The Forest that God Forgot
Skogen som Gud glömde, Söderströms förlag, 2010
The school offers a course which 14 pupils have jumped at the chance to take: Together with a teacher and a wilderness guide they set off into the great forest to spend a week learning to live in and off nature. But from the beginning things start to go wrong. Rain pours down, their mobile phones are involved in an accident, and what side of the border are the group really on?
[A school trip to look for ‘wild food’ by canoe in a Finnish national park close to the Russian border has gone disastrously wrong. A violent storm forced the group to spend the night in a deserted heritage museum in Hukkala, and an encounter with some unexpectedly fierce rapids has split one group of youngsters off from the rest, and from the leaders of the expedition, Jöran and Seko.]
I opened my eyes and found myself staring uncomprehendingly into Anna’s anxious blue gaze.
‘Minka! Minka! Hey! Over here! She’s alive!’
She gave me a big hug and I tried to lift my head from her embrace and immediately spewed up a fountain of warm lake-water that tasted of vomit. Anna kept hold of me, not caring that she was getting splashed. By the time I had finished being sick and sank back into her arms, exhausted and trembling, we were surrounded by a load of legs. Karhu, Johannes and Ursula were standing there, staring down at me, looking wet and wretched. Karhu was bleeding from a cut on his forehead, and Johannes had a massive bruise above one eyebrow.
Ursula threw herself down and hugged us both.
‘We were convinced you’d drowned, but Anna kept on pumping water out of you. You were completely white when you came back up, with loads of algae and stuff in your hair. I got hold of your lifebelt and pulled you behind us, even if I couldn’t manage to get you up into the canoe.’
‘Thanks,’ I whispered, but I don’t think she heard me.
‘See, it was worth going on that first aid course after all,’ Anna muttered, sounding pleased with herself, as she wrung the vomit-water out of hers and my hair.
‘Do you think you can get to your feet if we help you?’ Karhu asked. ‘There’s more shelter behind this rock, and we’re trying to build a windbreak.’
‘Wh… where are the others?’ I asked in a croaky voice, spitting out a bit more water.
‘No idea. There’s just us here. I think our canoes were carried further east than the others and got swept into that river Jöran showed us on his map. I didn’t get much chance to look round, but for a while I noticed that the shore was pretty close to us on both sides. Now we’re out in another lake again.’
He and Anna helped me up, which was just as well seeing as one of my feet was completely useless and I couldn’t feel it at all. I could see it swelling above my waterlogged shoe, but didn’t dare look any closer.
‘Everything’s so different here in Russia!’ Johannes said softly when they had managed to drag me to their shelter between some big roots further up the beach. The roots, trees, moss, sand and water looked exactly the same as everything we had been confronted with up to now.
‘It’s all so exotic!’ Ursula agreed, then carried on making a little pile of dry spruce-twigs. Karhu tried to light them with the help of the matches that Anna had been keeping in a plastic bag in her inside pocket. Sometimes it’s useful having a secret smoker with you on wild food expeditions.
If Karhu’s calculations were correct, then we had been swept across the border, evidently with me trailing behind one of the canoes, thanks entirely to Ursula’s strong grip. It was completely dark now. My own watch was drenched, like everything else I owned, but Karhu’s professional diver’s watch, which could cope with the depths of the Mariana Trench if necessary, said it was 18.36. I forget how many seconds. The wind was whistling through the pines along the shore and the water lapped on the sandy beach. A tuft of sharp coarse grass rustled behind my back. The first match caught light and soon little red flames were dancing up. We leaned forward greedily, absorbing the wonderful heat. It probably wasn’t a very cold evening at all, but my clothes were drenched and my sleeping bag was presumably lost somewhere among the rapids. We had loaded the tents into Andreas and Julia’s canoe, the biggest one… At least the others had their sleeping bags with them. Ursula lent me her spare trousers and socks, and Karhu gave me his beloved light-blue Hard Rock Café (Bombay) sweatshirt, the one I used to laugh at because it was so touristy.
Johannes lent me his bin-bag, which had been doing service as a Che Guevara beret, and adeptly twisted it into a pair of slippers for me. Black plastic is something else our forefathers had to do without. Poor them.
We huddled closer together and tried to work out what had actually happened. How come there was such a strong current in the middle of the lake, and how did we end up being swept into the river without noticing in time? And, above all, why were the rapids, why were presumably almost always dry at this time of year, so incredibly strong and violent?
‘The Gulf Stream and the hole in the ozone layer,’ Johannes said. He had a tendency to mix up different catastrophes.
‘The storm and the rain,’ Ursula and Karhu suggested more sensibly.
‘Bad karma,’ Anna muttered gloomily, as she tried to separate her cherished tarot cards from the damp lump they had formed.
‘Fucking bastard Jöran,’ I burst out. ‘He should have been made to go on an advanced course before taking people to dangerous places like this! He’s only fit to take people on tram-trips out to the Central Park!’ The others couldn’t even be bothered to agree out loud, and merely nodded as they stared into the fire.
Our situation wasn’t great, but we didn’t yet know exactly how not great it was. I suppose we were still thinking that a patrol of border-guards would miraculously show up and find us with their dogs and heat-seeking cameras. My foot was throbbing and aching inside the plastic bag. I could move it, but not much. I was still coughing up water, spreading a disgusting stench of lake-water and vomit around me.
Karhu had clambered up onto the rock we had taken shelter behind and was looking for any signs of life, shouting ‘Help! Help!’ in his booming voice. His friends used to call him the walking megaphone. The sound sailed far across the dark lake but disappeared without leaving so much as an echo behind it. There was no answer. We also planted a flag, made of my wet trousers, up on the rock, so that anyone who happened to be passing would stop and think, then come ashore. No-one happened to be passing.
We didn’t know it then, but we had actually been carried more than fifty kilometres by the current, and no-one would think of looking for us so far away, and on the other side of the border as well. The Russian border-guards were probably alerted, but there were relatively few of them along this stretch and on that particular evening they were celebrating
their boss’s birthday with a lot of vodka and caviar that they had confiscated from an Azerbaijani smuggler.
Later I found out that the rest of the group had been washed up on a stony beach not far from the rapids. Compared to them, we had come out of it pretty well. Michaela was in a critical condition. The poor thing had somehow managed to cling onto our canoe and escape being drowned, but she had a deep cut running all the way from her throat to her thigh, and had lost a lot of blood. Andreas was completely hysterical, and had curled up like a small child, shivering. Julia was crying, clinging onto Jöran like a leech until he gave her a good shake and made her let go. The others were soaked, sitting there apathetically, coughing up water. Seko was lying weakly on the moss, her hip dislocated, unable to move.
Jöran was pretty much the only one who was completely unhurt, and he dashed about like a whirling saint, taking care of those who were in the worst state, rescuing things from the water and getting a fire going so that the rest of them wouldn’t freeze to death in their wet clothes. As far as I can understand it, he managed this bit of the expedition pretty well. Lucky them.
If Corazon Mäkärainen, our friend with the dark plaits, hadn’t left the new mobile phone (I think this is what’s called a ‘leitmotif’ in a story) that her new fiancé had given her in the outside toilet in Hukkala, they would probably have had to arrange even more therapy and counselling at school later on that autumn. When she swept into Susi-Iisakki’s smallholding just a short while after we set off and discovered the state we had left it in, at first she was absolutely furious.
‘Big city yobs! Here we are, entertaining them and baking fresh pies for them, and they thank us by destroying our lovely museum! Honestly, what sort of people are they, with no respect for tradition and our shared heritage!’ she must have though, probably in Tagalog or some other Filipino language, or maybe just in normal Finnish. But then – as she said in an article in Itärajan Viesti that was sent to the school afterwards – she saw what had happened to the fir-tree that had fallen across the door and realised that not even a gang of Helsinki hooligans could bring down a hundred-year-old tree with their bare hands. To be on the safe side she called the police, who, after a good deal of thought, contacted the school-board in Helsinki, who contacted out headmaster, who tried to contact Seko, who obviously couldn’t answer on her mobile phone. They tried several times, but when it started getting darker and darker and they still couldn’t get any answer, and because the park-rangers knew that Kalmanjärvi – ‘Lake of Death’ – had justified its name on numerous occasions in the past, they sent out a big motorboat with floodlights and radar and rescue equipment and – above all – a phone! Just a few hours after the accident they heard the wonderful sound of a hundred-horse-power motor and soon after that the voices of the friendly police officers. The border-guards’ helicopter was alerted and the whole lot of them were picked up and taken off to the university hospital in Joensuu.
More police and everyone in the district who could get about without the help of a walker were called out to comb the forest for us, but returned, as you can probably work out, empty-handed. Just as we hoped, they sent out dogs and heat-seeking cameras as well, but because they were looking in the wrong place they too failed to find anything. Poor Seko and Jöran! Setting out on a wild-food expedition with fourteen pupils, then returning home after just two days, having lost five of them! I presume that someone must have saved the newspaper headlines from those days, but I’ve never felt like looking at them. Maybe later on, when I’m safely middle-aged.
Seko was off sick until the following summer, not just because of her hip. I heard that Jöran is working with computers these days. I probably don’t have to elaborate about what our families felt. By the time we finally made it home they were on the point of organising funerals with empty coffins.
‘Don’t grieve yet, things will only get worse!’, as an old woman who lived near us out in the country used to say. I’ve already written about the two previous nights we had spent lying on rocks and bare planks. They were nothing compared to the third night out on the beach. We didn’t manage to get a decent fire going. The dry little spruce-twigs burned up in a flash, we ran out of matches and the bigger branches we dragged over just smouldered for a while and went out. So we were left sitting there. It was pitch-black and the wind was rustling in the pine-trees above us. The stars came out one by one and we could feel all the heat flooding out of the earth and out of our poor cold, wet bodies, and up into the endless, ice-cold blackness of space. We tried burrowing deeper into the sand, but that just got wetter. Someone suggested making a bed of fir-tree branches, but the trees closest to us were all gnarled pines and we didn’t dare go further into the forest in case we got lost. Moss looks like it ought to make a nice bed when you see it lying there on the ground, but it’s not at all nice when you try to nestle down in it. In the end we gave up and just spread out the remaining battered sleeping-bags beneath us and settled down on top of them. We huddled up close, stomach to backside, like the first night in the tent. Because I was the coldest I got to lie in the middle, with Anna in front and Johannes behind me. Ursula and Karhu, who were biggest and strongest, volunteered to sleep at either end. And there we lay and shivered. It wasn’t nice.
‘At least we’re alive,’ Anna said in a thick voice.
‘Yes, but for how much longer?’ Karhu said bluntly. ‘It’s very easy to freeze to death in situations like this.’
‘If only we weren’t so horribly hungry!’ Ursula groaned. She’s almost one metre eighty tall, and can eat whatever she wants without getting fat. I only have to think of chocolate and I put on a kilo… CHOCOLATE!
‘I’ve still got my last bar of chocolate!’ I cried, and sat up abruptly, making the plastic rustle loudly. Without thinking of my injured foot I tried to reach my wet jacket with its secret pocket. As my foot gave way and I tumbled to the ground, it occurred to me that I’d actually been in the water for several hours. What would that have done to the chocolate?
‘Ow! My foot!’ The others rushed up to help me. I lay on the ground, whimpering, but the hunger that Ursula had conjured up made me carry on. Ursula passed me my jacket and I felt through its damp folds with trembling hands. Brrrp! I got the zip open.
‘It’s still here!’ I hissed excitedly. My fingers slipped on the soggy paper when I tried to pull it out. The bar was in tiny pieces, and the blue paper wrapper had disintegrated back to cellulose, but the glorious, wonderful aluminium foil had preserved the chocolate almost as well as when it sailed out of the factory. Almost?! Rubbish! A hundred million times better!
One hundred and seventy grams is sadly not much for five ravenous people. When Karhu had come to his senses and started saying something about perhaps saving some for later, I felt all over the unfolded foil as it shone faintly in the darkness and realised that there was only one little triangular piece left.
‘There’s not much to save.’ I bit off a tiny piece and passed it to Karhu, who was sitting closest to me. He did the same, and when everyone had taken their bit we sat in total silence, feeling it melt on our tongues.
After that there was nothing for it but to huddle back down in our cold hollow, snuggle together and try to survive until the morning. This was the third night in a row that I got to sleep close to Johannes. The thought drifted through my head that if we weren’t always in mortal danger, and if he wasn’t quite so skinny and small, then maybe this could develop into something interesting, in spite of the fact that we used to sit on our potties together back in the Workers’ Friends nursery. I turned my face away from the ice-cold stars and burrowed my nose into his long and warm, almost dry hair, and tried to suck a bit more chocolate taste
from my teeth. My injured foot throbbed and ached, and the other one felt like it was slowly turning to ice. But the funny thing is that I gradually drifted off into a pleasant state of unconsciousness.
Everyone survived until the next morning. I woke up to grey light and gentle drizzle. Veils of mist were drifting in from the lake. The pine-trees had stopped rustling and were standing motionless. I opened my eyes, then closed them again when I realised where I was, and huddled up to make the most of the warmth from Johannes’s back. Slowly and reluctantly I became aware of the unpleasant chill behind me, and realised that both Anna and Karhu had gone. A movement in the corner of my eye turned into Ursula, who was gently shaking us by the shoulder.
‘It’s time to get up now, it’s morning and we have to work out how we’re going to get out of here.’
Johannes grunted and I nodded morosely so that Ursula would realise that we were awake. Slowly and cautiously I sat up and stretched. Everything was stiff and hurt. I hadn’t the slightest desire to take of a single item of clothing to check, but to judge from the way my body felt, it had to be one big bruise. Carefully, carefully I pulled up my leg and unwrapped the plastic bag from my injured foot. It was purple and swollen, but it was less painful today. Through gritted teeth I managed to get both shoes back on. Fit for fight, or almost, at any rate.
‘Johannes! Wake up!’
Slowly I limped up to the top of the crag where the others were sitting on a fallen tree-trunk and staring about them.
‘Another lovely morning!’ Karhu said drily as I approached. ‘At least you can walk, that’s the only bit of good news I can think of. Have you got any good ideas about what the hell we should do?’
I shook my head mutely and forced myself between them on the tree-trunk. The fog grew thicker. I could no longer make out the sleeping bundle of Johannes down on the shore.
‘I’ve been trying to remember different things I’ve read about how to get out of situations like this,’ Karhu went on.
‘The only thing I can remember is a film that ended up with them eating each other!’ Anna piped up with her best poker face.
‘If you can’t say anything sensible, don’t say anything at all!’ Ursula snapped. We looked at her in surprise. She didn’t usually lose her cool.
‘Sorry, but I don’t think I got a wink of sleep. I was wondering what they’ll all be thinking at home. My mum’s been badly depressed for the past year and was just starting to get a bit better… and this really isn’t anything to joke about. We’ve got no idea where we are, and nor does anyone else either. We’ve got no food, and no fire.’
‘Now I remember!’ Karhu exclaimed, getting to his feet. ‘You have to drink a lot. Your body dries out and you get headaches and feel tired and can’t think clearly.’ He started heading back down to the lake, taking his little mug from his belt. He filled and emptied it three times. It was made of green plastic and was nowhere near as smart as Jöran’s. Nor Michaela’s either, come to that. Suddenly I remembered the look of terror on her face as she clung to the canoe in the swirling waters, and swallowed a sob. What if all those people were lying drowned at the bottom of the lake, or crushed against the rocks along the shore? Just when I’d started to make friends with her! What if I never got the chance to hear her say her stupid ‘really great’ again?
Karhu scampered back and forth with his mug, forcing us to swallow the brown, peaty lake-water. Anna and I sat like obedient children and drank as much as we could. It didn’t exactly make you feel any warmer, feeling it trickle down into your stomach. Ursula only managed to drink half a cup before saying that it was making her feel sick, and refused to drink anymore. When Johannes finally turned up, his entire forehead one big dark-blue bruise and one eye so swollen he couldn’t open it, he was given the same orders, and told to bathe his eye with more lake-water.
‘Hasta siempre commandante!’ he said, straightening up in a very un-Johannes-like and military way, before marching back down to the shore again. Even Ursula managed a weak smile.
‘Asiaan! To work!’ Karhu said, demonstrating his bilingual identity with a word of Finnish. ‘What the fucking fuck are we going to do?’
Johannes had come back and was sitting next to me on the tree-trunk, for once completely quiet. No-one else said anything either.
‘Which direction did we actually come from? Can we try paddling back?’ I asked in the end, when the silence had grown so heavy that you could almost hear the banks of fog colliding with each other.
‘Up the rapids?’ Ursula burst out in a voice thick with irony. ‘What are you, a horny salmon or something?’
‘Maybe we could walk up the side of the rapids,’ Karhu responded, taking hold of her hand gently. ‘But the worst thing is that I haven’t really got any idea at all what direction we came from. Right now you can’t see anything through the fog, but I got up before it settled and I still couldn’t see anything that looked like the end of the river. We were going so fast yesterday that we must have been carried a long way, but where, and in what direction, is a complete mystery.’
‘Yippee!’ Anna said, then fell silent with a guilty look in Ursula’s direction as she sat quietly staring out at the fog.
‘Yes, and I forgot to tell you the very worst thing!’ Karhu said. ‘I noticed just now when I was fetching water. We’ve only got one canoe left, Anna and Johannes’s, and that’s the smallest. Ursula’s and mine disappeared during the night. I was sure we’d dragged it far enough up the beach, but now it’s gone.’
Ursula’s mouth tightened to a thin line and she leaned forward and started to cry. Anna tried putting her arm round her but she shrugged it off and went off and sat on her own, as far along the tree-trunk as she could get. She sat there looking like a scruffy ostrich chick. Her long legs dangled and her toes wiggled nervously up and down. Her beautiful white hair was dirty and matted and her clothes were crumpled and full of twigs and bits of moss. The rest of us looked at each other. We didn’t look much better ourselves. Only now did we have the sense to start to feel properly scared. At a push, two canoes might just hold five people if they don’t have much with them, but there was no way one little canoe could carry all five of us.
‘Well, Shank’s pony it is, then,’ I muttered to myself, thinking of our old neighbour again. With the state my foot was in, this wasn’t exactly an appealing prospect.
‘Should we stay here and wait for someone to find us, or should we try to find someone ourselves?’ Anna asked of no-one in particular.
‘In principle I think they say you should stay where you are, but it’s bloody cold and damp here,’ Karhu said. ‘And what if no-one thinks of looking for us here?’
Ursula sniffed, then fell silent again.
‘If we walk south all the time, it ought to get warmer eventually,’ Johannes suggested.
‘Yeah, and in the end you’ll make it to Cuba!’ I interrupted.
‘Anyway, how do you know which way is south?’
‘Aren’t there signs you’re supposed to look out for?’ Anna wondered. ‘Back in primary school we learned something about anthills and grubs. They’re always on the north side, I think.’
‘I think it was the south side,’ Johannes said. ‘I bet there are loads of ants and grubs in Cuba!’
‘Yeah, we just have to ski across the ice and let the ants point the way…’
‘God, Minka, you’re really not helping! What do we have to say to make you happy?’
During all this Karhu had gone over to sit next to Ursula and was holding her tight even though she tried to shrug him off at first. Then she gave in and just leaned against him.
‘But if we don’t know where we are, we could try climbing a big hill where the view is better! Once the fog has lifted, I mean.’
No-one usually thinks of Anna as a particularly practical person, but sometimes she has the most brilliant ideas.
‘That’s the best suggestion so far,’ Karhu said, hugging Ursula. ‘What do you think, baby bear?’
Ursula straightened up and wiped her eyes on her arm. She nodded without saying anything.
‘Okay, so now we just have to find a hill!’ Johannes said, looking round. The fog lay like thick cotton-wool in every direction. All sounds echoed and vanished into nothingness. If there’d been a five-star restaurant ten metres away we wouldn’t have seen it and would have died of starvation outside the doors. But we were far more likely to starve to death out here without having to worry about five-star restaurants.
‘The fog will soon lift,’ Karhu said.
‘You sound like Jöran when he was predicting the weather!’ she managed to say.
‘I’m not Jöran, and this fog will lift!’ Karhu said in a tone of wounded authority. ‘It’s because the water in the lake is still warm and condensing some of the moisture in the air. When the sun’s got a bit higher the fog will break up. Just you wait!’
As if the sun had been waiting for him to say this, it suddenly got brighter and we could make out a pale, greyish-white disc through the fog.
‘O thank you, wise guru!’ Anna said, and for the first time that morning she sounded almost cheerful and only a little bit stressed.
Just as Karhu had said, the fog dispersed fairly quickly. We sat for a while on the tree-trunk, talking. Ursula seemed to have got over her gloomy mood and allowed herself to be persuaded to drink another whole mug of water. The rest of us drank so much that it was sloshing about in our stomachs. When the sun broke through and warmed our frozen hands and feet and everything else, things looked a lot brighter. For the first time I really saw the landscape around us. High, wooded hills and ridges disappeared into the horizon on the far side of the lake. The birch-trees were glowing yellow and the conifers stood tall and straight. Not a single road, house, loggers’ clearing or telephone pole as far as the eye could see, even though we looked in every direction. To our right the land climbed dramatically up from the lake and we agreed to climb up there to try to get a better view. So that we didn’t have to carry our clumsy plastic bags we decided to put on all the clothes we had with us, layer upon layer. We could use the empty bags as groundsheets. Rule number one on any forest walk is never to let your bin-bag out of your sight.
‘This is how my mum used to smuggle jeans into the Soviet Union when she was younger,’ Anna pointed out as she struggled to squeeze into three pairs of jeans, one on top of the other.
‘Now they only want flashy labels for the ones who can afford them,’ Karhu said, and I nodded in agreement, thinking of all the elegant ladies we had seen on Nevsky Prospekt during our class trip to St Petersburg last year.
‘And any that might be interested haven’t got the money!’ Karhu went on with his little sermon as he pulled a rustling pair of turquoise and lilac waterproof trousers (that matched the Hard Rock Café t-shirt I had slept in) over his camouflaged walking trousers. Before I found out that he was colour-blind, I used to think his taste in clothes was really weird.
When everyone was dressed we were so padded up that it was hard to move properly. No-one designs their wardrobe to wear all their clothes at the same time. The fog was gone and the red blueberry sprigs on the ground were glittering with beautiful little spiders’ webs. And something else, little blue baubles that made my mouth water.
‘Look, blueberries!’ I yelled, taking a long stride towards the nearest clump and promptly stumbling over my injured foot and rolling to the ground.
‘Surely it’s not that much of a panic,’ Ursula muttered, a weak smile on her pale lips. Then she threw herself to the ground and her lips quickly changed colour.
It’s funny, when I was little Mum used to feed me blueberry soup when I had diarrhoea, but while we were wandering about in the forest and not eating anything but blueberries, we actually got diarrhoea from them. When you just for once actually need every single calorie in your body, you have to sit and let them all go and then wipe yourself with moss. No toilet paper, as you can imagine. Leitmotif number two! It might have been because of all the lake-water we had drunk, goodness knows how many bacteria the seabirds left behind them in the water, but at least it tasted good and it was clear as brown glass. I still think it was the berries, because we didn’t all get ill at the same time. First Ursula and I got it, and we were evidently the hungriest, constantly trying to pick more berries. Karhu got annoyed with us because the others kept having to stop and wait, but we didn’t take any notice.
We climbed and climbed (well, until we left off to pick berries!) and the terrain kept getting harder and harder. To begin with my foot ached with every step, but after a while it got so numb that it felt like I was dragging a heavy stone at the end of my leg. There were great boulders sticking out at dangerous angles, partially or completely covered by moss, and you couldn’t always tell if you were standing on rock or just a thin layer of moss. At one point Anna got her foot caught between two rocks and couldn’t get it out until the rest of us helped to shift one of them. We must have unbalanced it completely, because it tumbled over and started to roll down the slope. We stood there, listening to it crash down the hill through the tall trees, finally coming to rest among the alders on the shore. It felt like it took a very long time, and I suddenly became properly aware of this beautiful slope lit up by mild rays of golden sun.
‘An elk that’s gone to the beach for a drink would be pretty surprised to have that land on its head,’ Anna said dreamily.
‘Mmm… elk steak with cream sauce and new potatoes…’
‘With blackcurrant sauce!’
‘We always have lingonberry jam and beans!’
‘Baby carrots with butter and mint and garlic…’
‘And blueberry pie for pudding!’
‘Yuk, no more blueberries! My stomach just feels worse and worse!’ Ursula’s mouth twisted into a grimace. The enchanted moment was over. My own stomach was feeling worse again, but I decided this must be psychosomatic.
‘Okay, let’s press on.’
Karhu has always been a dominant person, always taking decisions and sorting things out. I know a lot of people find him annoying because of this, especially as he’s right most of the time, and almost always comes up with the cleverest ideas. But right now no-one protested. It actually felt good to have someone who was at least pretending to be sensible and to know where we were going.
After a great deal of puffing and panting in our unsuitable outfits, we finally made it to the top of the hill. A magnificent view opened up in all directions. The only thing wrong was that it was exactly the same view in every single bloody direction. Green and golden forest, little shimmering patches of blue. Fairly close to us the forest opened out into a small swamp, with stunted, misshapen pine-trees, red and light-green moss, and bluish-black pools of water. A magnificent spider with a cross on its back was sitting in its web between two branches of the closest desiccated pine-tree. There was nothing to give us the slightest clue as to where we were. Nothing that gave us any reason to think that it would be more sensible to go in one direction rather than another. During the climb I had sweated so much that my mouth was completely dry. My stomach was rumbling with hunger. It hadn’t occurred to me to bring any water from the lake. Mind you, that was understandable, seeing as I didn’t have anything I could have carried it in anyway.
‘I could murder a Coke!’ Johannes yelled across the beautiful view. Holding one hand over his eyes, he turned three hundred and sixty degrees in a theatrical gesture that would have looked good in a television advert.
‘The nearest one’s probably in St Petersburg… I’m pretty sure we’ve ended up on the other side of the border now. If we end up getting rescued they’ll probably throw us in prison for illegal entry into foreign territory.’ Even Karhu was starting to sound gloomy.
‘If this was Finland, we’d see neatly planned areas of forest all cut down, with roads for the lumber trucks at regular intervals. I never imagined I’d ever actually want to see that sort of thing!’
‘There! Over there!’ Anna, who had the sharpest eyesight, had spotted something on the horizon. Over in the distance a little dot is moving across the sky, and a short while later we imagined we could hear the faint sound of an engine. A trail of white smoke etched a line across the crystal-clear autumn sky.
‘They’re coming to find us! Hey! Over here! Come on, come and get us out of here!’ She was jumping and dancing about, waving her arms wildly. It gradually dawned on the rest of us what was going on, and we were soon roaring and waving frantically as hard as we could. Johannes clambered up into the desiccated pine like a monkey, clinging to the top and waving his black bin-bag. He looked just like the figure at the top of that statue of ‘The Shipwrecked’ on Observatory Hill back home in Helsinki.
The plane, which had only just crept above the horizon, was visible for maybe thirty seconds. Then it turned and vanished quickly and remorselessly. We carried on hollering, desperately and increasingly manically, until the last little piece of vapour trail had faded from view. Then we let our arms drop and rested our hoarse throats. Ursula let out a whimper, clutched her stomach and disappeared into the trees. Johannes tumbled out onto the dry branches under the tree and lay there on his back with his arms out.
‘Oh well, they didn’t see us,’ Anna said in a funereal tone of voice.
‘Nice to know they’re looking for us, even if they are looking in the wrong place.’
‘It could just as easily be something to do with forestry or aerial photography or anything,’ Karhu pointed out.
‘Are we supposed to find that comforting?’ Anna and I said at exactly the same time.
Karhu shrugged and sat down, leaning his head on his big hands.
Translated by Neil Smith