Archive for August, 2017

At Tjörnin

August 16, 2017

Relatives and old friends observing the three Østergaard siblings, Inge, Oscar and Linus have long silently passed their judgements. Inge, the oldest, was the most ambitious. Oscar, the middle child, was the best looking. The precocious baby of the family, Linus, was by far the most intelligent. Less charitably, they concluded that Oscar had neither much ambition nor much intelligence.  His siblings thought much the same to themselves with the smug satisfaction that Oscar would be oblivious to their less-than-kind thoughts. As is so very often the case, consensus can be wrong.

Oscar completed folkeskole, compulsory basic education, with respectable, but not awe-inspiring, marks. Surprisingly, he plumbed not for a tekniske skoke, technical school, but gymnasium – the higher of Denmark’s late secondary schools. When asked by his gobsmacked parents and teachers why he chose to pursue something so unexpected, he simply said “It should be up to me what I decide to do with my life”. Thinking better than to pursue the matter, they grudgingly accepted his decision.

Oscar muddled through those years in a most unremarkable fashion. His marks didn’t impress and they didn’t depress. His teachers viewed him as a generally pleasant, but unremarkable student. Half the female  and some of the male students, including the captain of the school’s football team who’d never admit to finding any man attractive despite spending far too much time staring at his team-mates in the showers, dreamt of dating him. Oscar just smiled good-naturedly, quietly relishing the attention. Each weekend he went to Vesterbro for his part-time job at Joe and the Juice where he did just well enough to prevent the manager from being annoyed.

A winter holiday at Majorca shocked him out of his good-natured adolescent stupor. A pint or two too much beer and a black eye isn’t much to be proud of, whatever the reputation of the Dane in Sweden might otherwise suggest. For, however remarkably unremarkable as he was, Oscar hated it when people thought the worst of him. The only thing he hated more was seeing the expression of those who, as he knew only all too well, were convinced that their worst suspicions of him were confirmed. Most of all, he dreaded following his parents’ footsteps – the bland domesticity of the truly mediocre whose tubercular dreams grew more wan with each passing year before they finally died.

“Linus”! He called when he heard his little brother coming home. “Hey Oscar”! He said, punching him softly in the arm. “I want to show you something” the older brother told him. “Oh”? Linus asked. Oscar handed him a letter postmarked Reykjavik. The younger brother took it and opened it, reading through it carefully before taking a pause. “You’re moving to Iceland”? He asked at last. “Yes”, Oscar replied.

Oscar chose to forego many of the festivities that surrounded graduation from gymnasium. He was, surprisingly, focused for once. His manager, having no reason not to, agreed to give him a full time position for the summer. “Better a known quantity than a new trainee”, the manager thought. Oscar quietly set his earnings aside. Well, at least the crumbs that Denmark’s tax agency deemed he could keep.

The now thirteen-year-old Linus asked his brother one day in the early days of summer, or what masqueraded as summer in Denmark, “What have you decided to study”? Oscar responded “Environment and Natural Resources”. The mousey Linus was somewhat surprised by this. For the third time people close to Oscar were surprised at the course he chose to pursue. “Surprised that I didn’t choose sport, you little shit”? Oscar laughed, with an almost imperceptible note of sadness as he punched his brother’s side. “No, it’s just, it doesn’t seem like you”. Linus stopped, cut-off mid-sentence by the look on his brother’s face.

Oscar and Linus sat side-by-side, brothers, rivals, blood allies in absolute silence. After what felt like an eternity, Oscar spoke. “I know you call me the ‘daft Balder’. Did you really think I wouldn’t eventually find out? Did any of you think that I was unable to make out what you thought of me? My entire life I’ve been underestimated. My entire life no one seemed to think that I was capable of anything but looking good”. The two fell silent again; Oscar was at the point of tears. Outside, a breeze rustled through the leafy streets of Østerbro. The green leaves swayed like the tassels of a dancer’s dress. “I’m sorry”, Linus said, embracing his brother. Oscar and Linus started crying. For all their misunderstandings, they were always close. They were brothers and they were best mates. Oscar hugged his brother.

A year later, they found themselves sitting side-by-side on a bench at Tjörnin, the Icelandic capital’s picturesque lake. “It’s beautiful”, Linus told his brother. “It is. I’m glad I came to Iceland”. Oscar smiled as he said this; he looked healthier and happier than Linus had ever seen. “Why did you choose to go to Iceland, though”?  Linus asked, not sure if an answer was even needed with the overwhelming natural beauty and Oscar’s new radiance. “I wanted to go off on my own, to see what I could make of myself when no one has any set expectations of me”. The two brothers smiled as they punched each other on the shoulder.