Tuesday 2 November 2010

Pappa's Girl - Part Four

It's 1971 and Lisa and her family are about to emigrate from a small town in Finland to the Swedish capital, Stockholm, where 'Everything is bigger and better,' as Pappa tells Lisa before they leave their home country. To find Parts 1-3 of this tale click here.

We spent the night before going away in Grandma Kaarina’s flat.
‘Anja, Lisa - it’s time to get up!’ someone whispered close to my ear. It was still dark but there was a strip of yellow light coming from the hall. I looked over to my older sister. She’d pulled the blanket over her head. Whenever we stayed with Kaarina we slept on the sofa in the lounge. I had my head in one end and Anja in the other. Kaarina called it The Sister Bed. I turned towards Kaarina’s smiling face. Her cheeks were red and she had a net over her greying hair.
‘Good morning Lisa,’ she said and kissed my cheek. She smelled of medicine. I heard her false teeth clack. ‘Get dressed! I’ve got breakfast ready.’ She hurried out of the room. 

The floor felt cold to my feet when I skipped to the bathroom. It was still dark and I shivered in the little yellow loo. I smiled when I saw the irregular strokes Kaarina's paint brush had left on the walls. Pappa didn't like the bright colours she'd painted her flat with, but I loved them. 'She should have got a man to do it properly,' Pappa had said. Suddenly I remembered what day it was: we were leaving for Stockholm today. We would take the first train to Turku, then the ferry to Stockholm. I wondered if there’d be Swedish people on the train, or maybe not until on the ferry. It was called the Ferry Train so there must be foreigners on it. I wondered if I could tell them apart. The only foreign person I’d met was a boy in my class who’d moved from Australia. He couldn’t speak any Finnish at all so my teacher, Neiti Päivänen, asked me to look after him. He sounded strange, but didn’t look any different.

There was a knock on the door, ‘Lisa, we’re in a rush! You don’t want to miss the Ferry Train do you?’
I opened the door and saw Mamma was already dressed, though she hadn't put her lipstick on or done her hair yet. She reminded me of how Anja looked first thing in the morning.

‘You must have something to eat before we go. Here, put these on and give me your nightie.’ She handed me a pile of clothes, all new bought especially for the journey.  ‘And hurry up, darling!’ When I closed the door I heard her shout, ‘Anja, please get up straight away. You’re going to make us late!' 

It was still dark outside when we sat around the table eating bread, cheese and meats. I had a cup of milky coffee with three spoonfuls of sugar. It was sweet and felt warm in my stomach. I only managed to eat one piece of rye bread with liver pate. ‘Liver makes you strong,’ Kaarna had said so I took some although I didn’t really like it.
‘Anja, aren’t you having any breakfast?’ Kaarina said pouring more coffee into the cups.
Pappa was glaring at Anja. She was slumped over the table, looking like a lifeless doll. Her hair was a mess.
‘Did you hear what your Grandmother asked you?’ Pappa said.
‘Please have just one piece of bread,’ Mamma said. She sat next to my sister and stroked her back.
Anja shook her body so that Mamma’s hand dropped away. She looked straight at Pappa and said, ‘I’m not hungry.’
‘You won’t get any food until the ferry,’ Pappa said. Anja just shrugged her shoulders.
‘Sit down, Kaarina,’ Mamma said and smiled up at her, ‘this is a lovely breakfast.’ Kaarina sat down at her painting chair with a heavy sigh. She had on a stripy apron and a pink housecoat. She looked sad. ‘I’ll make you a couple of sandwiches just in case some-one gets hungry on the train,’ she said and glanced across at Anja's empty plate.
Mamma gave Pappa a quick look and said, ‘What a good idea. I’ll make them.’
‘Don’t be silly, Kirsti, you have to get ready. I don’t have anything better to do.’ Kaarina got up and smiled at me. Mamma gave in and rushed around the flat to get our things ready. 

Back in the lounge, I picked up the set of colouring pencils and a small drawing pad that Kaarina had given me for the journey and put them in my canvas holdall. I looked up and saw Kaarina in the kitchen through the narrow hall. She stood sideways, wiping her eyes with a kitchen cloth. Pappa was still at the table reading a paper. He put yesterday’s ‘Aamulehti’ down and looked at Kaarina. She sat down facing Pappa and he put his hand on her arm. I couldn’t hear what he said. Then Kaarina got up again and started clearing away the plates while Pappa carried on reading his paper. 

Anja sat on the unmade Sister Bed. ‘What a stupid idea to leave so early in the morning!’ She still hadn’t brushed her hair, nor packed her bag.
‘But this is when the Ferry Train goes,’ I said.
‘But if we’d taken the night sailing instead of the stupid, boring day one we wouldn’t have had to leave until much later!'
‘How do you know there are night ferries?’
‘Because I just do, ' Anja had a dreamy look in her eyes, ' The night ferry looks really good, they’ve got a disco and everything!’ She stood up and sighed, ‘Not that they would have let us go there.’ At last it looked like she started getting ready. Pappa was standing in the doorway, holding his paper.
‘Are you ready girls?'
‘Yes Pappa.’ I looked over to Anja who was examining her bag.
‘Anja?’ Pappa said.
‘Whatever,’ she said. Pappa stood still for a moment as if he was trying to find something to say.  Instead he took a deep breath and went into the loo. I followed Pappa out of the room and saw Kaarina leaning against the sink in the kitchen. Her head was bent over and I went to stand by her. This is where I often stood to dry the dishes while she washed up. I had no time to do that today. I looked up at her.
‘All packed?’ Kaarina asked. Her eyes were red and wet. I pushed myself against her large body and started crying.
‘Lisa, don’t start me off again,’ she said. I pulled away and looked at her. She wiped my eyes with her apron and smiled. ‘Soon you’ll be on that ferry and then Stockholm and you will have a wonderful time,’ she said and hugged me hard.
‘Don’t forget to open up the box with Charlotte every week.' I'd been worrying about my doll ever since Mamma had told me I should leave her behind. She was now in Kaarina's cellar in a cardboard box with my other toys. Of course I knew I was too old to play with dolls.
‘I won’t,’ Kaarina said. I hugged her again and thought how warm she was and how soft her cotton apron felt against my cheek.

‘The taxi’s here!’ Pappa shouted. Everyone started rushing. I went out first with Anja and ran down the stairs past her. Kaarina lived on the third floor but I always beat the scary lift to the ground floor. The taxi was waiting outside the entrance to the block of flats. I pressed my nose onto the cold glass of the front door. The taxi driver wound his window down and rested one arm on it. He wore a black leather jacket and was smoking a cigarette. He pursed his lips and made rings out of the puffs of smoke. I watched them rise and disappear into the air. He turned around to look at me, tapping the ash from his cigarette onto the pavement. His eyes looked small and watery.

The lift behind me came to life. The wires moved slowly inside the wire cage. The whole lift creaked and I was afraid it might give way under the heavy luggage. I watched when at first Pappa's brown shoes came into view, then his legs and finally his face. With a loud thump the lift stopped and Pappa stepped out into the hall. I helped him carry the suitcases one by one into the boot of the taxi.
‘Good morning,’ the driver said but didn't get up to help with the cases. Pappa told me to get into the car. I opened the passenger door and hang off it. I didn't want to get in before everyone else. Next Mamma and Kaarina came down in the lift. I heard them talking over the humming of the car engine.
‘Where’s Anja,’ Mamma asked.
‘I’m here,’ Anja said. She was standing behind Kaarina.
Kaarina came to hug me, ‘You’re a good girl,’ she whispered in my ear.
‘I’ll see you soon,’ Mamma turned away quickly from Kaarina and ushered Anja and me onto the back seat. I saw Pappa put his arms briefly around Kaarina and then let go. He went to sit next to the driver.
‘We are going to Keskusasema,’ he said to the man. When the taxi started to drive off I glanced back. The number '2' shone brightly above the doorway where Kaarina stood. She looked large but lonely, her arms hanging loose by her side.

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