The Old Man From Ülemiste

(Submitted to tangerinelit.)

They say that the old man of lake Ülemiste keeps asking if they have finished building Tallinn yet. They say you must always answer no.

Nothing makes you appreciate the rising sun better than knowing that fall is near. The first truck arrives at the break of dawn, carrying four workers.

‘Hey, Reimo, what’s with the frown?’, asks the driver, as he looks at the guy on the back seat.

‘Leave him alone’, sneers Jaan. ‘He asked for a day off to take his girlfriend to a concert, but they said no.’ He hits Reimo jokingly in the ribs. Reimo snaps, livid, and pushes him away, then stares out of the window again. ‘Fuck Raudkivi and her deadlines’, he spits out, looking out of the window.

‘Hey Roman, I’m late for the meeting. Stuck again in traffic. I’m almost in Rotermanni. These fucking road works. I left home an hour earlier. An hour! Start without me. I’m sorry.’ The woman inhales, holds her breath, then throws the phone on the floor. It shatters. She hisses. Everybody is on edge these days. Will the works ever end?

‘By end of this month, yes’. The voice on the phone sounds nervous, but Riina isn’t fazed. People from town hall are always nervous about the money, but everything is going according to the plan. Three projects to finish, and all is going like clockwork.

The gas duct maintenance done in a few days.

The rail junction around Tondi, three weeks later, mid-October.

Finally, the big construction site by the Viru Gate. The tram line from the port to the airport is complete. It’s the future: October 31st, 2023.

Riina Raudkivi is the woman behind it all and she puffs her chest with pride. Her face appears on the most prestigious publications about Architecture and City Planning in the country, and in some international ones too. She’s been commanding European money in the last twelve years. She’s made Tallinn a city whose urban landscape could compete with any European capital. Her younger sister, Sandra, says that it’s all because her husband, Peeter, is the mayor. She’s just jealous. She may have got the looks and the inflated boobs, but Riina has got the brains.

The project is done. Riina checks her agenda. Bliss: it’s free.

She parks her Porsche and locks it before climbing the stairs. She opens the door to her luxurious apartment in silence, holding champagne and smiling despite herself.

Grunts. Where from? She walks silently along the corridor, scared. Did Peeter leave their dog locked in and go somewhere? Maybe an emergency? Their daughter, Liisa, should still be at school for a couple of hours. She walks to the master bedroom. The door is open. Two people are having sex. Is that Peeter? Is that Sandra?

Riina walks alone in the night. The champagne bottle is almost empty. She slurps the last dregs and throws it on the grass. It rolls downhill and ends against a fence.

She’s been walking in the direction of the airport. Only now does she realize that she’s following the only pathway for pedestrians, that goes along the highway that connects Tallinn to Tartu. The fence surrounds the lake Ülemiste, the biggest reservoir of water of the city.

No one else is on the street. Only a lonely figure is sitting on a bench. When Riina gets closer, she realizes it’s a man and he’s drenched. His long white hair forms one piece with his unkempt beard. ‘Drunk too much and fallen in the lake?’, she asks.

The man turns. ‘Is Tallinn finished?’

‘You bet your ass, grandpa.’

Riina turns toward the lake when the first wave is growing, ready to erase the city from the face of the Earth.