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Authors: Mankell Henning

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Shadows in the Twilight

BOOK: Shadows in the Twilight
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HENNING MANKELL

Translated by Laurie Thompson

 

 

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9781849398176

Version 1.0

 

First published in English in 2007 by
Andersen Press Limited,
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SWIV 2SA
www.andersenpress.co.uk

 

Copyright © 1990 by Henning Mankell
Original title:
Skuggorna växer i skymningen
First published in Swedish
by Rabén & Sjögren Bokförlag,
Stockholm, in 1991.
Published by agreement with Norstedts Agency
This translation © Laurie Thompson, 2007.

 

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

 

ISBN: 9781849398176

Version 1.0

 

The publication of this work was supported by a grant from the
Swedish Institute

 

Cover design by Nick Stearn

 

1

I have another story to tell.

The story of what happened next, when summer was
over. When the mosquitoes had stopped singing and the
nights turned cold.

Autumn set in, and Joel Gustafson had other things to
think about. He hardly ever went to his rock by the river,
to gaze up at the sky.

It was as if the dog that had headed for its star no
longer existed.

Or perhaps it had never existed? Had it all been a dream?

Joel didn't know. But in the end he decided it was all
to do with the fact that he'd soon be twelve. After his
twelfth birthday he'd be too big to sit on a rock and
dream about a strange dog that might never have existed
in the real world.

Reaching the age of twelve was a great event. It
would mean there were only three years to go before his
fifteenth birthday. Then he'd be able to ride a moped and
watch films in the Community Centre that children were
not allowed to see. When you were fifteen you were
more of a grown-up than a child.

These were the thoughts whirring around in Joel's
head one afternoon in September, 1957. It was a Sunday,
and he'd set out on an expedition into the vast forest that
surrounded the little northern Swedish town he lived in.

Joel had decided to test if it was possible to get lost on
purpose. At the same time he had two other important
questions to think through. One was whether it would
have been an advantage to have been born a girl, and
called Joella instead of Joel. The other was what he was
going to do when he grew up.

Needless to say, he hadn't mentioned any of this to his
dad, Samuel. He'd been curled up by the kitchen
window, watching Samuel get shaved. As Samuel
always cut himself while shaving, Joel had decided long
ago that he would grow a beard when he grew up. Once,
when he'd been alone in the house, he'd carefully drawn
a black beard on his face, using the burnt end of a stick
of wood from the stove. To find out what it felt like to
have hair on his face, he'd also wrapped a fox fur round
his cheeks. He'd decided that having a beard was better
than repeatedly cutting his face with a razor. But he
hoped his beard wouldn't smell like a fox.

When Samuel had finished shaving, he'd put on his
best suit. Then Joel had knotted his tie for him.

Now Samuel was ready to pay a visit to Sara, who had
a day off from her work as a waitress in the local bar.

Now he's going to say that he won't be late, Joel
thought.

'I won't be late,' said Samuel. 'What are you going to
do with yourself this afternoon?'

Joel had prepared an answer to that question in
advance.

'I'm going to do a jigsaw puzzle,' he said. 'That big
one with the Red Indian chief, Geronimo. The one with
954 pieces.'

Samuel eyed him up and down thoughtfully.

'Why don't you go out to play?' he asked. 'It's lovely
weather.'

'I want to complete the puzzle against the clock,' said
Joel. 'I'm going to try to set a new record. It took me
four hours last time. Now I'm going to do it in three.'

Samuel nodded, and left. Joel waved to him through
the window. Then he took out an old rucksack he kept
under his bed and packed some sandwiches. He'd put
the kettle on to boil while he was doing that, and when
it was ready he made some tea and poured it into
Samuel's red thermos flask.

Borrowing Samuel's thermos flask was a bit risky. If
he broke it or lost it, Samuel would be angry. Joel would
be forced to produce a lot of complicated explanations.
But it was a risk he would have to take. You couldn't
possibly set out on an expedition without a thermos flask.

Last of all he took his logbook from the case where
the sailing ship
Celestine
was displayed, collecting dust.
He closed his rucksack, pulled on his wellingtons and
put on his jacket. He cleared the stairs in three jumps –
it had taken him four only six months ago.

The sun was shining, but you could feel it was
autumn. To get to the forest as quickly as possible, Joel
decided that the Red Indian Chief Geronimo was lying
in ambush with his warriors behind the Co-operative
Society's warehouse. So he would have to proceed on
horseback. He geed himself up, imagined that his boots
were the newly-shod hooves of a dappled pony, and set
off across the street. The reddish-brown goods wagons
in the railway siding were rocks he could hide behind.
Once he got that far, Geronimo and his braves would
never be able to catch up with him. And just beyond
there was the forest . . .

When he'd reached the trees he closed down the
game. Nowadays he thought that his imagination was
something he could turn on or off like a water tap. He
went into the forest.

As the sun was already low in the sky, it seemed to be
twilight in among the trees. The shadows were growing
longer and longer among the thick trunks.

Then the path petered out. There was nothing but
forest all around him.

Just one more step, Joel thought. If I take one more
step the whole world will disappear.

He listened to the sighing of the wind.

Now he would practise getting lost. He would do
something nobody had ever done before. He would
prove that it wasn't only people who took a wrong
turning that could get lost.

A crow suddenly flew up from a high branch. It made
Joel jump, as if it had been perched just beside him.
Then silence fell once more.

The crow had scared him. He took a quick pace
backwards and made sure that the world was still there.
He hung his rucksack on a projecting branch then took
ten paces in a straight line in front of him, in among the
trees. Then ten more. When he turned round he could no
longer see his rucksack. He closed his eyes and spun
round and round to make himself dizzy and lose his
sense of direction. When he opened his eyes, he had no
idea which direction he ought to take. Now he was lost.

There wasn't a sound all around him. Only the
sighing of the wind.

He suddenly wanted to pack it all in.

Pretending you could get lost on purpose was an
impossible game. It was being childish, and somebody
who would soon be twelve years old couldn't allow
himself to indulge in such silliness.

It struck Joel that this might be the big difference.
That he would no longer be able to make believe.

He located his rucksack and returned to the road. He
thought more about whether it would have been better if
he'd been born a girl instead of a boy. What would be
best, a Joel or a Joella?

Boys were stronger. And the games they played were
more fun than those played by girls. When they grew up
they had more exciting jobs. Even so, he wasn't sure.
What was really best? Having a beard that smelled like
a fox fur? Or having breasts that bounced up and down
inside your jumper? Giving birth to children, or making
children? Tickling or being tickled?

He trudged home without being able to make up his
mind. He kicked hard at a stone. It had not been a good
Sunday. When he got home he would write in his
logbook that it had been a very bad day. He had no
desire to do the Geronimo puzzle either. He had no
desire to do anything at all. And tomorrow he would
have to go back to school.

He bit his tongue as hard as he could, to make the day
even worse. There was nothing he hated more than not
knowing what to do next.

Life was a long series of Nexts. He had worked that
out already. The trick was to make sure that the next
Next was better than the previous one. But everything
had gone wrong today.

He opened the gate into the overgrown garden of the
house where he lived.

There were lots of red berries on the rowan tree.

The sun was just setting behind the horizon on the
other side of the river.

Nothing happens, Joel thought.

Nothing ever happens in this dump.

But he was wrong.

The next day, which was a Monday with fog and
drizzle, something happened that Joel could never have
imagined in his wildest dreams.

He would experience a Miracle.

2

The day couldn't have begun any better for Joel.

When his dad, Samuel, shook him by the shoulder
shortly after seven o'clock, he'd been having a nightmare.
He'd dreamt that he was on fire. Sizzling flames
had been shooting out of his nostrils, just like a fire-spitting
dragon. His fingers were blue, a bit like the
welding flames he'd seen at the Highways Department
workshops, where he used to have his skates sharpened in
the winter. Being on fire didn't hurt. Even so, he had felt
terrified and wanted nothing more than to wake up. It
wasn't until Samuel touched his shoulder that the flames
were extinguished. He gave a start and sat up in bed.

'What's the matter?' asked Samuel.

'I don't know,' said Joel. 'I was dreaming that I was
on fire.'

Samuel frowned. Joel knew his father didn't like him
having nightmares. Perhaps it was because Samuel
himself sometimes had bad dreams? Joel had often been
woken up in the middle of the night by Samuel shouting
and screaming in his sleep.

One of these days Joel would ask his father about his
dreams. He'd noted that down on the last page of his
logbook, where he had listed all the questions he didn't
yet have an answer to.

But everything had been fine this morning. Joel felt
very relieved when he realised he'd only been dreaming.
The fire had never actually existed. He was usually in a
bad mood when he woke up and had to get out of bed. The
cork tiles on the floor were far too cold for his bare feet.
And then he could never find his clothes. His socks were
always inside out and his shirt buttons wouldn't fit into
their holes. In Joel's opinion the people who made clothes
for children were wicked. How else could you explain the
fact that nothing went right when you were in a hurry to
get dressed and it was freezing cold in the room?

But this morning everything went much more
smoothly. And when he went to the kitchen he found
two little boxes of pastilles by the side of his cup of hot
chocolate.

'They're from Sara,' said Samuel, who was busy combing
his tousled hair in front of the cracked shaving mirror.

Two packs of pastilles when you've narrowly escaped
burning to death? And on a Monday morning?

It seemed to Joel that he was in for a good day. And it
became even better when he opened the little boxes and
took out the enclosed picture cards: they were of two
footballers he didn't have in his collection. Joel
collected footballers. Nothing else. He sometimes hit the
roof when he opened a pack of pastilles and found a
picture of a wrestler. That was the worst thing that could
happen to him. Flabby wrestlers who were always called
Svensson. And their first name was nearly always Rune.

But this morning he had found two footballers at the
same time.

'Call in at the bar on the way home from school,' said
Samuel as he put on his jacket. 'Sara will be pleased to
see you.'

'Why has she given me them?' Joel wondered.

'She likes you,' said Samuel. 'Surely you know that?'

He paused in the doorway and turned round.

'Don't forget to buy some potatoes,' he said. 'And milk.'

'I won't,' said Joel.

It was good to hear that Sara liked him. Even though
she wasn't his mum, and her breasts were too big and
she smelled of sweat. Of course, it wasn't as good as
hearing his mother Jenny saying it. But Jenny didn't
exist. She had disappeared. And as long as she didn't
exist, until Samuel and Joel had found her, Sara was
welcome to say that she liked him.

As usual, he dawdled for so long over his cup of hot
chocolate that he would be forced to run in order to get
to school on time. Miss Nederström didn't like pupils
arriving late. If she was really angry, or if you had been
late over and over again, she sometimes twisted your ear
and it hurt so much that you had to struggle to hold back
the tears. But she only did that to boys. She didn't bother
about girls turning up late. That was why Joel
sometimes asked himself if it would have been better to
be a girl called Joella Gustafson.

He put on his outdoor clothes, slung his satchel over his
shoulder, locked the door and hid the key under Samuel's
boots on the landing. He almost cleared the stairs in two-and-a-half jumps and sped off in the direction of school. He
had three possible routes to choose from. Today he chose
the one along Blixtens gata. He only went that way when
he was very late. It was straight and dull, and only involved
one short cut, over the courtyard behind the chemist's. But
it was the shortest route.

He ran as fast as he could, and arrived dead on time.
Miss Nederström was just about to close the door when
he came racing up.

'Good for you, Joel,' she said. 'I'm glad to see that
you are making an effort to arrive on time.'

School finished at two o'clock. Joel felt pleased with
himself. He hadn't been asked any questions that he
couldn't answer. And moreover, they'd had Geography,
which was the subject he liked best. He liked it just as
much as he hated maths. He hadn't a clue about numbers.

It was the same story as with children's clothes. Whoever
invented numbers must have been a wicked person.

But the best part of the day was when Miss
Nederström was angry with Otto because he hadn't been
attending during a class. Joel didn't like Otto. Otto was
his sworn enemy. He was at the very top of the list of
people Joel hoped would always be in trouble. Otto was
having to repeat a year, and never missed an opportunity
of annoying people. To make matters worse, he was so
strong that Joel couldn't get the better of him in the
winter snowball fights.

Joel had suddenly had an idea during the geography
lesson.

He would invent a geography game. He wasn't quite
sure how it would work, but it would involve dice and a
race to see who could travel round the world fastest. He
was in a hurry to get home and start working on the
game. He had a collection of old maps that he could cut
up or draw on.

He very nearly forgot that he had to buy some
potatoes and milk. But he was in luck again when he got
to Ljunggren's Grocery Store: he was the only customer
in the shop and didn't need to wait. Then he forgot that
he'd promised to call in at the bar and thank Sara for the
pastilles. He was almost home before he remembered.

His first reaction was not to bother – he could just as
well thank her tomorrow.

But then he changed his mind. She had given him not
just one box of pastilles, but two, after all. He turned
round and retraced his steps.

And that was when The Miracle happened.

He didn't look both ways before running across the
street. There was a cement mixer roaring and rattling
away outside the ironmonger's, and a lorry was sounding
its horn over by the bookshop.

He suddenly found himself bang in front of a big bus.
Perhaps he heard the driver's frantic braking? Perhaps
he didn't hear anything? But just as he was about to be
crushed by one of the enormous wheels he slipped and
fell over backwards. The bus drove over the top of him
and crashed into a lamppost outside the bar.

Joel lay perfectly still. He could smell the oil and feel
the heat from the bus's exhaust pipe that was coiled like
a dirty steel snake a few centimetres away from his face.

It had all happened so quickly that he hadn't even had
time to feel frightened.

As he lay there under the bus, he didn't understand
what had happened.

Why was he lying there? And what was this thing
above his face?

He turned his head to one side and saw feet moving
backwards and forwards. A drop of oil hit him just
below one eye. Somewhere out there he could hear
voices shouting and screaming.

He heard somebody shouting that a child had been
run over by the bus.

Was it him?

If it was him, why wasn't he dead?

He wasn't dead, surely? Everything was as usual,
except that he was lying on his back on the wet street,
and oil was dripping onto his face.

There must surely be a difference between being alive
and being dead?

Then he felt somebody taking hold of his arm. A face
edged its way closer to him. He recognised it. It was
Nyberg's face. Nyberg was the bouncer in the bar where
Sara worked.

'Are you all right, milad?' said the face. 'For Christ's
sake, I do believe you're alive.'

'Yes,' said Joel. 'I think so.'

That was the moment he started to feel frightened,
and it slowly dawned on him that he had experienced a
Miracle.

A bus had run him over. But at precisely the right
moment he'd slipped and landed between the wheels. In
addition the satchel with his school things and the milk
and the potatoes had slid down by his side. If it had
stayed on his back, his face would have been hit by the
bus's chassis.

The Ljusdal bus, he thought. It has to be the bus to
Ljusdal.

The Ljusdal bus had presented him with his Miracle.

He closed his eyes. Hands began to take hold of him,
carefully, as if he were dead after all. Voices were
whispering and shouting on all sides. He felt himself
being dragged over the wet asphalt. Then somebody
lifted him up onto a bed that was swaying back and
forth. Metal doors closed and an engine started turning.

Somebody was sitting beside him, holding his hand.

He looked cautiously, hardly opening his eyes. He'd
often practised that in front of Samuel's shaving mirror.
Looking in such a way that nobody could see he was
looking.

The woman holding his hand was Eulalia Mörker, who
ran a hairdressing business next to the ironmonger's.
Eulalia spoke with a foreign accent and chased away
children when they were too noisy outside her shop door.
She would come running out brandishing a pair of curling
tongs, shouting and threatening, and everybody was a bit
scared of her, because you could never be sure what she
was saying in her peculiar language.

Now she was sitting beside Joel, holding his hand.

Joel looked again, to make certain his eyes hadn't
deceived him.

He turned his head slowly to see what sort of a car it
was he was travelling in.

An ambulance. The only vehicle with a bed.

When he was transferred onto another stretcher at the
hospital, he thought it would be best if he groaned. Not a
lot, just a little one. Perhaps it wasn't a good idea to let
people know too quickly that he'd experienced a Miracle.

He was examined by Dr Stenström. Joel didn't like it
when the nurses took off all his clothes. He was especially
worried about them discovering that he had a large hole in
his underpants. And he wasn't sure that his feet were
properly clean. Somebody who had just experienced a
Miracle maybe ought to have just got out of the bath?

Then he heard Stenström's authoritative voice.

'This young boy has been incredibly lucky,' he said.
'He's fallen under a bus but hasn't got a single scratch.
It can only be described as a miracle.'

A Miracle!

It was true. Dr Stenström had realised.

Joel opened his eyes.

A bright light was shining down on him. There was
something smelly stuck up his nose. The lamp was as
hot as the sun. He could make out faces gathered round
him, looking like white shadows, staring at him.

He suddenly thought about Jesus walking on water.
That was Miss Nederström's favourite Bible story. He
had no idea how many times she'd read it for them, but
often enough for him to recall it almost by heart.

What had the people on the shore shouted when Jesus
walked over the waves?

What was that long, difficult, incomprehensible word?

'Hallelujah!' he shouted when he remembered what
it was.

'You can say that again,' said Dr Stenström. 'Let's see
if you can stand up.'

A nurse helped him up. He sat on the examination
table, dangling his legs. He could see his underpants on
a chair, with the big hole in them.

Then he jumped down onto the floor.

'Not a scratch,' said Dr Stenström. 'Guess who's
going to be overjoyed.'

'My dad Samuel,' said Joel, who thought he'd been
asked a question.

'I'm sure he will be,' said Dr Stenström, 'but I bet the
bus driver is at least as glad.'

Joel made as if to start getting dressed.

'We'll keep you in overnight,' said Dr Stenström.
'Just to be on the safe side.'

'I have to go home and prepare some potatoes,' said
Joel. 'My dad will wonder what's going on if I don't.'

'He's on his way here,' said one of the nurses. Joel
suddenly recognised her voice. She was the mother of
one of his classmates. Eva-Lisa, who could run faster
than anybody else in the class. She was like a greyhound.

Joel lay down on the examination table again.

All he wanted just now was to be left in peace. He still
wasn't quite sure what had happened.

As if everybody in the room had read his mind, they
all left. He quickly jumped down and hid his underpants
beneath his shirt, so that the hole couldn't be seen. Then
he checked to see if his feet were clean.

They weren't. He took some balls of cotton wool from a
glass dish and poured onto them some liquid with a strong
smell from out of a brown bottle. Then he rubbed his feet
until they were clean. He had only just crept back under the
blanket on the examination table when the door opened.

It was the bus driver.

Joel recognised him. His name was Eklund and a year
or two ago he had shot a bear. He was always the one
who drove the Ljusdal bus.

'Well, milad,' he said. 'If only you knew. If only you
knew how pleased I am.'

'I wasn't looking where I was going,' said Joel. 'I
hope the bus isn't broken.'

'Who cares about the bus,' said Eklund, wiping his
runny nose with the back of his big, red hand.

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