Kingi of the Island
Koko Saaren Kingi, Otava Publishing Company, 2007
Illustrated by Katri Kirkkopelto
Kingi, a large, black gentleman dog, friend to both the two and four-legged, is a charmer! The popular Kingi series already include the books Kingi of the Island (2007), Kingi Goes Fishing (2008), Kingi at Large (2009), and Kingi and the Perky Puppy.
Chapter 4. WALKIES
Kingi is sitting in the hall, waiting. His mistress is putting her coat on. There is a bag next to Kingi. His mistress has gathered up all of Kingi’s things and put them in the bag: his bone, his food dish, his bag of treats, and Kingi’s favourite brush. Kingi watches Mistress’ every move carefully. He suspects what is going to happen.
Mistress is going to take Kingi to the boarding kennels. And then she’s going to clean the flat from top to bottom. That’ll probably last about a week.
His mistress is less lively than usual. As she puts Kingi’s harness on him, she gives him a big hug. Kingi licks away a tear that has rolled down Mistress’ cheek. Mistress takes the leash and fastens it onto the loop on the harness. She picks up the bag, puts it on her shoulder and opens the door. “Come on, Kingi, let’s go,” Mistress says, and Kingi pricks up his ears. Today, Mistress’ voice is even more hoarse.
The lift takes Kingi and his mistress downstairs. Kingi is excited. His tail is wagging, and for a moment he forgets the worries at home and all the other troubles as well. Kingi loves it when they are about to go out – all the smells waiting outside, the ‘messages’ left by the other dogs and especially the sticks he’s hidden in the local park. Kingi peeks out through the bottom window in the door. A green van drives past, and some muddy water flies off its tyres towards Kingi. It’s a good thing he’s still sitting inside!
It’s slushy outdoors. Winters in Helsinki are rarely white, although they are snowy. Especially in the city centre, the snow is always dirty – not white, but grey or even black. Now the snow has melted into yucky, wet slush, and the pavements and streets are full of it.
The bag gets thrown into the car, but to Kingi’s delight, his mistress then heads over towards the park. Kingi is overjoyed. He trots alongside his mistress, proud and eager, his nose alert and his floppy ears pricked up. Kingi and Mistress make the rounds to visit all the best spots. His mistress doesn’t seem to be in any hurry, and Kingi enjoys their walk to the full. From time to time, Mistress stops to stroke Kingi. Kingi rests his head against Mistress’ leg and smiles. He really does smile, the way only dogs can smile, with his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his whiskers pointing upwards.
Mistress even carries on throwing his stick, well over a hundred times. Kingi is happy.
Kingi and his mistress carry on with their walkies long enough for Kingi to meet most of the dogs he knows in the city. Over by the library, he sees Silmu the German shepherd and Tuukkanen the golden retriever. Silmu tells him about his tummy ache, and Tuukkanen advises Silmu to eat some hay. Kingi shows them his stick. Tuukkanen and Silmu admire it. The stick is old and very finely chewed. Tuukkanen suspects it may be an antique. “Looks like an old wooden banister rail.”
In Sibelius Park, Kingi runs into his friend Keijo, a blue-tongued chow chow. Keijo’s blueberry-coloured tongue hangs down almost all the way to the ground. Keijo says he’s on a fitness programme, and Kingi grins. “Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks, eh?” There is some drizzle coming down, but it doesn’t bother Kingi. Kingi will keep on walking just as far as his mistress on the other end of the leash can carry on. They can’t go for such long walkies on days when Mistress goes to work, so he has to make the most of trudging through the slush!
In front of the yoga school, Kingi bumps into Mura, a delightful honey-coloured beauty of a pointer from Herttoniemi. He has sat next to her on the Metro a few times. Kingi and Mura exchange a few bits of news, and Mura asks Kingi whether he’s remembered to stretch his back the way Mura advised him the last time they met. “Every day,” Kingi confirms. Mura is delighted and compliments Kingi on looking much younger than his age. “Anyone would think you were only three or four years old,” says Mura, and Kingi smiles with satisfaction. At times like this, he really does feel young. “We’ve been out walking for nearly three hours. I feel just like a puppy now. Why, I could go and gnaw on a sofa or eat a pair of shoes,” says Kingi, and both dogs laugh. Mura likes Kingi’s joke. And Kingi thinks Mura has a good sense of humour. Mura and Kingi would be happy to stay and chat about anything, but Kingi’s mistress gives his leash a twitch to signal that they should continue their walk. Kingi waves to Mura with his tail, and Mura waves back.
The undisputed high point of their walk is the moment when the massive exterior of the railway station suddenly appears in front of them. Kingi loves the railway station and its atmosphere. And the trains are brilliant as well. Kingi beats the air with his tail. He feels like running to check out the trains, but he knows that it would not be appropriate behaviour. He mustn’t dash around near people, but instead must stay calmly by his mistress’ side. Kingi contents himself with a few happy yelps. They’re enough for the pigeons sitting on the statues high above the entrance to the railway station. The pigeons take flight, and Kingi is relieved. He doesn’t like it at all when the birds park themselves on the statues’ heads, when they could just as easily snooze anywhere else. The city is full of suitable places for birds, like eaves and roof ridges. Kingi wishes the birds would decide at their next meeting to leave the statues alone. “It would be terrible to be a dog statue, because somebody would always be pooing on your head!” Kingi thinks to himself and follows his mistress into the railway station.
Underneath the timetables, Kingi is surprised to meet his old friends, the Jack Russell triplets: brown-headed Helmut, Lotti, who is almost all white, and black-and-white Tom Jones. Kingi is delighted, and the triplets are delighted, too. They jump towards Kingi and over him. Jack Russells are amazingly agile. They can learn to do the most difficult tricks, if anyone has the patience to teach them. Tom Jones jumps onto Kingi’s back and balances there for a moment. Then he slides down Kingi’s nose and stands on his front legs for a moment. Helmut and Lotti want to show what they can do, too. Tom Jones nods. Helmut and Lotti get up onto their hind legs and stand facing each other, front paws to front paws. The people rushing through the station slow down. They gather round to watch. Hardly anyone has ever seen how two little dogs can dance a waltz together while a third dog sings.
People clap, and Kingi laughs. The triplets laugh as well. They have just got back from Greece, where they live for half the year. In unison, the triplets describe the adventures they’ve had, which sound like fairy tales. Helmut got to go on a yacht. Lotti took naps in an olive grove, and Tom Jones fell in love with fish dishes. “Right to the tip of their tails, small dogs are a breed of their own,” Kingi thinks as he shakes the slush from his belly fur. He even gives a shiver. Half the year in Greece sounds like too long. It’s fun to go on outings, but they shouldn’t last too long. “I could never live anywhere but Helsinki,” Kingi thinks. “I’m a Helsinki dog, born and bred, and proud of it.”
Chapter 5. MYSTERY TOUR
Kingi sits in the back seat and watches the traffic. He is tired and sleepy from his long walkies. But as long as they are in the city centre, he has to stay awake. The tram clatters past. There are five buses in front of them and eight going in the opposite direction. Then there are pedestrians, cyclists, people on scooters and a skateboarder. “You only find this sort of hustle and bustle in big cities …” Kingi thinks. “Lovely, calming bustle …”
Kingi thinks it’s fun to peep into the other cars that are waiting alongside theirs at the traffic lights. He is interested in seeing what the other people are taking with them on their journeys. He presses his nose against the window and stares at the cars in the next lane. Some of the cars have children sitting in their back seats. Only a few have dogs. But at this time of day, most of the cars have neither children nor dogs in them. This is the grown-ups’ time to rush about, the time in the middle of the day when children are either at nursery or school and dogs are keeping watch at home.
To Kingi’s great surprise, his mistress does not drive to Hakaniemi, but rather heads westwards. Kingi thinks they must be taking a detour to the island of Seurasaari. They often go for a stroll there, too. And even though Kingi’s coat is still damp from the last walkies, he has no intention of refusing if Mistress tells him to go for another walk. “After a day like today, I’ll certainly be looking forward to my dinner,” Kingi thinks. “And some sleep.”
Suddenly it starts to snow. The snow makes the scenery look completely different. Large, fluffy flakes float down from the sky. Kingi daydreams of rolling in the snow and running on the ice. If only enough snow would fall. And if the temperature got nice and cold.
At a junction, Kingi sits up straight. What on earth? His mistress doesn’t stop at Seurasaari, but carries on over the bridge. She doesn’t head towards the Munkkiniemi neighbourhood, either. Kingi is amazed. “No jam doughnuts from the café on Seurasaari, or even a cinnamon bun from Tarvaspää? Where could we possibly be going?”
Kingi’s mistress turns off towards Tapiola and Espoo. Meanwhile, Kingi turns round to look out of the back window. He rests his muzzle on the window shelf and looks at the coastal road and harbour with their fun curves. Kingi thinks the view is lovely. He feels he just has to sing his own quiet little doggy song. “Nothing can beat the city in winter. Nothing, nothing, nothing at all,” Kingi sings.
As the car continues its journey towards the motorway, Kingi guesses that they must be heading for the countryside. He’s got no complaints about that. It’s always nice to pop out to the countryside. Kingi will be completely free to run around there. “A little walk in the woods will do me just fine,” Kingi thinks. He figures that his mistress must be longing for some stimulation after the last difficult weeks. “I wonder when we’ll finally get back home this evening?”
His mistress drives past the towns of Kirkkonummi and Inkoo, past Karis and Ekenäs, past tempting woods and past beaches and rocky cliffs that seem to be inviting him to come for a run. As they approach each possible stopping point, Kingi stands up and gets ready to jump out of the car. But Mistress does not switch on the indicator, pull over and stop. Kingi wonders whether it’s a good idea to drive so far when his mistress has to work tomorrow. It would have been much more sensible to leave a trip like this until the weekend! But there’s not much can a dog do when people get strange ideas in their heads every once in a while.
The journey goes on and on. The hum of the car’s engine starts to make Kingi drowsy, and he might even have dozed off for a bit, because the next time he looks out of the window, there is just an expanse of white in front of them. Kingi sits up. His old joints are a little stiff from being asleep, but now he just has to give a good stretch. He pokes his head out next to the headrest onto his mistress’ shoulder. “We’re going to go on that ship,” Mistress says as she presses her cheek against Kingi’s.
And so they do. In the midst of the expanse of whiteness is a narrow blue strip. There is a water route in the middle of the ice, and a large ship is approaching the shore along that path of open water. Kingi tilts his head and looks at the ship. He’s never seen anything like it before. It’s clearly not a cruise ship or a cargo ship. Not a tugboat or an icebreaker, either. What sort of ship could it be? And where are they actually going?
Chapter 6. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEA
The crossing takes half an hour, says the smiling man who’s selling tickets. The ship’s name is Aura, and Kingi hears his mistress refer to it as a ferry. It quickly crunches the ice that’s rapidly forming in the open water out of its way. Kingi and Mistress climb up the steep steps onto the deck. The deck is covered in a thin layer of ice, and Kingi cautiously slides along behind his mistress. Fortunately, he doesn’t fall over.
The fresh breeze feels good after their long car journey. Kingi stands on deck with his ears flapping and looks around in amazement. He tries to pick up all the scents. His nose searches for new scents to explain this remarkable journey. They’re definitely in the wilderness. There are no other people to be seen. Only small rocky islands resting under a blanket of snow, some low-crouching evergreen trees and a barren expanse of ice that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Kingi’s mistress strokes him throughout the entire journey. Kingi reclines against his mistress’ legs and enjoys it. “The two of us belong together,” Kingi thinks. “Me and Mistress. Mistress and me. It doesn’t matter where we are, as long as we’re together.”
A little while before the ship arrives at the port, Kingi and his mistress return to their car. “We’re nearly there,” Mistress assures him. “I’m sure you’ll be free to run around there.”
Kingi pricks up his ears and raises one eyebrow. What’s so surprising about that?
Kingi’s mistress drives off the ship. There isn’t much snow, but what little there is, is sparkling white. The road is narrow, and the sea is all around them. They are clearly on an island. Kingi thinks the scenery is delightful. The woods look very appealing. There are few houses and very little traffic. Or to put it more accurately: there is no traffic at all. Kingi yawns. The peace of the countryside is starting to make him sleepy. Then a fox runs across the road. Kingi tenses up and is glued to the window. He whimpers slightly and wishes Mistress would put her foot on the brake pedal. “If we stopped now, I’d run after that fox … just for fun. To see which one of us is faster. When I was young, I’d have been able to catch that fox, no problem! And even now, I’d be able to find the strength in my bones. I may be old, but not that any fox would know it.”
Kingi’s mistress pretends not to hear him and just carries on driving. At a corner by a red house, she turns onto an even smaller road. This road gets narrower and narrower and becomes a snow-dappled side road. It’s got lots of twists and turns and dips and bumps. The car bounces along. There are only a few houses along the roadside. As they near each house, Mistress grows silent and peers out with a curious expression, as if she is searching for something. There’s a dog in the front garden of a white house. It is tied up and is straining at the line. It barks at Kingi and Mistress and their car. Kingi would like to go and introduce himself to that feisty fellow. “He’s too big for his boots. Trying to look tough …” Kingi growls.
The best part of this road is the bit where you can see the frozen, snow-free sea on both sides. Like two huge, shiny silver platters. Like gigantic diamonds that have fallen to earth.
The house where Kingi’s mistress stops the car is right on the shore. The garden is full of stacks of wooden boards. “This is either some sort of builders’ yard or else they’re doing some renovations …” Kingi reflects. In his ten-year-long dog’s life, Kingi has seen all sorts of things. He’s also seen a few renovation sites. Houses that are being renovated usually have lots of small boards and pieces of wood lying around everywhere. They are fun to carry in his mouth. To a dog, renovation work isn’t such a hassle. Not at all. It’s got a sense of adventure.
“I’m sure this is it,” says Kingi’s mistress as she lets him out of the car. “Your new home.”
Excerpt in English translated by Ruth Urbom