The world is a beautiful place. Earlier today I took one of the more scenic selfies imaginable with the artic landscape behind me. I was smiling because I had just written a great chapter for the book version that ended with, “The journey isn’t over but I’ve learned more about myself in these trips than I have doing almost anything else outside of the first night I sat down to start writing my first book. How’s it going to end? I’m probably more excited than you to find out.” Oh, how little I knew on what was going to play out just hours later.
Also, remember how Day 7 Part 2 ended, “This may make no sense to you, but this journey here has given me so much knowledge about myself and others and from that I feel this greater sense of confidence because people may not be that scary after all.” I was feeling rather elated today and this evening I had an amazing conversation with a fellow Aspie that I met here in Hammerfest and his awareness of Asperger’s, well, he could take my job! No, really, the terminology he used was akin to mine. It was a great conversation but I was getting hungry so I walked down towards a pizza place and that’s where the drama began.
When I walked in this place had an aura of creepiness. Being a writer I could probably come up with a better word, but that’s the exact thought that came to mind. There was no waiter and one man at the bar. I didn’t know whether to wait or sit and I approached a table but was unsure whether to stand or sit. The man at the bar made a motion of sit or come here, I’m not really sure, so I walked to him and asked, “Is this the pizza place?” to which he said yes. I then took a random table and then from the kitchen the waitress came and brought out a menu and apologized for the lack of an English menu. I ordered my usual pepperoni mushroom to which she replied, “No other veggies?” You should see the pizza menus here; I’ve learned ordering two toppings is a rarity as Norwegians love their toppings by the dozens… or five.
I sat patiently staring out into the Hammerfest evening and the occasional car that would drive by when the man at the bar asked me what I was doing in Hammerfest. His English wasn’t the best but he then walked to my table and asked if he could sit down. He asked me my name, I replied, he said his name which I couldn’t make out, but he asked once again what I was doing and I responded with writing a book. I then discussed travel and that “travel isn’t so much about discovering other places but discovering one’s self” to which he grabbed my hand and said, “I like you. You’re special.” This was an odd reaction, I thought, and I hoped that this would be the end of the drama. I was wrong.
The pizza came out and he asked if he could have a piece. It was a gigantic pizza so I said yes and that’s when the bizarre started to happen. He talked about US policy and Donald Trump, I think, I’m not so sure because his speech was starting to slur and he admitted his English wasn’t the best. He talked about Norway/US relations in how we are great allies and after that he grabbed my shoulder and said, “It’d be nothing for me to kill you.” I froze.
I’ve had intense moments in my life the most of which was the hour long ordeal being held captive by a mob of homeless boys in Kisumu, Kenya with my dad in 2005. While my dad and I were both powerless we had a local pastor in the driver’s seat that essentially kept us alive. Here, though, in the heart of winter in the blackness it brings I was alone in Hammerfest with a stranger with his arm firmly on my shoulder making a claim against my life. My brain instantly went into planning on how to escape. I did think about running out screaming but this proved to be risky. I was unaware of Norwegian gun laws and furthermore if I left without paying and it was his word against mine I was sure I would lose and besides all this his hand was still gripping my shoulder.
His grasp released and he said, “Nah, I like you, you’re special and he stroked his hand on my face and inched closer. I was all but pinned in my seat now so I decided to ignore it all. I ignored his comments, I ignored his threat and kept eating. I had gone to eat and that’s what I was going to do. Inside I was a train wreck and he, as I kept looking out into space, said, “You’re thinking a lot, what are you thinking?” and I replied, “Oh, you know, jetlag has hit me hard, I’m just trying to stay awake.” And in my brain I was thinking, “breathe… breathe… Ignore it! Hopefully he’s just drunk and he is harmless.” All the while he kept touching my hand, arm, and shoulder.
Whether or not he was harmless, at that moment, was in material because a real threat had been posed. My appetite quickly waned and I wanted out. He kept talking about the “impending fight to the death” which was about the only words I understood for a while then he said, “I hope you realize I don’t speak for all Norwegians… I’m drunk.” And then a few sentences later he once again said, “But yeah, it’d be nothing for me to kill you.” I had to get out now!
There were five others in this place now and I thought back to when I made a potentially catastrophic mistake in 2011 when I gave a ride to two strangers in Springfield, Missouri in the heart of winter and I told myself I’d learn from that mistake by never being isolated. During those times he said I was, “thinking” I indeed was; I was thinking escape plans. Screaming was high up on the list as was, if he chased me, jumping into the water as that would surely cause a scene… this, obviously, was a last resort. My primary objective was to get out of there without a scene and without any event that was beyond words from happening. To do this I figure I’d use him against him because I made eye contact for the first time and said, “I’m unsure of how one pays in Norway, do I go up to the counter?” and like a switch turning off the nonsensical musings went away and in perfect English he said, “yeah, over there” and he backed up and I was able to get up. He walked with me to the counter and then sat down at the bar and instantly picked up a conversation with a man that was there. I paid as quickly as possible and I didn’t worry about the change but I didn’t leave unnoticed as the drunk man stood up and said, “I like you” and he extended his hand so I extended mine and he gave me this almost secret society handshake and as soon as that was over I left as fast as I could and I made sure he wasn’t going to follow and I had plans as to where to go should this happen but he remained seated at the bar and I’m sure tomorrow he will have no memory of the threat he laid upon me.
Was he a threat? Probably not. Was this anywhere to the magnitude or length of the Kenya ordeal? No, but when a man you don’t know stares you in the eye and says, “Kill you” the internal reaction is going to be severe. I didn’t know who he was, if he were dangerous, and I figured he was drunk which increased the potential volatility of the situation. I’m going to play over and over in my brain if I did the right thing. Should I have just left the second things took a turn for the worse, or was ignoring it and continuing onward as if he wasn’t there the right thing to do?
If one is going to travel one may come across this. Going back to my day one conversation I had with the two people on my flight from Saint Louis the man who had lived all over said, “Yeah, I don’t know how many times I’ve had a gun to my face but you give them a hundred bucks and they leave” but he was talking about impoverished third world nations. This event, tonight, was in the country just voted as, “best place to live” in the world. Maybe it was just the beer he had drank, and maybe, according to the person I had that great conversation with just prior to this event that I conferred with after, “some Norwegians just have to be strong like that and may not realize that a joke like that will be taking seriously.” Joke or not it’s been two hours and I’m still shaking. For those twenty or so minutes I was but along for the ride. I had my various escape plans but I couldn’t predict a single thing that could happen. Was I simply frozen into eating my meal and powerless to ask for help, but how could I ask? The waitress didn’t speak English so if I yelled for help it may have just riled up the drunk man.
Where do I go from here? I had just found this newfound confidence and was willing to open up and immediately I’m reminded of the randomness and potentially villainous ways of some. I can’t let this influence me, but how can I not? Events like the one tonight can and usually play over and over in my head and the feeling of his hand firmly gripping my shoulder and uttering those awful words are as vivid now as when it happened. However, what I also need to force myself to realize is by my words, and lack thereof, I got out, I’m safe, and nothing was done that will have any lasting physical consequences.
You’re reading this either thinking I did the right thing, or maybe you’re thinking I should’ve gotten up right away, but it’s easy to second guess the play call when you’re not flooded with panic and fear.
To end this I have to go back with what I told the drunk man, “travel isn’t so much about discovering other places but discovering one’s self” because am I going to let this moment become the memory of Norway and hinder my ability to travel or am I stronger now? I think I handled this ordeal in the most professional way possible. Is this what I was supposed to discover on this trip in that I can be on my own, and handle whatever life throws at me? This is the essence of travel and if one isn’t willing to find out the answers then perhaps that person may never know what it is like to live.