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The Daughter

The Daughter

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The Daughter

260 pages
3 hours
Mar 27, 2018


"I'll tell you what happened in Tulisaari."

Those are Annika's last words to her daughter. Shortly after, she is killed in an accident and all her secrets are about to be revealed. After her mother's sudden death, Emilia is overcome by grief. As sorrow turns into curiosity, she starts to delve into her mother's mysterious past. The search takes her to the small town of Tulisaari in Finland, where her mother grew up, a place Annika had left for good after a tragedy occurred there. Emilia decides to find out for herself what really happened in Tulisaari all those years ago. But someone doesn't want her to find out the truth...
Mar 27, 2018

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The Daughter - Sara Onnebo



Thursday 26th January 2012

I’ll tell you what happened in Tulisaari. Those were Annika Björklund’s last words to her daughter.

The day Emilia Björklund’s beloved mother was crushed to death by a city bus started like any other day. There were no signs that this was not going to be just like any other ordinary day. Nothing to suggest that this day would end with sudden death, blood and tears. The black angels that she had glimpsed in the corner of her eye ever since she was a little girl had not appeared for a long time. Emilia could not foresee the terrifying journey her life was about to embark on.

She woke up at 9:03 when her next-door neighbour slammed the door to his apartment shut and stomped down the stairs. She had a cup of black coffee and a bowl of cereals for breakfast. She showered and got dressed. At 9:47 she left the flat that she shared with her best friend Janica, whom she had known since childhood. As usual, Janica had left for the university long before Emilia woke up.

Emilia rode her bike to the University Hospital, entered through the door to the Biomedical Centre and walked into the sterile laboratory where she had her workbench and started to prepare her experiments. Annika phoned her daughter at 11:31. She called at the same time every day, just before she went for lunch. They chatted for a while about everyday things and made joint plans for the evening.

Emilia ate her lunch sitting at the desk with a stack of scientific papers in front of her. At 13:26 she was struggling with a text about the epigenetic control of genes in the immune system. That was the moment she received the phone call that would change the course of her life forever. Until that point, she can recall almost every little detail of her daily routine. Every time she goes over the events of that fateful day in her mind, she can fast forward or rewind, speed up or slow down all the insignificant little events. But she cannot change anything. No matter how much she tries, it always ends the same way.

When Emilia heard the formal voice on the other end of the line, the voice that explained that her loving mother had been hit by a bus and died on the spot. There was nothing they could do. Something clicked in her brain. At least she did not suffer. Then everything went black.


Emilia’s diary.

Monday 6th February 2012

Dear Diary!

This is something totally new for me, to confide in a soulless diary. I’ve never felt the need before. Well, that is not entirely true. Mum gave me a pink diary with white butterflies on the covers for my ninth birthday. I felt obliged to at least fill the blank pages with a few lines of my thoughts. It went something like this:

Dear Diary!

My name is Emilia Björklund and I was born on a rainy spring day nine years ago. I live with my mum. My daddy is missing or dead. I don’t know exactly. I have never met him, and mum tells me to stop asking so many questions every time I ask her about daddy. There is no one else I can ask about daddy. Mum bought ice cream for my birthday. Janica gave me a pretty necklace. Then we all went to the cinema. I will write more another day. Goodnight.

Diary confessions just weren’t for me. That’s all I ever wrote, the promise of writing more another day forgotten already by the next morning. But yesterday Janica handed me a new diary with a stern look on her face. Here, write. Write down everything that you´re feeling. If you can´t talk about it maybe you can at least write about it. Otherwise, you will go crazy. And I really don’t have time for crazy right now.

I know better than to contradict Janica when she’s in that mood. So here I am, dutifully writing in my diary. Janica watches over me like a hawk and nods encouragingly when she sees that I’m actually doing as I’m told. Though, I might as well be writing gibberish as penning down my inner thoughts. She will never know, I will never show this diary to anyone. By the way, Dear Diary, no offence, but I think I will write to My Dear Dead Mother in the future; after all, she’s the reason I’m even doing this. Instead of writing to an imaginary friend hidden between the pages of a yellow notebook, I will write to my mum who is no longer here with me, and who quite frankly has left me with quite a few unanswered questions. Well, I’ll call it a night now, I simply don’t have the strength to string any more letters into words. I will write more another day.

Wednesday 8th February 2012

I´ve been told, much to my embarrassment, that in the late afternoon, on the day that you died, and I suddenly entered into the darkness and temporarily lost my memory, I was found at Lund´s train station where I was drifting aimlessly between platform number two (where the train to Malmö leaves from) and the ticket machines in the waiting room. My odd behaviour made the commuters nervous and someone alerted a security guard. He succeeded, after much patience, in getting me to give him Janica´s number. She´d been running all around Lund desperately looking for me, and she immediately came to collect her bereaved friend.

She has taken care of me ever since; no surprise there, it has always been like that. I’m utterly incapable of taking care of myself, grief has done that to me, I can’t cope with even the simplest tasks. To eat, take a shower, get out of my pyjamas, or go outside, it all seems like insurmountable undertakings. The darkness has eased, but the light flickers faintly and far away. I can see no end to this blurry state I find myself in.

Thursday 9th February 2012

Has it already been two weeks? Have I survived that long without you in this world? I almost can’t remember anything from these past days. Janica has dealt with all the necessary arrangements. There was no getting out of attending your funeral and it took all of what little strength I had left to drag myself there. I was present only physically, my body was there but my mind was elsewhere. Far away. My thoughts were with you. We were in Tulisaari with grandma Maikki, or Maikki mumma, as I called her. I have no idea why my mind took me there, it’s been ages since we visited Finland. It was summer, the apple trees were in full bloom. You were happy. I was just a little girl, but I noticed the change in you. Everything will be ok, my girl, I promise, you whispered to me at night when I climbed into bed next to you. Uncle Jussi was snoring in the next room.

After that summer, it was like something withered within you, Mum. I never saw you sparkle like that again. I never asked you why, never asked what had happened to make you so sad. I´m not sure that you would have given me a truthful answer anyway, even if I had asked you. Finland has always been shrouded in secrecy, it was almost as if you had erased that whole part of your life. Now it’s too late to find out. I will never know what happened in Tulisaari.

I was so caught up in my own thoughts and memories that I barely noticed when it was my turn to go and put flowers on your casket and to say my goodbyes, as if any words could make up for my loss. I staggered down the aisle with Janica and Nadzia on either side, my legs shaking. As the tears and snot ran along my face in equal amounts I was unable to express a single word of farewell, my muffled sobs were the only thing breaking the silence in the crowded church. I forgot to thank your friends and colleagues for coming. I’m ashamed to admit that instead of going to the reception in the parish hall afterward I slipped away, somewhere between putting you into the ground and serving up the first cup of coffee, and hid under the blankets in the false safety of our flat. I feel bad about that, I really do. Janica and Nadzia had gone through a lot of trouble to fill the hall with beautiful flowers and home-made delicacies. I’m so sorry to let you down, I simply couldn’t go through with it. Everyone was very understanding of my bad manners. I have, after all, just lost my mother.

Sunday 12th February 2012

The headaches have returned. The days following your death I felt nothing, no physical pain I mean. It was as if you had taken my pain with you to the grave. Like one last kindness from you, Mum. Ever since I was a child, you have tried to alleviate my constant headaches and recurring migraines. I can almost feel your cool hands on my forehead, your fingertips gently massaging my temples. Now that the panicky anxiety begins to ebb away the pain is seeping back. Writing makes me light-headed. I have to stop.

Thursday 16th February 2012

I still lock myself away from the world. I’m stuck in my own personal hell of sorrow, and for some inexplicable reason also fear, as if something terrible is waiting for me. I don’t know what it could be, surely it has already happened, how could it possibly get any worse? I just want to hide from the horror that I know must come. I lock myself in the apartment, waiting for my dread to subside. I don’t think it ever will.

I am seriously considering becoming a hermit. It’s a bit unusual to have these thoughts at such a young age. But I really think it would be best if I stayed in the flat forever. For obvious reasons, I haven’t said a word about this to Janica. She’s already worried that I’m about to lose my mind. To be honest, my grip on reality is very shaky at the moment. I drift between the terror of my nightmares and the fog (that’s what I call my waking hours). I’m not coping well with this situation.

The only routine I have is to write in my diary every day. And to fantasise about your accident.

In the happier fantasy, you narrowly escape the bus at the last moment and only get a few cuts and bruises as you throw yourself to the ground out of harm’s way. When we meet later in the evening you tell me laughingly about how you almost got run over by a bus.

However, in most of my fantasies, I see before me how your friendly face is crushed by hard metal. How all your love, your dreams, and life slowly oozes out of your body and form a sticky puddle of blood on the road. Then the tears follow, it’s inevitable. You can’t think about your loved ones dying without tears. I huddle on the couch, staring into the void, into an empty future. Janica has found me in this catatonic state several times on coming home from lectures. Her concern doesn’t even escape me.

Friday 17th February 2012

For the first time ever, I was grateful for waking up with a pounding headache. If I concentrate enough on the throbbing pain behind my eyes, I feel almost no pain in my chest. As soon as I let myself think of you, breathing seems impossible. The furniture begins to spin. I cry some more.

This morning, when Janica came to my room with a cup of coffee (it really isn’t fair to her that I rely on her so much), she looked tired and worn out. Her swollen eyes and red face revealed that she had been crying too. Janica is the only person I know who is allergic to her own tears, and on those rare occasions when she cries her face flares up in an angry rash. But you know all this already. You have known Janica as long as I have. Since the day we were born.

How are you? she asked and continued without waiting for an answer. Dare I leave you alone?

I get the same question every morning.

I’m okay, promise, I said weakly.

I had to concentrate hard on keeping my breathing steady. Janica appeared to be far away, and too close at the same time, as if she floated in and out of focus.

Is it safe to leave you? I can stay if you want.

She says the same thing every morning.

No, it’s fine, really.

Okay, I’ll look in on you on my lunch break.

Then she was gone.

I’m alone in the flat, my gloomy thoughts my only company.

I‘m aware that Janica worries about me. She has found me staring into thin air too often. I suspect she thinks I have suicidal thoughts. But in fact, there is something else that has occupied my mind in recent days. It is something that has puzzled me ever since I heard about your accident. The first few days my brain was congested with grief and I experienced an odd sensation that this wasn’t really happening to me. It was like I observed someone else’s suffering. If I could only bring myself to crawl out of my suffocating cocoon, I reasoned unreasonably, I would discover that everything had just been a bad dream. I know this sounds ridiculous. I know that you are dead. I took the phone call myself. I have seen your mangled body lying lifeless on a stretcher in the basement of the Malmö hospital. Yet, I expected that life somehow magically would return to normal again.

Because of this, it has taken me some time to articulate the questions that have been tickling my subconscious, like a branch that stubbornly scratches against a windowpane on a stormy autumn night. Why were you not at your work? How come you got hit by a bus in the road outside your flat on the other side of the city? I had just spoken to you. You said you would come and meet me in Lund directly after work. So, why were you on the way home? I sincerely hope it wasn’t to collect the book I lent you weeks ago, which you have read but keep forgetting to bring every time we meet! When you called you said there was something important you wanted to tell me. I’ll tell you what happened in Tulisaari. Those were your last words to me. You wanted us to talk about it over dinner.

What was it you wanted to tell me? Why did you change your mind? Why were you in such a rush to get home? Why did you leave me with so many unanswered questions?

Saturday 18th February 2012

Janica has been my best friend for a hundred years. Or at least for 24 years, ten months and eight days. We were born on the same day, in the same hospital, where you and Nadzia ended up in the shared room at the maternity ward. You immediately became good friends, and that is when our friendship began, too. We were more or less forced to become best friends. We really had no choice. Much like you can’t choose your own sister. Although, if I had a choice, I’d have chosen Janica to be my sister every time. And in so many ways, she is like the sister I never had. I almost don’t have a single memory from my childhood that doesn’t include her. I focus on this. I have Janica, Nadzia, and Åke. Because now, when you are gone, Mum, I’m all alone.

If there is a heaven, I know that’s where you are right now. You are with your family. Maikki mumma, uncle Jussi and the grandad I never met and don’t know anything about, they’ll be there too. Perhaps even my dad.

You should know that I don’t blame you. I’m sure you had your reasons. But I wish I knew who my father is. I wish he was here with me - if he’s still alive, that is. I wish I had been more stubborn, and found out who he is while you were still alive. I thought there was plenty of time, and that when the time was right you’d tell me all about him. I was wrong about that. I have to have a dad somewhere. Does he even know I exist?

It has been many years since I stopped asking questions about my dad. And now it’s too late. What was it that you didn’t want to tell me? Is my dad a married man? Maybe I have half-siblings out there somewhere. It’s something I have wondered about many times. Or, could it be that even you don´t know who my dad is? I’ve heard all about the carefree 80´s. Maybe my dad is a nameless stranger that you had a short fling with and never saw again. That’s how I’ve always chosen to think of him. As a handsome stranger.

I let the various fantasies about my imaginary dad roam freely in the mildly confusing state midway between sleep and wakefulness. Bright spots flashed across my field of vision. Eventually, I closed my eyes and fell into a restless sleep. I was vaguely aware that Janica put a blanket over me and dimmed the lights. I could feel her presence as a comforting hand and knew she watched over me, sitting in the tattered armchair we bought at a flea market when we had just moved into the flat, until she was convinced that I was fast asleep.

But I didn’t sleep. I was waiting patiently for her to leave the leathery folds of the chair and disappear into her room. I wanted to be left alone so that I could talk to you, a completely normal one-sided conversation with my dead mother from the pages of this diary. That’s when I feel close to you again.


Malmö, spring of 1987

Nadzia looks down at her newborn baby girl. She is wonderful, with penetrating blue eyes and feathery dark hair and she is like a miniature version of her husband. Her skin is soft and smooth and has a sweet, milky scent. Nadzia plants a gentle kiss on the top of the baby’s head.

Janica, you will be named Janica after my grandmother. She is the sweetest person this world has ever seen, before you, she explains to the baby.

Åke is marching anxiously around the hospital room. He is on edge, ready to tend to her every need, more like a headless hen than a proud rooster. He does not know what to do with himself, being so obviously redundant. He is already feeling inadequate, like he had somehow inadvertently failed the most precious girl in the entire universe. He had fainted during the delivery. When Janica came screaming into the world he lay lifeless on the floor and an extra nurse had to be called in. Now he tries to compensate for his shortcomings by trying to appear to be in control of this new unfamiliar situation. He wants to make himself useful but has no idea how.

Do you need a blanket? Do you want something to eat? Drink? Should I take the baby, so you can rest for a while?

He means well but what Nadzia needs right now is a little peace and quiet. Åke’s nervous pacing

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