Bjorn felt unusually well rested going down the stairs on his way to the kitchen. His weird dream was all but forgotten, and his mind was firmly set on the day ahead of him. He had noted with pleasure that the sky was without a cloud, and the thought of six hours in the glass cage, all to himself, was making him almost lyrical. "It is not a bad way to spend a few hours," he thought to himself. "Not a bad way at all."
Ante had just finished frying the bacon and eggs, setting them out on the table, when Bjorn entered the kitchen as the first of his colleagues. They greeted each other cheerfully and exchanged a few pleasantries about the weather before sitting down to eat.
"Have you tried the ham?" Ante asked, breaking the silence that descended on the two men and stuck with them from when they started their breakfast. Ante pointed to a tray full of finely cut slices of cured ham at the center of the table.
"No, I haven't," Bjorn answered.
"You should! It's very good."
"I'm not very fond of cured ham," Bjorn commented, finishing his bacon and eggs. "Dry and salty. Never liked it."
"But this is different. It's not your average Norwegian piece of meat. This is straight from the best butchers in Spain."
Bjorn looked at the meat, still skeptical. Then, before he had time to say any more, Frank appeared in the kitchen.
"Isn't that right?" Ante asked, looking at Frank as he sat down to eat. "The cured ham I got the other day is really nice."
"Sure is," Frank replied. "Why?"
"I'm just telling Bjorn, he should try it."
"And you should," Frank agreed. "Here, try a slice!"
Frank picked up a slice with a fork and dropped it on Bjorn's plate.
"Okay, since you insist," Bjorn said with a smile, realizing the silliness of the situation. He was being treated as a child. But it was all in good humor. And when he picked the slice up from his plate it struck him as being softer and more moist than he had expected. Quite appetizing in fact. He tore off a bit and put it in his mouth, playing along with the situation, pretending to be more reluctant to try it than he actually was.
"Well, that's very nice actually," Bjorn said, genuinely surprised by how good it tasted.
"Not your average dry piece of meat, is it?" Ante asked encouragingly.
"No! This really is very nice," Bjorn agreed.
Bjorn put the rest of the meat in his mouth. "So this is how it's supposed to taste?" he asked.
"It sure is."
"So why haven't I had this before?" Bjorn wondered out loud.
"It costs a fortune," Frank noted dryly. "That's why."
"And yet we can afford it?" Bjorn asked. "Is this one of your tricks again, Ante?"
"Tricks? No, no. I got this from Pingo. And it didn't cost a fortune, by the way. It cost less than the Norwegian stuff."
"Well... I don't know for sure, since Pingo does not even have the Norwegian stuff. But the only reason this Spanish ham is so darn expensive in Norway is the high tariffs. I'm pretty sure the Norwegian ham is more expensive than the Spanish, though. Without the tariffs, that is."
"Yeah, and even if it cost the same. Who would choose the Norwegian over the Spanish ham?" Frank added. "Without the tariffs, the Norwegian cured ham industry would be out of business in no time."
Bjorn cut a slice of bread for himself. He wanted to try more of the ham, and a thin slice of bread would do nicely as a base for piling up a juicy little heap.
"And this is exactly why we will have to stop people smuggling in food and drink from Lundby," Frank continued. "It's official now. We have to start confiscating stuff that people take with them from the colony."
"Really?" Ante asked. "So they finally got around to dealing with this problem?"
"I got a long mail from Oslo yesterday evening. We've basically been reclassified as a customs office."
"No big surprise there," Ante said. "You've been predicting this for weeks now, haven't you?"
"I sure have," Frank replied with a smug smile.
Bjorn took a bite out of his ham sandwich. "It's kind of unfair, isn't it?" he commented, savoring the delicious flavor of the ham.
"What you mean?" Frank asked, puzzled by Bjorn's comment.
"I mean. Why can't people have this ham if they want to. We'll still be having this, right? We won't have to pay any tariffs?"
"No, we're fine. We're actually inside the colony, so we can just keep shopping at Pingo," Ante replied. "Isn't that so, Frank?"
"Yeah... Well... Even if we weren't. It's not like we'd report ourselves, and tax ourselves. But anyway... We're definitely not bound by the import regulations. Of course not."
"So we can have this nice cheep food. But anyone living in Neiden or beyond will have to pay prohibitive taxes," Bjorn commented.
"Sure. But that's true for everybody. Everybody in Norway have to pay their taxes, including tariffs and other fees. What's so unfair about that?"
"Well... It just seems unfair."
"You know. You're starting to sound an awful lot like Thomas," Frank noted, looking critically at Bjorn, and then over at Ante who appeared to agree with Bjorn.
"You're talking about me?" Thomas asked, appearing in the doorway together with Espen, as if the mere mention of him had made him magically appear.
"Yes, we are," Ante replied with a broad smile. "Frank here, was wondering why you're even at this checkpoint. So why don't you tell him?"
"Is that so?" Thomas asked, looking over at Frank, heading for his regular spot.
"Well, not exactly. I know how you got here."
"You do? Well... why don't you tell me, because I have no idea how I got here."
"You're kidding?" Frank chuckled. "Of course you do. You're not that absent minded."
"No. But I actually made an effort not to get this job, yet I got it anyway."
"I made no secret of anything. I told them truthfully that my only reason for applying for this job was that I had to in order to keep my unemployment benefit. Yet I got it. And then I was trapped. If I refused to take the job, I'd loose my benefit. So here I am. And I have no idea why. I'm sure they must have had better candidates than me."
Thomas started eating his breakfast. "Come to think of it, I have no idea why you are here either," Thomas continued, looking over at Bjorn.
"Me?" Bjorn replied feeling strangely hurt by Thomas' flippant remark. Then, realizing that Thomas had a valid point, Bjorn pretended to shake the remark off by an equally flippant reply to the effect that he too had no idea why he was given the job. And to Bjorn's quiet horror, he realized that what he was saying was entirely true. He had no idea why he got the job, and seeing that he was not very good at it, and that other candidates must have been younger, fitter, and better qualified than him, he was suddenly struck by a feeling that he was somehow hand picked by someone. Not for his abilities, but for his lack there of.