A Girl Called Przystupa

The policemen sitting on either side of Przystupa were brawny. She did her best to see where they were taking her, but she couldn't see much. They must have left Skuru behind them and gone onto the motorway, while the silhouette of the Forum as it flashed by indicated they had passed Ektorp on the left. Her stomach rumbled. She'd eaten nothing since the day before except a chocolate meringue that Nayana had thrust at her at Stockholm's T-Central; she had covered herself with white crumbs, and her fingers were still sticky

She'd have preferred to get up and wait near the door. Or run off – everything here was strange, it smelled of post offices and warm light bulbs. She laid a hand on her stomach. It was no longer rumbling but aching – that was from the lift, she'd never been in one like that before. She already had something to think about when all of a sudden the door opened and some man walked in.

"Pratar du svenska?" he asked.

She shook her head. She had spoken English to the civilian officer at the gate – why start now with Swedish?

"Then you'll have to wait until we get an interpreter."

She was left alone again, with an increasingly nervous stomach. She touched it through her blouse. Something there was turning, contracting, moving on to the rest of her body. She began to stroke it with a circular movement. It helped a little, so she carried on rubbing. It was the only thing under her control. They'd taken her away and ordered her to wait – not that she knew what she was waiting for.

After a long time, an interpreter entered together with the man who had asked Przystupa whether she spoke Swedish. He sat down on the other side of the desk, indicating a chair to the interpreter. She had a fine nose and delicate eyelids, which gave the impression of letting in the light, preventing the young woman from sleeping. This lent her face a melancholy air.

"I tell people 'the verdicts'," she said in Polish, sitting down opposite Przystupa. "In hospitals, when they pick up their test results. Here as well, sometimes."

Przystupa nodded. The policeman was about to begin the hearing when a young civilian entered and gave him a computer printout. They bent over it, exchanging remarks in Swedish about the Finn: the position of his body, his blood group, the manner and time of his death, his previous state of health and the state of alcoholic inebriation in which he was generally to be found. It all sounded very professional – any body could be described in the same way.

Przystupa's stomach suddenly twisted itself into a tight ball. She'd understood: the Finn was no longer there. She'd been given a pile of medical and police terms in a foreign language; she understood some of the words, but she didn't know their smell or their taste. They were like blunt instruments. He had been killed by these words!

"...and with his own knife as well," summed up the young policeman, bending over the printout. "Why did he have it on him?"

"He was a Finn," murmured the man sitting behind the desk. "They always have a knife on them, they stab each other during drunken scuffles. This is a Lap knife, beautiful ornamentation...."

She leant forward, she had a sweet taste in her mouth, the taste of pears... They looked at her probingly and so she straightened herself until she was again sitting stiffly on her chair. The young man left, and the civilian began asking questions. She didn't need the translation, but she wouldn't have answered any more quickly anyway and was glad of the extra time given to her by the woman with the fine eyelids.

Some of the questions had simple answers. She was Polish, had come to visit her cousin Mårten, but had recently lived with a landswoman, an acquaintance of hers. Her husband, a Finn, drank and also beat up – not her, but his wife, Mrs Weak. She'd seen twice how he'd lunged at his stepdaughter with a knife. He'd almost killed her.

Why hadn't she gone to the police if she'd known that, the policeman asked.

She became indignant. She should have informed?! So that everyone pointed at her and cried out 'spy, spy'?"

The policeman raised his eyebrows. Who would have pointed? What's bad in trying to maintain order?

The young woman stopped translating and turned her melancholy face to the officer. In Poland nobody goes to the police to inform on a family, that's something shameful in Poland. People hate informers in Poland.

The civilian leaned back and looked from one to the other. What shame? What's there to be ashamed of?

Red spots appeared on the interpreter's décolleté, she took a deep breath and exhaled again slowly, looking out of the window. Next question?

© W.A.B

photo by Stephan Vanfleteren