“Sandra, please wake up.” Someone was shaking me out of a dream where I was at the opening of the youth centre and where everyone except me had dressed up as unicorns. And I was told off because I didn’t know we were supposed to dress up as unicorns.
“Sandra, wake up.”
I groaned and slowly opened my eyes. My body was heavy, as if I was sick and my mouth was dry. Emma was leaning over me with a cup of coffee in her hand which she put down on the bedside table.
“What time is it?” I groaned and pulled myself up into a sitting position. God I was tired.
“It’s five. Happy birthday. You’ve got to be down in 30 minutes, because as your birthday treat, I’m taking you to spend the day in Skagen.”
I was suddenly wide awake. I hadn’t been to Skagen since I was a teenager. I loved the atmosphere of the small Danish town by the sea. Moreover, I also enjoyed going on the boat from Kristiansand to Hirtshals. It meant buffets and duty-free shopping. And I was definitely in the mood for both. I picked up the coffee and started sipping it, trying not to burn my tongue. “I’ll be down,” I assured Emma. “And thanks.”
Thirty, I thought as I tried to decide what to wear. A nice, round even number. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I’d been sort of panicking about this day. Leaving the comfortable young twenties. Thirty sounded so grown-up. But now that the day was here, it didn’t feel all that bad. Or perhaps it would later, but for now, thirty felt pretty good. In the end I decided on some raspberry pink three-quarter length pair of stretchy trousers, a navy blue t-shirt that was short at the front and longer at the back and my light windbreaker. I put my hair in a loose pony tail. I knew the walk to Grenen, (the branch) where the Baltic Sea met the Northern Sea would be both wet and windy, so I had to dress practically, choose clothes I didn’t mind getting wet in, but since it was my birthday, still made me look neat and pretty.
Emma had brought one flask of coffee and one of tea so that we could keep ourselves caffeinated throughout the journey. We drank coffee in silence as we waited in the queue at Kristiansand port to be let onto Superspeed 1, the ship. There were a lot of people who were going on a shop till you drop trip. There were families with children, elderly men and women who drove too slowly and today, there were a disturbing number of defect Polish cars. I hadn’t yet told her about the articles I’d found yesterday. There was a lot for me to digest and I had spent our one and a half hours of swimming and our lovely Italian meal afterwards doing just that. It was so crazy and complicated. It seemed as if everybody in Homborsund was related to each other in one way or another. Even Gerda was kind of my step-grandma twice over. Her first husband being my paternal grandpa and the second one my maternal great uncle. I wondered what other surprises would come tumbling out when I dug a little deeper. As we sat in the car, I decided that this evening was perhaps a good time to talk. I was going to Denmark for the day, it was my birthday and He would not know I was in Denmark, so I decided it was entirely ok and appropriate for me to just enjoy the day for what it was. Markus had contacted his cousin Merete who was more than happy to meet me on Monday after work. He had also asked if I wanted to go for a coffee some time, which I did. It was good to get to know some people around here. Even if I did end up returning to my old life in London, which was unlikely at this stage, having friends would give me more excuses to come back here often. And if not, if I stayed, I really had to make some new friends.
Finally, we were being let on to deck three behind a midlife crises, a.k.a. sports car belonging to a man in his forties who refused to admit even to himself that he was in his forties, and a defect Polish. DP for short. Emma had booked breakfast buffet for us and by taking the stairs, we managed to avoid the worst of the cackling hens, a.k.a. those middle aged to elderly ladies who always find out that having a conversation on the ship, is most meaningful in the middle of a shopping isle, at the checkout or on the stairs. But most of them seemed to have chosen the less tiresome option of the lift. A young waiter ticked us off on his notepad and showed us to our table. I was starving.
After eating ourselves silly at the buffet, we sat down with a cup of coffee each to browse the deals catalog before embarking on shopping. If someone tries to say that shopping isn’t good, calorie burning physical activity, I’m inclined to disagree. After having walked around and bought a few things we needed, a few things we felt strongly that we needed, and as much wine and gin as our quota would allow, navigate the cackling hens and general crowd, I was certain I must have burned at least 1000 calories. It was all exactly like I remembered, except, I couldn’t remember Captain Kid, the childminder sounding quite so ridiculously cheerful. I wonder how he managed to master that so early in the morning. Probably huge amounts of caffeine. I’d need at that, and some other mood altering substance if I was to handle strange children at all. Probably the reason why I’d never become a nursery nurse or teacher.
My phone vibrated as we drove into Hirtshals. I jumped, thinking I’d left the phone at home. But it was only a “Welcome to Denmark” text message informing me of calling and texting rates.
The drive to Skagen took about half an hour. We decided that the first thing we wanted to do was Grenen. It was warm outside, but love and behold, we’d not taken our bathing suits with us. “If we had brought them, the weather would have been shit,” Emma said as we walked down towards the water. Dipping our toes, it was a little cold at first, but as we waded out towards the point called Grenen, the water felt warm around our ankles. One is not really supposed to either swim or walk in the water around the area. When it’s windy, it is very very windy and it could be dangerous with currents. But everybody does it and nobody really says anything.
After about three quarters of an hour, we finally reached Grenen. Having one foot in each ocean is one of my favourite feelings in the world. You can really feel that it is two oceans because the waves are actually going in different directions and are colliding. The Baltic Sea is also ever so slightly warmer than the Northern Sea.
When we returned to the car an hour later, we had a quick tea and chocolate orange cake break, before we went to the sandy church. It wasn’t a favourite of mine like Grenen, but since we were there, we might as well. The sandy church is a church completely covered with sand, but still possible to enter. The tower is the only thing sticking up. I have the feeling of stepping a thousand years back in time when I enter that building though the church isn’t more than a few hundred years old. And walking up in the tower, I think of a book I once read, The diary of Idilia Dubb, which is the authentic diary of a young Scottish woman who died of hunger in a tower of some castle ruins. She was unable to get down, and nobody heard her cries. Only on the fourth day, her German lover came to find her there, dead. Luckily for me though, the church had a few other tourists climbing up in the tower and there were no crumbling stairs. The view was gorgeous too and we could see all the way towards the Baltic sea.
“It’s just crazy.” We had gone to Jensens Bøfhus for our dinner. Another tradition from the past. I stabbed some feta cheese onto my fork. “Everyone seem to be related somehow in Homborsund.”
I was telling Emma about the revelations of yesterday. Of course she hadn’t been shocked about what I had to say. She knew about Nils Strand being my great uncle. “I never knew him of course,” she said as our food, chicken fillets, vegetables and crisp like potatoes were put in front of us on the table. He died five years before I was born.”
“Have you any idea who Karl Lund is?” I said, pulling out the copy of the opinion column. “She scanned it and shook her head.
“I really don’t know. We don’t always know everyone around.” She laughed and tucked into her food. “And as for your mum having an affair, I don’t know that either. She’d hardly tell her kid sister.”
Full and happy with the day, we walked along the pier, past happy Norwegians drinking beer and chatting and walked towards our car.
For most of the journey back to Kristiansand we sat quietly reading a book each. We only got up towards the end to buy stuff from the food shop.
We reached Homborsund after midnight and started unloading the car. I was totally ready for both bed and a lie-in. tomorrow; I decided to talk to Gerda to find out who my grandma Arlette was and whether she was still alive. Emma had already walked into the house, so I picked up the last bags and double checked that the car was locked. It was then I saw her by the hedge. I completely co-incidentally looked over my shoulder, to see a lady standing there. I couldn’t work out much because it was dark, except for her long coat and elaborate hat. But before I had time to really take her in, she was gone.