The Northern Express Experience, English

Picture this: A train is slowly making its way through the forests of the northern parts of Sweden. Inside one of the carts there is a table that is stacked full of different electronic devices. Ranging from cellphones to laptops to mp3-players and other devices I can hardly recognize, this table seems to have it all. The trees are flashing by outside the window and the never-setting sun is hovering close to the horizon.

Surrounding the table is three girls roughly in their early twenties, Zach and myself. If you preclude Zach from that equation… I am the one that is the least nerdy.

The three girls quickly fall into some sort of conversational lull even though they didn’t know each other beforehand. Even the girl that is a bit shy is talking quite freely; and she is shy, for real… I can tell. I feel set apart from this group, even though we clearly have things in common… and I wonder not for the first time: How much of my isolation do I take upon myself? Do I impose it on myself as a way of protecting myself against having to interact with people and risk the chance of feeling awkward? Or is it actually me just being that different from others? There are a lot of questions swirling around in my head right now, but very few answers. At least partly I think I stand apart from others just because I don’t -want- to be like them, even if I might really be -exactly- like them. I do enjoy being different from what is generally called the mainstream, a feeling I started embracing when I was younger and bullied. I took control of the situation as well as I could by deciding that I didn’t want to hang out with the other kids, taking that choice away from them and placing it in my own hands. As the talk around the table moves effortlessly between topics they finally end up talking about gaming and programming. The scene outside is switching fast between small bodies of water and even more forests. This country seems to consist of mostly godsdamned trees when you travel through it. The girls seem to be of the same idea – programming is fun. It’s so weird. Where were girls like this when I was young?

As time passes they trade emails and stuff so that they can keep in touch after they have gotten off at their respective stops. It feels so weird to me, just start trading personal info with a bunch of strangers that you’ve met for less than one hour. They’re all students at LTU, the school that I will hopefully attend in the fall… maybe it’s the air on campus that make people extraordinarily willing to communicate with any random individual around. I hope not. After a trip to the rediculously expensive bistro, I come back with dry sammiches, warm soda and a weirdly doughy-semi-warm mini-pizza of some sort. It’s food to feed possibly me and Zach, but it cost roughly around what you’d pay if you went out and bought pizzas and sodas to a family of four. Competition would do ’em good. Or rather, competition would do the customers good… I suppose that’s not really the same. The girls have now started talking about where they want to go and work when they’re done with school… one of them is aiming for a gig at NASA over in the states, one wants to go to Germany or Holland to work in some lab that has a very good reputation and the last one… wants to go to Kiruna. A wide set of different dreams, to say the least. They talk about their friends and other people they know that are also in school but in different places around the world. Japan, China, India, Brazil, France and more… and they don’t seem to realize how amazing it is to be able to do something like that. For them it’s completely natural to be able to go anywhere and follow your dreams. This makes me feel old. Old, and out of touch. When I grew up, the discussion didn’t circle around what country you would like to go to school in or work in, but rather if you were going to go to school at all. To go work for NASA when I was a kid meant that you would have bascially been born at Cape Canaveral, otherwise… how would you get there?! It was just so far fetched. I realize that I had much the same dreams as these girls when I grew up – I wanted to be a programmer or a designer or a teacher… I just pictured myself at MOST working in The Big City: Stockholm. That was exotic enough. The world has managed to grow so much bigger than it was when I was a kid all the while staying the same size. What makes me feel extra out of touch is that I’ve been an active member of that expanding world – I have friends all over the world that I talk to on a daily basis. I keep in touch with Dani in Sacramento, Eva in Brazil, Juliane & Fiona in Germany, Shaun in England and (I’ll avoid using her real name, she’s no fan of it) Dimmie in Australia. The entire world is literally at my fingertips – and I’m -STILL- surprised that they think this way. Maybe I’m just a social creatue when I can hide behind pixelated letters online? I used to think so anyway, but my wife keeps insisting that it’s bullshit. I say that I’m shy and she counters with saying nuh-uh-yer-not. But what she doesn’t seem to grasp is that I’m incredibly shy. I just hate it, so I push myself into situations where I -have- to be social to overcome my fears. I just hide it better than most people.

It’s been the same thing in school… my classmates have kept saying how they think I’m so confident and secure in myself when I talk publically, so when I tell them that I utterly hate it and throw up each time I have to do it, they don’t believe me. I’ve just learned to hide it really well. Also a gift(?) from my time being bullied, I think. By the time we are half-way home, it seems that the girls have finished talking… two of them went off to watch a movie on a laptop, and the third one brought out a laptop of her own. The one that’s still at the table is the shy one, and now that the other two girls left it’s even more obvious. She’s not really comfortable with being alone with me and Z, so she retreats into a world of her own. At least that’s what it looks like to me. Eyes that earlier glimmered with intelligence now seems glazed over, lost in a tv-show or something equally stimulating.

With the departure of the two other girls, Zach gets a seat of his own to my great enjoyment and to the horror of everyone else in the compartment. He’s a loudmouth… but a cute loudmouth. He comments on what passes outside the window with neverending enthusiasm and undying joy. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a tree or a lake or a cow or a rock – it all gets the same attention. His commentary of the train we just met was recieved with laughter all around. -“TraincartcartcartCART!CartcartCARTCARTCART…daad! No more carts!”, all delivered at the top of his lungs. A good thing he’s charming, that’s all I’m saying. Half an hour or so ago a family got on the train. They sat down a few rows back, and since then their kid has slowly but surely worked up the courage to ask Zach if they could draw together. After a little bit of organizing from the parental units they two kids are now seated next to me, eyes down, crayons in hand. Their focus is quite impressive, especially since Zach usually have the attention span of a goldfish with ADHD on heroin.

The girl seems a bit annoyed with the kids… and part of me feels sympathetic to her – she didn’t ask for this company and they are quite loud and she’s shy. The other voice in my head just says “fuck ‘er.. If she can’t speak up, then she can live with it.” Before I can decide what to do, she retreats further into her shell and finds refuge in her computer again. Not wanting to come off as a complete jackass, I tell her that if the kids are too in-her-face, I can relocate them to another table. Of course, she declines and says it’s fine… although I can see in her eye that she’s still bothered, but also a bit relieved that I asked. Inside my own head I’ve already constructed a scenario about who she is, what she does and what she feels based only on the little conversation I listened to and the behaviour I’ve observed so far. In my head she’s studying to be a librarian. She’s a bit shy, loves books and takes refuge in them as often as she can. She avoids other people to the point of obsession, she owns two cats named Kitty and Devil and she loves to play the piano. In her spare time she writes small apps for her android phone and she sells them cheaply but at great profit. She’s fairly well-off because of her software designs, and in her spare time off from school she also volounteers at a kitchen for the homeless. She enjoys reading erotic literature about men watching her but she’s ashamed of it and would deny it fiercy if confronted with it. Her mom and dad divorced when she was young, but they are still friends and they both love her a lot. Her name is Jenny.

Zachs newfound friend just left to go sit with his family again, leaving him with a lot of left-over attention. He shifts it smoothly to me, and like a Good Dad, I’m going to give it to him.

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