We would have passed through Zvezda anyway, not because of Petr, but because it had already been planned, the whole of the route through Chukotka had already been prepared on the coast at Meinepilgyno. Graham had done his share, carried the plan through and thus paid off a bit of the cost.
We were in the distant Arctic, after all. There had not been much snow yet, but the whole of the Orphan Factory’s yard was covered in white, not so much as a tree nor a stunted bush rose higher than the rest of the landscape. It was even colder now, 20 degrees below zero.
It was Graham’s wish that while we were waiting for transportation we should try to procure a coffin or even just a crate, so that we didn’t need to move Petr in the sleeping bag. We roamed around the sheds and looked for some sort of base platform or large ready crate.
At last we found a crate that had been used for transporting Gasum gas cylinders. When the internal separators were removed and its height was increased with a few boards, the space was sufficient to make a narrow coffin into which we put Petr with his sleeping bag arranged around him. Graham hammered the lid shut with nails. The hospital’s caretaker who was helping us watched from the side, looking as though he were uncertain of the rights and wrongs of transporting a body in this way. When the lid with its grating had been firmly fastened, he made the sign of the cross from forehead to chest and shoulder to shoulder, but did not say anything.
Und sagte kein einziges Wort, do you remember that, Maaria? Have you read it?
I cannot lie, and claim that I mourned long and deeply. Instead, I was numb, weary from the journey and simply told myself that that was how it was bound to be. Several times I noticed that for a moment I forgot that Petr was dead. I would think about something that had happened in the past and turn to ask him about it, but he wasn’t in the vehicle.
The crate was fixed to the roof-rack with rubber fasteners and netting.
We made the final journey to the hangars of the airport in a single trip, near the coast there were settlements nearly all the way. The dashboard thermometer showed that the outside temperature had fallen to minus 28, but there was no longer any wind.
During a short stop we boiled some water by connecting an electric kettle to the spark plugs of the engine, and mixed some coffee powder and fructose granules in it. When I stepped outside, I could see the veils of the northern lights rising on the rim of the sky. The gauzy, greenish-yellow vortices swept and fluctuated upwards from one side of the sky to the other. In Finland I have never seen them as big and as suddenly moving, not even in Lapland. At home we saw them sometimes but they stayed low and shimmered above the horizon like a mere echo or reflection of the real ones.
In the swaying of the four-point seatbelts and the seats themselves it was easy just to sit and be. Outside the northern lights were sweeping as though watercolour paint had flowed down on both sides and downwards from an illuminated globe. Now and then there were moments like the ones that had followed the death of my father, when I had tried to forget the earlier days, left the arrangements and inquiries and just gone skiing to the bright lake so that there would be something else.
Memory and reflection must be constituted in such a way that parts of them must rest at times so that there isn’t an overload. Thus it is possible to even leave difficult and awkward matters for a few moments and fall into something else.
Petr was dead, but at times I merely had the same confused feeling I remembered from January, of being free from something that had existed before. I tried to explain to myself that one must be inwardly ready for all kinds of things to emerge to the surface, like bubbles and mud from a hot spring. All people are a one, as a person is a one, and even if he’s in the midst of others, he is separate, and for that reason he is not obliged to explain himself to anyone. An act is not yet more than a choice made from a store, and a bad word to someone is moving bad moments out of oneself, or attempts at moving, because they don’t move but grow and stiffen into a sort of sediment that starts to be visible on the outside and draws around one something which to others is an aura.
In January, when my father had died, after my bright and exhausting ski trips I had always gone to take a sauna and as I sat there I began, perhaps for the first time, to give longer reflection to such basic human concerns. Although at the juvenile home there had also been much talk about good and evil and choice, the others had spoken of them more when it was a question of dealing with the rows and stealing and fighting of the pupils and temporary residents, I had not gone into those concerns myself before, though they were ready within me, and all the choices for my actions awaiting suitable time.
I don’t know whether it was right that we decided to keep Petr with us to the end. It felt right at the time, and also that Petr would have wanted it that way. Who can know such a thing? One sets out to believe and make other believe as well, everyone thinks the same for a while.
The electronics in Graham’s, and also Petr’s, neckbands kept a split-second accurate record of their movements and the places they visited. The Memorial Society was not informed, it did not necessarily need to know, because the control devices carried on with the communication and the journey was continuing, the contest was continuing. Graham continued the log as though nothing had happened, but when I later read those pages very carefully, Petr was no longer really in them, Graham had not been able to do much more than what was necessary, or had felt that he had to see to it that the cover-up was not exposed later on.
translated from Finnish by David McDuff
Olli Jalonen - 14 Knots to Greenwich
Olli Jalonen - 14 Knots to Greenwich - 2
Olli Jalonen - 14 Knots to Greenwich - 3
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