by Jorn Lier Horst, Norway
On a cold December day in 1993, as a young trainee police officer, I was sent out on assignment to a quiet residential area. Neighbours had not seen anything of Johannes Wik in recent days. Newspapers and letters had started to pile up in his mailbox, snow had fallen and not been cleared away, and the exterior light had been left on round the clock. They were worried that something had happened to him. No one answered when they rang the doorbell and all the curtains were drawn, preventing them from looking inside.
We smashed a small window-pane beside the front door to gain entry to the house.
Johannes Wik was sitting in the living room in front of the TV set, with the remote control on his lap. He had been dead for a fortnight.
On the table in front of him sat an empty coffee cup and a breakfast plate with half a slice of bread. The meat spread had dried up and the bread curled at the edges. Images still flickered on the TV screen.
Johannes Wik became my first encounter with death. An encounter like that is something you never forget. His body had begun to decompose, his face dark and bloated, with gashes where the skin had wasted away. His teeth were visible all the way round to the back molars. The fingers clutching the remote control were shrivelled, black and cracked, and the odour enveloping the room where he sat was unlike anything else I had ever smelled before.
There was nothing suspicious about the death. Johannes Wik had grown old, and his heart had quite simply stopped beating. He was carried out in an airtight body-bag and buried a week later. No one attended his funeral. He had no family or friends.
No one knew who Johannes Wik really was. Not only had he lived his life entirely on his own, he had also departed it in complete solitude – without even featuring in other people’s thoughts.
Few things frighten me more than the idea of being alone. Completely alone. Of being a person who does not even exist as far as other people living in my proximity are concerned. Someone unseen, even though he is surrounded by other human beings.
In subsequent years, my thoughts have sometimes returned to Johannes Wik. Who was he really? What kind of life experiences did he have? What had made him such a recluse? What secrets had he carried throughout his life?