Life on a platter


In a book “Ihmisen osa” (Human’s part – if I’m attempting a crude translation) by Finnish writer Kari Hotakainen, a 80 year old woman meets a writer on a book fair. They start talking, and since the writer is going through a creative drought and the woman desperately needs money although she hates literature by principle as nothing but silly lies, they come up with a deal – the writer buys her life story from her for €7000.

The book is witty and touching, it handles social change and the failure of people to live up to the new demands, which may be unreasonable in the first place. The tragedy of life. We also learn why the woman needed money and that it will be put to good use enabling her eldest child, her dear daughter, to recover from the tragedies of life we eventually learn about in the book.

Yesterday evening I met a woman, soon to turn 83, while waiting for a bus. She was one of those old people who become almost maniacally talkative and once we had exchanged a few casual words she basically poured out the main points of her life’s story during a 15 minute bus ride, and I immediately thought of this book. Here it was, another person’s life, liberated by the age and loneliness of the speaker. Her forced deportation to Siberia as a young girl, lifetime of work as a physical education teacher, two husbands, a bright and smart son that died due a lymphoma when in middle school, around the time she met her second husband. A scene where the man, she had once met due work, came back to look for her the second time, asking for her to marry him. And how the other ladies in the office told her that a man had been looking for her, and her (flattered in hindsight) confusion and general commotion among women over one being looking for her even if there were men left in her life.

I learned about her apartment and how there’s no place to keep the apples now that the house has been renovated. I learned about a piece of metalwork her son had made in school when he was in the 5th grade, still displayed in the front hall of her apartment. I heard about the loneliness after her second husband died just recently, and how she lives the most active of lives, as her home, the lonely and silent apartment filled with shadows of dead people, has become a place to escape from instead of a place to escape to.

So here it was, a life on a platter, for free.

How often it is that we feel awkward and uncomfortable when an elderly person having no-one left to talk to starts pouring out the minutest details of their mundane on a random street corner. I wonder, if we’d feel differently if we had to purchase these stories €7000 apiece. I also wonder if that lady would feel cheated somehow, if she were to read this here, and realise, that what she told of her life so freely has become a blog post.