Stillhet

The carriage was crowded because the platform was crowded. The early train from western outlying towns to central Oslo and the airport was predictably full. This was my first time on the R11 to Eidsvoll. I was just happy to be waiting at what I hoped was the correct train to fulfill my long commute. The internet map predicted almost two hours. Every travel is a new “adventure” for me.

The train stopped at the last moment – to me at least – I thought it was going to bypass our stop. There were fewer groggy Norwegians towards the back, less competition was attractive to me. A fellow traveler pressed the little disc on the carriage to open the doors. We squeezed in, so much for less competition. I took an awkward standing position wedged behind someone’s chair and a railing, spilling about half of my body into the walkway. My feet were planted at different levels.

And then nothing.

Stillness.

Movement and stillness.

We were rolling to be sure, but all was still. It’s weird how you can notice the absence of sound, that silence can be an overwhelming presence. Well almost silence, there was an unmistakable throb penetrating the calm. Ear buds.

This was a “quiet car,” Stillhet in the local language. My seven weeks of using public transportation has made it easy to understand the stereotype of the taciturn Ola Norman, but really, nobody rides the bus to party or make friends. Given this was the Stillhet car it just upped the ante. And our young and stylish man was unwittingly committing a taboo.

Nobody moved. Eyes transversed, but seldom heads. I hate earbuds. I might have been holding my breath – there was no way I was going to do anything to contribute to the clamor. The train speed increased so that the outside noise of rushing air and hum of the rails overwhelmed the latest techno hit. Exhale.

Next stop, Skøyen. More commuters boarded, including two young ladies. The trouble began immediately. Standing room only, the hubris of youth, plus the convention for silence; something was going to give.

I now had a seat to witness the lead up to violence. Where they 20 years old? Well, let’s just say 20. They entered the carriage together, continuing a conversation from the platform. Or more correctly, one of them was continuing a conversation from the platform, I’ll call her Rose.

Rose dressed locally, complete with a wide gray scarf wrapped once about her neck as is the style. In her left had she held, no, waved, a smartphone in a red case. She kept talking.

Rose stuck out. Did I mention Rose was also a “non-native Norwegian”? Let’s say her family came from southeast Asia for the sake of argument, my apologies to Rose. Non-native Norwegian is the best polite phrase they have here for people who don’t look the part. Rose sounded the part, but she didn’t look it.

I noticed the man from the Lysaker platform standing astride the right doors. He got on with me. I looked at him looking at Rose. He looked about 50.

For a Friday, he was a well dressed businessman. I first noticed his nice raincoat, it was tan and short, so stylish. Beneath was his blue checkered shirt with oxford collars, open at the neck of course. White undershirt. Nice dark blue pants that were neither jeans nor Dockers, a brown belt. And to be complete, a conspicuously large wristwatch suggesting his inner self fancies scuba diving deep-sea wrecks and Formula One cars.

Rose kept talking and gesticulating. He was looking at her. Staring was more like it. He was boring a gaze into Rose that should have snuffed her out. Rose’s native looking companion faced Rose and away from me. She seemed to be dressed more frumpy and subdued: a white Northface jacket with print and a tan backpack. She had curly and long dirty blonde hair.

The hero at the door kept staring, his right hand gripping the yellow grab-bar unnecessarily hard so that his knuckles pulsed between white and pink as his heart beat. He teeth were clenched. I think he was mentally willing Rose to shut up before something bad happened. The other passengers starred in their own directions, blankly.

“God, Rose,” I thought, “shut up already, you should know better.” I had that feeling like when you are about to see a terrible accident on the highway. Rose continued her yammering.

And then it happened.

Coming home the from the trip Friday to Nannestad, my bus was invaded by a barrel of monkeys. Actually, I think a barrel of monkeys would have been quieter. A class of first or second graders rushed aboard from an outing, now on their way back to school. Kids ran up and down the aisle. Some sat on top of railing or seat backs in a carnival like display of disrespect for the laws of physics. I finally saw their teacher, she was watching but said nothing. The other adults said nothing.

In fact the other adults ignored the chaos all together. This cacophony of sound and whirlwind of bodies was not worth noticing. “Norway, Where kids run free,” sounds like an appropriated hotel chain slogan. Correction, some of the adults did notice, the one’s near me beamed smiles and friendly nods at the children. Maybe it was a chance to vicariously escape the trappings of adulthood? Perhaps some reminisced with their memories? But two stops later the children piled out of the bus like they piled in and the riot continued on the sidewalk as the #32 bus drove away. Calm returned.

Ola lead with his right fist, it crashed into Rose’s unsuspecting face below her left eye. Although not necessary, a flurry of punches and then stomps ensued. And then it was over. Rose’s companion bent over to attend to her. Ola resumed his position astride the right door. Nobody moved. The other passengers starred in their own directions, blankly.

Rose was dragged off the carriage by her companion at the National Theatre station. I lost track of Ola. The R11 continued on to Eidsvoll.

Stillhet.

Ola did not attack Rose, I imagined it. How many other people imagined that too?

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