Erlend Loe - Naive. Super - The Wall


Anybody who rides a bike

is a friend of mine.’

Gary Fisher

The Wall

I have two friends. A good one and a bad one. And then there's my brother. He might not be quite as friendly as I am, but he's OK.

I am borrowing my brother's flat while he is away. It's a nice flat. My brother has a fair bit of money. God knows what he does for a living. I've been paying little attention to that. He buys or sells something. And now he's away travelling. He told me where he was going. I have it written down. It might have been Africa.

He has given me a fax number, and instructions to fax him mail and messages. It's my little job. A simple and manageable job.

In return I am allowed to stay here.

I appreciate that.

It's just what I need.

A little time to take it easy.

My life has been strange lately. It came to a point where I lost interest in it all.

It was my 25th birthday. A few weeks ago.

My brother and I were having dinner at our parents’. Good food. And cakes. We were chatting about this and that. Suddenly I surprised myself by reproaching my parents for never having pushed me to do sports at a high level.

It was totally unreasonable.

I said stupid things. That I could have been a pro today. Had a fitness curve. And money. Been travelling all the time.

I accidentally said that it is their fault I never made anything of it and that my life is plain and boring.

I apologised afterwards.

But it went on.

That same evening my brother and I played croquet. It's not something we do often. The old croquet set had rotted away under the garden shed. We drove to several petrol stations to find a new one. My brother paid for it with one of his credit cards. Then we paced out the course and put down the hoops and pegs on our parentslawn. I chose red and my brother chose yellow. I don't know if they were the colours we used to have when we were younger. I don't remember.

We started playing and it went well for a long while. I quickly got through the first two hoops. Got an extra turn and continued. I was on top of things. I became an attacker long before my brother, and placed my red ball behind a tree and just lay there waiting for him, laughing and making jokes. I became brash.

When my brother started looking towards the bush, things had stopped being funny several minutes before.

I could see what he was thinking.

Surely that's unnecessary, I said.

But I knew he wouldn't care. He placed his right foot on his ball and adjusted his aim to where he figured the stroke would cause the most damage. He stood there for a long time aiming for the edge of the garden. The very end of the garden. Where the grass stops being just grass and becomes more like moss. He made a couple of careful test swings. To make sure he would be able to maximise the power of the stroke, and avoid hitting his own foot, which is the most humiliating thing of all. Then he croqueted my ball into the big bush. He croqueted the red ball really fucking deep into the big bush. Into the heart of the bush. Where the sun never shines.

It was a really fantastic shot. I don't blame him for it. I would without a doubt have done the same thing myself. But my reaction. That is what surprised me.

My plan had all the time been simple and quite cowardly. I was going to casually hang around the finish area, and then croquet his ball so far away that he wouldn't believe it. And if I missed, my back would be free, since he still hadn't completed the course. But if I got him, I would smack him against the peg at many kilometres an hour, and top it all off by saying no when he suggested another game.

I could forget about all of that.

I had missed one time too many. My brother had become an attacker and now my red ball was under the big bush.

I didn't give up. I wanted to come back. I planned to croquet his ball under the car. That was the only thing that kept me going. That he'd pay. That his ball some way or other would get stuck under the car. That I'd be able to watch him crawl on all fours, or on his belly, so that he'd get dirty and start swearing.

But first I had to hit my ball out of the bush. I lifted up the foliage and pushed it aside. Then I shone a torch in there. Back and forth in the heart of the big bush. All the way in there I could see the ball. It wasn't possible to see that it was red, but there was no doubt it was my ball. My brother, naturally, stood laughing.

I took the torch in my mouth and crept into the bush. It was dank, probably just a few degrees above freezing. I have hated this bush for as long as I can remember. Now I was about to strike. I aimed. This would go well. I was convinced it would only be a matter of seconds before I was on top of things again.

I would get my brother, the bastard.

But I took three turns to get out of the bush. And as I stood there brushing off the leaves and earth, still with the torch in my mouth, my brother roqueted me and sent me into the bush once more.

This is one of the reasons why I believe that he possibly, deep down inside, is not quite as friendly as I am. I would not have sent him into the bush twice. Once, yes. But not twice.

When my brother wanted to get me the third time, he missed, and I got him instead. But when I was about to send him under the car, I didn't hit the ball properly and the stroke missed. I must have been over-eager.

From there he made a swift kill. He croqueted me to the peg and the game was over. We stood there arguing for a while. I accused him of cheating and we studied the rule book and argued some more. I said a few things that were really off the mark. In the end my brother asked me if something was wrong. What's the matter with you? he said.

I was going to say nothing, but then I felt everything flowing over inside. It was overwhelming and upsetting. I have never felt anything like it, and I was unable to speak. Instead, I sat down on the grass and shook my head. My brother came and sat down next to me. He put his hand on my shoulder. We had never sat like that before. I started to cry. I hadn't cried for years. It must have come as a surprise to my brother. He apologised for having been so brutal during the game.

Everything seemed meaningless to me. All of a sudden. My own life, the lives of others, of animals and plants, the whole world. It no longer fitted together.

I told my brother. He would never have been able to understand it. He got up and said come on, shit happens, it'll be fine. He tried to get me on my feet, boxing me brotherly in the stomach and shouting a little. My brother used to play hockey. He knows about shouting. I told him to take it easy. I said this was serious. My brother sat down and took it easy.

We were talking. I was completely incoherent. Neither of us could understand much of what I was saying. But my brother took me seriously. I'll give him that. I could see he was getting worried. He hadn't seen me like this before.

He said there are probably thousands of people who hit the wall every day. Most of them probably have a hard time of it for a while, but then it gets better. My brother is an optimist. He wanted to help.

I sat there thinking this had to be the pits. I was afraid that I had become fed up with life, that I would never ever feel enthusiasm again.

Then my brother said he was going travelling. He would be leaving in a few days and be gone for two months. He offered to lend me his flat. I said thank you and we sat without saying anything until my brother looked at his watch and realised Sports Review had begun. He asked me whether I would object to going inside. It was my birthday after all, and there was cake left.

The next morning I awoke feeling things could not continue the way they had been. I lay there thinking.

It wasn't anything to do with croquet. I was certain about that.

Croquet is a small thing and this was a big thing.

Quite soon it began to dawn on me that this had a direct connection with the fact that I had become 25 and wasn't handling it very well.

To me, growing older has for a long time been associated with a certain uneasiness. I generally don't give a toss about space, but I have a problem with time.

While I was getting dressed I realised there was no way I could spend this day doing the same things I used to spend my days doing.

The days would have to become different.

The nights, too.

I stood for a while looking out of the window.

Then I made a choice.

I cycled up to the university and said I no longer saw myself in a position to complete my degree. The departmental secretary asked me if there was something the matter and if there was anything she could do. I thought her concern was touching, but I didn't feel like talking. I thanked her briefly for her interest, and answered yes to the first question and no to the other.

I cycled back to town and put an end to the rest of my old existence. I visited the paper where I had from time to time submitted material, and told them I wouldn't be writing any more for a while. Maybe never. I also cancelled my bedsit, the telephone and the newspaper subscription. And I sold my books, and the TV set.

The rest of my belongings I fitted into a rucksack and two cardboard boxes. I placed the boxes in my parentsattic and put the rucksack on my back, and cycled home to my brother's place.

There I sat sweating.

I had performed a feat.

No nonsense here.

This was not Sesame Street.