“The End” by Alda Kravec, Reykjavik

BLOG,Love and Heartbreak January 9, 2011 12:00


as shared at a PenTales event themed “The End”

She knew it was time to move on. Iceland had lost the buzz she felt in her first years there and she had lost interest. She had certainly lost interest in learning the language or getting to know people or places outside her favourite bar in downtown Reykjavik. The good times, as they called them, were over, and so was the excitement that ensued after the great crash. The protests, sound and fury had fizzled out. Her friends were leaving and saying, “this place just ain’t no fun anymore,” “I’m going to Berlin.” Or New York, Glasgow or Cairo. She had friends all over the place, and those remaining were mostly Western foreigners, like herself. She had pretty much given up on the locals after a few dead-end, one night stands, “A backwards race of insular, hobbit-like people” she amused herself with saying, and this despite her background in anthropology, which caused her to question the legitimacy of concepts such as race and even to eschew her own Jewish identity. “Well, if it matters to them, I suppose the concept still holds,” she reasoned.

Then something happened, in late January. After having non-chalantly and irregularly attended night classes in Icelandic for just over a year at the Múltí-Kúltí centre on Barónsstígur, she suddenly became intensely interested. But it wasn’t the ceaseless entreaties of impersonal verbs, endless declensions, i-vowel mutation, or pre-aspiration that finally cracked her cold-hearted indifference. Nor was it the joy of fortifying her vocabulary with sexy words like “neðanjarðarlestakerfi” (subway system). The change rather coincided with a change in teachers. The perennial sickness of boring, old, regular, old Jón Þór evolved into his taking permanent leave and being replaced by the rapturous Hildur Gunna.

At first, she was not even fully aware of the true source of her heightened interest. As she caught herself understanding Hildur Gunna’s narrative about growing up on a farm in the east, tending to sheep and potatoes and horses, she figured learning Icelandic was at last beginning to pay off, not realizing that she had merely begun listening. Listening to the clear voice of Hildur Gunna, as it rushed over her like the glacial waterfall in the hidden valley of the said narrative. Her friend and classmate Daniel marvels at her newfound interest, and she struggles to explain, “It’s just that she speaks so clearly, and I’m finally beginning to understand. This is way better than mumbling old Jón Bór.”

No, it wasn’t until that fateful evening, when Hildur Gunna’s hand chanced upon her shoulder. They were working in small groups, the teacher casually circulating the room, pausing momentarily over each group to check on their progress and answer any related questions. Hildur Gunna stood at her group’s table and seemed to listen. Then she leaned over, and as she pointed to something written on the exercise sheet by way of clarification, she laid her hand on her shoulder. In that moment, the butterflies took siege and her world began to crumble.

Was it merely a sort of innocent pat on the back, affectionate only insofar as it warmed the way to learning? Or was there something more to it? She stopped paying attention to what the teacher had to say and studied more her movements and body language. She read everything as a sign. A smile her way sent her reeling with joy; the same smile directed towards another cast her into deep despondency. But despite the general warmth that Hildur Gunna showed to everyone, she could have sworn she enjoyed a slightly greater and tenderer share.

But there was no way of knowing with any certainty. There was only so much information she dared garner from outside sources, namely facebook. No babies or husbands at least, and for any woman over twenty-five in Iceland, this was both rare and promising.

And then the last day of class came. It was the middle of spring and the birds continued singing in the evening light. Class dismisses and the room slowly empties. She is the last to leave, but as she reaches for the door, Hildur Gunna gently takes hold of her wrist, “Can I have a word with you, privately?” A fresh swarm of butterflies swoop down her oesophagus and storm her stomach lining, but she manages to nod silently and follows her to an office at the end of the corridor.

As they slowly approach the door, she thinks about the end of her stay. She has nearly booked her flight to Glasgow, where another life awaits her.

Could this mean the end of her three-year relationship with Alex?

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