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5.5. The daughter

We went for a walk that afternoon. Although October was approaching, the temperature was well above zero degrees. It was cloudy and quiet. We passed some bushes full of sparrows with no concept of seasons.

I probably mess with time and place and might make up some details, but this is not a documentary book. It is a subjective depiction.

Everything is subjective.

The hill towards the church was still covered with a bit of frost from the morning, but with large, bare areas in between that we tried to follow as best we could. It became a kind of game, this too.

We reached the park and sat down on a bench on the open gravel site below the large pool, which in earlier times had served as a reservoir and provided pressure in the water taps.

It was a nice place to sit, with your back to the rock and a view of the whole city to the west, where the sun can sometimes set in a blood-red sea of flames.

The section in front of us was about the same as in Munch's «The Scream». The exact point in the painting was only a mile away. Today the city was grey. I have always thought that this is the right angle from where to look at Oslo.

She sat close to me, maybe mainly because it was chilly.

No, not because of that.

She was quiet. I was quiet.

I could sense a vague restlessness in her small movements. She was thinking of something and wanted to start talking. She changed her mind, tied the scarf a little tighter around her neck and at the same time, squeezed my hand. She took almost imperceptible steps but sank again.

After almost a minute, it came without warning.

«I have a child.»

«I did not know how to say that,» she said.

«Her name is Helene, and she will soon be two years old», she hurried to add.

She spoke faster than she used to, as if to prevent me from thinking about what she had said.

«She has been adopted away.»

The cheerful birds in the bushes had calmed down.

Only the sound of the bus came through as a distant hum in the street far below us.

Alma was quiet.

She did not cry.

I dared to look at her.

She sat calmly and looked back at me.

Her face revealed no emotion.

The eyes that so often had a twinkle testifying to a double bottom were now wholly neutral.

The mouth was not hard, not distorted in any direction. It, too, had been told not to get involved.

It looked like Alma was resting.

She was, in a way, erased.

«Do you have a daughter you have given away for adoption?»

«A tiny child?»

I did not dare to sound elated.

I was not elated. Surprised, yes, but not brought out of composure.

A stream of thoughts went through my head. Who had adopted her? Where was the child now? When did she last see her? Who was the father, and where was he? Why hadn't he taken responsibility for the child when Alma couldn't, for some reason?

I rejected the questions one by one.

They were too difficult to pose. I did not want to hurt her.

«Why?» I thought.

«Why did you give your child away for adoption?»

«How could you do such a thing?»

The questions in my head grew more severe, and they remained unmediated.

Yes, I was upset after all.

It began to dawn on me what a huge loss this must have been for Alma.

It was not so long ago either. Maybe a little over a year?

How could she in any way have come over the loss of Helene?

Her own daughter?

How could she take it so lightly? Did she take it lightly?

«I could not take care of her,» she finally said.

No, she did not say precisely that. She did not explain anything, but she conveyed it nonetheless. We communicated like that; words were not always needed.

She looked at me when she did not say so. Her face had not changed. It might have been a hint of something in her eyes, an assessment of my face, but nothing more. If she had thoughts, they were not visible.

She took out a photo from her bag. It was reasonably large and showed a girl who came eagerly stumbling towards the photographer. You could see the head and a bit of the upper body, so it was impossible to tell whether the girl went for her own machine, but it seemed that way. One could imagine that she was one year old and had just started walking.

The photo was taken just before she poked forward to be received. I imagined Alma sitting on the floor and snapping as her daughter came rocking unsupported towards her.

It was a bit blurry. The hairstyle was like most one-year-olds, tousled, without shape, because there was not enough hair. Her eyes were large and wide. They looked straight into the camera. She was a little chubby in the face and still had some of the baby fat. If it was not black and white, then it was almost colourless.

«You can keep it,» she said.

«Shall I get it?» I asked.

«Yes, you should have it.»

«Then I will take good care of it, so I always have it, just like you,» I said.

I still have this picture.

Alma never told who had adopted Helene or where she was. I did not ask either. We did not talk about her anymore. Not about how she was. Not about how the farewell had been. Not about something that could tear up the wound.

We must have talked, but no, the dialogue may have taken place inside our respective heads.

I learned that Alma had visited Helene after the adoption.

Who was the father?

Alma said little about him either.

His name was Henry, and he lived in another country. He experienced losing a child, never meeting a child who was his own and who he knew was there. It is tough.

The story of Helene, who was adopted away, is reminiscent of my own.

Could I have been adopted away?

Was that alternative ever considered?

I doubt it because my grandmother, or simply «mother,» as everyone called her, was there.

What if she hadn't been able to take care of me either? Could I then have been adopted away?

I've asked my mom. Of course, she can not answer for sure about something hypothetical, but probably she would have dropped out of her education to take care of me instead.

A solution would somehow have been found within the family.

What about Alma's family?

And the father of the child?

No one apparently intervened.