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Original: Herman



HERMAN BENDS HIS HEAD backwards and stares up in the tree where the leaves are yellow and red and are already hanging quite loose. Between the thin, black branches he sees the sky, where the clouds move recklessly in all directions. He gets a little dizzy standing that way, as if it is he who 's racing away at full speed. But it 's quite pleasant too, for a while anyway, as long as he does not crash into the Monolith. He closes his eyes, but when he is about to fall down, he opens them quickly again and breathes easier. He is still in Frogner Park, has not moved so much as a centimeter.

And then he sees the first leaf flutter down. It 's hanging on the end of a branch and does not appear very solid. The wind whirls it round and round, then it sails toward the fountain like a wounded bullfinch. Herman runs after it, staring at the red, restless point in the air. The wind lifts the leaf up and down. Herman spurts in zig-zags over the gravel and hopes he tied his shoelaces with double granny knots this morning. Then, it 's as if the leaf, or the wind, gives up. It falls wearily toward the ground, right in front of Herman. He stops quickly, his mouth wide open and catches the leaf in his jaw, perfect as a hungry anteater.

And right then he notices that someone is spying on him; there is someone standing behind one of the statues. He can see a pink school bag just barely sticking out. He remains standing completely still. It does n't taste very good, but he has known worse, the stiff film on chocolate pudding, for example, or the skin on milk, or the eel his father fishes for on the pier. Suddenly the school bag is gone, but he knows that someone is still standing there behind the statue of the huge lady who has at least sixteen kids hanging in her hair. And while he stands there not quite knowing what to do, he swallows the leaf. And it 's very strange to think that the same leaf, a little while ago, had hung on a huge tree, and now it was down in the middle of his stomach. Maybe he could get out of eating his vegetables at dinner.

Then she comes out from behind the statue. It 's Ruby. Ruby from his class. She has been standing behind the statue the entire time. Herman does n't quite know if he especially likes that. Ruby has a mass of red hair that some claim there are five birds nests in. She holds her hands behind her back as if she has a big secret. She looks strangely at Herman with one of her eyes half-closed.

"Are you eating leaves?" Ruby asks.

"Once in awhile."

"You 're the only one I know who eats leaves."

"Then you do n't know many," says Herman, fetching his school bag by the bench.

Ruby follows him and takes a closer look at his face.

"Are you following me?" Herman asks.

Ruby laughs loudly and even more leaves fall from the trees.

"I 've been feeding my duck carrots and hot dogs. Maybe you 'll get sick. You look sick already."

"I 'm healthy as a fish," says Herman. That 's what Grandfather usually says, even though Grandfather lies in a canopy bed on the fourth floor and ca n't walk. Maybe that 's why he puts it that way, healthy as a fish.

"Fish do n't eat leaves," says Ruby.

"They eat worms. That 's worse."

They walk together over the bridge. A drunk has slept under the Sinnataggen and looks just as furious.

Sinnataggen, which means angry little boy in
Norwegian, is the title of a sculpture by Gustav
Vigeland (1869-1943). Vigeland spent a large portion
of his life creating 194 sculptures with more
than 600 figures, many of them lifesize, for the park's
80 acres. The Monolith, which is also mentioned in the book,
stands over fifty feet high and consists of 121 human figures
of all ages.

The Frogner swimming pools are empty and green and the ten meter diving board reaches all the way to the sky. Soon it starts to rain. Down by the water, the ducks swim around each other and have no bearings. A swan raises its wings, but decides not to bother and folds them together. Ruby leans over the parapet and points.

"There 's my duck!"

"Your duck?"

"The one I feed."

"How can you tell the ducks apart?"

Ruby turns toward Herman, shaking her head. Her huge red hairdo bounces up and down, but at least no birds fly out of it.

"I 'm not telling." But then she adds quickly: "Maybe some other time."

They walk on toward the gate without saying anything, but when they get to Kirke Road, she comes even closer and stares at his face for a very long time. Herman begins to get nervous.

"Do I look sick now?"

"Your eyes are completely green! And your nose is orange!"

With that, she runs up the street toward Majorstua. At Oscar Mathiesen she turns and waves, but Herman does n't see it. He is already on the way to Skillebekk. And now he truly is feeling ill. Maybe he is really getting sick. Maybe his arms are turning into branches and someone will want to use them for firewood when winter comes. He feels the leaf down in his stomach, lying diagonally and tickling. His arms are already beginning to get stiff; he has to press them against his body. He sees himself in the mirror at the barber shop on Bygd°y Avenue, and it 's one of those mirrors where he can see his profile too if he bends forward and turns his head. And now he really gets scared. He does n't recognize himself. His nose is a pine cone, his ears look like two woodpecker holes, and his hair lies planted like green moss over his forehead. Herman takes off and hides in a doorway before Fats sees him. There he makes up his mind. He sticks a finger down his throat, just like Father sometimes does on Sundays. Herman sticks his finger so far down that he almost can poke the leaf. And then it comes up at full speed, along with his lunch and two caramels he found on the way to school. The leaf is still red and smells worse than gym shoes. A gust of wind carries it out into the street. It tumbles end-over-end along the gutter, where the leaf disappears between the bars of a storm drain. Herman straightens up and feels better already. It 's really too bad about the caramels, he thinks, wondering if he should eat them again. He does and strolls calmly down Gabels Street. Three plus three trees is a forest, Herman says aloud. But what is one times one? It must be a very lonely forest.

It starts raining. Herman does n't bother to run the last bit though. And when he turns onto the street, the Bottle Man opens the window on the first floor and shows his face, which is rusty colored and gaunt. It 's said that Bottle Man once was the maitre 'd at The King on Drammen Road but got fired because he fell in love with a Belgian princess who was visiting, or because the King discovered that he was really Swedish. The Bottle Man is either very loud-mouthed or extremely quiet. Today he is mostly quiet, and that fits in with a Monday.

"Hermanson," he whispers. "Come here."

Herman can barely hear him. He goes closer.

"Can you return some bottles for me today?"

"One has no time," whispers Herman. "Maybe tomorrow." "Unfortunately, tomorrow is another day" the Bottle Man mumbles and closes the window gently.