And the hippos were boiled in their tanks
(IKEA – There and Back Again)
Buses can be quite intimidating places. The first real terror is paying (although people often overlook the troublesome step onto the bus, check a particularly troubling jump, pilule especially during rush hour where any slight trip is sure to be spotted). With bus driver eyes’ flaming through you, the temperature rises to twice what it felt outside on the cool, safe footpath and the coins you’ve dragged out from underneath your completely ineffective phone in the back pocket of your jeans slip through your fingers before you remember you’re in Sweden now and all you have to do is flash your blue travel card, astutely avoid any accidental eye contact with the bus riding blonde beauties never seen anywhere in Ireland let alone on public transport, and take your place quietly.
Remembering all this, I take a deep breath and check off the steps as I walk down the aisle of the bus trying to look like I’m not sweating.
Payment successfully and legally negotiated, I try and find a seat. Sticking to the non-eye contact mantra mentioned above, I blindly throw myself down somewhere near the arse of the bus trying not to attract too much attention and start scanning the backs of surrounding seats for advertisements to pretend to read until my stop comes (somewhere in the south of the city, near IKEA). With none to be found (apart from one poster in the distance that surely couldn’t be, but genuinely looks like an advert for euthanasia), I find myself with a bit of a problem of how to survive the trip. A problem horribly compounded by the tear inducing realisation that I have picked a seat beside the most sultry Lily Allen look-a-like I have ever come across. Worst of all, she slides a smile my way as I turn my head back from the glance I foolishly allow myself out the window to my right. After facing head on for just long enough to make it awkward, I turn back and return her smile with one of my own. She responds casually with a ‘Hej!’ (Swedish for ‘Hello’) and I feel quite like dying right there. Too scared to shake out any audible reply, I just shrug her a second stupid smile before turning to face forwards again and die in silence.
Later on, after the bus has stopped, I see her cut off an old lady in the queue to get off the bus (strong evidence that she is in fact a heartless bitch) and I don’t feel quite so inferior. I also notice she has a significant chip missing from one of her front teeth and my lungs start working properly for the first time since the bus pulled up at the stop 25 minutes ago. No one is perfect.
I figure that at least three of Dante’s circles of Hell are travelled through on any average adventure to and through the jungle of IKEA. It’s a horrible place. Like a brothel for furniture. Armed with two students my own age from Russia and Singapore, whom I’d cleverly tricked into befriending me the night before at one of the college bars, I hide my growing anxiety at the task at hand (kitting out my cell back at student halls) behind dangerously long strides and all the confidence my Irish accent can muster as we make for the gates of the monstrous building.
It’s hard to know what happened next. There was a gigantic escalator, of that I am certain. Somewhere between it and the sunlight blinding me as I made my escape (at least two, but possibly four or five hours later), it is a safe bet that a great deal of frantic, panicked trolley pushing up and down stairs shopping took place. The substance of the ordeal is lost to that black spot in your memory that thankfully the worst of things are almost always banished to. Perhaps I was hallucinating, but one thing I do remember are a lot of people in poka-dot pajamas. If I were to make a guess, I’d say they were staff; although of course, I am an idiot.
NB. ??I consider myself incredibly lucky to have survived IKEA. It’s a near certainty I would still be there now, lying delirious in a bathtub wrapped in 7 types of curtains, without the help of my more level headed friends who merited a much greater mention in this story. Tack du Kevin och Yurik!