Mother Tongue

We’ve met a few times now, that is, when I can fit it in in my oh so rigid routine. I like her. She is fresh-faced, open, young but 23 and fearless. Or so she seems to me. We meet ostensibly to talk Norwegian. My mother’s tongue. I persist in trying to get a hold of it. I know little. I struggle with the pronunciation and feel tongue-tied and stupid. But she still chatters on to me. Mostly in Norwegian, though sometimes, when it is clear that I haven’t the foggiest what she is saying, in English. We meet in a cafe, an unpretentious place where hoi polloi go for egg and chips and sit on the banquettes in the window overlooking the street below. I feel comfortable in there. He knows the owner from years back. I buy the girl a drink. She never offers to pay, why should she? She, after all is helping me, letting me stumble through the foreign tongue so patiently. Yesterday she brought me another book. They are always childrens’ books. I struggle through those too but they are good practice in seeing the words in print. This particular book was written by a dentist to try and encourage children to take care of their teeth. They are so practical the Norwegians. She shows me another side of the culture. I am used to city dwellers, at least those from the suburbs of Oslo, wealthy, intelligent, cosmopolitan. She is a farmer’s daughter. Both her parents are farmers. And yet, she is brave, and her English is amazing. She has big plans. After her degree her she wants to go to Edinburgh. She never asks any questions about me. I am of no interest to her. I wonder why she meets me. She is kind I think. But not curious. Is that a feature of the young, this lack of curiosity?

I had many dreams last night. In one I was in the sea, it was deep and I was frightened of drowning and what was underneath me. I felt something. Was it a shark? No, it was two dolphins, they rose smiling in an arc in front of me. And yet, it was all very illusory and the sea, rather than being cold, wet and dark was white, like sheets, and billowy as a duvet. My fears were groundless. I was safe, not drowning.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.