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717 Miles

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Even Bech Naesheim should not be here. Well it was not my plan to be here. Not at all. Even Bech Naesheim, age 19, is supposed to be on a beach in Bali. He is supposed to be on the first stop on his Asian backpacking trip of a lifetime. THAT was the plan. That is where he is supposed to be. Not here. Alone.

But here is better than nowhere, and the fact that I am even thinking that I am feeling quite happy. That this is Ok. That it’s better than some of the alternatives that life could have thrown at me. This is just a curveball. It’s OK. It’s just that there is this uncomfortable ball of fuzz in my stomach ruining every thought of excitement and happiness that I should be feeling. I am not supposed to be here.

I am not strictly alone either. I am on a plane full of people travelling to London. England. Fucking UK. It’s always been on the list of places I wanted to visit, and now I am going to live here for 2 fucking months. Well it’s a plan, and I am getting paid for it, which doesn’t suck. It doesn’t suck at all.

It wasn’t a knee jerk decision. Working as an Au pair was never part of my big life plan. I always thought it was something that girls did like a gap year, travelling off in a group to cuddle babies and have coffee and shit. But then this ad just kind of appeared on the screen when I was desperately googling jobs abroad. Anything abroad. Just the idea of getting away from Oslo for the summer so I could forget that everything that I had carefully planned for the past six months had gone to shit. That all this carefully saved up money, well most of it, was gone and basically, I had enough to maybe eat for the next couple of months until Uni starts. If I am lucky. And don’t eat very much. At least I have a place at Uni in September. Thank the fucking Lord and God and all that shit.

So, I had been googling jobs. Jobs abroad that required no experience, because Even Bech Naesheim has fucking zero experience in anything. Apart from fucking shit up and going to school and doing a few shifts for my Dad’s company driving a delivery van. And it’s not like my Dad will give me a glowing reference for the reluctant half-hearted shifts I have been pulling lately.

I had laughed at first, picturing myself with arms full of screaming bratty babies and a double pram and bottles and nappies and it had been quite funny reading the ads. Because never in a million years would any respectful parent employ a Norwegian kid like myself to look after their precious offspring. I am not good with babies. OK, so I have got 2 younger brothers, but Einar and Mach, (yes, my dear Mother was high on drugs when she named him, she tells the story every year on Mach’s birthday, how she was so delirious on gas and air reading this article on Machiavelli, some Italian philosopher dude, and she got inspired and named her darling new-born son. Yes Machiavelli.) I always wondered how Mach has turned out so fucking perfectly level headed and ridiculous with a name like that. Well Einar and Mach are hardly babies. They are both skinny spotty grumpy teenagers like myself.
It had been the first line of the ad that had stood out, that had made me kind of rethink the whole idea of working as an Au pair. The ad had read: Please come and be a friend to my son. I mean how fucked up did that sound. This mother was actually willing to pay someone to be mates with her kid. What a fucking life. It had probably been a good idea if the kid was 7, but this kid was, wait for it. The kid I am travelling across the water to look after is fucking 17. Which makes me laugh again. It’s just so fucked up.
I applied as a joke. I mean it wasn’t like there were many alternatives out there. I had written a little essay about my epic skills as a big brother, outlining that I met all the criteria asked for (can drive, willing to drive on the wrong side of the road, can cook, responsible, not scared to pick up the hoover if needed, and willing to accept 120 pounds per week for the pleasure of being the mate of a 17-year-old.) It’s better than a kick in the teeth. Well it’s better than the alternative. The alternative being staying in my room for the next two months wasting the last summer of my youth.
It was the SKYPE-interview that followed that settled it. The way the mother used the word ‘’troubled’’ in every sentence when speaking about her son. The kid’s name is Isak. And he is apparently troubled. Whatever that fucking means. I kept thinking if that was MY mum, describing ME, well maybe the word ‘’troubled’’ might have featured just as heavily. Well whatever. The kid sounds like a normal 17-year-old. Goes to school. Stays in his room. Needs to be driven to school and picked up every day. Fed dinner. And my job is basically to make sure that he is in the house every night. Alive. In his bed. I mean how hard can it be?
The Mum’s job sounds cool. She is a long-haul flight attendant for one of the big airlines, so she is basically away most of the time, and has a boyfriend in something called ‘’The Cotswolds’’ which sounds all posh and fancy, and spends time there so they can have time together. (Which sounds even more fucked up considering that the 17-year-old is ‘’troubled’’ and apparently needs another person to look after them.) I just don’t get it.
She sounds nice though. Her name is Birgit, and she even spoke to my Mum. In Norwegian. Because Birgit is from Bergen, and her son, this Isak kid, needs to practice his Norwegian so he can apply to go to school in Norway next year. I am the ideal candidate Birgit said. Told me she was desperate for me to say yes. Mum said she sounds lovely. She does.
At least Mum and Dad are proud of me. They said so this morning when they dropped me off at the airport train. Told me at least I had taken responsibility with getting a job for the summer and sorting myself out. Not that I feel like I have sorted much out, but at least I have a job and a plan and a bit of an adventure to look forwards to. Because I intend to use every day of this little impromptu adventure to do stuff that I want to do. It might not be Bali, but it is Fucking London. Fucking London is full of art, theatre and movies. Places to see. People to meet. Chances and encounters and fate and all that fluffy stuff that dreams are made off. Then in September I can go back home and start Uni. It will be fine. It will be all right. I will be fine. I can do this. I can.

I feel sick when the plane touches down at Heathrow. Ridiculously worried. Thinking maybe this was a fucking mistake too. I seem to be making loads of them lately. Stupid irrational last minute decisions. Mistakes that cost me things. Money. Friends. Sanity. I hang my head clutching the airplane paper sick bag. I feel like an idiot. I should be sitting here feeling all cool and suave. I am off to live in London for two months. Instead I am retching into a paper bag and having the guy in a suit next to me pat my arm saying that ‘’I will be fine, that everyone gets airsick occasionally and that it was a bumpy landing so I shouldn’t feel bad.’’ I don’t feel bad. I just feel sick.

I fiddle with my passport in the queue for immigration. Try to get on the free Wi-Fi so I can send a message to Birgit that I am here. Try to text Mum and Dad. Nothing is bloody working. No wonder people have meltdowns at Airports. I have only been here for 20 minutes and I am already wanting to scream at someone, I don’t really care who. Just AHRHHGHGHGHG. Bloody Wi-Fi.

At least my bag is here, and Birgit is waiting outside immigration which is a relief. I recognize her. She recognizes me. We chat. It’s cool. She also drives some kind of cool 4-wheel drive thing built for off-roading, yet she drives it like it’s a tank down the motorway towards London, being all aggressive and honking and swearing through her teeth when other drivers cut her up. The traffic is crazy. I mean I have never seen this many cars in one place like ever.

‘’So Isak’’ Birgit rambles on. ''He needs to be at school at 9 tomorrow. So, if you can bang on his door at 7 and make sure that he is up, and leave a plate of toast and a cup of tea on the doorstep, then he will sort himself out. If you don’t hear him leave at 7.30 then bang again. He needs to have left at 8 latest. Once I get the insurance for the car sorted for you, you can drive him which is better. He is not very good on public transport, he gets nervous. So hopefully on Tuesday you can drive him and then pick him up again at 3.30. You need to be on time. He will show you where to park so he can find you. Don’t be late. Ok?’’

I am trying to process all this information, scribbling on a piece of paper as we drive. Wake Isak at 7. Leave at 8. Pick up at 3.30.

‘’I have got you an Oyster card, so you can use all the public transport and go anywhere during the day. Just make sure you are back in time to collect Isak. I will also leave you a weekly kitty with cash for food for the week. You need to buy anything that you want to cook so there is food for both of you. I am away all this week, then I am back Friday and you can have the weekend off. Does that sound OK?’’

I just mumble. Trying to take in the ridiculous traffic, the ads, and the buildings flying past us. The motorway seems to move from snaking through the streets with ridiculously narrow lanes that make me flinch when Birgit overtakes with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand gesticulating wildly. Then suddenly we are above the roofs on some weird bridge flyover contraption, houses and offices and billboards blending together across the skyline.

‘’It’s massive, London. Nothing like home’’ I don’t know why I am speaking. It’s just such a big city. Never-ending skyline. Cars everywhere. Houses packed together in neat little rows.

‘’I came here 20 years ago, and it hasn’t changed much’’ Birgit says. ‘’It’s nothing like Norway. All smog and brick and people and crap. You are lucky growing up at home. I kind of miss home, but then London is my home now, this is where my job is and my friends and my family. I can’t complain. It’s a crazy city, but hey, I still love it. And here we are, Home sweet Home.’’

She is swinging the car around in a narrow road, doing some crazy three point turn in-between the traffic to line the car up so she can park it in front of a row of grey houses. There is no parking really, just a bit of space in front of the front door but somehow, she manages to squeeze the tank onto the pavement and manhandle it around. Well the car is basically parked in the front door. Like she would be able to squeeze it into the hallway if she just tried. Madness.

‘’That’s’ your car’’ She says pointing at a blue Mini parked in the street.
‘’Awesome’’ I blurt out. Because it is. It’s a freaking Mini. How cool.

I barely get my shoes off before Birgit is taking me on a whirlwind tour of the house. There is the front room with a strange dining table setup. Then a back room with a sofa and TV, that leads down to the kitchen which is downstairs. I mean the floor plan is just crazy. I keep looking around to get my bearings. There is a fridge. A washing machine and tumble dryer. Stuff to clean with. Stuff to wash with. Stuff not to touch. Alcohol. Well we are not to touch that either. No drinking when I am working. No parties. (Well hello. Who am I going to party with? It’s not like I know anyone in fucking London is it?)
Then upstairs there is Birgit’s room. Birgit’s office. All off limits. That’s chill. Up another set of stairs. Two doors. One room is mine, which is like a double bed and a closet. A tiny TV and a set of drawers that look like they belong in a museum. Weird. Then there is a bathroom and the other door is apparently Isak’s room. Birgit knocks on the door and shouts that he needs to come out and meet me. He just grunts. Charming. She shrugs her shoulders and says ‘’I love you darling see you Friday ok? Be good to Even!’’

He doesn’t even reply to that. Strange kid. There are pictures of him on the walls downstairs. A little cherubic curly haired blonde with dimples and charm. I bet he is a fat spoiled brat of a 17-year-old. Greasy hair and smelly and weird. I mean who the hell does this kid think he is?

It’s pretty surreal. I mean I was at home in my bed this morning. 7 hours later I am standing alone in the kitchen of a weird house somewhere in London holding a bunch of keys in my hand and watching this woman called Birgit leave with a suitcase. She has left me in charge. Me. Does she even know what she has done?

I am now a proud owner of an Oyster card, the keys to her house. The keys to a Mini that I cannot drive until Tuesday when my insurance kicks in, and 120 pounds in my pocket to last me the week. Oh, an additional 50 quid for food shopping is on the side. And apparently a 17-year-old kid locked in his room upstairs.

What could possibly go wrong?