Ulf drew a lungful of breath.
Friday, 10 April 2015
Chapter one (segment five), twenty four years earlier, April, Ulf
Yes, he was a foreigner despite looking like a Japanese teen with marginally dyed hair. No he wasn't fluent in Japanese. Yes, he spoke English. No, he didn't come from the USA. Yes, there were other places than the USA where people spoke English, hence the term 'English'. No, he didn't come from England.
So tiresome. His plans to keep a low profile didn't seem to work. He was too much of an outsider. Just how much of an outsider his classmates, apart from Yukio, didn't know. Only a few did, including his guardian.
Thinking of her made him ashamed. His legal guardian. Thirty years old and part of the police force. She really was adorable, more like a daughter to him than a younger sister. But she hadn't been adorable when he first met her, and he had hurt her badly.
Ulf turned left at the corner and brought his bike straight into the wind. Has it really been a year already? Those first days here had been madness, and that interrogation hadn't helped at all. He hit the brakes, wheeled into a playground and switched from his bike to a bench. One year ago. Gods!
And in his mind he travelled that year back in time.
“Are you trying to tell me that unless I can express the feeling of loss I'm not an adult?”
Ulf waited for the translator to relay his question. When the unexpectedly callous affirmation was delivered he sighed.
“Look,” Ulf started. “I could talk about a funeral, my grandparent for example, because that's what I assume you expect, but I won't.”
In one corner the female police twisted uncomfortably, as did her older uniformed companion, but the investigator in civilian clothes just smiled condescendingly. Ten years my junior, tops. Probably younger, and more arrogant in his belief that he's seen life. “I could,” Ulf continued and let his memories wander a decade, “try to make you understand the ugly feeling of relief you feel when your wife calls you from the hospital.”
The female police shuddered and shook her head, silently begging him to stop, but Ulf relentlessly moved on: “You know, it's funny how calm you are in a taxi from work to the hospital when your daughter has her final treatment. You realize that you'll have your life back again.” The older uniform held the hands of his younger colleague in sympathy, and her hands were clenched into hard fists. I'm stirring a bad memory here. The arse facing me could stop this if he wanted, but I'll take him down if he doesn't.
“Did you know that back home, when there's no more hope, they let you inside. You can see the monitors spewing numbers that even a layman can understand.” Ulf glanced at the woman in uniform. She was whispering something in Japanese. Ulf didn't need to understand the language to know that she was pleading with the other two to end the interview. The translator had gone ashen as well and translated tonelessly from English to Japanese. There were no longer any phrases to be translated the other way.
“You go thinking: Hey kiddo, when did you grow so small?” Ulf locked eyes with the investigator. “Because that bony ghoul in the bed is still your little girl, and all that plastic tubing makes her look so much smaller than the laughing bundle of chaos you remember from a year earlier.”
The sound of a sudden gasp reached him from the end of the table. Then the female police suddenly turned expressionless, as if something had died inside her.
“The numbers get lower and lower, and you watch those damn displays in trance, because that way you don't have to look at your dying child.” But I watched my wife as well. Ulf forced down a lump in his throat at the memory. She sat there staring out the window. She had nothing left by that time, but the shit hole here doesn't need to know how she had to make all the ugly arrangements alone earlier that morning, so that I wouldn't be disturbed during my business meeting.
“And then they unplug your child so the tubes aren't in the way when you hug that cooling, limp body before passing it along. And it weighs almost nothing.” Again Ulf caught the investigator's eyes with his own. “Did you know that in death your daughter's eyes are no longer blue? They're black all over.”
The woman breathed heavily. By now her outward calm only made her inner turmoil all that much clearer. Her companion gave Ulf a murderous stare, and the translator had reeled backwards at the last sentence.
It wasn't that Ulf had described anything they didn't know. He knew that, but the police ran that interview to find out some kind of background for Ulf's absurd claims. After all, he very much looked the fourteen year old Japanese school kid they told him he was, and very, very little the fifty year old foreigner he said he was.
Ulf kept the investigator's eyes locked. “Do you want me to describe how you call your friends to your favourite pub the same evening your daughter died, and spend it pulling stupid jokes and enjoy three truly fun hours for the first time in months?”
Ulf drew a lungful of breath.
“Or do you want me to describe the loss you feel the day after when you find all those hospital supplies in your kitchen? When your hands mechanically start making that damned, hated breakfast which is the only one your kid is allowed to eat. When you remember that you'll never need to make that breakfast again. Do you want me to describe, in detail, how that feels?”
The investigator, finally, backed down.
Ulf fought his thoughts back to the present.
I wonder why she suggested she step in as guardian for me. I hurt her so much. I knew she had lost someone. Ulf sighed. Little sister rather than a daughter, but we share the same kind of loss.
He had moved in with her a few days later. Legally mother and son, but in his thoughts father and daughter.
And behind the scenes government officials fabricated a background for an Ulf Hammargren who had never existed in this world. Even though they finally believed him when he told them he was a fifty year old Swedish corporate CEO (mixed background, naturalized Japanese mother, Swedish father), he looked like an early adolescent kid with a runny nose. Albeit a tall one. So they needed to go for the teenager story.
Officially he was Hammarugen Urufu, with a string of katakana to go with the alien sounding name, but he would always remain Ulf. They even tried to make him use the unfamiliar letters to sign his name. Sometimes he did, but for well over thirty years, before retina scans and fingerprinted passports, his old signature had been his formal identity. It wasn't something you could just let go of.
And here he was, an orphan of two divorced parents he had never seen (both deceased in accidents that had actually occurred). He had been told he was in the transition between a Swedish citizenship and a Japanese one, because, albeit Swedish officials apparently had been helpful in fabricating their end of the lie, Sweden didn't see him as one of their own, and thus Japan was left with the booby prize. At least that was how the story was told. However, he knew that immigration laws in the two nations really should have left him in Sweden rather than in Japan. Something smelly was being played out, but he wasn't in any position to dig deeper.
He left the bench and straddled his bike. Another five minutes to the station, ten minutes with the train and a few more to the apartment complex where he lived.
Amaya, you're trying so hard. He'd pop into a speciality store he knew on his way home. This evening he'd treat her to something very Swedish. His mind's adopted daughter, his legal guardian.