A response to this week's story craft challenge, "Keeping Them Reading".
Johan and I exchanged glances as we waited for our American colleague to recompile his application so we could push it to one of our phones to test the integration. Small nickel-sized emergency lights punctuated the darkness in our office as we sat at a desk overlooking a patio. The building was old, my coworkers liked to tell me it was older than my country, and the landlords had converted the top floors to flats. The lights in the apartments flickered with a blue phosphor of televisions, but while we waited they died.
I un-muted the phone. "Hey, I've got to catch the last train back to my hotel."
"Wait, I've almost got it," said my American colleague.
Johan raised an eyebrow.
"I can't almost catch the train." If almost worked the way my American colleague used it, the trains would run 24 hours a day. Or more accurately they'd never arrive.
"I'll stay a little longer," said Johan.
"Okay, Johan will stay, but I must go. When you get it working, send an IM to Johan." I hung up. "Heydå, don't stay too long," I said to Johan.
I left the tunnelbana at Sergels Torg and rode up the escalator through several hundred feet of solid rock. Half of Stockholm seemed to live underground with the length of the tunnels between the subway and the streets. I still didn't understand how these tunnels worked, and took the quickest route to the surface where I hoped to see a street or landmark I knew.
I emerged on a city block with pale rowhouses, the streets crisscrossed in large blocks. I looked at the street signs on the side of the buildings, recalling none of them.
A warm wind blew with a hint of brackish salt, and I followed it thinking that if I found the island's edge, I'd find a landmark. I couldn't be that far from my hotel.
The street I followed crossed a avenue with tall beech trees growing in the center and green grass dotted with tulips to either side of a pebbled dirt path. I remembered this avenue from my first trip to Sweden, it led to the Nybroplan harbor or ended at Karlaplan park with a fountain shooting water tens of meters into the air. I could walk along the avenue until I determined my directions.
Ahead of me, four shadowed men sat on a bench listening to a radio. I could ask them for directions, but I had a plan and I'd have to ask them in English. I walked past them, feeling their eyes watch me as I passed.
Ahead of me, the avenue dead-ended at the Karlaplan park. The water flew into the air, spotlights playing on the white foam.
I turned around, walking along the buildings. Wondering whether the men watched me when I walked past them. My legs ached. I took a shortcut towards the hotel and walked through blocks of identical looking row houses.
The street opened into the largest road I'd seen in Sweden. I had no idea where I was. The road was named Valhalla Väg, or way. Across the street, I saw signs for a football stadium. The street was wide, at least forty meters across, with cars diagonally parked down the center. Tired, I passed the Stadion subway station with bars blocking the stairwell. I had no idea how long I had been walking.
Without options, I walked, hoping to cross a street I recognized, but all of them were unfamiliar Swedish names, none of them any more memorable than the other. I looked at a bus stop on the other side of the street. I had seen several bus stops, not giving them more than a glance. Perhaps, it would have a map. Eureka. I searched for Karlaplan, finding it and six spoked avenues that converged on the fountain. My shortcut had taken me away from the hotel. I memorized the streets to walk home.
Entering the hotel room at 3 a.m., I plugged my phone into the wall and called my girlfriend. "You won't believe what happened to me."