“Is it Sweden or America or North Korea?”

Lucinda Palme

“Is it Sweden or America or North Korea?”

Oscar Eklund, the sexagenarian past working age of 65, arrived at the Central Station 15 minutes before the agreed time with his mates. A habit of his working life that is reluctant to leave him: be there before! He and his friends were going to their friend’s funeral. Because he had come jogging all the way from the islandic part of Gothenburg over the River Göta Bridge, he felt to rest: sit.

The afternoon was gloriously sunny.

The area in and around the Central Station had some people, neither many nor few, and they had the look of preoccupied minds, and running to this side and that side in twos and threes and more. Sweden had just won the match against Switzerland in the FIFA World Cup, and had entered into the quarterfinals in three decades.

Festive air hung across the city over Sweden’s football accomplishment.

Instead of entering into the train station, Oscar stood outside and found a wall of the station skirting the footpath and roadway overlooking the empty vastness. The edge of Queen’s Square 5 had slim chair cushions, and small tables in front them, and they were inviting. He sat, opened a bottle of water and started drinking to quench his thirst and tiredness.

A world floated and swam as people emerged from all sides and going everywhere and nowhere.

A short bulbous woman rushed to him from the corner of the wall, and told him, “You cannot sit here, it is only for customers.”

Oscar felt he had infringed in some one’s private space but it is almost in public space. He obediently stood up and took a step forward, wanted to say ‘sorry’ and took another step but something flashed on his mind, and he retraced those two steps, and sat back. He began to drink water again.

The waitress repeated, “You cannot sit here, I told you already,” and she sensed his brisk change of decision to sit back, and added, “sorry”.

Oscar smiled at the waitress, and he had not smiled at a woman of her age in a long time, and said, “Sorry to you.”

“Don’t you understand,” she said meaning it as a statement but it sounded like an interrogation.

Anger has left Oscar, many a years ago. He asked the woman, as gently as a man of his age, “Is it Sweden or America or North Korea?”

“This is only for customers, for those who buy something in the restaurant,” the waitress said.

Oscar realized that behind him was a glassed window of Mr Wok & Ms Sushi. The eatery had its entrance next to another entrance and exit of Central Station overlooking Nordstan the shopping complex. The eatery’s ownership of its space blended into the premises of public space and to the colours of the brick walls of the train station.

Almost transforming his smile to a laughter, Oscar asked, “Are you stupid or insane?”

“I will get the manager,” she announced and stomped away to the corner and into Mr Wok & Ms Sushi.

The manager and the waitress presented before him, and the waitress armed with the escort, said, “You have to leave, immediately, otherwise …”

“Feel sorry to your dickheads,” Oscar said, still with a lingering smile.

The manager of Mr Wok & Ms Sushi could see in Oscar a man who valued common sense and not nonsense. He knew the (leased) ownership of space to the restaurant, and it did not permit the non-customers to sit in its leased space but it spilled over into the public space: on to the walkway, and into the edges of the road.

Unable to quickly elicit a response of interference from the manager, the waitress said, “We will call the police.”

“Load of shit in your heads,” Oscar remarked with a wide smile and gave a grunt of laughter. And he looked into the eyes of the manager. On their minds flashed ‘allemansrätten’ the right to public access: the daringly-achieved and dearly-held right of Swedes.

“But,” the manager opened his mouth, “our rules …”

“Capitalist pricks and corporate pussies,” Oscar said widening his face as wide as possible to a smile, “invading the public space,” and he saw two of his friends, at a distance, just off from a tram. He shouted at them, “Hej,” but told the manager and the waitress with glee, “Sorry, I’ve to go.”

—Lucinda Palme