‘This part of town is called Rinkeby. It’s ten stops on the Tunnelbana from the centre of town,’ Pappa told us, ‘That’s what the underground train is called.’
We were walking up the stairs to the second floor of a large block. Our flat was the fourth door along a covered walkway. I counted the doors so that I would find it again. When we arrived it was dark and there were orange lights along the walkway. Inside the hall was large and square and led into a big kitchen on the left and into a bathroom on the right. By the window in the kitchen there was a round table. It had a plastic tablecloth and four wooden chairs. You could see the walkway and the car park from the window.
From the hall you could see straight into a large sitting room. There was no furniture apart from an old-looking sofa against the wall, but there were large windows with glass doors. Light brown curtains were hanging either side. Pappa went to open the door. ‘Come and look at this,’ he shouted from the balcony.
‘There is another door into our bedroom,’ Pappa turned around to look at us standing in the doorway. 'Come in - you're allowed to!'
Mamma, Anja and I went to stand on the cold cement floor of the balcony. ‘The new furniture should arrive next week,’ Pappa said and squeezed Mamma's waist.
‘What new furniture?’ I whispered to Anja but she just shrugged her shoulders. ‘How am I supposed to know?’
Both Anja and I had our own bedrooms. Mine had a low bed made out of white wood against one wall. Anja’s room was opposite. She’d chosen hers first but I didn’t mind. Pappa looked at me and said, ‘You sure Lisa?’
‘Yes Pappa, I like this room,’ I’d said.
‘Come on girls, let’s make up your beds,’ Mamma said. She took tightly rolled sheets from her large suitcase, laying open in their bedroom. She handed me a pale blue set and Anja a pink one. Apart from the colour, they were both exactly the same. You could tell which was the top sheet by a narrow strip of embroidery at one end. Mamma helped us make up the beds and told us to go and wash in the large bathroom and then to sleep.
‘It’s past eleven o’clock Swedish time, ‘ she said. ‘And that’s past midnight in Finland.’
It felt strange going to bed in Stockholm. I didn’t feel at all sleepy, so I lay on my back under the sweet smelling sheets listening to the noises around me. Mamma and Pappa were talking in muffled voices and Anja was moving about in her room. There were no sounds of cars. At home I could always hear the traffic go past our house. I wondered what Kaarina was doing now. She was probably asleep on one of the beds in her small bedroom. I wished I could kiss her goodnight.
My skin felt prickly all over at the thought of tomorrow.
The walls of my new room looked very white, they glowed even though the room was dark. I could see a street lamp through the curtains. It’s light painted a long orange strip along the wall and the door. I’d left my door ajar, it felt too lonely to shut it completely. I heard Mamma laugh softly. Then she said, ‘Shhh, Mikko.’ I turned to face the door and thought about what Rinkeby would look like in the daylight. Would there be a children’s playground outside the flats here too? Would my school be a tall building like Anja’s new school in Tampere? What were Swedish girls like? I wished I’d find a friend like Kaija and that my teacher would be a nice person like Neiti Päivinen. She never got angry with me, or the others. I’d heard her shout only once at a boy who kept pulling the girls’ hair. But he was horrible and smelt of cooked cabbage. Oh, I hoped there'd not be lots of boys like him in my new school.
In the morning Mamma knocked on my door.
‘Breakfast is ready,’ she said. Anja was still asleep but Pappa was reading a newspaper in Swedish at the kitchen table. He looked over the paper at me and said, ‘Sleep well, Lissu?’ That was his nickname for me. He hadn’t used it for ages, so I smiled and said, ‘Yes Pappa.’
There was a funny smell in the kitchen like fried onions. Mamma said it was the strange furniture and that when she’d cleaned the flat properly, the smell would go.
‘Your nose, Lisa, is very sensitive,’ she laughed. She was smiling, unpacking boxes in the kitchen. It was nice to see our old cups and plates. Then Mamma found one plate that had broken during the move. Pappa said it was a very expensive Nuutajärvi glass plate, but that it was lucky nothing else was broken.
‘I told you we shouldn’t have taken everything,’ he said to Mamma. But he didn't sound angry.
Mamma just looked at the large chip on the plate and said nothing. I thought how lucky it was that my doll was in Kaarina’s cellar.
After we’d had breakfast around the kitchen table, Mamma said, ‘Lisa have you unpacked everything in your room?’
She knew I hadn’t so I got up. I walked along the corridor past Mamma and Pappa’s new bedroom and went in to have a look. At the far end the door to the balcony was open. The air was blowing the white, long thin curtains about. Mamma had put the old yellow bedspread on the large double bed. At the foot of the bed was a row of wardrobes. I opened one narrow door and saw Pappa’s winter shoes and his heavy Ulster hanging above it. I closed the door quickly.
The room looked very tidy even though there were two large suitcases and several unopened boxes stacked on the floor. On either side of the bed was a small table, and a white lamp screwed onto the wall above. I flicked the switch and a bright light came on. I imagined Pappa lying on the bed reading a newspaper, his legs crossed and his socks shiny and loose on his feet. Sometimes he fell asleep like that in the middle of the afternoon with the paper folded neatly next to him, his arms crossed over his chest. I closed the door quietly behind me and went to my room.
My bedroom had a white desk against a large window overlooking a path between the house blocks of the estate. I could see a group of boys cycling there. They were shouting to each other while peddling without holding onto the handlebars, or pulling the front wheel up off the pavement. They laughed, daring each other to do more tricks. Suddenly one of them looked up and I moved behind the thin cotton curtain.
‘Do you want to come to the shop with me,’ Mamma was standing at the door. She looked at my unopened boxes.
‘Yes please!’ I said.
‘You’ll have to promise me you’ll unpack as soon as we come back.’ She wagged her finger at me but she was smiling. ‘Take your coat. It looks warm but there is a wind and it’s a bit of a walk, I think,’ she said from the corridor. Then Anja stood there, sleepy-looking.
‘Are you coming to the shop?’ I asked.
‘Yes, Mamma wants me to come because I can speak Swedish,’ she said and walked out. She wasn’t even dressed yet so I knew it would be a while before we left. I sat down on my bed and opened one of the boxes.
On the way to the shop we walked past the boys on their bicycles. I tried not to look at them, but I saw from the corner of my eye that they were still being silly. I wondered if they went to the same school Anja and I would start the following Monday. That was the day after tomorrow, I thought.
‘Can you believe we’re here?’ Mamma said and linked arms with us. Anja said, ‘It’s so cool, there are so many girls here the same age as me. I saw them walking on this path.’
Mamma pointed at a low building in the distance and said, ‘That’s your new school.’ She knew where everything was because she’d been here with Pappa before. Pappa had shown her the flat and they’d walked around to our new school and met the teachers.
‘Wow,’ Anja said. ‘So cool!’
We walked along the path. It went under a road. In the tunnel our voices made an echo and we laughed. Then there was a long uphill road and steps up to square. At one end was a shop with glass door. Inside the shop smelled of sweet fruit. There we large baskets of bananas and apples, mounds of tomatoes and different coloured peppers. Pappa was right, everything was bigger and better in Sweden. Anja and I found the sweet aisle and looked at the different unfamiliar packets. They all looked so delicious, but I had left my money in the new flat.
‘Let’s see if Mamma will buy us some,’ Anja said and took my arm. We ran along the isles and isles of foodstuffs, finally finding Mamma at the bread counter.
‘Ah, Anja, thank goodness. I want some of those cakes but the lady doesn’t understand and I can’t say it,’ she said. Mamma looked red in her face and the woman had her eyebrows raised. She wore a white apron and had very blonde, curly hair. She said something but Anja didn’t understand her either. Anja pointed through a glass case at a green cake that had four ready-cut slices left and put up four fingers and said something in Swedish. The woman didn’t reply but took a knife and slid the four slices into a cardboard container. Then she closed the lid and wrote a number on it and handed the box to Anja. We all smiled and said, ‘Tack’, and the woman said something again but didn’t smile. Anja shook her head to her and we left.
Mamma had lots of food in her trolley. ‘I’m ready, let’s go,’ she said. Her face was still a bit red and she looked sad. ‘She was very rude, that woman!’ she said to Anja.
Anja shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘Can we have some sweets?’
Mamma looked at her and said, ‘Alright, one each.’ ‘But not a big one,’ she shouted after us. A woman with an equally full trolley was coming the other way and we nearly bumped into her. I said, ‘Anteeksi’. She looked at me angrily and I realised I’d said ‘sorry’ in Finnish.
‘Jävla Finne,’ The woman said and pushed her trolley away.
‘Come on,’ Anja said.
‘What did she say?’ I asked Anja. She was pulling my arm and we were running. Anja didn’t reply, so I thought she didn’t know either.
‘What’s sorry in Swedish?’ I asked when we were standing in the fully stacked sweet aisle again.
‘Förlåt,’ she said and picked up a heavy bar wrapped up in a golden coloured paper.
‘I’ll have the same,’ I said. Then, looking at her I said carefully, ‘Vorlat?’
‘No, you copycat, it’s FÖR - LÅT!’
'That's not what that woman said to me.'
Anja was quiet for a moment. Then, glancing quickly around her, she whispered in my year, 'She called you a Fucking Finn.'