Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen
Translated from the Greenlandic into Danish by Niviaq Korneliussen.
Translated from the Danish by Anna Halager.
Oh, my head. I let out a deep sigh and smell alcohol. My stomach roils and I heave my body out of bed, go to the bathroom. Shit, my head is about to explode. I still feel drunk. My eyes won’t focus and my legs aren’t working right. I kick the clothes I dumped on the floor because they block my way and I walk five long metres to the bathroom, my hand over my mouth. My lungs are burning as I cough stale cigarette smoke out, I can no longer contain myself. Urgh! I open the toilet seat and kneel in front of it, hoping that it won’t last long. My body rebels against the poison it has consumed and my stomach muscles tense so that I spew everything out. Carlsberg beer, Classic beer, vodka, tequila, Hot’n’Sweet liqueur, Arnbitter, Jack Daniel’s . . . It all moves so quickly from my stomach to my throat. A rainbow sprays the chalk- white porcelain like when some-body is shot in the head in a film and the wall behind him is splattered with blood. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I puked like the girl in The Exorcist. It’s not green but it is violent. So violent that they would have smelled it on the other side of the world if I had been standing up. It would have fallen like flat raindrops. Finally, when I’m able to take in some air again, I try to concentrate on my breathing. Through my nose, mouth and maybe ears, I vomit up hell itself, dragging out Pontius Pilate and all my intestines with it. Tears are pouring down my cheeks and my teeth are chattering. Feeling fucking awful, I think I’ve survived the worst. I blow the stomach acid out of my nostrils and flush the toilet. I stagger into the kitchen and rinse my mouth and my face with cold water, grab a Coke from the fridge and chug till it’s half empty. My throat burns and my head is aching. It’s not until this moment that I realise I need to pee and go back to the stinking bathroom. I open the toilet and see that there’s still vomit on the seat and in the bowl. I spray it with cleaner, mop it up with toilet paper and flush once more. I pee and smell alcohol in my urine. When I’m finished, I turn towards the mirror and see a horrible sight. My chapped lips are the colour of red wine. My hair is still partying. My makeup is smeared all over my face and I have huge bags under my eyes. My body is trying so hard to stay alive that I can’t concentrate on my polluted mind. I drink what’s left of the Coke, lie down on the bed once more and take out my mobile to check the time. It’s 16.07. Fuck. I think about yesterday . . .
Oh yeah, baby! Friday. My absolute favourite day of the week! Oh, invincibility! Oh, bliss! Even though the town is full of people, I go to the co- op to pick up some things. Slowly, I drift into the liquor section. I always do this because I might bump into someone who will invite me to their place for drinks – and here comes the first one now. ‘Hi, Arnaq!’ says a voice I don’t know.
I pretend that I recognise the man. Now which party did I see him at? I wonder whether I’ve screwed him . . .
‘Are you going to a party too?’ he asks, eagerly.
‘Yes, with Inuk and Fia. Where’s your party?’
The faster I get to the point, the better chance I stand. ‘It’s at my place. You’re welcome to come!’
‘Text me, and we’ll see,’ I reply. I think I must have kissed him but I still can’t remember his name. Option no. 1. But I think I can do better. Although I’m not going to buy food, I wander into the fruit and vegetable aisle, watching for option no. 2 to pop up. And there he is! Now this is a face I recognise. I remember this guy as somebody who’s always happy to splash out on booze. He’s heading towards the liquor section as I exit the aisle.
‘Hey, Arnaq!’ I hear him say.
I pretend I’ve only just noticed him.
‘Ready to party?’ he asks.
‘Yeah, looking for a place where me, Inuk and Fia can party,’ I say in a flirty voice. ‘What about you?’
‘We’ll be partying at my house. You should come!’
‘I got a new phone, and I don’t have your number any more. Can you text it to me?’
I lie so that I can get hold of his name, which I can’t remember. I give him a cheeky look to be sure that he’ll do it.
‘I’ll text you. Please come!’ he says with a smile. Option no. 2 is confirmed. It’s a trick, you know, and it works every freakin’ time! I buy booze and catch the bus just before it leaves.
Today is my day.
‘What have you bought?’ Fia asks as I walk in.
‘A bottle of vodka and some mixers,’ I say.
‘A whole bottle? That’ll kill us!’
‘What did you get?’ I ask hastily.
‘Four beers,’ she replies.
‘Four beers? I’ll teach you how to party!’
I don’t really want to party with somebody who has no idea how to have a good time but since she’s my best friend’s sister, I have to. I’ll just go along and make the best of it.
‘I found a party for us,’ I say.
‘I thought the three of us were just going to chill,’ she replies, sounding disappointed.
‘You need to meet some new people – it’ll be fun! Their parties are good!’
‘Whose parties?’ She’s coming around to the idea. I can’t remember option no. 2’s name and grab my mobile to check my texts.
We’ll start at nine. Kujallerpaat Street. See you there! Enevold.
A man by the name of Enevold has texted me. I’m no longer surprised that I couldn’t remember his name. Enevold. What the fuck?
‘The party’s at Enevold’s place!’ I answer hastily.
‘Enevold? Who’s Enevold?’ she asks with a laugh
‘Enevold! What kind of name is that?’ I say, laughing along with her. ‘The name doesn’t mean anything!’ The name is not important, what’s important is that he’s got plenty of booze.’
‘Maybe his grandparents named him, poor guy,’ she trails off.
‘Now let’s get ready!’
I turn up the volume, take off my shirt and throw it to Fia. She seems surprised to see me in my bra. Maybe she’s a bit of a homophobe. I slap her ass on my way to the bathroom and laugh inside. In the shower I shave where I need to, including my pussy, and exfoliate my skin, making it nice and soft. Afterwards, I pluck my eyebrows, apply too much eyeliner, mascara a couple of times, blusher, perfume, brush my teeth, and do my hair. This afternoon, I bought a black dress that makes my ass look great, and I put it on. Oh, yeah!
‘What do you think of it?
’I touch my bum and ask Fia.
‘It suits you,’ is all she says.
‘Is that all you can say? Really?’
I jiggle my junk and dare her to say something.
‘It suits you! Your ass looks good in it!’
She slaps my behind with a towel. Shyly. She looks like she’s just gone beyond the bounds of propriety and it makes me laugh. She needs to get laid.
‘Call a taxi, let’s go to Eno’s place!’ I say.
‘Enevold,’ she says quietly.
We pick up Inuk on the way to Kujallerpaat Street.
‘Inuk, my boy!’
I kiss him on the cheek as he gets in the taxi.
‘Arnaq, my girl!’ he replies as he gives his sister, who is in the front seat, a hug from behind.
‘You smell nice; it smells great in here!’ he says.
‘Thanks,’ I say, smiling. Inuk, my boy. My soul is happy with my dear friend by my side. My life looks brighter.
‘Where’re we off to?’ he asks.
‘E- NE- VOLD,’ Fia says.
‘Enevold?’ Inuk says, confused.
‘Eno’s place. It’ll be fun!’ I reply.
In the entrance to the building, I feel disappointed because I can’t hear anything at all. I thought the party had already started. When Eno opens the door to the flat, I see that we’re early. There are some faces I recognise but they’re pretty quiet. We say hello to them, open a few beers and sit scattered around the table. How are things at school? Do you still play handball? When will the Greenlandic cham-pionships be held? Are you still seeing Lars? Oh, by the way, they’ve got bargains at the shopping centre. Did you see the man who went crazy at the co- op today? Blah, blah, blah. I wait for the booze to take effect. The music is low. People are on Facebook. They’re waiting for things to happen. They’re waiting for the booze to kick some excitement into their boring lives. I wait.
I must have fallen asleep again and am woken by the urgent need to puke. I’m so surprised that it’s already in my mouth that I accidentally swallow it again. It hurts so much that my eyes tear up and I seize the opportunity to cry a bit because of my hangover. Then I remember my handbag. My handbag! I immediately stop crying and begin to panic, searching the floor. I find it in a corner, find my wallet, hold it to my heart and thank God. I’m safe; I haven’t lost what’s most important.
I can no longer stand my smell, grab my toothbrush, sit on the floor of the shower as I brush so that the water can rinse my sticky body. I imagine that the bacteria will slide off. The bacteria from the door handle of the pub will slide off my hands. The bacteria from the toilet seats of the pub, which is on my thighs, is sucked down the drain. The bacteria from yesterday’s piss, which has dried on me, is washed away. What happened last night? My brain is half dead. But I have a feeling. I can’t put my finger on it, but I have a suspicion. It will have to wait till my head clears. It will appear as it always does. I only hope that it’s not too dreadful.
‘Silence is a true friend, who the hell said that! This fucking silence drives me crazy. I drink my Classic beer and, irritated, I make the first move.
‘Come on – blackjack?’ I say loudly, picking up the cards. They probably all feel grateful to me for rescuing them and get into the game. I play against them all, one at a time, and drink more than they order me to when I lose. The music has been turned up. They’re starting to sing along. They’re also starting to dance in their chairs. They laugh more. Their faces turn kind. They look into one another’s eyes. At last, they are beginning to let go of inhibitions, and for my part I’m changing into an animal again. I breathe in. My body becomes lighter. Oh, the wonders of alcohol! How are things? It’s a long time since . . . We really ought to hang out more often. I’ll let you know when I’m no longer quite so busy. Same old questions, but it works, you know. It works. Fia and Inuk are no longer just talking to each other but also turn around and speak to other people. Everyone’s talking at the same time, laughing out loud. Crates are emptied
faster and faster but I’m not worried as there’s still plenty left. I’m just happy that I’m partying with people who need to get drunk, just like me. I feel the booze coursing through my veins, making me feel warm. We only have one life. I’m only human, which is why I need to let go sometimes. Tomorrow will be okay.
‘Does anyone play the guitar?’ somebody asks.
I feel like playing but since I haven’t had enough to drink yet, I encourage others instead. The guy next to me picks it up and the others begin to sing quietly. Decency still seems to prevail over the wonders of alcohol. Shy laughter spreads. Awkwardness. I curl my toes. So awkward. I can’t just sit here listening to this, so I stand over the stove burner and light a smoke. The song finally comes to an end, and they put the guitar back in its proper place and turn the music up loud. Because we’re too sensible. Still. For a little while longer. Fia comes over to me and wants a drag. ‘Enevold,’ she says with a smile.
‘Enevold,’ I say, with a slight laugh. ‘Do you think he’s hot?’
‘Honestly? He’s sooo ugly! Have you seen his blackheads? They could pop at any moment,’ she says with horror.
‘But he has a prick,’ I say, giggling.
‘Bitch, if you’re so fucking horny, you ought to find one for yourself and not for me.’
‘You need to get laid, and you know it,’ I say, stubbing out my cig.
‘Enevold? Over my dead body! He’s all yours!’ ‘No thank you.’
I laugh at her and go back to the table. I feel the effect of the alcohol as I walk. I’m uplifted and suddenly I miss Inuk so I perch on his lap. Inuk, my friend. Fia sits down across from us, looking protectively at us, watching her younger brother closely. I love to provoke her and stare until she looks away. Occasionally, I tease her and wink at her. Feel victorious when, mildly disgusted, she no longer knows what to do. Oh, I feel invincible. And the booze makes me come alive!
Niviaq Korneliussen won a prestigious short story competition in Greenland, when she was only 22. The resulting attention led to her being awarded a writing grant which produced Last Night in Nuuk. She lives in Nuuk, Greenland, travels frequently, and teaches writing classes in indigenous communities in the Greenlandic interior.
Anna Halager is a Danish-British literary translator, educated in Denmark, Wales, and England. She has been a teacher and has been the Official Translator at the Embassy of India in Copenhagen for several years. She takes a particular interest in travel logs and has already translated three in a series of five of Hans Christian Andersen’s travel logs, as well as several academic books on the author; poetry by Janina Katz, a Polish-Jewish refugee from Krakow, who wrote about her guilt at being one of the few survivors in her family, and more than twenty volumes of Margit Sandemo’s series on the Legend of the Ice People. Her translations have been sponsored by the Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik Foundation and other prestigious foundations. Anna has published in Denmark, Sweden, the UK, the US, and Austria. Together with Niviaq Korneliussen, she has been nominated for the Man Booker International Prize.
This excerpt from Last Night in Nuuk is published by permission of Grove Atlantic. Copyright © 2014 by Niviaq Korneliussen
Translation copyright © 2018 by Anna Halager