Maya arranged it.
‘He’s your type,’ she said, as we ate lunch between classes in our favourite alcove where students never interrupt us.
‘What does that mean?’ I said, pushing my tray aside. I’d read an article that morning about how thin people don’t finish their meals.
‘You know. Tall. Glasses. Kind of glacial.’
‘Oof,’ I said, moving the tray back and picking up my sandwich, then demolishing it in two bites.
‘But is he nice? Intelligent? What makes you think he’s someone I’d actually like?’
‘Well, I don’t exactly know him,’ she said, ‘but I met this professor at a conference – Kari Haugen – you might have read her article about what a shit Knausgaard was to his wife? No? Well anyway, she teaches with him – with Anders I mean, not with Knausgaard – and she put us in touch because our research interests overlap and, well, you know I’m not available but I got a sort of sexy vibe from him and I thought, well, maybe what about Jen – and then when you said you were off to Bergen anyway, I thought why not. I mean, you’re still single right?’
‘Uh huh,’ I said, ‘incontrovertibly so.’
‘So good, that’s it then. I’ll put you in touch.’
She put us in touch. I was giving a talk on Bergen University campus as part of a symposium I’d been invited to. My session was called Hands off, Roth! Rewriting the Jewish Princess and really, I had no idea why anyone in Norway would care about the topic but, in fact, it was packed. And they even clapped – clap, clap, clap at the end, no gotcha questions at all. Not one. It was almost as if they wanted to actually hear what someone else had to say.
As I walked up the hill afterwards, to where the museum was, I was already deep into a fantasy about this Anders dude falling in love with me and how we were going to rent an apartment on the top floor of a narrow house and go to the same coffee shop every day where we’d order kanelbolle and drink coffee and write our masterpieces side by side. On the weekend, we would hike to our cabin in the mountains I could see just beyond campus, wearing fleeces. I would be able to write home to Maya and all the others and talk all about how I was revelling in this life that I now had. Just better really, in every way than theirs with its always-on, medicated, pressurised, knife-you-in-the-back, pathetic drum beat of awfulness. Only I wouldn’t phrase it like that of course. I’d be subtle but they’d know, my life was better than theirs.
And the museum was nice, what I saw of it anyway. You know, stuffed boars in cases and shark’s teeth and school children running amok, laughing. And the coffee shop was even better and I thought. Good choice Anders, my future love. And I so wanted to like him. I wanted it so much.
I ordered my coffee from the extremely nice waitress and sat by the large window in the tasteful chair by the stylish fire and listened to the quiet hum of the gentle music and the people talking around me and honestly, honestly, I wanted to live in that moment forever. I didn’t even want him to walk in. I really wanted the new life. I wanted to sit and type by that window and be one of those people who just lived here without thinking about it at all.
I was so aware of all the tensions that were not within me.
I was so aware that no one around me wished me ill or thought of me at all.
I was so aware of the abundance of possibilities that a new city could hold if I had someone to lead me through its winding streets.
I was so aware of all the many things I could choose to leave behind. This and this and this.
A week later I was back in the alcove with Maya. I had so much marking to do that taking a lunch break was a luxury.
‘So?’ she said, as I unwrapped my sandwich, ‘what was he like?’
‘He was Ok,’ I said, biting into it and feeling the mayonnaise ooze out into my mouth, ‘he was like you said. Icy. Clever.’ I put the sandwich down. ‘Do you want to know what his first line to me was?’
She leaned forward, ‘Of course I do. I’ve been married for six years! My husband pees with the door open. I want to know everything, Jen.’
‘OK,’ I said, savouring the fact I had an interesting story to tell. ‘He said,’ and I put on my best attempt at a Norwegian accent which was bad at best and racist at worst, ‘you are not what I was expecting.’
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘With the stress on you like that? In a good way or a bad way? I mean, how did he look when he said? Happy or disappointed?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said, taking another bite of my never-ending sandwich, and it’s true, I hadn’t known and I still didn’t, ‘he looked like a man I guess, just like a man.’
‘And? So? What happened then?’
‘Nothing,’ I said, ‘not really. We had coffee, we had a bun. We talked about our work. We said goodbye and he left.’
‘Oh,’ she said, clearly disappointed – in me, or in my story. In something. After all, it was impossible to imagine anyone being anything other than delighted when they first met Maya.
I reached out my hand and put it over hers. I didn’t want her to feel bad.
‘It was good though. Overall, I mean.’
‘It was,’ I said, smiling, ‘it reminded me to hope for more, that I can do that and still be OK.’
‘You can Jen,’ she said, squeezing my hand. ‘Of course, you can. The right guy is out there for you somewhere I know it.’
‘Maybe,’ I said, squeezing back and thinking all the time of that huge window, the mountains on the edge of my line of sight, those feelings, the possibility that always exists that I could start over somewhere, someday, someplace.
Over and over and over and over.