Shyness and Dignity by Dag Solstad

Shyness and Dignity

Dag Solstad

What it like to be invisible - to feel that you are neither recognised or useful to the world in which you live? One ordinary day at the Fagerborg Secondary School in Oslo, teacher, Elias Rukla realises how disillusioned he is with his career, his life and society and walks out of school. A sad and affecting tale of a lost soul but suffused with a quiet humour.


When he reached the front door he discovered it had started to rain. Not much, just a light drizzle, but enough to make him ask himself whether he should open his umbrella, he would not get very wet during that short walk home if he didn't. But since he had taken the umbrella with him in the morning, he decided to use it anyway. He opened it, but it didn't work. He had pressed the button that would cause the umbrella to open automatically, but nothing happened. He pressed the button once more, harder, but nothing happened. Not that, too, he thought, indignant. He gave it a third try, but with no success. Then he tried to force the umbrella open with his hands, but that didn't help either; the umbrella resisted, so that he just barely managed to make it spread out, and even that cost him a great effort. Then he couldn't contain himself. He was standing in the school yard at Fagerborg Secondary School, in the break, trying to open his umbrella. But he could not do it. Hundreds of pupils at the school were standing round about, and some of them must have noticed him. Enough! He walked rapidly up to the water fountain and banged the umbrella against it in a wild fury. He struck and struck the umbrella against the fountain, felt how the metal in the shaft was beginning to give and that the ribs were breaking. Delighted, he struck and struck. Through a sort of haze he saw the pupils approaching, slowly and in profound silence, as if they were stealing towards him, and now they were standing around him in a semicircle, but at a respectful distance. He was beating the increasingly limp, cracking umbrella against the fountain in a savage fury. When he noticed that the ribs were beginning to loosen, he threw the umbrella on the ground and started jumping on it, before using his heel to try and crush the umbrella with it. Then he picked up the umbrella again and banged it once more against the fountain - the ribs were now broken and uncontrollably twisted, winding in all directions, some of them cutting into his hand and leaving little scratches in the skin where he could see the blood begin to trickle out. He was surrounded by pupils all around, lurking pupils, quiet, their eyes staring. They were staring open-mouthed, standing motionless around him, but always at a respectful distance. Several of them had lunch boxes in their hands, for it was the middle of the noon break. He could make out, as through a haze, the faces of the nearest ones and, strange to say, quite clearly. A tall blonde girl was looking at him in amazement, he noticed, as were a couple of boys from the graduating class, and their faces which looked ridiculously astonished, made him even more furious. He stared at the tall blonde. Damn twat! he yelled. Eat your food! Fat snout! And in the same instant he grabbed the umbrella, black and smashed up, and went for them full tilt.

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