Saikansalo the racing cyclist

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from the collection Heta Rahko korkeassa iässä (‘Heta Rahko at a great age’, Otava, 1947). Introduction by Vesa Karonen

Saikansalo was a racing cyclist and the country’s best, unquestionably. His Achilles tendons were superlative.

So when he found no rival in his own country. the athletics bigwigs put their heads together and hinted at the idea of sending him abroad to win a further reputation somewhere in the south – France, Italy or the like. They warned him that he’d have to be in good trim because of the enervating heat in the southern climes.

‘Heat!’ Saikansalo said. ‘There’s an old saying “Heat never broke anyone’s bones”….’

‘But it melts you like lard,’ his chum kept claiming. ‘The sun climbs really high there – scorches right down on your topknot, and boils your brains….’

Saikansalo the cyclist muttered something under his breath and became lost in thought. He was a thorough man. He’d always established firm foundations in everything, and that applied to his cycling as well, which, for him, had gone to his head like some potent liquid. Even at noon the sauna was belching smoke, and as soon as evening came Saikansalo met his chum and was carrying a loop of thick rope under his arm.

‘Sauna time – let’s go and get hotted up!’

The chum came along, and while they were undressing Saikansalo chuckled: ‘Even in the north here, we can create a little pocket of heat….’

A moment later the chum saw the racing cyclist training for his trip south. It was quite a sight. And the going was hard.

A bicycle was dangling from ropes fixed to the ceiling, and up there in the terrific heat, crouched in the saddle, was Saikansalo, pedalling away. His massive physique was hairy as Esau’s. The superb shock of hair on his chest stood out against the blackened ceiling and the steam. His bony kneecaps worked fiercely up and down. The pedals flew, the chain rasped, and the back wheel whirled, whirled, whirled…. It purred away, spinning a furious circuit in the air, whirring impatiently, as if groping – yearning – for some endlessly long yellowish road’s hard beautifully crunchy surface.

But the chum was hunching below, being very handy with the water scoop: the oven spluttered and hissed, generating a princely supply of hot steam. And the chum was having it good. He was relishing the pleasures of spectator sport, given a free ticket, just like that. Paying his pence at the Athletics Field entrance, he’d never seen anything remotely up to this. A marvellous, fabulous moment….

Sometimes a person’s needs are so few. Perhaps someone else would have got little from the spectacle. To other eyes it might have seemed extremely monotonous. All there was to see was Saikansalo the cyclist crouched under the black sauna ceiling, pedalling, pedalling, pedalling away…. The chain chinked, the back wheel whirred and purred. The cyclist’s gasping breath mingled with the hiss of water on the stove. More and more oppressively, scorchingly the steaming heat gushed out and up.

‘Wow! You’re a cyclist of genius!’ said the chum, lost in admiration. ‘Ready for God knows what – the African sun, the burning wind, anything.’

But Saikansalo the cyclist was pedalling on and on. It was hard going all right.

The man with the scoop slipped outside for a while to cool off: Saikansalo was showing no signs of slackening – any more than he’d ever shown. The pedals and the rear wheel flew round like raving lunatics, with Saikansalo pedalling, panting and sweating, drops dripping off every hair.

It was hard going all right. And it went for quite a while, till it was becoming tedious.

At long last, however, Saikansalo flopped down to the sauna floor as if thrown, thrust his way out and went rolling over and over in the fresh snow, like a horse, sending it flying.

Then, puffed-out and jubilant, he seated himself on a bench in the sauna dressing room.

‘See what I mean!’ he said. ‘Even in the south, I bet, it’ll be no warmer! True, we’ve not got that sun, but we can get our flesh cooked here anyhow – eh’? A sauna like that, two or three times a week, and it’s in the bag….’

Saikansalo the cyclist sat on the bench, naked, potent, steaming. The gallant fuzz of hair on his chest resembled a huge bouquet. His whole being exuded such joy in life, such a talent for happy living, such beatific power, the chum, the insignificant scoop-handler, sighed enviously:

‘Life’s fine if you’re a nutcase.’

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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