Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Bjorn walked up to the car that had stopped in front of the casino entrance. It was an old rusty Volvo, and there was no sign of it being a taxi. However, Bjorn was used to these kind of unregulated services from Oslo where illegal cab services had been quite commonplace until the new government had made a point of shutting them down, and when Bjorn learned that they had a taxi service in Lundby, this was exactly the sort of thing he had expected.

"I´m going to the checkpoint up the Neiden road," Bjorn said to the driver, who he immediately recognized as the driver of Pingo's grocery van.
"That will be forty MG," the driver said with a smile, apparently recognizing Bjorn from their brief exchange up at the checkpoint the day before.

"Well, that's practically nothing," Bjorn thought to himself as he stepped into the back seat of the old car. Then, while buckling up he commented on how he keeps bumping into the same people over and over.

"Well, that's because Lundby is a village," the man said before putting the car in motion. "We're only a few hundred people all together... I'm Igor by the way. And you must be the new guy up at the checkpoint... Bjorn, right?"
"That's correct," Bjorn answered, surprised to hear him say his name. "How do you know."
"Ante told me... Made excuses for you making yourself difficult up there."
"And Ante told you my name?"
"Well, I asked him about your name. I like knowing the names of everybody... It's a thing. A hobby if you like."

Bjorn looked out at the moonlit surroundings as the car drove up the road to the construction site, and noticing a shimmer of dawn to the east, Bjorn checked his watch.

"Kind of early for the sun to be rising," Bjorn commented as Igor turned east, towards the deep red glow.
"Well, this is the arctic," Igor said. "Another five weeks and we will have midnight sun... Besides, we are much further east than most people realize, so morning comes early."

Bjorn felt strangely happy where he was sitting, and the big Russian driving the car fascinated him.

"So, where are you from?" Bjorn asked, hoping to start a conversation.
"I´m from Nikel, just across the border."
"And what brings you to Lundby? You're not asking for asylum, are you?"
"Oh no!" the Russian replied. "That would be stupid."
"Well, you would not let me out again, would you?"
"No, that's true," Bjorn conceded.

Igor had a good point. Anyone asking for asylum would immediately have their passport withheld, and without a passport there's no way to get out of Lundby. Besides, Russia was, as far a he knew, not on the list of places considered dangerous enough for people to qualify for asylum, so he would probably not be taken seriously even if he had applied. But Bjorn had no time to dwell on this as Igor happily continued the conversation.

"I'm here to make some money," Igor explained. "There's no work to be found in Nikel these days, and Kirkenes is just as bad."
"It's the crisis, isn't it?" Bjorn asked rhetorically.
"Sure is. Things are getting pretty desperate."
"But isn't it terribly difficult to find work here in Lundby too?" Bjorn asked. "I mean... Ane at the fish factory is paying a lousy hundred MG per day to her workers. That's saying something, isn't it?"
"Ane is a crook!" Igor said with contempt. "But she won't be able to keep her racket going for long."
"No? Why not?"
"People will find other things to do."
"Like what?"
"Well, I'm not working for her, am I?"
"No, but not everyone can work for Pingo."
"But everyone can start their own business if they like."
"Doing what?" Bjorn asked. "This is the arctic. There's nothing here but rocks and ice."

Igor smiled as if he was harbouring a secret.

"They could make little toy animals to sell to tourists for instance," Igor said casually. "Or T-shirts with popular slogans on them, or underwear to be exported all over the world."
"And does that pay any better?" Bjorn asked.
"It does," Igor answered with a big smile.
"How do you know?"
"Because my wife runs a cooperative making these kind of things."
"She does?"
"And what does she pay her workers?" Bjorn asked.
"Nothing... She only pays them for what they produce. But if you got a sewing machine, and you're good at what you do you can easily make three times as much as what Ane offers her workers."
"But what if you don't have a sewing machine? Or if you have one, but aren't very good at using it?"
"Well, then of course, you´ll have to find some other kind of work."
"Then you're screwed?" Bjorn asked.
"No. Even then there are better jobs to be found than to work for Ane. Heck... I know house maids who make more money than Ane's workers."
"So why are people still working for her?"
"Beats me."
"She's locking them in, isn't she?"
"No! I don't think so... That would be illegal. And everyone would know by now."

Bjorn had been getting so used to thinking of Lundby as a place where everything goes that he found Igor's use of the word "illegal" almost misplaced in the whole conversation.

"Illegal?" Bjorn asked, unable to formulate a good question around the term.
"As in against the law," Igor explained, as if unsure if Bjorn was struggling with his English.
"What law?" Bjorn asked.
"The legal code here in Lundby."
"There is such a thing?" Bjorn asked, genuinely surprised.
"Yeah, sure."
"And who's in charge of it?"
"Who?" Igor asked, as if he had not thought of this question before. "Everyone, I guess."
"Everyone is a lawyer?"

Igor chuckled at Bjorn's genuine puzzlement.

"I know what you're thinking," Igor said while suddenly slowing down to avoid a couple of particularly deep potholes that he evidently knew the exact location of from having driven along the road many times before. "But it's quite simple to explain, really."
"So, go ahead, educate me!" Bjorn said, challenging the man to give him a quick introduction to Lundby's legal code.
"Well, we basically stop dealing with people who don't behave," Igor explained. "If you steal or hit or imprison people, you'll soon find yourself without any friends."
"But how does that prevent people from behaving badly?"
"Well, how well do you think you would be doing without anyone wanting to do any business with you?"
"Not very well, I guess. But what if people decided to gang up on me?"
"And why would anyone want to do that?"
"I don't know. To get some kind of advantage over me maybe."
"Like what?"

Bjorn could find no answer.

"So you basically isolate people who behave badly?" Bjorn asked, not at all convinced that this qualified as a legal code.
"Yep, that's about it."
"And do you have any objective criteria for what it means to behave badly?"
"No, not really... There's always the golden rule of course."
"And that's your legal code?"
"Yep... That's all you need to know."

Bjorn shook his head in disbelief. Then, tired of the subject, Bjorn returned to what Igor had mentioned about his wife.

"So your wife runs a clothing factory here in Lundby?" Bjorn asked.
"Not a factory exactly," Igor corrected. "She runs the business from here, but many of her workers actually live in Nikel, and do all their work over there... They all work from home."
"Really? So why are you her? Wouldn't it make more sense to run it from Nikel?"
"You would think so, wouldn't you?" Igor answered. "But there is so much red tape, and they will tax you even before you make a profit. They are ruthless."
"So your wife is here to avoid taxes."
"And all the paper work they force her to do. If it was only the taxes, I think Olga might have put up with it. But all those taxes comes with so much paper work. It's just too much... And now that we got Lundby, why even bother."
"But the authorities over in Nikel can't be too pleased with this?" Bjorn asked.
"Actually... They are turning a blind eye to this at the moment... They know that if they clamp down on this, they will only spark resentment... And since there's no factory or headquarter to crack down on, it's hard for them to even start controlling this, short of going door to door to see if anyone is sewing stuff."
"But your wife runs a headquarter of sorts, doesn't she?"
"Yes she does. That's why she's here and not in Nikel. She organizes everything via the internet. The girls come to her to deliver their finished products and pick up new assignments. Olga and I haven't been back to Nikel since we left two months ago."
"And how do the girls bypass the border patrols? Why aren't they stopped at the border with their bags full of stuffed animals and underwear?"
"Well, that's one of Olga's little secrets, and I'm not going to share that with you. You are a border guard, after all."

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