To begin with, I took a bus to Gatwick. That phrase is entirely insufficient. I forgot that the tube had closures on the line I wanted (District, District, District, I have loved thee, I have hated thee…) anyway. Waiting for trains when you are late is a rotten, rotten stinker of a feeling. I popped up to ground level, and ran like a sneaker-clad hare for the bus stop, cheered on by several cheeky bystanders. I round the corner, and see the bus, sitting there. Run run run ruuuuunnnnnnn……on the bus. Through Gatwick, onto a little plane, little but not tiny. Over the dark ocean. It is 11pm when the plane touches down in Skavsta airport. You know, you would not think snow would be an emotional experience. It’s precipitation, for crying out loud. But London, for all its wonders, does not have good Northlandy snow. Sweden does. Obviously. It was immediate, the moment I saw snow. Home. This is like home.
We got off on the right foot, Sweden and I. Even the sparseness of the airport reminded me of northern Minnesota, and I knew in reverse why the Swedish settlers in Minnesota stuck with such a weird place. You don’t love it because it is lovable. You love it because it’s home(y).
I am starving. I sit down on the Ikea furniture to eat my dinner, thinking to take the bus at 4am, get to Stockholm ever so conveniently at 6am, get picked up, and see the city. Neat little plan. I think well, perhaps I’d better make sure the buses are running when the site said they would.
Au contraire. The ticket lady informs me that the last bus till 8am is nearly full.
Well shiz. I go out in the soft, snowy cold, and stand with a bunch of other people, staring fatalistically at the full bus, most of them smoking. The driver informs us we can either stand the 2 1/2 hours to Stockholm or stay here. “I’ll stand.” I say.
No sooner have I got myself situated in the aisle than a mother with a sleepy toddler taps my arm and indicates I can have her child’s spot. He doesn’t care, he stuffs his face in her sari and falls asleep. I thank her and doze pleasantly till the myriad lights of Stockholm appear, along with a large bus station.
A dark, closed bus station. It is 1am and I am alone, in the middle of winter, in a city I don’t know.
A plan. I have need of a plan. The plan is to not go off this street, so I can find my way back easily when I get picked up. Start walking.
And behold! The familiar logo of Burger King. It is open. I walk in, buy nothing, and sit down at a small table. The place is full of people, talking animatedly or exhaustedly eating their Whoppers. They are travelers, street people, night-owl natives, and me. In the spirit of Lemony Snicket, ( “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”), I have Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in my backpack. I begin to read, hardly looking up till the boy sweeping the floor taps my shoulder and apologetically informs me that they are closing.
3am. I’m already a ways from the station, and nothing else is open. It’s chilly, probably about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind is nasty, and I head for a three-sided bus shelter. Sit down, make sure as little body is exposed as possible, and keep reading. I owe J.K.R. one for that night, because it would have been awful without her story to keep me company. With something to do, it was interesting, even enjoyable.
During breaks in reading, I watch the street in front of me.
It is quiet, clean, unthreatening. I hear a distant siren once, and a street sweeper truck passes. Otherwise it is empty. Occasionally, well-dressed hipster-looking kids my own age pass, prancing down the street in the wee hours. They don’t seem intoxicated either, they are simply wandering and talking, pushing each other into the street. Later, I am informed that this is a result of the boredom of deep winter, when the sun is only up for about 6 hours or less. The ol’ internal clock starts to malfunction.
Three boys stand across the road. Two of them look wealthy, the other has a streety, crustpunk vibe. I can hear them, and though they’re speaking Swedish, I find their body language and tone tell me what they’re saying. They’re saying goodbye in the drawn-out way of people who aren’t sure when they’ll meet again. After several hugs, the scruffy one lopes across the street and past my spot. His friend yells what I take to be the Swedish version of “Take care!” after him, watches him disappear, and walks on. little tiny stories……
I was supposed to text Christina. A girl comes and stands next to me at the bus stop. I ask her with my bestest manners if I may text my friend on her phone. She hesitates, smiles, and hands me her phone. I begin to text….
the autocorrect is Swedish, and her bus is coming!
I put spaces between every character, and hope it makes sense. Hurryhurryhurrysendlittlemessagesend!
I walk to the bus station, which is now open. As I walk through the doors to the parking lot, I see someone vaguely familiar walking towards me. Even though I haven’t seen her in years, somehow I know it’s Christina.
Back to her house, and I collapse in a big soft bed in a big pretty house in pretty much utter pooped-out contentment....
To be……continued…….(because Stockholm is nice in daylight too.)