Read an Extract from I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork

Read an Extract from I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork

Chapter 1

Walter Henriksen took a seat at the kitchen table and made a desperate attempt to force down a little of the breakfast his wife had prepared for him. Bacon and eggs. Herring, salami and freshly baked bread. A cup of tea brewed from herbs from their very own garden, the one she had always dreamt of having and which was the reason they had bought this house so far from the centre of Oslo, with Østmarka Forest as their nearest neighbour. Here, they could pursue healthy interests. Go for walks in the forest. Grow their own vegetables. Pick wild berries and mushrooms and, not least, offer their dog more freedom; it was a cocker spaniel Walter Henriksen could not stand the sight of, but he loved his wife, which explained why he had agreed to all of the above.

Phew! He had got away with it again. And he promised himself that it was the last time. Healthy living for him from now on. No more office parties.

He swallowed a bit of bread with herring and fought a battle with his body, which wanted nothing more than to send the food straight up again. He took a large swig of orange juice and tried to muster a smile, even though his head was throbbing as if someone had clobbered him with a hammer. Last night’s office party had not gone according to plan; yet again, he had failed to stay off the booze.

The news droned along in the background while Walter tried to read his wife’s face. Her mood. Whether she had secretly been awake when he had collapsed into bed in the early hours – when that was, he did not know, but it had been late, far too late; he did remember taking off his clothes, had a vague memory of his wife being asleep: Thank Christ! he had thought before he had passed out on the too-hard mattress she had insisted they bought because she had started having back problems.

Walter coughed lightly, wiped his mouth with the napkin and patted his stomach to show, falsely, that he had enjoyed the meal and was now full.

‘I thought I might take Lady for a walk,’ he said, with what he hoped resembled a smile.

‘Oh, all right, then.’ His wife nodded, somewhat surprised at his offer because, although they rarely discussed it, she was perfectly aware that he cared little for their three-year-old bitch. ‘Perhaps you could go a bit further than just walking her round the house this time?’

He searched for the subtly passive-aggressive tone she often adopted when she was displeased with him, the smile that was not a smile but rather the complete opposite, but he failed to find either; she seemed content, unaware that anything was amiss. Phew! He had got away with it again. And he promised himself that it was the last time. Healthy living for him from now on. No more office parties.

‘No, I was thinking of taking her up to Maridalen, perhaps follow the path down to Lake Dau.’

Walter Henriksen fell to his knees and automatically did something he had wanted to do since the moment he first woke up.

‘That sounds perfect.’ His wife smiled.

She stroked the dog’s head, kissed its forehead and scratched it behind the ear.

‘You and your daddy are going for walkies, and you’re going to have a lovely time, yes, you are, aren’t you, Lady, my lovely little doggy?’

The walk up to Maridalen followed the pattern it usually did on the rare occasion he took the dog out. Walter Henriksen had never liked dogs, he knew nothing about them; had it been up to him, the world could do without them. He sensed a growing irritation towards the stupid bitch that was straining on the leash, wanting him to walk more quickly. Or stop. Or go in any direction other than the one Walter wanted to go in.

At last he reached the path that took them down to Lake Dau, where he could finally let the dog off the leash. He squatted down on his haunches and attempted to pat the dog’s head, show it some kindness as he undid the leash.

‘There you go, you have yourself a bit of a run-around.’

The dog stared at him with dumb eyes and stuck out its tongue. Walter lit a cigarette and briefly felt something almost resembling love towards the little bitch. After all, it wasn’t the dog’s fault. The dog was all right. His headache was starting to lift; the fresh air was doing him good. He was going to like the dog from now on. Nice doggy. And, strolling around the forest – well, life could be worse. They were almost friends, him and the dog, and would you just look how well-behaved she was now: good doggy. She was no longer on the leash and yet she walked nicely by his side.

And it was at that very moment that the cocker spaniel decided to take off, abandon the path and run wild through the forest. Damn!

‘Lady!’

Walter Henriksen stayed on the path and spent some time calling the dog, but to no avail. Then, muttering curses under his breath, he threw down his cigarette and started scrambling up the hill in the direction where he had last seen it. A few hundred metres up, he stopped in his tracks. The dog was lying very calmly in a small clearing. And that was when he saw the little girl hanging from the tree. Dangling above the ground. With a satchel on her back. And a note around her neck:

I’m travelling alone.

Walter Henriksen fell to his knees and automatically did something he had wanted to do since the moment he first woke up.

He threw up all over himself, then burst into tears.