If You Want
At long last, Sindri got his act together. To be fair, it was still that very same afternoon, but with the amount of people letting him know that Fannar wanted to see him it felt like a week.
He left the warmth of his house and stepped out into the dark winter night. Yes, it was still afternoon, but at this time of year that’s really just a technicality. The sky was black as sin and the air so cold it hurt to breathe.
Heading over to Kala’s house didn’t particularly appeal to him, but whatever, if that’s where Fannar was, then that’s where he had to go. He’d stop by the train station on the way back and get some tea.
– – –
“Hot water?” Hulda held up the kettle and jiggled it in front of him.
He’d realized too late he’d forgotten his tea, but right now he didn’t care. Hot water would be just fine. Just sit there for a bit, wrap his hands around something warm. Listen to the other villagers chattering around him.
Then again, they were probably all talking about what Fannar might have told him. Truth be told, it wasn’t much.
Hulda poured water in his mug. At least he’d remembered to bring that. Would have been real awkward having to ask for a paper cup.
Thin tendrils of steam snaked up towards the ceiling. Right about now would have been a great time to put some tea in. Why wouldn’t she go away and leave him to be embarrassed on his own?
He reached for his hip pocket, where he’d normally have kept the little bag, hoping he’d look casual and natural, and then, right beside him, something clattered to the floor and Hulda screamed.
Sindri shot to his feet.
She’d dropped the kettle, right at her feet, and steaming hot water had splashed all over the floor. All around the hall, people stared – some had stood up to see better. Was she hurt? Had she burnt herself? What would happen now?
“I’m okay,” she said, and then a little louder, raising her hands. “I’m okay,” making sure everyone heard.
“So sorry Sindri. Please sit down again. So clumsy of me. I’ll take care of it.” She motioned for him to sit back down and then hurried off towards the door to the station master’s office.
Sindri looked after her. Remained standing with his eyes on the door. Something was off. She usually didn’t just let things slip like that. Was she okay?
A moment later she appeared again, mop and bucket in hand.
“I said sit down,” she growled at him when she reached the table.
Sindri opened his mouth, closed it again, and sat down. She clearly wasn’t hurt, or even bothered really. Wouldn’t want to get in the way. He’d seen her give Harald a good walloping with that mop once after the man had been too much of a nuisance.
Hulda mopped up the spilled water, picked up the dropped kettle, and went about her business. She put another kettle to the boil and went a lap around the hall to make sure everyone was okay, and to assure them she was doing just fine and she hadn’t burned herself and no, there was no need to worry and she was perfectly fine thank you very much.
Over on his end, not quite alone, but not quite part of any group, Sindri relaxed. He leaned back in his chair, let his shoulders slump, and reached for his mug of hot water.
A teabag floated in the water.
A grin tugged at his cheeks. Grew. Bloomed, and then he caught himself and smoothed his face out. If Hulda had gone to all that trouble to sneak a teabag into his mug he shouldn’t be looking so suspiciously happy about it.
He was though.
First time that day. Several days actually.
His mood sank. He should try to be happier.
Well that wasn’t stupid easy now was it?
And then he sighed. What was ever easy? He had a radio to fix and two kids to raise. Neither was easy, but easy wasn’t why he did it. It’s not like he could push either task over to someone else.
He had a responsibility to his village to make sure its radio worked. And his kids, well, yeah, obvious really.
The tea was good. Much better than the regular kind Lilja used to buy from the trader off the train. And there it was again – the pain. He could really do with her smile in front of him right now.
But it wasn’t Lilja who pulled out the chair across the table. It wasn’t Lilja who sat down in front of him and crossed her arms over her chest. It wasn’t Lilja who sent him a wry grin when he raised his head to look at her.
It was Hulda. Lilja was dead.
He fixed her with his eyes, reached for his mug, and raised his eyebrow just a fraction. “Thank you,” he mouthed – silently.
“So…” Hulda clasped her hands in front of her on the table and smiled wide – completely ignoring any sneaky message he might have tried to send her. “What did he want?”
“Who?” And then he rolled his eyes at himself and sighed. “Ah yes. Fannar.”
“Yes. What did he say?”
“Fix the radio.”
Hulda frowned. “What?”
Sindri grinned at her. He could be clever too. “That’s what he said.”
Across the table, Hulda groaned. “Sindri…” She took a deep breath and shook her head.
“That’s me,” he said, a stupid grin on his face.
Hulda glared at him. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again. For a moment she gazed off to the right, staring into nothing, and then she tossed her head. “Sindri. Go fix the stupid radio.”
– – –
And that’s how Sindri began his journey back towards becoming a contributing member of the village. Making stupid jokes. Forcing himself to smile. Trying to be happy.
He’d been out for a while – letting others take care of him and his. Not that he was one to rely on others and not that anyone really complained. He was a good lad, and everyone knew he tried.
It’s fine when your wife dies to lose your grip for a bit. No one would fault you for that, as long as you got yourself together and picked up the pieces. Life didn’t wait and you couldn’t expect others to live yours for you.
Not like Kala.
The Kala thing, that was still worrying. Sure, Fannar was there now, the shaman. He’d fix her up. Make her normal again. Only, he hadn’t said anything, and he was still here, and he hadn’t told anyone what he was doing – just asked Sindri to fix the radio. People barely ever used the radio anyway. The phone at the train station worked just fine.
And no one had seen Kala since he arrived.
Not that anyone expected the girl to pop down to the train station for tea, but at least Gulli and Vissla had gone to look after her and you could speak to them. They’d tell you what was going on. That Fannar though, so secretive. It’s like he didn’t want anyone to else to see the girl. It couldn’t be that bad now, could it?
The way you’d hear Gulli tell it, she’d knock on the door and he’d open it and just take whatever she’d brought and then no let her in. He said thanks of course, but he wouldn’t let her in, like he didn’t trust her or something. It’s not like she hadn’t helped look after the girl ever since the boat didn’t come back. She knew what she was doing. Seriously. She and Vissla had handled things just fine, really. Thank you very much.
Vissla stayed in her house and didn’t speak to anyone. Didn’t even come out for coffee.