In the starry heavens

Issue 1/1987 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from Tähtien tarhoissa (‘In the starry heavens’, 1912). Introduction by Matti Apunen

The sun sank and the evening began to draw in. It was a Wednesday towards the end of October, 2140. At Teuvo’s house the electric lights were being switched on.

Teuvo lived in Helsinki on what had once been Korkeavuori Street. Now it had no particular name. It was just Street No 311, for during the course of time there had been so many new streets that it had become impossible to name them all and numbering became necessary.

Teuvo’s home was on the thirtieth storey. But of course it was not important how high up you lived, because no one used stairs. Lifts had replaced the old flights of stairs, and even they were only seldom necessary.

Every storey had an airship stop, and since everyone, even the smallest children, had a pair of wings made of fine aluminium, it was very easy to go from one floor to another without using stairs.

Teuvo looked out of the window. There was a wide space between houses. On the right hand side of the road traffic was flying towards the centre of town, on the left in the opposite direction. What a lot of people there were! He could hear the even whisper of their wings. All kinds of people, old and young, were flying along.

Stallholders were on their way to the market, which was close to the central airship station. They carried their big, heavy bags under their arms or on their backs, and in their baskets Teuvo could see cucumbers, peas, tomatoes and all sorts of fruits – pineapples, fresh figs, grapes and apricots.

Suddenly he noticed his Aunt Liina flying by. Aunt Liina was very fat.

Her eldest daughter, Lilli, clung on to the hem of her dress. And holding on to Lilli’s dress were her younger brothers and sisters, Kalle, Jaakko, Kaija, Mirja and Heikki. Nor did the company end there, for behind Heikki flew a little dog called Moppe. Moppe was attached to a wide belt and glided calmly and evenly forward wagging the stump of his tail happily.

The other end of the belt was attached to a balloon, with the help of which he stayed in the air. As he would not have known how to use wings, he had not been given any.

Hard on Aunt Liina’s heels came an airship. It was nothing like the old-fashioned airships that were sometimes still to be seen: at the bottom was a spacious platform, and this platform was full of benches. Between thirty and forty people sat there: they were tired and did not have the energy to fly. And of course there were a few laggards among them, people who preferred to give a couple of pence to the airship-omnibus owner rather than use their own wings.

‘Beep! Beep!’ The airship driver sounded his horn. The airship bus whizzed along, and Aunt Liina was in the way.

‘Children, get out of the way!’ said Aunt Liina, and flew quickly to one side. Just in time the whole procession flew to safety, but poor Moppe was hit and let out a squeal of protest.

Teuvo could still hear the racket Moppe was making when the little group turned at the corner of 400th Street a couple of kilometres away and disappeared in the direction of the big electricity generators.

After a second Teuvo remembered that he had not looked at his homework. He did not have a single school book, for books had long ago become museum pieces. There were not many left even in the museums, though, for with the passage of time millions had simply crumbled away.

Teuvo had a little moving-picture device. It was a box, with a hole in one side and, on the opposite wall, a cinematographic machine to which he attached the relevant homework film. Through the hole he could see moving pictures that told him all about what he needed to learn.

Teuvo put a history film into the machine and began to do his homework. The pictures told of life some 300 years ago; those times were amazing. Just like a story that you couldn’t quite believe. People walked along narrow streets and so slowly that just watching it made you cross. Those animals that they called horses, though, were certainly beautiful to look at. But the funniest thing was to see how some of the people sat in vehicles pulled by the horses. It was ridiculous! He felt sorry for the horses – he could see that many of the drivers were hitting them. Why did they hit them, wasn’t it true that horses could run much faster than people anyway? And the houses! So low and pressed to the ground! There was a lot of space in those days, and few people.

The best thing, though, was to follow the children’s lives in field and forest. The huge, whispering forests, they were something! And the meadows full of flowers! And the borders of the fields! How peaceful and happy it all looked! There was no pressing hurry, no panic, no fear that airships would collide and wreak damage.

In one corner of the box was a gramophone, a speech machine which repeated the sounds that went with the pictures. The little boy heard the murmur of the wind and the song of the birds. He imagined himself in an enchanted land, and he watched his homework entranced. Cowbells rang, lambs bleated, a shepherd girl sang for joy:

‘I know I sing
Because the music is inside me.’

Rays of sunlight chased each other through the leaves of the birch tree, and in the fruit garden shone the dark red of ripe strawberries.

But the pictures continued and in his little box Teuvo saw how all that lovely beauty gradually disappeared and vanished.

The forests were killed, and Teuvo heard how the ancient trees complained when they fell to the ground. Cramped towns were built on the wide open spaces, marshes and wildernesses were destroyed, everywhere there rose buildings that reached the clouds. Town after town was built, machine after machine invented.

Horses were no longer needed, and they died out. When artificial milk was invented cows, too, disappeared. Slowly but surely everything changed. Fruit and vegetables were cultivated only under glass. Books crumbled in the libraries, and paper became rarer and rarer as trees became scarcer and there was nothing to make it from. Moving pictures went on developing; colour pictures had been made for a long time, but they improved every year, as did speech machines.

When Teuvo had watched his homework film a couple of times he thought that perhaps it might, after all, have been fun to have been alive in the days when the countryside was still free. He could have romped happily and played hide-and-seek deep in the shadows of the forest.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins

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