Mikael Niemi
In class seven we got a new music teacher. His name was Greger and he came from Skåne, a tall, thick-lipped farmer's boy who had lost all the fingers of his right hand in a piece of farm machinery. Only the thumb was left, as big as a fluted almond potato. After his accident he had retrained, and landed in Pajala immediately after graduating as a music master.

It was difficult to understand what he said. Apart from that, he was a cheerful fellow with an odd sense of humour. I'll never forget the very first lesson he gave, when he bounced in with his hand hidden in his pocket, and announced in his typical Skånsk burr: "Good morrrning! Now you've got a teacherrr with a thumb in the middle of his hand!"

With precise timing to maximize the shock effect, he whipped out his deformed hand. We gasped with horror. He turned his hand around, and we noticed that from a certain angle his thumb and hairy knuckles looked like a male sexual organ. Only bonier and more frightening, and supernaturally mobile.

Greger brought with him to Pajala an unusual novelty: a 12-gear racing bicycle. It was among the most outrageous and useless things we'd ever seen, with a rock-hard leather saddle and tires no broader than cigars; it didn't even have mudguards or a luggage carrier. It looked almost improper, completely naked. He started whizzing like a rocket along our roads in a red tracksuit, frightening the living daylights out of old ladies and local kids, and gave rise to several reports of UFOs in the Haparanda News. He also made dogs go mad. They would break loose and race after him for mile after mile, barking for all they were worth in flocks that got bigger and bigger.

One day he returned from a practice run to Korpilombolo followed by two Norbotten spitzes, a Swedish foxhound, a Jämtland wolfhound, two Norwegian elkhounds, plus a few more of mixed race. They were all white-eyed and intent on murder. Greger pulled up outside the police station and was immediately attacked by the pitch-black labrador that had taken on a leadership role in the hysterical pack. Greger waited for the right moment, then calmly kicked it on the snout with his fancy cycling shoe, whereupon the cur staggered back to his friends yelping and whining. Then he strolled with dignity into the police station. The duty officer had to chain them all up, apart from the labrador --- it needed veterinary attention. For the rest of the day silent peasants from the surrounding villages came driving up in their cars to collect their Fido. From then on Greger was much talked about locally.

Another topic of discussion was just how fast you can ride on a contraption like his. One evening Staffan, from class nine, claimed he'd just tested his newly-souped-up moped to see how fast it would go, on the road to Kengis. He'd bent forward low over the handlebars and maintained that the moped had clocked forty-two miles per hour. Just then Greger had come swishing past. Pedaling away vigorously and effortlessly, he'd soon disappeared over the crown of the hill ahead.

One of the lads from Vittuläjankkä with a penchant for making money arranged an unusual wager. Greger would race against the school bus from Pajala to Kaunisvaara. The bus wasn't exactly renowned for its scandalously high speeds, but even so. The lad fiddled the odds and took a shamelessly high percentage for himself, but nevertheless persuaded people to place bets and also got Greger to take up the challenge.

The race took place one Wednesday at the end of September. The bus stopped as usual at the back of Central School, and the pupils filed aboard. The driver, who knew nothing about the challenge, pulled away and noticed a creature dressed in red shoot past him on the outside.

The next time the man in red was seen was in Mukkakangas. He was standing at attention next to a Gällivare Police patrol car when the bus drove past. One of the officers was making notes in a book, and other was beating off an aggressive Jämtland wolfhound with his baton.

By the time we came to Jupukka, Greger had caught us up again. The bus was going at a fair lick, but the man in red was in our slipstream and belting along. As the bus was going downhill shortly afterward, he surged past to the excited approval of the pupils. The driver blew his nose in astonishment and couldn't believe his eyes.

Five miles further on the man in red was crouched at the side of the road changing a tire on his back wheel. He occasionally had to hit out at a snarling fox with his bicycle pump.

But there was no sign of him after that. The pupils crowded around the back window, staring out through the dirt. But the road was deserted. Bogs and woods flashed past. Kaunisvaara was getting closer and closer. In the end the signpost appeared some way ahead, and everybody began to realize it was too late now.

Then a little dot came into view. A figure in red. A vehicle catching up on us, but not quickly enough. Just then a tractor appeared in front of the bus, chugging along. It was being driven by an aged pensioner wearing a peaked cap. Slap bang in the middle of the road. The bus slowed down and sounded its horn. The tractor pulled in very slightly. The bus started to overtake, with only a couple of inches to spare. The road was completely blocked by the two vehicles. The man in red was getting nearer and nearer.

The tractor chugged along.

"Greger will never make it!"

There was the sign: Kaunisvaara. And the road was blocked, it was impossible to overtake.

"There!" yelled Tommy from class seven.

Down in the ditch at the side of the road. Something red was lurching its way forward. Through all the gravel and undergrowth. Along the side of the bus. Then past, just as we came to the road sign.

Just for a moment everybody sat there as if paralyzed. Trying to take in what they had just witnessed.

"The guy from Skåne did it!"

A fat Lapland hound knocked over an old biddie picking berries and raced after the man in red, barking like mad.

--- From Popular Music from Vittula,
Mikael Niemi
Seven Stories Press
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