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By Kati Hiekkapelto, David Hackston
Orenda BooksCopyright © 2014 Kati Hiekkapelto
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SAMMY HAD ARRIVED in Finland in the same manner and using the same route as the heroin that he knew so well, smuggled in to feed the hungry veins of Western Europeans: hidden in a truck belching thick exhaust fumes and driven across the endless steppes of Russia, illegally.
The heroin had continued on its way; Sammy had stayed put.
He applied for asylum, settled down in a reception centre, tried to kick the heroin and almost succeeded. He waited two years, four months and a week. Finally he received notice of his deportation. That's when he went underground, on to the streets – and discovered Subutex.
Beads of cold sweat glinted on Sammy's forehead and he could feel a headache coming on. He counted out his money: a measly banknote and a few euros in coins from the church's homeless fund. That should get him something, then he'd be able to think more clearly about where to score some more. Money always turned up, if you knew where to look. He collected bottles, worked unofficially at a pizzeria, cleaning and running errands for the owners. At least he hadn't had to sell himself, at least not often, and he hadn't resorted to real crime. He wasn't a criminal. He hated people who stole from the elderly, who broke into other people's houses. That's what he hated the most. Burglary. You shouldn't touch other people's houses. A home is a home. It's a place where you should feel safe. If he had been left in peace in his own home, if he had felt safe, none of this would have happened. He would be putting himself through school, planning his future career. On Sundays he would go to church and steal glances at the girl that was already arranged for him. She was beautiful. Her full, curved eyelashes cast shadows on her high cheekbones as she sensed his gaze and demurely lowered her own. The hint of a smile flickered on the girl's elegant face. It would be spring. Outside the air would be filled with the sound of birdsong; it would be warm, and the thousands of trees in the valley back home would be in full bloom.
A biting wind blew right through Sammy's clothes. The frozen ground was slippery and uneven, making it hard to walk. Earlier that day the sun had warmed him a little. He'd trudged around the edge of town, closed his eyes every now and then and raised his face to the sky, felt the glimmer of warmth on his cheeks. But in the evening winter mercilessly gripped him again and the temperature plummeted. The duffel coat he'd been given at the Salvation Army flea market wasn't very thick and he'd never heard of dressing in layers. He'd been on the streets for two months and it had been freezing cold the whole time. Did the winter and the cold never end? Where could he sleep tonight?
But first he had to find some subs. Bupe. Orange guys. A dear child has many names. In one of his Finnish classes they'd gone through Finnish proverbs and tried to come up with equivalents in their own languages. Sammy didn't know if there was any such saying back home, and the teacher had gently pressed him to think back. It felt like an eternity since that class.
Sammy trudged towards the Leppioja district. He'd met a dealer who lived there. A Finnish boy, a user himself, the same age as him. Sammy didn't much like Macke; there was something tense and volatile about him, something frightening, the agitated craziness of a substance abuser. But Macke almost always had some gear. Maybe Sammy could get a small discount. Maybe he could spend the night there. His headache was getting worse. Sammy quickened his step. The district was pretty far away, nothing but a few low-rise blocks of flats and a couple of isolated terraced houses in the middle of the woods. Not your average junkie area – there wasn't even a corner shop to rob. Sammy liked the silence; for some reason he was more afraid of being arrested in the city centre than anywhere else, though he realised he attracted more attention in areas where you didn't see all that many immigrants. The city's largest suburbs – Rajapuro, Koivuharju and Vaarala – were the best places. There was always plenty of gear about, and friends, even some of his compatriots. In the suburbs he could disappear altogether, and in a way these too were quiet places. Leppioja wasn't a big place. Maybe Macke's parents owned the flat and allowed their son to live there. Sammy couldn't think of any other reason for the flat's location, or why Macke hadn't yet been evicted.
The outer door was locked, of course. He couldn't let Macke know he was coming because he didn't have a mobile phone. This made scoring a fix pretty difficult, but Sammy was prepared to go to extra lengths, because, more than running out of Subutex, he was afraid of being caught by one of the police narcotics officers. One misplaced phone call or text message and he would leave a trace on the police radar like a hare's paw print in fresh snow. He had learnt to identify hares' tracks. There were lots of them around the city at night, a city that to his mind was nothing but an insignificant clearing in an endless forest right on the edge of the Siberian taiga. The city he had left behind had over a million inhabitants. Besides, constantly changing his phone and SIM card was expensive and brought with it another risk: visiting shops. Sammy didn't want to show his face anywhere that there might be a security camera.
This time he risked it. He waited by the front door. Maybe someone would turn up and he'd be able to sneak inside. He tried to remain calm but kept glancing around restlessly. Could anyone see him? The adjacent low-rise building wasn't very close. Between the buildings there were a few thick spruce trees and bushes coated in frost, a children's playground and the ground, frozen and hard. The few lampposts weren't powerful enough to light the whole garden. People in the surrounding apartments were still awake, but from their lit windows they wouldn't be able to see down into the yard. Sammy wasn't entirely hidden in the shadows. The bright, hexagonal lamp above the door to the stairwell was like a searchlight. The hue of the light made his warm, dark skin look blue.
He felt as though he were on a stage and started to feel uneasy. It had been too long since his last hit. He had tried to keep his usage under control, injecting just enough to help him cope with the constant fear and the freezing nights. He would quit as soon as he got things sorted out. It would be easy, because he wasn't really hooked. But now he could feel the tremors starting. It was so terribly cold. He felt like smashing the window, shouting out. He had to get inside. Macke would sort him out. Just then, the lights in the stairwell flickered into life. Sammy stood up straight, took a few steps back and tried to affect a friendly, carefree expression, though he knew it was pointless. Out here he would never blend into the crowds, just another part of the blissfully identical pink-skinned masses; his black eyes and dark skin dug into Finnish eyes like a spike. And that's precisely why it was important to try and look friendly. Even the slightest inkling of danger from someone like him would have people reaching for their phones and calling the police.
A man appeared in the stairwell, not very old but not young either. It was so difficult to gauge the age of Finnish people. The man was stylish, tall and wearing a dark woollen jacket and hat. But he didn't look particularly wealthy. His clothes were old. Sammy had been watching people for such a long time, indeed, his whole life, that he'd learnt to smell money and friendship and danger. And this time he smelt danger. Just as the man was about to open the door, Sammy forced a smile to his face and stepped up to the door as if he had just arrived and was still fumbling in his pocket for the key, though he was afraid he looked like he was about to vomit. What a stroke of luck. And a very good evening to you too. Godspeed to you and your family. He would have said something, if he'd been able. He settled for a smile and hoped his tremors weren't too obvious. The man glowered at him, said something in a gruff voice. Sammy pointed upwards and smiled like an idiot. The man stood in the doorway staring at him sceptically. Sammy noticed the man's hesitation. The sense of danger evaporated. Again he pointed upstairs, this time plucking up the courage to say the word friend. The man glanced into the stairwell just as the automatic light switched off. As if expelled by the dark, he pulled the door wide open, strode outside and disappeared without looking back. Sammy slipped into the darkness of the corridor.
Vilho Karppinen was tired. He had felt terribly queasy all evening and had almost fallen asleep in front of the television on more than a few occasions. He had forced himself to go to bed, but now he couldn't get to sleep because of the infernal din going on somewhere nearby. He couldn't make out melodies, but the thump of the bass was so powerful that it seemed to travel through the girders of the building, along his bedposts and straight into his ears. It was as though the whole bed was trembling. Sometimes the noise stopped and Vilho almost nodded off, but then it started up again and wrenched him from sleep once again. It had happened before. Vilho had expected that the troublemaker would eventually get a warning, but apparently that hadn't happened. The cacophony went on and on, not every night, but now and then. Didn't it disturb anybody else? These damn kids get to keep everyone awake through the night without anyone batting an eyelid! Well, this time it's going to stop. He would go down and tell them to switch off the racket – you couldn't call it music. If they didn't listen to him, he'd call the police. He decided to make an official complaint to the housing association first thing in the morning. The noisy kids would be evicted and he'd be able to sleep in peace and quiet. He needed the little sleep he got – and as an old man he was more than entitled to it.
Vilho gingerly got up and sat on the edge of the bed. Again he felt a dizzy whirr in his head. It'll settle down, he thought and stood up, pattered into the hallway and groaned as he pulled on his slippers. Why did he suddenly feel so doddery? When had this started? Only a few winters ago he'd been skiing at the cottage. Or was it longer than that? Dressed in his pyjamas he went into the stairwell, left his door ajar, didn't switch on the lights and listened to hear where the noise was coming from. It was one floor down. Probably the apartment where that young tearaway lived. Vilho didn't know the boy, but he'd seen him in the corridor once or twice. The boy never said hello and never looked him in the eyes. Suspicious lad. But at least he's in the same stairwell, Vilho thought with relief; he wouldn't have to put his coat on.
Vilho took the stairs down to the first floor and gave the doorbell a resolute ping. The door opened and in a flash he was yanked inside. A fist gripped his nightshirt, pulling the fabric so hard that it tightened around his back.
'What the fuck you doing creeping around out there, Grandad?'
The young man held Vilho close to his face. Vilho caught the smell of alcohol and saw his neighbour's eyes for the first time, their pupils nothing but tiny black dots. He knew this had been a mistake. He should have called the police straight away instead of trying to play the hero. Sometimes he simply forgot his age, no matter how dizzy he felt, how weak he had become or how often he looked at the grey, shrivelled prune of a man staring back at him from the mirror.
'Could you turn the music down a little?' said Vilho. 'I need to get some sleep. That's all.'
'But we're trying to fucking listen to it,' the boy replied and began dragging Vilho further into the living room. Vilho tried to resist. He felt faint. He tried to pull the boy's fists loose, but he was powerless against the strength of youth, now so buoyed up with chemicals. Vilho tried to hit him, but his own fists were like leather gloves dried on the radiator: useless, pathetic clumps. Amid the chaos of the living room, the boy released his grip. Vilho gasped for breath. He saw another boy sitting on the couch, a dark boy with languid, good-hearted eyes, not threatening at all. Perhaps he'd get through this after all.
'I don't mean any trouble,' said Vilho. 'I just wanted to come and say that the music is disturbing me because I live right above you.'
'Shut it, old man. Think you're the boss in this house, do you? Always spying on other people. Never a moment's peace round here, the fucking codgers are always breathing down our necks.'
The boy on the couch said something in a limp voice. Vilho didn't understand a word, but he noted the boy's conciliatory tone. This would all work out. He turned to leave. Just then a wave of dizziness came over him and his legs buckled beneath him. Vilho grabbed the first lad for support. The boy bellowed angrily and clocked him in the face with his fist. Vilho fell to the floor, knocking his head on the edge of the table. Blood gushed on to the stinking living-room rug, forming a pool between an empty syringe and a can of beer.
'Shit, I've killed him!' said the boy and started to snigger. Vilho's consciousness gradually began to fade, but he had time to see the boy stare at him, first with a look of amusement, then more seriously. The boy searched for Vilho's pulse but couldn't find one.
'He's fucking dead!' he hollered at the boy on the couch. 'We've got to do something. Get up, you Paki bastard, move your stinking arse. We've got to do something. Fast!'CHAPTER 2
THE EARLY MORNING was still dark. Senior Constable Anna Fekete had woken with a start; she'd been dreaming about something terrible, but now she couldn't remember what. Her sheets were damp with clammy sweat. Anna took a hot shower and made herself some tea for a change; she drank quite enough coffee at work. Sipping her tea, she sat reading the morning paper, listening to the sounds of the building wakening around her. Her neighbour was in the shower; the sound of rushing came from the pipes next to the kitchen. There was a thud somewhere. It occurred to her that she didn't know any of her neighbours. People in the stairwell greeted her, polite but distant, but who were they, what did they do for a living, what kind of dreams did they have, what moments of joy, what pains? Anna knew nothing of their lives. She couldn't even connect the names on the letterboxes to the right faces. But it was fine by her. She had no yearning for communal living, she had no desire to take part in shared gardening activities or local committee meetings held in the building's clubroom.
For Anna, community spirit was nothing but an illusion, and an over-rated one at that. The only people that actively sought it out were people who had never experienced it first hand. In the West it seemed that mercilessly scrutinising other people's business, sticking your nose into private matters, and people's often violent attempts to preserve their personal freedoms were considered charming forms of care and concern without which all social ills flourished. Anna found it irritating. It wasn't long since the greatest concern for Finnish people was what others, neighbours, relatives, people in the village, thought and said about them. People had allowed their lives to be shaped to fit society's expectations; they were afraid of rejection, and in their fear they had accepted a fate imposed on them from outside. How many people had spent their whole lives suffering because of this? Is that what we should go back to? If her brother Ákos returned to Serbia, would he be more depressed than he was now, Anna wondered, more of a drunk? Was that why he wanted to stay in Finland?
Anna glanced at the clock, pulled on a pair of skinny jeans and an old hoodie, and decided to cycle to work despite the biting frost. She put on a thermal jacket, her hat and gloves. It felt crazy, the habit people round here had of cycling to work come rain or shine, of risking the freezing weather and potentially fatal, slippery roads, balanced precariously on two thin wheels. Her family back home would be shocked if they knew, but Anna had come to enjoy cycling in the winter. With a good set of studded tyres and a helmet, the snow didn't slow her down at all. It did her good to get some fresh air before starting work, to wake her limbs, still stiff from sleep.
Excerpted from The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto, David Hackston. Copyright © 2014 Kati Hiekkapelto. Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
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