look inside ... opening page
and from chapter 8 ...
We fell from the sky like a stone, coming down on an airstrip which was really only a roughly shorn field. The rear wheel dropped and bounced, the front wheels hopped, the tail skipped, and then reaching some sort of stasis, we jerked our way for fifty metres over the ruts.
We were breathing quickly, the cold air fogging in front of our faces as we taxied to a halt. The plane had just the two passenger seats crammed in the back behind the pilot. Henry claimed he was used to this sort of thing but for me it was completely new and I only realised that I’d been digging my nails into his arm when he prised my hand away and made a thing of rubbing his flesh.
‘I told you it’d be fine,’ Henry whispered, bending towards me and blowing the words into my ear. The sudden clarity of his voice as my hearing cleared, as intimate as if his lips had brushed my skin.
I had survived the first ordeal of the day but the hours ahead were filled with the greater unknowns.
With the new fall of snow lying bright and fresh, the building’s cream-painted facade appears grey – wintry and unwashed – the moulded stucco around the windows, embracing the dust of the city in its crevices and folds, as grubby as old linen.
The apartment block has six storeys. The Larsson’s apartment is on the third. This is the grandest level. An ornate iron balcony runs in front of the tall windows – windows taller than on the floors above and below. Windows which are dark and give nothing away. A place with secrets in a city with its own shame to hide.
It’s a view I’m familiar with since I arrived in October, watching whenever I’ve had the chance from across the street.
A car passes. It is tiny with a hunched roof – unassuming while being modern, an automobile to satisfy the rising classes. It’s a vehicle that says: ‘look away – there’s nothing to see’. It ambles slowly down the hill. The final minutes before I enter the apartment are also in slow motion. After this, there will be no turning back.
People drive unhurriedly here – with ‘respectability’ – I was struck by this as soon as I arrived. But if I stepped out into the path of this toy car, would it swerve or brake or continue at me and merely toot its horn? I’ve been in the city three months but all my contact has been with outsiders and I’ve little feel for its underlying truths. I don’t understand its people, and after what I’ve been through, my habit of suspicion is deeply rooted. I’m cautious of everyone. It’s hard not to suspect that if put to the test, beneath the sheen of modesty and politeness, lurks a ruthlessness at least the match of anything I’ve experienced elsewhere.
My name is Hanna, although that is not the name I use today. This is my story.