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  • I’m in Oslo, walking through the city from the National Gallery toward my friend’s apartment on the east side. It’s not far. There are no great distances in this city, unless you’re in a hurry, but walking down a busy sidewalk in the afternoon rush is quite a balancing act. I cross the pedestrian bridge to proceed on the footpath along the riverbank. The murky water looks like a lawn, the willows are leaning over, their branches touching the green surface. If I squint it looks like they’re growing upside-down, like I’m in a wonderland where everything is backwards. There are different rules down here, different lives. Down here the inhabitants seek into the shadows, the thicket, the ruins. If you stay on the path, you must move quickly, and you can’t look into anyone’s eyes; the moment you allow yourself to be affected you’re lost, there’s no return to normality, you’ll no longer be able to pretend that everything is as it should be.

    There is a homeless man lying on a bench, asleep, intoxicated, or dead. He’s wrapped in blankets, like an abandoned child. I sit down beside him, watching passers-by move quickly, looking straight ahead and skilfully avoiding my gaze.

    On the other side of the river an old woman is playing the violin, a small cardboard box at her feet. No one seems willing to donate their spare change, or even acknowledge her, but she keeps playing, keeps smiling in a dignified manner, ignored by the people walking by, not condescending to look at her. Who is she, I wonder, who is that person, living her life at the opposite side of all expectations, sitting there all day with her instrument, persevering, a grim reminder of the wrongs of society. We’re all supposed to be responsible for one another, but everyone’s in a rush today; humanity takes one more blow. She is passed over, ignored, invisible, is it a life, is it a story worth telling; is there anybody willing to listen?

    Every person has a story to tell, and every person is the main character in his or her own narrative. Every person has a family, an origin; everyone must come from somewhere, yet they may not have anywhere to go.

    The man beside me lies completely still. I gently touch his coarse face with my fingers, his skin is warm and he breathes quickly, like a child, dreaming. Someone stops; a young woman, she looks at him, then at me. “Is everything okay?” she asks, her eyes expressing concern. I smile at her, reassuring. “Yes,” I say. As long as someone stops, cares, chooses not to pass by, as long as there is compassion, everything is okay.
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