The first part of the walk today was in darkness. We walked down the winding roads in the remote mountains, I craned my neck to look up at clusters of stars contrasted with the sky like blotches of paint on a canvas. The outline of the Milky Way Galaxy was faintly visible. Nicole led with her flashlight. There was a technicolor dusk that gave way to a sunrise over the mountains. I walked ahead of the group with Katrine. As we walked on the side of a road, she told me about her father, this weed-smoking, fun loving, cool dad who had changed when he got his new, younger girlfriend after his divorce with her mother. Her dad’s new girlfriend had made inappropriate comments at the funeral of Katrine’s grandmother and overstepped her boundaries as an out-law in the family.
I could hear a nostalgia in her voice for the man her dad used to be before the new girlfriend arrived. I empathized, telling Katrine that my sister had become slightly different since dating and marrying a Scottish guy. I don’t have much basis for this though, my sister is 8 years older than me and we have never been close. It can be hard to get a word in edgewise when in her presence. She commands center stage in a room with her charged chatter and hearty laugh. I had a hard time understanding my new brother-in-law’s dry sense of humor and his accent at times. Katrine would frequently say “What?” with a look of slight irritation when I spoke. I stuttered my way through sentences less trying to impress her than just maintain my composure.
“I can’t understand what your saying. You mumble a lot.” She said.
“Ok, but there are words in English you don’t know, right?” I said.
“Right. You look dumb when you’re trying to sound out the words.” She delivered a second blow to my fragile ego. I went into a mini-shock, I want to curl back up into my shell like a turtle.
“Ok, thank you.” I said.
“I have really bad hearing in my left ear, so it would be easier if you walked on my right side.” Katrine said, raising her eyebrows while holding eye contact, to console me and my delicate sensibilities.
I couldn’t shake the perception of myself as the somber and serious guy. When someone tells me they view me as something I tend to struggle to outpace this forecast they have laid out.
“So what kind of movies do you like?” I said.
“I like the ones with Gerard Butler, or Jason Statham. You know, with the strong, masculine man.” She said.
“Those movies are so bad. The Bounty Hunter. Playing for Keeps with Catherine Zeta Jones is a funny, light comedy though” I said.
“I know, but I like them.” She said, smiling.
“So you like accents then?” I asked.
“I like them. It doesn’t make such a big difference for me. American or British.” She said.
Her eyes contained a light, an unconditional kind regard and an absence of pretension in them. I understood why people gravitated towards her and her aura. When she looked at me, there was an inviting glance and a steadfast hopefulness. Or was it the same good-natured demeanor that was common to all these Scandinavian countries that all scored so high on the “Happiest countries” surveys every year.
If smokers have one thing going for them its that are not judgmental people. It was low pressure peer pressure to smoke cigarettes with her. She was reticent at times and had a wicked cackling laugh that made me feel as if I was a part of an inside joke with her. Her hazel colored eyes refracted at different angles, revealing an array of luminescent colors depending on the time of day. Her changing eye color gave the impression that she was an enigma with many layers to be uncovered. She had a cherubic smile that revealed protruding top teeth. I immediately gathered she was a person that has figured out her place in the world and had an unshakeable belief in her own worth. I am usually attracted to this as it is a foreign and seemingly unattainable concept for me.
I told her I didn’t drink alcohol anymore, and my brother had nicknamed me Jekyll and Hyde because of my scary shifts in personality when I consumed alcohol.
“But you’re a nice guy…. a decent guy.” She said. I noted her use of the English word “decent” as an odd but fitting substitute for “good”.
“I used it as a way to release all of my repressed anger, to become something different from my sober personality. I was an angry drunk. I hated so much being shy that I tried to become the opposite of that. ”
“But why? What’s wrong?” She said, with innocent concern.
“A lot for things, it can be difficult to explain, unrequited love, angst, not fitting in in my formative years.” I said.
“How old is your brother? Are you similar to him at all?” She asked
“No, we are polar opposites, he’s 30 and an aspiring comedian and musician. Basically anything where people are watching him he will excel at. He’s more outgoing, life-of-the -party type than me.”
“You’re not outgoing?” She said.
“No.”I said, puzzled. It’s possible she didn’t know the meaning of this word. or maybe she just didn’t know me well enough yet.
We linked back up with Nicole and Matt as they caught up late in the day. When we arrived at the hostel for the day, I went out to write in my journal on a small bench by the church in the small town. There are few things more relaxing than a sunny day in Spain around siesta time. It’s quiet and old women or men stroll by with their dogs speaking Spanish. I hear the church bell toll at the clock’s strike of the hour. When I returned, Katrine had taken my book On the Road by Jack Kerouac to pass the time on her bed. I de-robed in the close quarters of the 15 bunk-bed room to go to the shower, careful to leave my boxers on, seeing the women in the room.
“Your going to shower with your underwear on?” Katrine said, with a prodding smile.
“Would you rather I give everyone a show?” I said with a grin, feeling un-manly and challenged by her.
Later, she gave me her snapchat account and it had 7 e’s on the end of it.
“To keep away the creeps?” I said.
“Yeah.” Katrine said.