Walruses belong in the Arctic like polar bears. The mighty seals inspireand fascinate Arctic visitors time and again. Therefore, it was clear that the appearance of such an animal far south of its original range would cause a huge stir. “Freya”, as the female animal, which had repeatedly appeared in the port of Oslo and outside in recent weeks, was named, turned into a media star. But because people had come closer and closer to the animal, disregarding the warnings of the authorities and experts, the latter had to take a decision on what to do with the visitor. And this decision turned out to the disadvantage of the animal: Euthanasia. This decision led Polish author Piotr Sordyl, who had come across Freya’s story online when it was already approaching its poignant finale, to apply his craft and channel his emotions of helplessness into making a meaningful dialogue about Freya’s fate. We publish it here exclusively.
Clara sat at her windowsill enjoying the warmth of the summer sun caressing her face. Her freshly ground coffee tasted exceptionally well in those early hours of Saturday, and the blissful awareness of not having to rush to work was all that she could ask for. She put on a pair of noise cancelling headphones to fully relax and listened to a podcast about marine wildlife conservation. She had a particular interest in learning as much as she could about visitors to her coastline, and their habits. It was an old, yet reignited love, which she thought forgotten until a week ago.
She had just finished listening to a whale’s song and a scientist’s explanation regarding techniques used to research their communication patterns, when her idyllic morning, and the podcast, got interrupted by a vexing sound of notifications. Clara frowned, trying to regain her focus on the next guest talking about species under protection sometimes visiting her country’s fjord coastline, like walruses. She smiled, hearing a female scientist talk about how their culinary tradition is not so different to that of islanders and coastal human societies who also enjoy cuisine consisting of fish and seafood. “Despite being significantly bigger than a person, their appetite has never led to such depletion of marine ecosystems as, sadly, our own exploitation of seas and oceans did,” the expert stated.
Another notification chimed and Clara yielded to the irresistible itch to have a look, simultaneously deciding that she had to finally switch them off. Her heart fluttered the moment her mobile’s screen lit up with an abundance of colours and notifications floated in like a racing school of fish cutting through the sea.
Clara jumped off the windowsill, throwing her headphones and phone on the bed. She dashed across the room, hectically pulled shorts and a baggy top on, grabbed her camera bag and fedora hat, leaving the house. She jumped on her bike and sped through the neighbourhood taking the road heading towards the coastline.
The driver who honked at her was perhaps right, but she could not slow down, her chest heaving for breath when she pushed herself to her limits to see her old friend. She smiled to herself, amused at the ease her attachment formed and how quickly it became an important part of her world, even though it was only a week.
Clara jumped off the bike before it managed to come still and let it fall to the ground without sparing it another glance. She was halfway through to the marina when she finally spotted the object of her adoration. “Divine,” she whispered out of breath.
She stopped in place and retrieved her camera, taking the spellbinding view through the lens. There was something of a goddess to her. Indeed, that thought made Clara title her email ‘Freya’ when sending the first batch of photos she took of her to the newspaper a week ago. The name did stick around.
Freya’s coat gleamed in the sun, its colour a mixture of copper and honey. She was slumbering away, nonchalantly sprawled at the back of a small, moored boat, basking in the summer sunlight. The walrus’s massive frame, probably weighing close to a few hundred kilograms, was extremely close to having the boat take on water and sink. Clara chuckled at the thought, feeling sorry for the owner, and took a series of photographs. The light was not the best, and she would love to have the clear sunset conditions right now, but it was still better than the plain afternoon light.
She was not the only one paying attention to Freya—a small crowd began gathering around the walrus, much closer than Clara liked seeing. Most of the people stood there with their mobiles out taking photos, filming, or even trying to position their selfie sticks to get their faces with the marine mammal in the same photo. Clara sighed and shook her head, taking a few more photographs as she approached, including in the shot nearby onlookers. Perhaps, her employer might want to use it.
The air buzzed with excitement and nervousness, not so different to that displayed by children in the zoo but this time adults seemed even more enthusiastic than them. Clara regretted she did not take her noise-cancelling headphones with her, but Freya paid no attention to the agitated crowd, still deep in her slumber.
“Can I pet it?” Clara rolled her eyes hearing a child’s question.
“Of course not. It’s a wild animal, little bear,” a man replied.
“But can we take a selfie, daddy? Please, please.”
“I’m not sure, sweets…”
“Please, please. Daddy!”
“Alright, alright. But only one.”
Clara looked over her shoulder and saw the young father with the child moving through the crowd. She shook her head in disbelief.
“Excuse me!” Clara called out to no avail, so she began to push through the crowd, trailing behind them.
“Hey, man in a t-shirt with coconuts, with a son! Wait up!”
The man stepped in front of the half circle of people gathered around Freya. He held the little boy with one hand and his phone in the other, getting close to the boat the walrus goddess chose as its throne.
“Hey, stop!” Clara pushed through the crowd and ran up grabbing the man by the arm. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The young father turned and faced her with surprise written all over his face. “Erm… What’s up?”
The little boy looked up at Clara with fearful, watery eyes. Clara swore silently for getting what she asked for, and let the man go, peacefully raising her hands in the air.
“Easy. I’m just stopping you because Freya, however much of an attraction, it’s still a dangerous creature.”
“Do you think I don’t know?”
“Then you should not approach it, certainly not with a child.” Clara realised too late she should have bitten her tongue.
“Are you telling me how to look after my kid?”
“I’m far from it, believe me.”
“But walrus is not a cat, so it won’t end up with a scratch if she doesn’t like it.”
“I was just going to sneak a quick photo; besides, it sleeps.”
“Are you going to risk your safety for a stupid selfie? You know what? Never mind, go ahead. Be my guest.” Resigned, Clara turned around to walk away.
“Yeah? That’s rich coming from you, girl. You’re here for the photos too, or is that massive camera at your side just a dummy?”
Clara pressed her lips together and clenched her fists before turning around with as calm an expression on her face as she could muster.
“Yes, from a safe distance, so you can see them in a newspaper or online.”
“Aha! It’s your own fault then. Figure, I’ve learnt about Freya from the newspaper.”
Clara heard voices in the crowd side with the young father, while others praised her for well-made photographs. She sighed, exasperated.
“No one in there told anyone to come here. Not me, not my colleagues.”
“But you did get to see it live, right? Well, I wanted to. And my boy. And now I want to take a photo so he can have a memory of it.”
“Are you serious? So, if a news feed shows a volcano erupting in the city, are you going to jump right into it just because seeing it on telly is not enough?”
“I just want to have my photo.”
Clara sent him a bitter smile. “Yeah, good luck to you and your children. I’m calling the police.”
“What the—” The boy began to cry, so the man scooped him up from the ground and embraced him protectively, stroking his head.
“Fine. See what you have done? Are you happy now?”
The man marched away and disappeared in the crowd with Clara watching him bewildered. Still, she reached for her phone and realised she forgot to take it.
“Please, everyone. Step back and give Freya some space. She’s not here for entertainment, she’s just resting here. Please.”
Clara’s plea went mostly ignored, with people pointing her out with their fingers and with smirks on their faces. She noticed more than a few mobiles aimed at her and she decided to evacuate, though it was probably too late for her to avoid becoming social media’s plaything for the next few days. The thought of becoming a meme made her shudder.
Once back home, she rang the police and asked them to send someone down to the marina to keep as much Freya as the onlookers safe, but she did not believe they took her seriously. Resigned, she sat down to edit her photos, sent the selection of the best to her newspaper’s editor, Tom, and then went to the darkroom to develop the few she liked the most. Once she finished, she went back up to lay down with her legs up against a wall, wondering if she did not make a mistake helping make Freya just another story for the entertainment of the masses. As she looked at the walrus’s photos stuck all over her wall, she finally dozed off.
Clara sat at the desk, staring at the screen of her laptop with a photo of killed Freya. She could not force herself to stop looking at her, but she had to. She was gone. The goddess was no more.
When she grabbed her phone, her hand was shaking. She took a deep breath and almost blindly pressed the name on the screen, tears misting her sight.
“Tom? Wh—” her voice broke.
“Oh, Clara. It’s so sad.” “Mhm.”
“Are you crying?” Clara sniffed.
“Nah. A little. I really liked that walrus.”
“I know, listen—”
“Have you seen what they said?” She poked her finger at the letters on the screen. “How was she ‘a persistent threat to human security’? Tell me.”
“Clara, I don’t know what to say.”
“Aren’t we the fucking threat to other animals, like all the time?”
“Freya just… ran out of luck.”
“Luck? Oh, no, Tom. She was just too big a problem to handle and not cute enough to keep around. Have you seen what they said? Did you read it?”
“Yes, Clara, I did.”
“They ‘carefully examined all the possible solutions’ and concluded ‘they couldn’t guarantee her wellbeing’, so they just euthanized her. Bloody hell! They killed her. Since when is that a solution?”
“I’m so sorry, Clara.”
“Don’t, Tom. I don’t need that. I’m sorry for her. She’d be much happier if she never came across humans. And you know, same for me. Thanks for listening, I’m gonna go now.”
“Clara, wait. Don’t end like that. How am I to let you go and be alone with those emotions? Listen, we can publish a goodbye piece for Freya with your photos—”
“Yes, sure. Do that. You’ve got the rights. Bye, Tom. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
Clara sat on her bed in silence, letting tears dry on her cheeks. When she finally moved, it was almost noon. She realised she held her phone all that time. She went into her recent contacts and tapped Tom’s name. After two beeps, she heard his relieved voice:
“Clara, I’m so glad—”
“Tom, I want to write it.”
“Oh,” there was a moment of silence on the other end. “You do?”
“Yes, I owe it to her.”
“I get it. We can work with that.”
“You’ll have the final call, anyway.”
“Then speak to you later?”
Clara put away her phone and took a long look at the photos of Freya on her wall. She sat down at the desk with her laptop, full of determination, and began to write.
Piotr is a writer currently working on his collection of short stories about human nature, and his first novel. Originally from Poland, he is UK-based and studies Creative and Professional Writing. In his work, he includes elements of fantasy, mythology and nature. Inspired by authors such as Carl Sagan, Robert Sapolsky and Carl Safina, he wants to participate in science popularisation, and increasing environmental and wildlife awareness.
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I was also touched by story od Freya. A very well written story. Captures mamy emotions nad universal truths, such as that humans are the greatest threat to other species and the Earth. Very sad.
Thanks for sharing the short piece, I’ve been very moved reading it. I was devastated when I heard about Freyas’s ‘euthanasia’ for the first time and I couldn’t believe that this was the way they decided to solve the problem. For me, it shows we still have a long way to go as a species if we want to consider ourselves, in any way, superior animals. With great power comes even greater responsibility, and it is through the way we treat those weaker than us that we prove our greatness.