So far this morning I’ve discovered that 1) figuring out a few words of Swedish does not one fluent make, and 2) I am the worst human on earth.
Yesterday I was so proud of myself for puzzling out that ‘drag’ meant ‘pull’ and succeeding in opening an actual door (I know, someone ring the Nobel committee for achievement!). On the high of accomplishment, I booked the apartment building’s laundry room, gaily assuming that any instructions on the washing machines would simply make themselves comprehensible to me. I was wrong. The bloody machine stayed silent and dark no matter what buttons I pushed. Arse.
The basement laundry room appeared to only have a single florescent light in one corner; the gloom fitted my mood perfectly, even if it did nothing for the headache that’s been tugging at my temples all morning. Alfie was contentedly zooming his trains along the tiled floor. He appeared to have forgotten this morning’s dramatics, even if they’re seared on my brain forever.
He’s been drawing on the walls. Every bloody time I turn my back it seems, I’m confronted with maniacal swirls in every colour of the rainbow all over the walls of our rental flat. Yesterday I hid every crayon I could find in a kitchen cabinet high off the ground, yet this morning I brought our porridge to the table only to find half the kitchen re-decorated.
So I lost it.
With a two year old who doesn’t understand the concept of “damage deposit.”
I snapped and he stared at me with wide eyes filled with terror and then he shouted back, “not me, Daddy” and I yelled more about not lying and he started to wail and I think if a whip of barbed wire had been available I’d have turned it on myself. Toddlers lie, the mothers of the internet assure me, but the memory of his shaky wee voice pleading, “please Daddy” sends hot prickles of shame over me even now.
I abandoned the washing machine for a second and crouched by Alfie, kissed the top of his strawberry curls. “Daddy loves you, wee man,” I muttered.
“Red train,” he replied, holding up just that.
“Ten out of ten, pal.” I said, and he patted me on the knee.
He seems to be the forgiving type, which will stand him in good stead if he’s to put up with me for the next few decades. I ruffled his hair and headed back to the of a washing machine that I was fairly confident was mocking me.
Seconds later, the door flew open and a wee old woman burst in with an alacrity impressive for her apparent age. She was diminutive and wiry, her long grey hair pulled into a severe bun, wearing leggings and the sort of floaty kaftan top favoured by artistic ladies of a certain age. And she was thoroughly pissed off with me.
“Sorry, no… speak Swedish,” I muttered lamely, annoyed at myself. I know the phrase for I don’t speak Swedish, I looked it up, I practiced it, and now I had the chance to use it on an actual human being, I couldn’t for the bloody life of me think of it.
She jabbed a finger at me, then pointed at a spiral-bound notebook hanging from the door, which did precisely nothing to illuminate my transgression. I shrugged, hoping that a mea culpa smile would do the trick, feeling suitably chagrined by her tone if mystified by her words.
“Men hej lilla gubben!” Abruptly, she turned her attention to Alfie, her face breaking into a wide grin as she crouched next to him. He looked at her suspiciously.
“He doesn’t speak Swedish either, sorry,” I said, aware of the intrinsic pointlessness of my words, and turned back to the washing machine.
“Vad gör du med tåg?” Alfie didn’t respond, but continued to stare.
“Vad heter du?” she asked, crouching in front of Alfie who looked at her dubiously. I’d just picked up the maddening washing machine instructions again, when a tingling of disquiet scuttled down my spine.
“ Heter Alfie,” Alfie said distinctly.
“Alfie! Vilken vackert namn! Jag heter Magdalena. Hej hej.” She waved.
“Hej hej,” replied Alfie with a brief smile, returning the wave.
My breath caught in his throat, I felt chills washing over me as I turned slowly to stare at my son.
The woman had asked Alfie his name and Alfie responded.
Vad heter du?
What’s your name?
I remembered that one now, from the Learn to Speak Swedish course I’d downloaded onto my phone, listened to about three times then forgotten all about. I’ve never said any of it out loud, I’m sure of that. Tess would probably know the phrase, but she’s barely seen Alfie in weeks and I’m sure she’s not spent the few snatched weekend hours with him speaking Swedish.
Doing my best to ignore the icy fear slithering its way through me, I wracked my brains. TV? But the odd time I’ve resorted to TV — feeling furtive and guilty — to keep Alfie amused while I throw together some dinner, it’s been British shows found online.
I suddenly thought of Mattias telling us that weekend they visited that children Alfie’s age are sponges for language. He told us some story of how he picked up German from some cartoon that hadn’t been dubbed for whatever reason, and freaked the heck out of his parents. That must be it. Obviously that’s it.
“Alfie, c’mon lets go and get lunch,” I blurted. The laundry could wait.
“Trevligt att träffas Alfie.” The woman solemnly shook Alfie’s hand. “Vi ses.”
“Hej då!” Alfie shouted, as I picked him up and held him close.