This morning I woke up with the sunrise, around 8am. Today is my day off. The sky was a glowing pink with hints of neon and peach embedded in a soft purple backdrop. When I logged into Instagram (I’m trying to quit, I know it’s an awful habit) half an hour later, my feed was filled with pictures of the sunrise. Well, not exactly filled since everything shows up on the feed via a supposedly popularity-based algorithm now. But there were enough to make it clear that I was not the only person transfixed by the sky’s whimsical morning display. After some disappointing half awake scrolling, I post a photo from the night before that I took on my way home from work. It was dark already, just shy of 5pm, ice on the streets and a thick haze saturating the sky.
I live right next to an elementary school where they hose the soccer field down in the winter and let it freeze into solid ice. It is pretty quaint, despite it being one the most beaten down, neglected schools in central Oslo. The majority of children attending are from immigrant backgrounds and since their parents do not speak Norwegian at home, they struggle to pick it up in a setting where there are several others speaking their mother tongue. Sometimes I’ll pass kids and teenagers on the street, absently tuning into their conversations. Some of them speak with very peculiar intonations. Even though the majority of them were most likely born in this country, their Norwegian is mediated by their native languages: Somali, Arabic, Vietnamese. Honestly I can’t say my Norwegian is much better, even though I tested out at the highest level last fall and am now technically eligible to apply for another masters degree or a doctorate here without having to rely only on what is available in English. The American accent is one of the ugliest and I’ll never fully shed its’ traces. Not to mention the occasional misplaced adjective, mumbled vowel, hastily conjugated verb, or odd preposition.
The iPhone photo posted on Instagram depicts a chain link fence between the skating rink and the street. The fog manifests itself in the exaggerated glowing white spotlights trained on the frozen field. Where the two panels of fence meet each other, a triangle is unraveling. A banner that triumphantly declares the playground to be drug-free is barely hanging by one loop and resembles a flag of surrender.
I feel like surrendering. Faintly I detect the robot vacuum’s motor churning and sputtering downstairs, stuck on the kitchen rug. He’s wriggling and writhing, beeping impatiently for me to come down and get him out of this predicament. He’s neither the smartest nor most expensive model, but has an undeniable charm. I ordered him directly from Hong Kong from an app on my phone. When he arrived last Friday, there was a sticker on the box warning me not to open it because it had not yet been processed by the tax authorities. Since it was in Norwegian I blissfully ignored it; it’s easy enough to pretend not to understand if directly approached. Anyway, he really picks up a lot of dust and hair from our single, albeit borderline excessively fluffy grey cat. And he’s beautiful, his golden disc-like body gliding over our parquet floors with two rapidly rotating, thin black brushes, flailing like stubby arms.
I really feel him, this robot vacuum. When he gets stuck, it’s just because he overestimates his capabilities. He has two built in rubber wheels, like those on a tank but in miniature, that allow him to climb our highest pile carpet and sometimes, but not always, traverse over the tubular chrome legs of the white Wassily chairs upstairs. The chairs may or may not be original; we bought them used online and I spent two days painstakingly scrubbing out years of cigarette smoke. Meanwhile, the robot is still chugging along with a gentle whirring sound and flashing blue LEDS.
He looks tired, I think I’ll send him home to his charging station under the stairs. The whirring stops abruptly as I press the house icon on his remote. It is replaced by a dull hum and shuffle. He’s going slow, trying to find his way. I let him bump into the cat bowl a few times before going over and physically picking him up. He wriggles in my hands, trying to break free, so I am quick to set him down a meter away from the station. The place I drop him off should be a straight line, but he gets turned around a few times anyway and softly bumps into the side wall, the banister, the wall again. Eventually he hones in on the correct signal and makes a bee-line for the charger. Two short beeps confirm he’s made it. I think about the phone calls I need to make, boring and bureaucratic, and turn on the water boiler for coffee.