I’m not sure who noticed it first, but we couldn’t stop laughing once we saw it. Even more amusing was the fact that only the Brits and the Australians seemed to get the joke. Hilariously, the Americans amongst the group were outraged. Touchingly, the Japanese smiled and nodded as if this was perfectly normal.
Confused? Stick with me, it’ll make sense. We were in a wooden hut on top of a dark, blank, snow covered hill, slightly drunk, completely broke. It was the middle of winter. It was a time and a place where the sun doesn’t shine. And it cost a tenner for a pint of lager.
Aah yes, Scandinavia. The top end of Norway, to be exact. The land of darkness, ridiculous prices and, allegedly, the Northern Lights.
Bill and I came here looking for the aforementioned wonder of the skies. We were massively intrigued. Someone said that the Lights actually make a noise. No-one had said that we might not actually see them.
The wooden hut is a place that gullible tourists like us can sit and wait for the Northern Lights to appear. It belongs to a local guy called Aksel. He picks up guests by the dozen from the hotel by the frozen lake and drives them up to the top in his electric minibus, skidding around the bends at breakneck speed.
So, the first thing you can see when you enter the hut is The Lever. I can only assume that Aksel placed it there. Hard to tell from his taciturn manner that he even has a sense of humour, but he may have hidden depths, who knows. The Lever is made of chunky metal. It’s highlighted by a spotlight and looks like it requires a modicum of force to make it work. Above it, on a wooden plaque are the words: ‘Northern Lights On/Off’.
On the night that we arrived, the mood in the hut was initially jolly. Padded jackets hung snugly on the backs of wooden chairs, candles flickered on wobbly tables, a ceiling of flags and bunting wafted gently in the rising heat from the oil radiators. We were a captive audience. Only trouble was, there was no guaranteed performance.
“Building this hut was my father’s idea,” said Aksel, apropos of nothing. He perched himself on a stool at our table, rubbing his face with his scarf and then coughing wetly into it.
I looked at Bill and we exchanged the type of raised eyebrow communication that only long-term couples can affect.
“He said to me,” Aksel continued, unperturbed, “‘we cannot teach them patience, but we can give them somewhere to wait’.”
There was a pause as he looked around the hut. Our gaze followed his. Everyone had an eye on the door. Each time it opened, bringing in someone from outside accompanied by a gust of bitingly cold wind, they all raised up from their seats in anticipation. Was this the moment? Were the lights here?
“Maybe we should go outside?” I said, worrying that I might miss the reason we were all here.
The icy wind savaged our faces as soon as we stepped out into the darkness. In front of us, seemingly oblivious to the cold, a group of teenagers giggled as they struck various pouty poses in front of a chunky camera on a tripod. Low mutterings of conversations drifted towards us from shadowy outlines of faceless hopefuls. Dutifully, we looked up: between the dull gleam of the snow on the hills and the flat navy sky there was absolutely nothing to be seen.
“Tonight might be a good night for that Lever,” I said.
“That’s only for emergencies,” Aksel replied, flatly.
Suddenly, there was a shout in the darkness and the tell-tale sounds of a disruption — raised voices, scraping chairs, an almost tangible change of mood. The door opened and the noise spilled out into the night.
“Oi, Hut man, where’s these ssshtupid lights? I want my money back!”
A woman in a white ski jacket lurched onto the snow, slipping and sliding, yet still managing to hold a cigarette in one hand and a wine glass in the other. Behind her, a ragged chorus began: “Why are we waiting, why… I… eye are we waiting…?”
“Dritt,” muttered Aksel as he moved past us. We could hear his measured Norwegian tones as he attempted to placate the group.
The door banged open again.
“Face it, mate, it’s too bloody cloudy. No one’s gonna see anything.”
“I vote we go back to the hotel and demand a refund.”
We watched, horrified, as Aksel was pushed and prodded towards his minibus. The quiet Japanese family were in tears as they were shoved out of the way by the baying, drunken group of people. No alcohol was served in the hut, but it looks like many people had thought it was BYOB.
Aksel slipped on the snow and for an awful moment I thought the crowd were going to start kicking him.
“Leave…” he gasped. “Leave.”
Bill rushed towards him, but I knew what Aksel really meant. I hurried towards the door of the hut. Taking off my gloves, I grabbed hold of the metal lever and pulled it downwards with both hands, with all my might. There was a violent thump followed by a blaring, electrical buzz.
And then it happened. The sky turned green and the dancing lights appeared, waving and weaving their eerie incandescent glow above the hillside.
The shouting stopped. Cameras appeared. Someone helped Aksel to his feet. Someone else dusted the snow off his back and began shaking his hand. The teenagers squealed as they took their selfies. I saw tears in Bill’s eyes.
Just for the hell of it, I switched the lever back to ‘off’. Because, of course, it was just a coincidence, right?
There was a click.
And the sky went dark.
Sandra Davies Baker writes in Maidenhead, England. She is a recently qualified Teacher of English and she has an MA in Creative Writing. She hopes one day to see the Northern Lights.