This was the only museum I had not seen at the end of our short stint in Finland. We, that is my husband (a visiting scientist at the Low Temperature Laboratory in Otaniemi), and I, lived in a detached home in the nearby garden city of Tapiola, famed for its architecture.
Why it seemed so urgent for me to visit this museum before we left Finland I attribute to what we now call FOMO. According to the guidebook, it was located in Espoo and showcased the African paintings of a Finnish painter who spent two years in Kenya.
“Why it seemed so urgent for me to visit this museum before we left Finland I attribute to what we now call FOMO.”
I was clad in my native saree, beneath a heavy winter coat, gloves and walking shoes. I had been tramping on a road that led through a wooded grove surrounded by a deep silence. I could see neither building, human being, nor automobile. Oddly, I remembered something I’d read about a man who was attacked by a bear and saved himself by climbing a tree. Would I be able to clamber up a tree in my saree? I walked faster.
Soon I saw the welcome sight of a postal van trundling up the road. I waved for it to stop. A rosy cheeked matron with brown hair tied in thin pigtails on the top of her head, looked out of the window. “Where is the Gallen-Kallela Museum?” I asked in English. My words came out in puffs. She pointed. I saw nothing but trees in the direction she pointed.
“Please take me there,” I said, wiggling into the passenger seat. She dropped me on a side road and pointed to what looked like a country house angled on top of a sloping backyard. The postal van vanished. Snow embankments over six feet tall bordered one side of the road. Beyond it, I could hear the cars zooming on the highway.
I took a few steps up the slope of a tree-covered backyard, when the barking of a German Shepherd straining at his leash tied to a tree, caused me to step back. Without my glasses I could not see how far the leash and, therefore, the radius of the Shepherd, extended.
I gave up the idea of visiting the museum. So close, and yet so far! It was well past two in the afternoon. A weak sunlight filtered through the milky air. In December, the sun set a little past three. My fingers were already beginning to burn beneath my gloves and my toes were numb. A few flakes brushed the air. I could freeze to death, I reckoned. The cars on the highway could not see me. And I could not climb over the embankment and be seen.
“A weak sunlight filtered through the milky air. In December, the sun set a little past three.”
I would have to telephone my husband to make arrangements to be picked up, but first I would have to find a phone. I pulled out the card with the phone number for the Low Temperature lab from my wallet.
There were two white frame houses next to each other on one side of the road. I rang the bell of the first one, knocked, then tried the front door; it creaked open to a bare living room. I called out — no one answered. I walked in, there was no one there.
I walked to the second house. Here too, the door was unlocked. On a sofa against the opposite wall lay a body covered by a sheet. I have never moved so quickly in my life, I scrambled out, banging the screen door behind me.
Back on the road, I had no idea what I should do, when I saw a long-distance runner coming towards me. One saw runners everywhere in Finland, in the early morning, late at night. (Once, as my husband and I walked to the lab at midnight to fill liquid helium into cryostats, we marveled to see a runner, legs and arms pumping like pistons — even on Christmas Day! Were these runners training for the Olympics? Perhaps it was just part of the culture.)
I stopped the runner mid-stride. He was the first human I had seen on that road. “Take me there.” I pointed to the museum. “There is a dog tied to a tree, but I cannot see how long the leash is.” The runner accompanied me past the dog, and I entered by the back door of the museum.
The two elderly women at the desk beamed at me. I had been the sole visitor that day, and they were about to close shortly. They chuckled when I tried with much gesticulation to tell them about the body on the sofa, but I had hit a language barrier.
“The two elderly women at the desk beamed at me. I had been the sole visitor that day.”
“How do I get a cab back?” I managed to ask. One of the ladies lived in Tapiola. She offered me a ride home.
On the ride back, I thought about the body under the sheet on the sofa. Perhaps it was only a sculpture, I reasoned. It was dark by the time we reached Tapiola and it had begun to snow in earnest, but despite the traffic and the snow, I had made it home. And there was still time to shower, rest, and fix supper before my husband returned!
I thanked the woman profusely. The taillights of her sedan disappeared into the swirling flakes. I opened my wallet to pull out the key to the house. This can’t be happening!, I thought. I had lost my key.
* * *
Ravi Shenoy’s work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Jellyfish Review, Sugar Mule, Chicago Tribune, The Copperfield Review, Cooper Street Journal and Best Asian Speculative Fiction (forthcoming). She has twice won awards for her short stories in India Currents. She is a former book reviewer for Library Journal and Jaggery. She lives in Naperville, Illinois.