out her skirt and marched to her manager’s office.
The Royal Palace dwarfed him. Leaning on a lamp post, he held the camera to his eye trying to figure out the best angle to photograph this two century old building. She had called him and wanted to meet for coffee. A bit late in the day for coffee he thought, staring at his watch but the sun was still high in the horizon given the extreme latitude of the country. They didn’t call it land of the midnight sun for nothing.
His mind swiftly wandered back to figuring out the optimal angle for the photograph but was promptly interrupted by sound of panting. She was behind him, arms on her knees as she caught her breath. Before he could ask her what happened, she straightened herself and promptly blurted out “I did it. I finally did it.”
“What did you do?” he asked with a slight hint of hesitation. She grinned back “I left my job. That soul destroying job. I am going to come traveling with you. Let’s paint the world red together.” A sudden shock overtook his senses but he managed to force a twisted smile. “That’s great Maria, that’s just great.”
“I know right, is it just not the best thing ever?” she replied and held out her arms in anticipation of a hug. He sighed. Her blue eyes sparkled cheerily in the evening sun but he could not bring himself to do this. Apparently the grass is always greener on the other side. So he turned around and did the only thing he could think of. He ran. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him. He ran away as far as he could. Life sure had mysterious ways of surprising him.