'Are you sure those scars are so terrible?'
'They're so goddamn terrible,' I said. His hand moved towards my glasses and I took one step back and raised my fists. It was instinctive. Then he lowered his hands.
'You'd better mind your language,' he said, 'we don't want any swearing here.'
I said nothing, and we walked to the very end of the corridor where he stopped, knocked on a door and opened it, not waiting for an answer. He held it open and waved me in. They all looked at us. One girl giggled. I sensed him breathing down my neck and braced myself in case he should try anything stupid.
'This is Audun Sletten, the new boy I'm sure you have heard about. He's come to us from the countryside so please give him a warm welcome. He, too, likes the Beatles. Don't mind the sunglasses. They're glued to his nose.'
The girl giggled again. She had black hair down to her shoulders. Before leaving he stooped and whispered in my ear.
'I will call your mother about the scars, don't you worry.'
'We don't have a telephone,' I said aloud, but by then he was gone.
'Well not everybody has one,' the teacher said, 'but thank you for telling us.' Half the class laughed.
'You can have the vacant desk by the window.' He had gold-framed glasses, his hair was thinning at the front, but he looked as if he kept in shape because his shirt was tight round his chest and his biceps. I walked in front of the class, past the dais and along the row and sat down at the desk by the window. I hung my bag on the hook at the side. It had stopped raining. The sun cut through the clouds and the light turned the playground into a lake, and there were rafts on the shiny water, and fishing rods and a dam like the one up by Lake Aurtjern, and you could stand there and cast your line where the fish hugged the rocks. As I turned to face the blackboard everything went dark and it took some time before I could see through my sunglasses what was written there in chalk. WELCOME! it said. I ducked under the desk and folded my boots down again.
The bell rang and I was the last to leave, I didn't want anyone at my back. The teacher's name was Levang. He wanted to shake hands and be nice, so I shook his hand and mumbled something even I couldn't make out, and headed off. I crossed to the other side of the playground and leaned against the wire mesh. There was a football pitch beyond the fence, but it was deserted now, the dark shale steaming. To the right of me by the prefabs, kids were chasing each other, playing tag and splashing water. To the left, by the main building, the older ones were standing in clusters talking. A few girls were skipping rope, and coming straight towards me was a boy on crutches. I had seen him in the classroom, on the right, a little closer to the blackboard. I glanced left and right, but there was no one else by the fence. He had dark, curly hair and boots like mine, with kinks written on the one and hollies on the other. They were English pop groups, but I did not have any of their records. I did not have any records at all. We just had Jussi Björling, the Swedish opera singer, although I did have a transistor radio that I listened to in the night.
He stopped a few metres away from me, leaned on his crutches and smiled.
'Cool shades,' he said.
Cool crutches, I thought, but I didn't say it. They were cool in a way, like an extra part of his body he took with him everywhere, he didn't even notice, they were just there. 'I'll be rid of them in two months,' he said, following my gaze. 'I've had them for a year. They don't bother me now, but I can't wait.'
Per Petterson. Excerpt from It's Fine By Me. Copyright © 1992 by Forlaget Oktober, Oslo. English translation copyright © 2011 by Don Bartlett. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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