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5.1. The first meeting

I call her Alma, and I met her on August 27, 1985. It was a Tuesday.

First, what is coming now can be a fictional story. No factual information is necessarily correct. I say this to «obfuscate», i.e. to confuse and hide, but in reality, to protect those concerned.

She was twenty-eight; I was twenty-four.

We were in the large canteen at the University of Oslo. I ate and read the newspaper. On this day, I registered to study introductory psychology.

It was a sheer «coincidence».

Coincidences do not exist, but we are not yet in a position to discuss that.

She came walking towards the long table I was sitting at.

How is it possible that the only person I have found in my whole life that I experience is much like myself came walking randomly to me at the canteen?

«Are you talking about chess?» she asked.

At my table also sat a group of young male students.

They must have discussed the ongoing World Cup match between Anatoly Karpov and his pure young challenger Garry Kasparov.

It was a thriller.

She must have intercepted the conversation.

Without answers from the others, she looked further down the line. There were two vacant chairs between these boys and me, but she thought I was with them.

Then she made her decision. The choice. She smiled.

«Can I sit with you?» she asked.

«Yes, please,» I replied.

She sat down.

«I have not had time to read anything», I may have said.

She had diplomatically asked if anything was interesting in the newspaper.

She was not going to eat; she had no food with her.

She wanted something.

I can not remember the further conversation.

The words, as bearers in a conversation, were not essential.

The meaning they may have conveyed was irrelevant.

She used a few words. I used a few words.

The meaning was elsewhere.

She was the one who ran it. I just responded. My words may have made her wonder for a moment. Her words silenced mine.

Apart from the newspaper and the tomato soup and a bit of chess, there were no introductory phrases.

I remember that the wolf in me mobilised the shield of ordinary courtesy and a little distance for the first few seconds. Vigilance.

She was like a cat adopting a new home.

One morning it stands outside your door and wants food. You give it a name. You cuddle it. It gives comfort back. It repeats itself; it provides more than it receives.

It takes on its new domain with the utmost obviousness but also with a constant watchfulness as if it sees something we do not see and knows that it can't possibly last.

I was going on the late shift at NRK Radio that day.

I was a relatively recent graduate radio- and tv engineer at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. The job consisted of running live broadcasts and helping journalists edit their programs and features.

NRK was about a quarter of an hour away on foot. We walked as slowly as we could along with the university's Department of Chemistry building. My grandfather, the one with the crystals and quantum mechanics, worked here in the 1930s and 40s.

During the war, employees were given small plots of land on the lawn outside. There they mainly grew tobacco they sold to provide the necessary goods for their families. At that time, he might have been standing there digging.

I could not possibly have thought of that this day.

We came out on the large grass embankment that widens generously in a magnificent panorama of the city.

«It's open here,» I may have said.

«Yes,» she might have answered, walking a little before me.

That way, I could see her.

The weak rocking came from slight powerlessness in the hips. A habit, many would think. Her body spoke with the steps. The force against the hip joint was softly distributed outward, inviting her to participate in the movement.

«She walks in a complete way,» I thought.

«That's how we are created to walk,» I thought.

I always stay a little behind.

I stand in the corners. I like to stand at the back of the queue to be able to observe. Or I put myself first, not to see when needed.

It is rarely needed.

The last thing I wanted right now was to not see her. I tried to follow her, even though she was the one following me. We followed each other.

We relatively unseen entered the breakroom on the second floor of the radio building.

For the last few weeks, I was put to routine work. Run the sport, push the lever up for the presenter in the main control room once every half hour. Folk music.

This evening the plan was empty, except for one job at the very end. We had to stay there until closer to midnight.

What do you remember from a moment more than thirty years ago?

It was Alma and me in the inner breakroom and a couple of female colleagues sitting and squatting in the outer.

I looked at her. She looked at me.

She was already a lady; I was far from being the gentleman I might have finally become.

Her half-long, light hair covered parts of a beautiful, symmetrical face. Not lean, not full-bodied, just right. A little square, a little round. Almost no makeup, if any. Friendly, comfortable.

She was light in complexion too. There was something glassy, fragile about her, or rather soft.

If I had touched her, I'm sure it would be like touching this pillow, the one she was resting on as she walked.

I had not yet touched her but sat and looked at the slightly square body.

A little Chinese.

The clothes, the black trousers, the coat, which had a straight, simple cut, reinforced the impression of something spartan and balanced: style, definitely style.

Her colours were black and grey. A subdued, almost sad palette.

Therefore, her face attracted all the attention. Under the fringe, I saw two warm, beautiful blue eyes. They had a clever glimpse. Playful, a little challenging, but first and foremost, they were wide open, not in the physical sense, but in that they drew in everything in the room, me included.

She was intensely present, without effort or nervousness.

She tilted her head slightly and used the angle to adjust the intensity. The way a sparrow looks at you.

She sent out a stream of signals. They were meant to pull me towards her, that was clear, but they were also investigative. She was as vigilant as me but in a completely different balance.

This vigilance, the presence.

I remember my astonishment that she was sitting there.

She had made a bold choice.

She had picked up a few words about chess and approached my table while I ate an early dinner and read the newspaper. She must have studied me, assessed and decided and then she went ahead and said, without words, that I want to be with you.

In the breakroom in NRK, she sat at a slight angle opposite me. We did everything we could not to make ourselves known. We played hide and seek and the quiet game.

We had met less than an hour ago and were already playing together.

We giggled – insecure, nervously, for my part.

«What is this?» I must have thought.

«What was it we shared and understood so similarly?» I still ask to this day.

One of the well-grown ladies in the room next to ours spotted us and stuck her nose around the corner. She looked surprised from one to the other for a tiny second before she understood the situation.

Then she unfolded her face in a motherly, appreciative smile, which she immediately realised was too big and curious. Her mouth narrowed quickly, and the smile slipped into a telling look. She hurried back. It immediately became quiet between the ladies in the next room before they rushed out.

We did not touch each other.

I do not remember a word.

After a little too long, I contacted the office and asked if the radio presenter, Harald Are Lund, would like to start a little earlier.

The next thing I remember is that we are in K15, NRK's finest radio studio at the time, in my opinion.

Alma had modestly sat down on a chair next to the door. The somewhat oversized handbag stood next to her on the floor, and she took off her short coat and laid it on top. Her body sat lightly. The skeleton and the rest. So soft. Friendly. Watchful.

She was clearly curious about the unfamiliar and piquant situation, but at the same time, she made little of it.

When Harald Are Lund came in, he greeted her with a nod.

«Have you brought your girlfriend with you?»

I could not say anything sensible. Alma came to my rescue.

«We got to know each other today.»

Now I'm lying because she never said that; she probably said nothing.

Harald Are Lund rolled his eyes – differently than the breakroom lady. He twisted his big, black whiskers and looked thoughtful.

«Are you bringing your girl here on a first date?» I could see he was thinking.

«What kind of idea is that?»

Short silence.

He sensed there was something here he should not comment on.

I got the impression that he thought it was a little bit cool. A bit rock and roll.

Then he disappeared into the studio, turned down the dimmer and lit a candle, which was strictly illegal.

Harald Are Lund probably knows the names of all the guitars of all the artists on the west coast of the United States through the ages. He can tell exactly who played when and where and with whom and what they did backstage afterwards, with him.

His programs are long. There are some keywords on the block, and then the method is to let the associations flow freely. His challenge is to make them follow an established path from the frontal lobe, via a cognitive centre in the brain, and on to the vocal cords and out through the mouth.

The way from the microphone, through the vast mixing desk and onto the audiotape – was ready.

I was ready.

Alma was ready.

Harald Are Lund's tongue was tired of receiving vague instructions.

It refused to cooperate.

Harald Are Lund fired off a new battery of incoherent impulses, increased his blood pressure in a hip way, took some artificial breaks with inserted waiting sounds and heard with great wonder how the neurochemical signals that had survived the journey manifested as sound, foreign to its origin.

He insisted on completing his sentences.

The sentences resisted.

New take.

For each attempt, I became more effective at spinning around on the chair, giving the tape reel a solid crank to hurry it back, finding the starting position, going on the intercom with a «Ready for next take?» and forcing the poor, cool little man to make another attempt to utter something he had scarcely had the time to think through, much less was prepared to formulate.

It took a ridiculously long time. We took seventeen shots, at least. Now I'm probably lying again.

As we neared the end, Alma came up with a phrase I still remember, as was it yesterday.

«Whatever you do after you leave here, know I have seen you in your perfect role», she said.

I might be mixing up the order of things. This episode in K15 did not happen until the spring of 1986, more than half a year later. It doesn't matter.

So I must have told her that I was about to quit NRK. That sentence, which she probably said in a much more well-formulated way, which only she is able to, revealed again that she had studied me in depth.

So she said something like that, which was entirely accurate. Naked truth.

Yes, I was perfect then, because she saw it and said it.

She saw me and my role, not her distorted image of me, as everyone else would do because they are inside their fear, vanity, uncertainty, strategy and self-image.

Her self-image did not obstruct or distort what she saw.

She was open like no one I have ever met other than myself.

She looked truly.

She was awake.

She's also a lone wolf; I should have thought then. But this was thirty-six years before I even understood who I am myself.

We drove to my apartment at Kampen, some twenty minutes away, in my dilapidated, red Lada.