What’s the Point?
A short story by Barbara Godfrey
MICHAEL sauntered along Karl Johansgate, Oslo’s main street. He was deep in thought, but he automatically kept his eyes fixed to the ground as he walked – a habit he had acquired since his first visit to Norway as a small boy with his parents.
His skill at noticing dropped coins first manifested itself in a Welsh seaside resort, in the days when he was much closer to the ground than he was now at the ripe old age of nineteen. His infant eyes had quickly focused on the hundreds of bright blue corroded copper coins, peeking out from the wet sand or half buried among the small rocks on the beach, which generations of holidaymakers had lost while paddling. His father found all this rather boring and used to snort: “What’s the point? All this effort and you only end up with a few pennies.”
But the rest of the family joined enthusiastically in the hunt-the-coin game, which resulted in a goodly haul of old pennies and shillings, only a few of which were still current.
Michael soon found that Norway was an excellent hunting ground for such minor treasure. It seemed that the inhabitants, with their laid-back and rather vague disposition, not only dropped more than their fair share of small change – they were, to his gratification, also disinclined to accept it when Michael actually witnessed the loss of the coin and offered it back to the owner.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the streets of Oslo were paved with gold – but Michael’s keen eye made sure he did not miss any of the “silver” offerings scattered here and there by thoughtful Norwegians.
On this particular day, as he wandered around the busy streets of Oslo with their colourful boutiques and throngs of tourists from many lands, he pondered ruefully on how fast he had got through all the money he had brought with him on his two-week holiday.
Thanks to the day’s “bag” of dropped coins he had just about enough left to tide him over until the next day, when he was due to fly back to London. But there was unfortunately one important thing he would have to leave undone owing to lack of funds – for even the extra money he had won off the pavements would not be enough to pay for the repair of his antique Viking-style dagger.
The knife, its bone handle embellished with chased silver and topped with a silver horse’s head, was one of his most treasured possessions. It had once belonged to his grandfather, who had bought it while honeymooning in Norway in the 1920s. The steel blade was striped with lead from many years of pencil sharpening and the point now protruded aggressively from the embossed leather sheath, for the ornamental silver tip had long since parted company from the leather and been lost.
A silversmith in England had been reluctant to take on the repair and suggested that if Michael was going to Norway he should have it done there.
Now it was his last day and he was obviously going to have to take the dagger back with him, minus silver tip.
His stroll had netted him half a dozen kroner by the time he reached the fountains in the centre of town, plus an old five øre piece, worth nothing, which he spotted lying beneath a bush.
“Well, that won’t get me far!” he snorted to himself as he absent-mindedly put it in his pocket to join his earlier finds and the motley assortment of other small coins he had brought with him on holiday. Perhaps Dad was right after all – not much point in bending down for such worthless little coins.
Some, he knew, were years out of date. Others he was not sure about.
“But you never know,” was his motto. “I might get a few kroner for them in a bank. Which reminds me – I’d better go and change them now or I’ll be stuck with them for another year.”
He happened to be passing a bank so he went up to the cashier, spread out his pocketful of old coins on the counter and asked if any of them could still be used.
The girl, about his own age, stared at them.
“I’ve never even seen most of these,” she said. “I’ll have to ask someone.”
She called over one of her superiors, who looked disparagingly at the coins and said: “We can only give you a couple of kroner for these. But why don’t you take them first to a coin dealer, just in case any are valuable?”
Michael’s first instinct was to ask for the few kroner. He had already noticed a high-class coin dealer in a near by street, but he felt he would be making a fool of himself offering his collection of small change in such a shop.
“But I suppose I’ve nothing to lose, and it’s only round the corner,” he told himself.
Hesitantly he entered the superior looking shop and approached the superior looking man who came forward to greet him.
The man’s reaction was not favourable as Michael spread out his coins on the counter and said rather apologetically: “I’m wondering if any of these older coins from the 1920s might be worth anything. There are one or two I don’t recognise . . .”
“Hmm,” muttered the dealer, picking unenthusiastically through the offering. “No, those older coins aren’t valuable. Actually, they are Swedish and quite common.”
His eye lit on a dull-looking copper coin. It was the five øre Michael had found an hour or so ago under the bush.
After a quick examination of the coin the man said: “I can give you 500 kroner for that. It is the only coin of interest.”
“Why, what is it?” he asked incredulously.
“It’s a 1945 five øre coin, and they are quite rare now,” said the dealer. “Do you want to sell it?”
“I certainly do,” Michael replied.
As he walked out of the shop with the 500 kroner – the equivalent of about £50 – in his pocket he felt jubilant. The whole thing was like a dream – and to think he had very nearly not bothered to pick up that silly little coin.
He made his way at once to a silversmith he had noticed in one of the side streets of Oslo and produced the antique dagger.
After admiring it the silversmith agreed to carry out the repair and send the knife back to England when it was ready. But he wanted payment now.
With bated breath Michael inquired how much it would cost.
“It is a skilled job and I can’t do it for less than 500 kroner,” was the reply.
“That’s fine,” said Michael as he handed over the money he had acquired only minutes earlier. To himself he added: “Fancy getting an antique knife repaired with a silver tip for just five øre! What a stroke of luck!”
It was not until six months later that he began to suspect that the saga of the Viking dagger might not be blessed with a happy ending.
Feeling it was about time he heard some news from the silversmith, he wrote and inquired how the repair was progressing. There was no response.
Three weeks later he wrote again. Still no reply, so he followed up his letter in due course with a third. Again, it was ignored.
Finally, he contacted a Norwegian friend in Oslo and asked her to call at the shop. She reported that the work was finished and the dagger would be in the post the same day.
When nothing arrived after a further month Michael thought it time to call in the big guns – so he rang the British Embassy in Oslo and explained his predicament.
“I’ll see if I can find out what has happened,” said a member of the staff.
A phone call from the Embassy a few days later threw light on the mystery – but brought Michael no nearer retrieving his precious dagger.
“The work has been done but the silversmith can’t send the dagger,” said his informant. “The Norwegian Post Office says it is classed as a dangerous weapon and refuses to accept it. It’s a pity the silversmith didn’t take the trouble to write and explain.”
Michael thought “pity” was the understatement of the year. The news merely confirmed his suspicion that Norwegians were reluctant to write letters if they could possibly avoid it.
“So what on earth can I do?” he asked despairingly.
“Leave it with me – I’ll have a think and ring you back,” said the Embassy woman.
Good as her word, she phoned a few days later to say the dagger would be winging its way back home in the luggage of a Norwegian member of staff who was visiting England for a few days. Michael was to meet her at a fashion show at a big London store, where the handover would take place like a conspiratorial rendezvous.
A week later the Viking dagger, with its gleaming silver tip, was safely back in his pocket. And at long last Michael was able to reflect that the insignificant five øre coin had indeed brought him luck. “And I’ll be damned if there was no point in all that!”
He was so excited he could not bear to wait until he got home to admire the new tip on the leather sheath. So he unwrapped the small packet in the crowded underground train, holding it close beneath his jacket so no one would see and panic in case he was planning to stab someone.
He slid the sheath off the blade and was wallowing in the dagger’s new-found perfection when the train suddenly jerked to a halt in the long tunnel. The passengers standing around him staggered and one fell heavily on to Michael, knocking him forwards, face down. The dagger stabbed him viciously, puncturing his chest close to his heart.
As he lay dying, he murmured softly: “I always said there was a point to all this – now I know how right I was.”
© 2007 Copyright by Barbara Godfrey
The story What’s the Point? is an original work protected under copyright law, and may not be reproduced or adapted without the written permission of the author.
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While Others Sleep a collection of poems by Barbara Godfrey