‘You’ll find the devil at the crossroads’ was one of grandma’s favourite sayings. She lived life as if walking on a razor’s edge. There was no such thing as luck. It was the devil’s lubricant, a trap meant to ease the unwary into disaster. What others regarded as good fortune was a debt owed to the future and would one day need to be repaid – with interest. That had served her pretty well by and large and she had avoided most of life’s landmines. Not so mum. She was the exact opposite. Her life was a train wreck but grandma’s life had to be accounted for somehow. The books were balanced when I came along. I had grandma’s unerring instinct for the middle path, that infinitesimal space between the two oncoming trains of fate which always passed in opposite directions, but as the years slid by I detected that the middle path beloved of grandma drifted inexorably downwards towards a state of perfect mediocrity.
As I left the crowded sweaty nightclub I handed over my ticket to the cloak room attendant who promptly returned with my jacket. I pulled it on and stepped out into the cold. It smelled faintly of a different perfume but I didn’t pay much attention as it had been squeezed between a hundred different garments. It was only when I reached the door of my flat and hunted around for my keys that my hand closed around an unfamiliar object. I removed a little booklet from my pocket that bore a coat of arms. It was a passport. I hurried inside into the light and looked at the jacket closely. It resembled the coat I wore at the beginning of the evening, but it was a better cut and more contemporary, however it would have been indistinguishable from mine in the gloom of the nightclub. The passport though was something else. It was Norwegian and as I peeled back the cover I was dumbfounded by my resemblance to the person pictured in the information page. With a haircut and some more diligent tweezering of my eyebrows there would be nothing to distinguish me from ‘Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir’. I pronounced the name slowly out loud as I channelled the accents of those dour detectives who had appeared in all the Scandi noire I had watched over the years. Grandma’s voice echoed in my head for a moment urging me to return the coat but I paused, my feet nailed to the floor. A bizarre thought occurred to me as I pushed away grandma’s nagging voice. What if fate could be tricked? I punched her name into my phone and her Facebook and Instagram feeds instantly appeared. This was certainly not a woman weighed down by thoughts of fate’s debt collectors. I scrolled through pictures of a life I may have lived in an alternative universe. A life populated by inspirational aphorisms and not the doom laden warnings of my childhood. I looked up from the phone and around my apartment. It was straight out of an Ikea catalogue. Tasteful, and yet tasteless at the same time. Even the personal touches failed to reflect some kind of safe rebellion. I looked at my face in the mirror. It was a little puffy from the alcohol, but I put my hair up and smiled cheekily into the camera. Snap. Snap. I studied the pictures closely and Nina stared right back. I went from one room to the next, and from one outfit to another caught in a fever dream as if I had been seized by the spirit of this unknown Norwegian. Snap. Snap. I played with the light and angle of the camera until at last I slumped down on the sofa exhausted. The first glimmer of dawn was appearing on the horizon and I knew that once I fell asleep life as I knew it would return to normal when I awoke. The passport would be returned with the jacket and the pictures deleted from my phone. I picked up the passport again and flicked slowly through pages thick with the seals of countries known and unknown. The night was lifting and my eyes were getting heavier. I slammed the passport down and it opened again. Nina seemed to be looking directly at me now. The document did not have the usual convict photo. There was a slight curl to the lip and the eyes crinkled in a knowing look, challenging me. ‘What are you waiting for?’ She seemed to be saying. ‘Go. No time to wait.’ I picked up the jacket and the passport and lurched towards the doorway stopping only long enough to retrieve my tweezers as the first rays of sunlight hit the window.