Translator’s Note on Katrine Marie Guldager’s Work:
As an innate writer of poetry, Guldager’s prose fiction has a strong lyrical resonance of immense depth, while still retaining a simplicity and clarity that is characteristic of Danish fiction. In her autobiography Lysgrænsen [The Border of Light] (Gyldendal, 2007), Guldager writes that she was torn between becoming a psychoanalyst or an author, but during one of her many travels to Africa, which has had a strong influence on her poetic imagination, she realised that her fascination with the intricacies of family ties is best expressed in the language of literature.
Guldager’s short story, “Trafikulykke” [The Car Accident], is from her second collection of short stories, Kilimanjaro (Gyldendal, 2005). In an interview in the magazine Udvikling [Development] 1 Febr./Mar. 2013 about her writing and the significance of her three years in Zambia as a child, she remarks:
“We know very well that we cannot save the world. We turn off the TV, because we cannot bear to see the pain and suffering we see there. But how often can we continue to do this, without losing something of our own humanity? There is no definitive answer to this question, but this is the conflict I write about [in Kilimanjaro].”
All eleven stories in Kilimanjaro are independent, and set in Copenhagen and the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, yet they are connected by a subtle intertextuality in order to demonstrate the fragility of the arbitrary connections between our lives.
Katrine Marie Guldager, born in Hillerød north of Copenhagen in 1966, is one of Denmark’s most acclaimed authors, and has published several collections of poetry, short stories, children’s books and novels since the appearance of her poetic debut, Dagene Skifter hænder (The Days Change Hands), in 1994. She is a graduate of the renowned Writer’s School in Copenhagen and holds an Masters of Philosophy from Copenhagen University. Her works have been translated into Swedish, Norwegian, and German. Her first collection of short stories, København (Gyldendal, 2004) [Copenhagen, BookThug, Toronto] was published in English in 2011.
She is currently writing a family chronicle stretching from the Second World War to 2012–about a fictional family living in suburban Copenhagen. The first three volumes, Ulven [The Wolf] (2010), Lille Hjerte [Little Heart] (2012), and Den Nye Tid [New Times] (2013) have been published by Lindhardt & Ringhof (Egmont), Copenhagen, and the fourth volume Peter’s Død [Peter’s Death], is forthcoming in 2014.
Lindy Falk van Rooyen (translator) was born into a multi-lingual family (Danish/English/Afrikaans) in South Africa. She studied Law at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, and worked as an attorney in Cape Town until she emigrated to Copenhagen in 1998. After living and working in Denmark as a commercial translator and legal liaison for four and a half years, she moved to Hamburg, Germany in 2002. She holds an LL.M in Commercial Law and an MA in Scandinavian and English Literature from the University of Hamburg. Her book on Virginia Woolf’s fiction, Mapping the Modern Mind: Virginia Woolf’s parodic approach to the art of fiction in ‘Jacob’s Room’ (Diplomica, 2011) is an adaptation of her MA thesis. She is a freelance writer and has been working as a literary translator since 2012.
The Car Accident
If Kilimanjaro is Africa’s roof, then Dar es Salaam is its damp, teeming floor. A man and a woman drive past Ubungo and down into Dar es Salaam via Morogoro Road. There is a teeming crowd on the streets and a throng of boys who are trying to sell everything from ragdolls to automobile equipment. It is hot. The man and woman drive down United Nations Road and cross over Selander Bridge. The woman casts a wistful glance over the Indian Ocean that is lying in waiting like a serene queen. They stop on Haile Selassie, and the woman buys some flowers; the boy selling them has some difficulty in hiding his surprise. He hands over her change without looking up.
The man turns the car onto Haile Selassie. He is looking forward to getting home, feels the wind in his hair. He is driving too fast. At the junction of Haile Selassie and Chloe Road there are always a lot of people: people, who stop and shop; drivers, who stop and wait. The man is still driving too fast, and he doesn’t notice a woman about to cross the road approximately fifty meters farther ahead. The woman is carrying a little bundle in her arms. A bundle, which may very well be a child, but the man is oblivious.
The man breaks as hard as he can. The car swerves and very nearly rams into several other cars. People grab onto their neighbors, and jump for their lives. But the damage is done: The little bundle which the woman had been carrying has rolled under the car. People close in, people gather round the car; engulf it. Two men emerge from the mass. They talk to the man in Swahili, wave their arms in the air, and fish the bloodied bundle out from underneath the car. Now people emerge from everywhere. They swarm around the car from all sides, rest their hands on the hood; their eyes scour the car’s interior.
One woman cries out that the child has been killed, and the cry is planted from one mouth to another like an echo. The crowd isn’t agitated, yet. The man gets out of the car and walks over to the child with the intention to take responsibility for his actions. The question of money had just entered his mind, when his path is barred by the woman who had initiated the cry. She looks at him with eyes that seem to say: you’ve done enough harm already. The man wants to go over to the child, wants to see the woman who had held it in her arms. But the crowd won’t allow the guilty party to meet the victim; on the contrary, the victim is cordoned off.
Without knowing what prompts his sudden unease, he realizes that the mood is about to change, and he casts his eyes downwards; he doesn’t turn his back, but retreats to the car. The woman is still sitting inside. The further he retreats, the greater the crowd’s animosity. The man is like a foreign object that must be expelled from the body.
The man gets into the car, slams the door, and thinks that, perhaps, under the circumstances, it is best to drive home and call the police. The woman doesn’t say anything–she is too shaken to say anything–she has lost her power of reason. She doesn’t know what they should do. She just says:
They drive back to their home, hoot at the port, and leave the car standing with doors open wide. They discuss what should be done. Their maidservant is home, but they don’t notice she’s there. They cannot agree. The man wants to call the police and explain what has happened–tell things the way they are–but the woman is more cautious. Perhaps it’s the shock. Perhaps it’s best not to do anything: They must think about the consequences. The man cannot understand why she won’t take responsibility for their actions. They were, after all, driving too fast, way too fast. He should have seen them. He doesn’t know what he was thinking. The man is overwhelmed by emotion; he feels a lump rising in his throat. Was it really a child wrapped in the bundle? How can he live without knowing the truth?
The woman doesn’t say anything, and, in the interval she doesn’t speak, the man decides to call the police and lay all his cards on the table. He would like to explain that he had tried to help the injured party. He would have liked to drive the injured child to the hospital, but the crowd was so agitated that they wouldn’t let him anywhere near. He imagines explaining everything to a friendly policeman, but, before his call is answered, he puts the receiver down: His wife is right. If you involve the police, there’s no telling what the consequences would be.
It is the woman who suggests that she drive her own car back to the scene of the accident. She will try to find the woman with the child, ask her what she needs and offer compensation. Surely the sight of the man would merely give rise to hostility, but if it were the woman who tried to help? This would be best for all parties concerned. Perhaps they could call the police afterwards. First and foremost they should concentrate on finding the woman; find out what happened to the child.
The junction at Haile Selassie and Chloe Road exudes peace and quiet. The shopkeepers are standing in the doors of their shops and looking out onto the streets in anticipation of a good deal. Cars stop; people pile out of them and buy fruit. There is no hint of the accident that took place less than an hour ago. The sea is calm; the waves have flattened themselves out. The woman parks the car next to the taxi stand and walks down Haile Selassie to the place where the woman had sat with the bloodied bundle. Not a trace. She looks into the shopkeepers’ faces, tries to discern whether they recognize her, but the shopkeepers’ eyes mirror neither a white woman, nor a car accident. Confused, she walks over to the other side of Haile Selassie. Can that be? Is it really possible that a child can die here, at this junction– less than an hour ago–and every discernible trace of it is gone? The woman observes the shopkeepers who are stacking bananas, oranges, and coconuts in bags; she sees white people fishing in their bags for money; she sees tired drivers flipping open the daily papers. Life goes on as before.
The woman drives home to the man, hoots in front of the port, and drives into the carport. Before she gets out of the car, she glides her head into the nape of her neck, allows it to hang suspended there; she closes her eyes to ward off the incredulous sense of irreality. This morning, they had woken up peacefully in a hotel in Ruaha, tired from the Safari they had joined at dawn. Now everything had changed; now, they were the kind of folk who hit and ran. The woman goes into the house and explains to the man that everything was utterly peaceful on Haile Selassie. It seems as if everything was just an evil dream. The maidservant is listening from the kitchen. She can hear what the man and women are talking about, but she doesn’t dream of interfering. She doesn’t consider what would be the right thing to do at all. Even so, she feels a rising sense of disquiet. What if the man and woman don’t go to the police? Perhaps she should go to the junction and make some enquiries. Perhaps after the working day is done.