In the wars

Issue 1/2005 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Jussi ja Lassi (‘Jussi and Lassi’, WSOY, 1921). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

One winter evening, Lassi, who was six, asked: ‘Can’t we go out, mother?’

‘It’s late already,’ she said.

‘We’ve been inside the whole day practically,’ said Jussi, who was seven. ‘It gets on my nerves.’

‘Gets on your nerves, does it? Well, boys, you’ll soon be off in bed,’ she said, ‘so you won’t need to get nervy.’

‘Not off to bed – not yet, it’s not yet, not…’ Lassi broke off, trying to work it out.

‘It’s not six yet,’ Jussi said.

‘No, it isn’t,’ their mother said; ‘but you’ll have to stay in your room and not go charging about here, because visitors are coming.’

‘Visitors coming?’

‘Visitors.’

‘Well, you don’t need to worry then, because we certainly won’t go charging about here any more,’ Jussi said.

‘No, we won’t go charging about,’ Lassi promised.

‘But supposing you don’t remember,’ their mother said.

‘Remind us then.’

‘I’ll be looking after the guests,’ she said.

‘Jussi’ll remind us then,’ Lassi said.

‘Yes, I’ll remind us,’ Jussi said.

‘And I’ll remind Jussi,’ Lassi said.

‘Yes, you remind me, and then mother won’t need to worry. You like not having to worry, don’t you?’

‘Yes, I do.’

‘And besides, we could be working all the time.’

‘Yes, we could,’ said Lassi.

‘What would you be doing?’ she asked.

‘We could be drawing, for instance.’

‘Yes, you could. Right, so do some drawing. I’ll get you pen and paper.’

‘What sort of pictures would you like, mother?’

‘Just as usual, whatever you want to do yourself.’

‘I’ll do horse pictures for mother,’ Lassi said.

‘And I’ll do animals from the hot countries.’

‘Yes, and I’ll do summer pictures and winter pictures.’

‘Yes, and I’ll do the Finno-Russian War,’ Jussi said.

‘Me too, can I do that as well?’ Lassi asked.

‘You can,’ said Jussi. ‘There’s so many pictures to draw of it.’

‘So when will the visitors be going away?’ Lassi asked.

‘Don’t put your mind to that, just do your drawing,’ their mother said.

‘We’ll just do our drawing then, and we won’t put out minds to when the visitors’ll be going,’ Lassi said.

‘Oh, they’ll definitely be going away sometime,’ Jussi said. ‘Before night-time anyway. But they can stay as long as they like, can’t they, provided it suits you, mother?’

‘And it will suit me.’

‘Wen then, they can. We’ll definitely be quiet, mother, so do you believe us?’

‘Yes, I do.’

And the boys got their paper and pens, and their toys were taken off the floor for safety’s sake. And all went well; the boys were happy in their own room. Each of them called out once only: ‘Mother, mother.’ And when they’d shown her what they’d done, they started drawing again.

But in no time at all there was an alarming thundering and rumbling. It got louder and louder, chairs were probably being knocked over, as the boys went rolling about on the floor. The thumping and bumping went on. Their mother was like a cat on hot bricks and started to hurry with the coffee-pouring. She listened. There was an ominous silence, and then a sudden terrible crash, as if the whole house were smashing to smithereens.

She hurried into the boys’ room. It was dark.

‘What on earth’s happened!’

There was just a groan and an intense whispering.

‘What’s happened?’

‘We don’t know. The table-lamp may have fallen off and gone out.’

She switched on the overhead light. What a mess! The furniture had been knocked over. The curtains and the curtain-rails had fallen down, and they’d knocked the table lamp flying and broken the mugs and things.

The boys were sitting on the edges of their beds with red faces, the corners of their mouths twitching.

‘So what’s all this?’ their mother asked.

No reply.

‘Again, what is all…?’

‘It’s the war between Finland and Russia,’ Lassi said.

‘That’s what it is,’ said Jussi.

‘And who began the war?’

‘Finland.’

‘No it wasn’t, it was Russia.’

‘Finland.’

‘Russia.’

‘Perhaps it started from Finland.’

‘It was neither, to tell the truth,’ Jussi said.

‘It was neither – if only you could believe that, mother,’ Lassi aid. ‘Actually, Jussi did say first that he was Finland and then “you be Russia and let’s attack quietly, so there’ll be no noise”.’

‘So I did,’ cause we’d been drawing war pictures so long.’

‘And Jussi said, “Attack me really fiercely”.’

‘Since I was Finland, I was the home country and the home country is the nicer of the two, so Lassi was the one to begin and Finland was allowed to defend itself and I did do the defending and gave Russia a right old thrashing.’

‘And Russia gave Finland one.’

‘But first Finland got Russia down.’

‘No, Russia got Finland down.’

‘Russia’s shoulders were on the floor first.’

‘Not the whole shoulders, they weren’t, just the lower back.’

‘You rotten thing, you won’t admit it. If you’d admitted it, the war would have been over. I did say, “Admit it now honestly, you’ve got your shoulders are on the floor”. You just groaned, “No, no, I won’t admit it”.’

‘Cause I won’t admit it.’

‘That’s what made the war break out again,’ Jussi explained.

‘And Finland was down, shoulders on the ground! Admit it now, at any rate, that your shoulders were down on the ground.’

‘I won’t. Finland’s head was up. When you grabbed my head, that was just a Russian trick. In a straight fight you don’t go for the head, no. That’s what really got me mad, I’ll never let Russia give Finland one on the head, not ever.’

‘All I did was press on your forehead when you whispered your shoulders weren’t on the ground, though you were lying under me with your back on the floor.’

‘The home country!’

‘Even the home country! It was my job to teach you, just because you were the home country, that was just why. The home country can be honest too.’

‘It is. And heroic. I’ll never let Russia conquer Finland, not ever. And it was you who pulled the curtains down – snatching at them when you were on the floor again.’

‘Could have, don’t know, didn’t notice.’

‘But how did Lassi’s hand get hurt?’ their mother interrupted anxiously. ‘It’s bleeding.’

‘Don’t know. Didn’t notice.’

‘Did you, Jussi?’

‘No I didn’t.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ Lassi said. ‘It wasn’t Finland made Russia shed blood.’

‘And so you boys didn’t remember what you promised,’ their mother said as she cleaned Lassi’s wound.

‘But we didn’t come charging out of our room, did we? And we didn’t shout.’ Jussi said.

‘And we didn’t cry,’ Lassi said.

‘You’d better go to bed now,’ she said.

‘When I grow up I’ll pay for everything that’s got broken,’ Jussi said.

‘And I’ll give you this paper aeroplane, mother, if you like. It flies beautifully,’ and Lassi offered her his fine paper aeroplane.

‘But Jussi dear, your nose is bleeding terribly goodness gracious, your shirt’s all red.’

‘It’s nothing, mother. When the shelf came down, the edge may have caught it.’

‘Dear oh dear.’

‘Don’t get upset mother, it’s not hurting.’

The Finnish and Russian wounds were bound up, and Finland and Russia were put to bed. Their mother sat on the edge of Jussi’s bed and took Jussi’s hand.

‘Is this a punishment, mother – you not saying anything?’

‘It is.’

‘But who punishes grown-ups when they go to war – who does, mother?’

‘Try to go to sleep now.’

‘But who punishes the real Finland and the real Russia and the other countries because they have gone to war, haven’t they, mother?’

‘Yes, yes, they have.’

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‘Mother, the world’s a home for the countries of the world, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, it is.’

‘So isn’t there someone to punish and love them all of them – isn’t there?’

‘Sleep, sleep.’

Silence.

‘So mother, is happiness far off from us now?’ Jussi’s bright voice pierced the darkness again.

‘No, why should it be far away?’

‘That’s what I think. Why should it be far away? Even though we were fighting, happiness won’t be angry, will it?’

‘No, I don’t think so.’

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‘When will countries be happy, do you think?’

‘It depends on the countries themselves.’

‘That’s what I think. It depends on the countries themselves. It depends on Russia and Finland themselves.’

Silence. Already Lassi’s regular breathing could be heard.

‘Mother,’ Jussi started again.

‘Well, Jussi, what is it?’

‘Am I bad?’

‘No, not really.’

‘Since I’m Finland. Russia isn’t bad either, is it?’

‘No.’

‘You and us are still friends, aren’t we.’

‘We certainly are.’

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‘If I were bad, mother, it’d be better, wouldn’t it, that I wasn’t here?’

‘No, no, dear, no. Everybody’s good enough to be here. People get wiser when they grow up and get older. What we do with our lives depends on us, on ourselves.’

‘I want to grow up. But countries – are countries still children?’

‘I don’t know, but countries get wiser as well, when they get more civilised.’

‘When they get wiser, are there still wars?’

‘Probably not. But sleep now, Finland. Russia’s already asleep.’

‘Sleeping and growing, growing and getting wiser.’

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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