Translated by Adam Cullen


Elfi is in the mood to sing. She feels strangely good here, in this room, sewing straightjackets with the mentally ill, right now, today. There’d been a time when she would have thought there could be nothing more hopeless, more dreadful than an insane asylum; than mental illness. Nothing more horrifying than burying oneself in a care institution (as the building had once been called) for the epileptic and feeble-minded. The boys were being commended those days, getting good grades; they were doing well in school, in algebra, arithmetic, Earth science, even Russian language. She would sing if it were allowed. Right here at the sewing table. In spite of the German, in spite of the Russian, in spite of the locks and knots of the asylum’s restricted ward, in spite of all the world’s lobotomies, electric shocks, war crimes, and red flags, she would sing today to Hans, Leena, Lydia, Alma, and Ellen. It could be Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” that would suit this day, or “My Heart’s in the Highlands” – she could even sing that. As she once had, in her younger days. Christmas is right around the corner, Jakob has been given hope, he’s getting new medication, I’m alive, my children are alive, I’m in my homeland even though many other families have been ripped apart, torn to shreds, deported. I have a job. Arms, legs, a heart, two rooms, a kitchen (shared with four families, but still), gas, electricity, kerosene for when the electricity is cut, firewood split at Jakob’s father’s farm, butter and strips of smoked meat that can be used to make a proper sauce to go with potatoes, all from the countryside. And the sun was shining this morning for a few full hours. The boys have grown to be more like men, especially Toomas. They’re no longer childlike, soft, delicate; they’re wiry, slim, muscled, and Toomas already has facial hair. My boys. Strange, I still have Henrik’s letters. All three. After all those relocations, all that fleeing, those thefts. Twenty-two years. And finally, I feel I understand what it was with us; what it was with him. Henrik. Just the way you are. Not the way I would have wanted you to be. And here in the sewing room, in work therapy, everything is possible, just like you said: always believe in the open doors of possibility.