It got dark by four in the afternoon, so it felt later than it actually was by the time I got to the train station. It was cold, about twenty degrees. It was right after a blizzard had passed through the area so there was a fresh coating of snow on the ground. I was waiting to board the 22:59 train back to Oslo. It would be an overnight ride, so I reserved a sleeper car. There were only a handful of people sitting in the outdoor waiting area. Some were huddled together in the corner where the cafe left some tables and chairs outside after they shuttered up for the night. One guy in his fifties with an earring and a fake tan and frosted tips in a ski outfit was smoking right by the sign that said “No Smoking” in Norwegian. Waiting on a bench, I suddenly had an urge to use the bathroom. I followed the “WC” signs to the back only to find that it would be 10 kroner, or a little over a dollar, to use the restroom. They didn’t take coins, as it didn’t matter because I didn’t have any, and the credit card machine attached to the toilet didn’t take AMEX. There was no use in getting change from the convenience store inside the station, and I thought briefly of giving the cashier some cash so I can use his credit card, but then I thought better of it, especially in the middle of the night, a cold, quiet, dark night.
I walked outside of the station. The streets were barely lit so the snowflakes fluttering down were barely visible. I crossed the street and the only store that still had its lights on was a kebab stand. I wobbled over there, my bladder about to explode, there was a middle-aged man inside the stand wearing nothing but a t-shirt, a cardigan, some loose-fitting pants and slippers. He had a bit of a belly, a receding hairline and was unshaven. He seemed tired, but alert, and had kind eyes. I was hopeful. I tried to explain- “Machine only takes Visa or Mastercard.”
“Yes, and I only have American Express.”
“Where you from?” he asked in a thick husky accent.
“I’m from America.”
“America?” his eyebrows furrowed. There were a lot of Asian tourists around. “You stay here?”
“No, I will be heading back to Oslo tonight.”
“Oh,” he said quietly and pensively to himself. He must have seen the desperate look on my face, because he nodded and waved me to the door behind the stand. I lept up and carefully treaded through the snow to the back of his little kebab stand as he opened the door which lead to the wooden stairs that lead to the bathroom on the second floor. I kept the American custom of purchasing something – a Coke- in order to use the restroom. He didn’t seem to mind, and as he was giving me change, I felt bold enough to ask where he was from. He hesitated, but finally said, “Iraq.”
“Oh, wow.” I said. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to ask him if he was a refugee, if he lost anyone in his family, or if he ever saw any parts of the war that has ravaged his country for so long, and how he ended up so far away from his homeland. I was curious about what he did back in Iraq and if he was happy in Norway.
But all I could say was, “And it’s so cold here.”
“Only today,” he said softly, “when there was snow.”