from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)
Maaria’s apartment was located in the second storey of a large stone house. She led me up a spiral staircase to a small two-roomed flat, where she asked me to take off my coat in the hallway. One of the windows looked out on the sea, but it was a grey afternoon and I couldn’t make out the landscape very well. Next to a bookcase was the guest bed with a colourful Turkish bedspread. Maaria asked me to sit down and asked if I would like something to drink, she had some yerba mate drink in the refrigerator. There had been a wonderful Chilean film last week on TV in which everyone drank mate from morning till night, and it had given her a truly obsessive craving to try it. Though the film had probably been financed by some mate-manufacturing multinational company, for that was the way of the world nowadays.
Maaria returned from the kitchen and said that after I called her she had considered matters and reached the conclusion that perhaps she had not known Raija as well as she had imagined. She had also tried to remember when she had first met Raija, but was not sure. It was probably back in the 1980s, although at that time they were not yet close friends, only later on. After that she had paid occasional visits to Kotka, where Raija lived in the beautiful hundred-year-old Ahlqvist House, opposite the cathedral. Maaria recalled that Raija had been involved in setting up a cooperative which had acquired that dilapidated house and gradually begun to renovate it. The house had been important, and Raija had often written about it, so it was particularly sad that later on money worries had forced her to abandon the house and move to another location.
Maaria said that although the house had been Raija’s base she had often wanted to go away, made long trips abroad. Maaria said she had accompanied Raija on one of those trips some time in the early 1990s, 1993 it would have been. Raija set off on the journey alone, but one day when she had been gone for several weeks, the phone rang and Raija asked Maaria to come to her immediately. Something was amiss, Raija was frantic, and because Maaria had nothing particularly important to do at the time and happened to have some money, she had flown to Nice and met her friend in Antibes.
It was autumn, and a couple of months earlier Raija had arrived in the nearby town of Grasse, where she rented a house. But this time everything seemed have to have gone wrong. The house was small and gloomy. It rained incessantly. Mildew and greenish flowers grew on the walls, the pots and pans were rusty, she had not really eaten anything. The shower did not work properly or did not work at all, each new day brought more small setbacks. When they met, Raija was lonely, almost in a state of panic, and had for a long time been suffering from writer’s block.
Maaria said that that not even then had Raija explained in much detail what the real trouble was, except of course for the wretched living conditions and the dispiriting rain. Instead, they had talked about everything else, and if it was not raining they had sat on the beach and drunk wine. One day they had taken the train across to the Italian side of the border, to Ventimiglia. They had bought shoes, Raija loved shoes, they put her in a good mood. And though Maaria herself was often timid on the journey, Raija coped with the practical things for her, too, whatever the situation; and that was really how she wanted to remember her friend: she had the sudden, surprising bravery that others lacked. As if Raija were sometimes a little above the world, as if the world’s rules did not apply to her in the same way.
translated from Finnish by David McDuff
(to be continued)
Maaria - 1
Maaria - 2