On Day 10, we go for a long walk in a forest very strange for Swedish standards: it has no blueberries. Instead, it has ferns and moss and grass like ordinary forests, and more deciduous trees than usual. It also has giant anthills almost every few steps, and we spend a lot of time watching the jumble of ants going about their days, running back and forth without apparent reason or grappling with objects much larger than them.
Then we turn into another path, and D notices what he thinks is a dog.
“That’s not a dog”, I say after another few steps. The perfect stillness of the shape in question is very un-doglike, enough to make me question if it’s even an actual animal.
It is: after another two steps, the fox turns abruptly and flees into the grass beside the road in a high jump. When we reach the spot, it’s long gone or hidden.
A bit farther along the path, we find a dead mole by the road – barely more than a handful of animal, wrapped in shiny black fur, with delicate pink paws and an equally pink snout. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a real mole, but it’s always strange: they’re so much smaller and more delicate than children’s cartoons depict them.
Back home, I finally book my return trip home. I’ll take the bus: nineteen hours and thirty minutes of travel from Malmö back home, not counting the time it will take D and me to get to Malmö. But it’s affordable and environmentally-friendly – the company even offers the option to pay slightly more for carbon-neutral travel, achieved by a donation to a project that provides families with more energy-efficient stoves. Paying proves difficult (credit cards or PayPal only), but fortunately M allows me to use her PayPal account.
After paying, I get two PDFs with my ticket and luggage tags per email, to be printed out and shown to the bus driver. Given that I am currently living in a house without a printer, this is a bit of a problem as well – hopefully I’ll be able to print them at the library, or I might be stranded here.
We play Connect Four. D always wins unless sheer luck favors me, because unlike me, he actually has strategies – I just react and occasionally try short-term, simple things. I get bored with playing quickly, especially because waiting for a lucky win and then denying him a rematch is much more entertaining than collecting my next loss.
“It’s not about winning, it’s about having fun”, he argues, full of conviction.
“Alright”, I reply. I’m pretty sure my eyes flash with a challenge accepted, but he doesn’t seem to notice anything.
I openly complain about every move he makes that destroys the board’s symmetry during the next three games, and in the fourth I spend all of my first four moves occupying the lowest slot in every other column while he builds a tower in the middle. He drops his fourth piece on top of his tower and then gestures at it emitting sounds of utter bewilderment.
“I was making a pattern”, I explain.
“But you let me win!”
“But it’s not about winning”, I tell him innocently and watch him remember that that is exactly what he told me four games back. His face admits defeat despite the four pieces on the board declaring his victory.
It may be immature, but it’s so much fun to bring some chaos into the rules.
In the evening, we scroll through the movie hard drive together and don’t find much. I bring up Prevolution once again, and D grimaces and grumbles that it’s stupid once again.
“But it has apes“, I tell him, very passionately to make up for the fact it’s not actually an argument, and then somehow we end up watching it. D discovers a few minutes in that he’s been thinking of a different movie in his assessment and is very pleasantly surprised by how good it is. I am not, because while it has its weak spots (as every movie does), I fell in love with it the first time around. (There’s just something incredibly powerful about Caesar’s narrative of unrecognized personhood, continued abuse, and ultimate triumph.)
On Day 11, we take a trip to the national park: blueberry forest with hills. I’m in my element, considerably more so than D, who needs a break after less than two hours of walking across rather easy terrain. I suppose having to lug around shoulders like a bull negatively affects his stamina. (Although frankly, even then it’s somewhat surprising – I’m used to my father’s pace, and even with a heavy backpack, only one lung, and about twelve years older than D, he’s a worthy hiking partner. Can experience matter that much in hiking? Is it better cardio? Better nutrition?)
On the way home, D suggests we get pizza and offers to pay for mine. I’ve lived off bread, chips and Joylent for the past ten days, so the mere thought of a hot pizza with tomato sauce and vegetables and actual spices gets me all hyped up.
We stop at a restaurant to order and spend a while trying to decrypt the menu so I can play my usual game of “which pizza requires the fewest modifications to become vegan”. (Every modification is a modification that could possibly be misunderstood or forgotten, and getting a pizza without the cheese but with the salami is no fun. Also, it requires more talking.)
When I’m fairly confident the vegetariana’s only non-vegan ingredient is cheese, we order. None of the pizza descriptions list tomato sauce or cheese as ingredients, so I don’t know what it is in Swedish (and even if I saw it written down, pronuncing it would be a challenge) and just repeat “one pizza without cheese, please, no cheese” as clearly as possible until the waiter holds up his hands in surrender. I very much hope it’s also in understanding and do my best not to worry about it while we wait.
Eventually, D receives two boxes emanating the most promising aroma and pays quickly, eager to get back on the road to go home. With the pizza scent filling the car, it’s all I can do not to dribble onto the steering wheel. (Fortunately, traffic is light, so any possible lack of concentration on my part does not lead to getting us killed.)
Back home, D suggests eating on the porch to catch the last sunlight. It sounds great, and he puts the pizzas down and goes off to haul out an actual table for extra luxury.
I open the first box with slight trepidation: a delicious-looking arrangement of peppers and olives, and cheese. Okay, D’s pizza then, I tell myself and move on to the next box: cheese again.
It’s already paid for, I argue. The harm is done, no take-backs, might as well eat it.
My brain takes a single look at the idea of me biting into the pizza and returns a lot of question marks with a side of disgust. Why would we ever want to eat that..?
I sigh and give up. The only reason to eat the pizza would be pleasure, and the expected pleasure is a negative integer in this case, so it’s bread for me (again) and two pizzas for D.
D shakes his head and rages at the pizza place, pointing out that I loudly asked for no cheese multiple times. I am quietly dejected while getting some bread to eat in front of the PC as usual to distract myself from the grim reality of not-pizza (no use sitting out on the porch watching D eat it while I don’t).
The human omnivores of this world (free of lactose intolerance, allergies, religious restrictions, and squicks for very common foods) don’t know how lucky they are. (On the other hand, D eats both pizzas and spends the rest of the evening uncomfortably full, so maybe he’s not that lucky.)