Your Eyes are Tired. Whom Do You Want to Call?

The Öresund train from Malmö to Landskrona. Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch on my knee. I lose myself in the rich, precise language, enjoying her craft, of how deftly she chisels forth the characters and their world.

A perfect Saturday is ahead of me: soccer, swimming in the sea, and a party. A friend with a car is going to pick me up from Landskrona station.

When I get off the train, balmy, delicious breezes blow from Öresund, turning me into Ernst Kirchsteiger. I find myself a bench and wait for my friend. I take off my shoes and I close my eyes to take in the sun.

“Excuse me?”

A woman and man of 25 years old. I recognize them, they were on my train; it came in from Copenhagen.

“Can we use your phone?” the woman asks. She smiles with tired eyes.

“Whom do you want to call?” I reply, handing her the phone. She unfolds a note with Arabic letters on it.

“Zero… zero… four… six,” she reads.

“That’s the country code for Sweden,” I interrupt her, “You don’t need to put that in.” They look at each other. I’m unsure if they understand. Her English is shaky and it looks like the guy’s is no better.

“We are in Sweden, after all,” I add.

They look at each other and let out a big laugh, light and carefree, as if they had hoped they were in Sweden, but didn’t dare to believe it.

“Where are you from?”

“Idlib.”

Idlib.

Syria.

They had been travelling for ten days straight: a boat from Turkey to Greece, car to Macedonia, on foot over the border to Serbia, the same to Hungary, a car ride to Germany, a train to Denmark. And thus the Öresund train to Sweden’s Landskrona.

I dial the number on their piece of paper and hand over the phone. A short call with the man’s brother who lives in Landskrona. Wide smiles.

“He’s on his way,” she says.

The couple sit on the bench next to me. They have no luggage, other than her ragged purse. They couldn’t take anything when they left Syria. The woman starts to explain. “Idlib… it is…”

The brother arrives. Exclamations of joy, tears, hugs. We say goodbye and the trio drive away. My friend arrives and we leave. A sweaty game on a manicured field. I blow a couple of chances in the beginning, but I nab the ball from the defender and luck be the top corner into the back of the net.

The swim afterwards is so good I want to scream. The salty water is 20 degrees, with added fresh seaweed. When I get to the party, my wife is already there, striking in her silver frock. All guests have chosen a color to come in. I got pink. It’s a fun party in a lush garden. We play some games on the porch and everyone is getting into it. Laughs all around.

The next morning, I google Idlib. Airstrikes against a hospital. Massacres. Chemical weapons. Photos of dead children.

“Many civilians were subjected to chlorine gas, in what is thought to be two attacks by chemical weapons, carried out by government forces in Idlib on Monday. The attacks meant that civilians, amongst them children, died a painful death.” — press release by Amnesty International, 18 March 2015

“Idlib’s streets are practically abandoned, a week after the city in the country’s northwestern region was taken over by Islamists, amongst them Jabhet al-Nusra, a jihadist group with ties to Al-Qaeda.” — Dagens Nyheter, 11 June 2015

“At least 20 Druze residents in Idlib province have been shot dead by Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhet al-Nusra. The jihadists consider the Druze faith as blasphemy.” — BBC 11 June 2015

I look out the window. It’s sunny again in Malmö. We cycle to Västra harbour and go for a swim. At night, it’s chicken falafel in sammoun bread. I read some more of The Goldfinch. I lose against my brother in Wordfeud.

This is a translation of Niklas Orrenius’ column in 29 August 2015 print issue of Dagens Nyheter.

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