Issue 4/1990 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from the novel Jäniksen vuosi (‘The year of the hare’). Introduction by Mirja Bolgár

About mid-June Vatanen’s travels had taken him as far as the road to Nurmes. It was raining. He was cold.

He’d just hopped out of the coach from Kuopio, now on its way to Nurmes; so here he was, stuck on a rainy highway, getting soaked because of a snap decision. The village of Nilsiä was miles off.

The hare’s back leg had mended. Almost full-grown it was, now, that hare: good job it still fitted into the basket.

But, anyway, round the comer was a house: a bungalow with attic space – not a bad-­looking set-up. Might as well call, Vatanen decided, and see if there’s a night’s lodging going. A woman in a raincoat was scratching away at the garden, her hands black with soil. And old woman – and a picture of his wife flashed though his mind: there was something of his wife about her.

‘Good day to you.’

She got up off her knees and gawped at the newcomer, and then at the wet hare, now hopping about at Vatanen’s feet.

‘The name’s Vatanen: just down from Kuopio – made the mistake of getting out of the coach here. Should have stayed on till Nilsiä. But we’re having a bit of a downpour… And how is everything in these parts?’

The woman was still looking at the hare.

‘And what’s that, then?’

‘Just a hare, that’s all. Comes from Heinola originally – brought it along as a pal… we’re doing the trip together.’

‘So what are you travelling for?’ she asked suspiciously.

‘Nothing special, really – just been going the rounds with this here hare, passing the time… and, as I said, I got down from the coach, and I’m already beginning to feel a bit tired. No chance of putting up for the night, I suppose?’

‘I’ll have to ask Aarno.’

She went inside. The hare was hungry and started nibbling the plants in the garden. Vatanen checked it, and finally picked it up in his arms. A man appeared at the front door, small, middle-aged, slightly balding.

‘Hop it,’ he said. ‘You can’t stay here. Off you go.’

Vatanen found that a little vexing. Wouldn’t the man even ring for a taxi?

No. He repeated his injuction to leave, starting to look slightly scared now. Vatanen went up to the front-door steps, intending to clear up the problem, but the man scurried inside, slamming the door in his face. Funny folk, Vatanen thought.

‘Ring straight away: he’s off his rocker,’ the woman could be heard staying inside – and Vatanen assumed the couple were ringing for a taxi after all.

‘That’s right – this is Laurila’s: get down here as fast as you can, please. He’s hanging about on the doorstep – tried to get in. Completely crackers. Got a hare with him.’ The call ended. Vatanen tried the front door: locked. It was pouring down by now.

At the window and angry face appeared, yelling not to batter at the door ‘I’ve got a weapon, you know’, came the shout. Vatanen went and sat on the garden swing, sheltering under its awning. The woman called from the window:

‘Don’t you try to get in!’

After a while a black police car turned into the drive. Two uniformed constables emerged from the car and approached Vatanen. The house-couple now appeared at their door, pointing to Vatanen and saying, ‘That’s him, all right. Take him away.’

‘Hello, hello’, said the constables. ‘What’s been going on here then?’

‘I was just asking them to ring for a taxi – but they’ve rung for you instead.’

‘And am I right in thinking, sir, you’ve got a hare along with you as well?’

Vatanen pulled the top back from the basket, where the hare had crept for shelter from the rain a moment before. The hare peeped nervously out of the basket, looking somehow guilty. The constables took a look at each other, nodded, and one of the said:

‘Right, sir; better come along with us, then. I’d be grateful if you’d hand that there basket over here.’

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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