A wicked wind whisked about your face as you walked down the seemingly endless stretch of high street in the heart of Hornstull. It had always amazed you how mechanical the Swedes seemed. A modern-day Stepford, blissfully untouched by the suffering of the world yet audaciously unconvincing. From the brisk and bitter breeze, you could tell that winter was coming. A time that famously makes Swedes more nauseatingly ruthless than they are usually. But the cold could not conceal the festering wound that seemed to grow gruesomer by the second. No place amplified the throbbing more sharply than Hornstull. Cumbersomely lugging the limp canvas that had been bought by the Queer arts festival didn’t help either. You were proud to have made a sale, even if it was only half a sale, less than that even. It was a sale nonetheless and it would allow you to live on at least for some days. The other artist had made more money and that stung too, even though that too was an accomplishment. Your exhibition Spirits in Exile was one of those forceful last-ditch efforts you were so good at. Pulling from your unlikely social resources, you had managed something rather remarkable in spite of Stockholm. The exhibition boasted some beautiful artists and was well attended, with an alarmingly loving atmosphere. For a moment, you had found a reason to live. There had been sales from which you of course took no commission. Coming to Stockholm was a risk which looked increasingly like it would yield little return. Even this miserable trek to deliver the one painting you had half sold, though it was a triumph, was marred by the misery of the memory of Hornstull.
Of the endless amounts of people that rushed about the busy boulevard, few were noticeable. Blindly blurring by you, they all had something to do and somewhere to be. They all seemed tethered to each other as if they amounted to an amoeba with countless limbs, rather than separate parts. They made you recall memories and manifestos of right-wing movements by which you had been so fascinated. “The body of the people” – the Arian race. Although uttering it seemed to be an abomination, even among people of color who quietly whispered it behind Swede’s backs, it was all too clear. You had lived in England and Holland and been critical of the continuity of imperialist ideologies there, but it was the immovable Swedish now that gutted you like a fish.
Gray, and gruesomely sterile, it sliced through every part of you with decisive and indiscriminate precision. Some Swede said once that ‘you may not like Stockholm, but you’re not the kind Stockholm cares about impressing’. That’s the kind of light that fell around this unreal city. A real sense of being at the bottom of the pecking order and that Swedes thought that that was the way things ought to be. But there were nooks and crannies all though this city in which this narrative was more intensely revealed. Moments in which individual parts of this omnipresent organism called Sverige which illuminated with the kind of calamitous clarity by which you were presently paralyzed.
As soon as you emerged from the Tunnelbana, there it was – Stage, staring you in the face. Although you had been there a few times with various people, only one stood out. It wasn’t the time you went with two good friends. Both black women, both creatives. What a night. You and Jacinda had spent the day in Ornsberg, by the baths. You hadn’t seen each other for years so it was quite special. You were still in that depressive moment you had come to Stockholm with, but her presence made you lighter. Sharing a bed, and then spending the day together, by the water, reading, writing, listening to music, drinking and taking dips here and there. You had even discussed writing a script about the grotesque and placid politeness of Swedish life. Though she was Afro-German, she sensed it too, this spooky sense that Swedes hid some sordid story beneath the public façade. We talked about how we had sensed that same energy in Scandinavian cinema though that had been veiled by the silver screen. Being here now, even in the idyllic setting of the Ornsberg baths, one had the distinct feeling that one was in a sinister and long drawn horror, something like Midsommer - especially as female appearing black folk.
That night you came up with this, what you thought was a fascinating idea – you thought you would strike a sexy balance between Lars von Trier and Jordan Peele. This was the night you decided to head to Stage in Hornstull. While the place itself seemed humble and unassuming, it obviously held quite a special place in Stockholm residents as many of them had invited you there. Tonight, you would meet a new friend Dionne who is British-Nigerian. You had something of an obsession with seeing your old friends meet your new friends and such an inspired night was the perfect occasion.
Yourself and Jacinda had gone home first to change. You lived delightfully close to the baths, so you both managed to shower and prepare for what promised to be a great night out. During said preparations you had boasted about how beautiful it would be – three womxn in the diaspora, each from a different part of the African continent. But when you arrived, you found Dionne with her partner Jan. This complicated things. No longer could you discuss in depth the experience of traversing this hostile city, when one of its tributaries sat across you as if in some unconcealed endeavor in espionage. Still, we managed some degree of stimulation as it seemed Dionne had something to prove about Jan not being like the rest of the Swedes. Of course, Jacinda and I would later dissect this behavior. Tear it apart like untrained puppies go at helpless shoes. But then, in moments of quiet which we so often managed, we found ourselves turning back into ourselves. Recognizing in Dionne our own delusionally desperate attempts to be accepted into the machine.
Such perhaps was your desperation on the 19th of July when you agreed to come back to Stage, to see Oliver who you believed was one such white person. Capable of valuing you independently. Of seeing in you a human being who could and should be shown kindness and acceptance, perhaps even love. He had atypically confided in you about his demons, and so you believed you were safe. Convinced that other Swedes were cruel and cold, but Oliver was not because he appeared vulnerable which implied trust which you promptly reciprocated. He didn’t have kind eyes, nor did he show you any level of generosity or respect, but thought perhaps he was so tormented, he just needed time. When he lured you from busy brutality of the Hornstull high street into his bachelor apartment, you still felt safe. When he hit you and strangled you, you were distracted by the fact that he had also cuddled you, kissed you and told you you were beautiful. You were hypnotized by his taste in music, his tattoos, even his sad family history with which you could relate. All the while you underwent a physical and sexual manifestation of the violence that appeared so muted in the public spaces of Stockholm. Somehow here muted in other ways. And though you were allowed to sleep over, you knew from the moment he reached his final climax that you were unwanted. Something in his eyes that said, you are beneath me. That same look you saw on the streets, the Tunnelbana, in all aspects of this monstrous machine. The morning after you were shoved out the door. After some appeal you did get a phone call and the explanation you were given was that it was ‘too fast’. Your visa ran out. You were sent home. That was that.