from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)
At around noon I went to see my colleague in the next room and said I would be out for the rest of the day. I had arranged the meeting for two o’clock on Suomenlinna Island, where the woman lived. Her name was Maaria, and when I called her to arrange the meeting, her silence was so prolonged that I thought she had put the phone down. At last I heard her voice, and she had said that mornings were no good, nor were evenings, because that was when she usually did her writing. But at two in the afternoon nothing much happened.
I did not know much about Maaria at all. She was in her sixties and had been acquainted with Raija for about ten years. They had met for the first time in connection with some journey, and had then exchanged correspondence. Maaria wrote several novels, but I had not read a single one of them, though the titles of the books seemed vaguely familiar. I hoped that she would know something about Paul Roux; perhaps Raija had sometimes happened to mention the man’s name.
I walked to Kauppatori marketplace, which at that time of year was empty. By the seafront stood the ticket booth, and further away gleamed the red-roofed tower of Klippan Island. The sky was overcast and the wind blew off the sea. Perhaps the first falls of snow would be coming soon. The Suomenlinna ferry waited at its berth, rocking gently, and I entered the chilly cabin, choosing a seat near a window. There were only a few passengers, a solitary woman and a couple of parka-clad Asian tourists, heaven knew why they had strayed to Helsinki in October. Soon the sound of the engines grew louder and we moved away from the quay. I gazed out at the open sea beyond, which was like a large waiting room, a dim, undulating hall. I saw the quays gliding past, the other boats in the harbour, and I thought about the fear, the fear of all waiting rooms, the doctor’s office just before the results of the tests were announced; the paper tape that slowly ticked from the printer, the numbers on the screen which from now on would determine the direction of a life. I thought about what lay ahead and could not be imagined before it happened.
The trip took around fifteen minutes and Maaria was waiting for me on the quay, we had arranged it that way. Even from afar I knew it was her. The boat bumped softly against the quay and I walked to her side. We greeted each other and Maaria said it was unlikely I would have been able to find her apartment on my own, because most people who came got lost on the way and had to be searched for in the labyrinths of the walls or along the shores. We set off up the hill and past the church. I explained that, as I had mentioned on the phone, I was looking for information about Raija, I planned to write something about her, though it was all still very vague. I had heard that she, Maaria, had known Raija and might perhaps be able to throw light on certain points in her life.
We walked across a bridge to another island, past a dry dock and up a hill. Maaria said she had moved here at the turn of the millennium and now felt as though she had always lived here; at any rate she no longer wanted to leave. Many people had wondered how Maaria could live in such a windy place, but it did not bother her, quite the opposite, the windier it was the better. Except that her neighbours had nearly lost their roof last winter. She said she also liked the capricious nature of the wind here – quite different from the cold, harsh mistral of the Rhône, which was said to drive people mad. At least she had not heard of anyone being driven mad by this wind; by other causes, yes.
(to be continued)
translated from Finnish by David McDuff
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