Oulu | #EuropeAtHome
Text: Katariina Vuori
Photos: Harri Tarvainen
Oulu 2026 | English version
Oulu Ebb and Flow
I have started to hold my breath when I walk past people. A cough is no longer cough, nor a sneeze, but a blink of an eye when the heart stops.
The dog jogs alongside me on the slushy road, the grit chips click beneath my nailed shoes. On the riverbank, the sauna jetty is frantically pulling free from its moorings. What use is a cold sauna? When the safe distance grew by a metre, it grew difficult to use the public sauna: who would sit that far away from another naked, even unknown, person?
So the shifts had to stop.
An old man bends down to pet my dog. Don't touch him! That’s what I should say, and pull the lead firmly, because the boundary between life and aerosol death was crossed. But he looks like he hasn’t touched anyone for a long time and I think this is good for both of us, and then we both start laughing: how quickly everything turned so crazy!
Then, again, I notice that I hope this will never end.
On Facebook everyone’s sharing challenges: six bands, pet pictures, nostalgia photos, ten jobs, one of which is a lie, LIST EVERYTHING YOU KNOW, BUT DON’T SAY IT!
Cars, pedestrians, cyclists, a nurse rushing to work and a taxi for hire, a renovation company van, an ambulance far away, wailing. Everything continues as if nothing had happened, and yet everything is different. They say that the pandemic has made the earth vibrate less. Swans have returned to Venice.
That can only be good.
Newspaper headline: Container space for dozens of dead.
Nobody talks about leaving any more. The world has become a cluster of islands, between which a dangerous expiratory flow has bored inlets.
And those people going past me, whose faces are covered with masks. I can't get used to them.
The city is deserted, the forest is crowded. That’s where we came from, after all.
After the schools have been closed for I don’t remember how long, they started distributing food parcels to the students twice a week. The melting snow reveals a strawberry leaf and the blackcurrant bush branches are starting to bud. Spring, so blissfully unaware! But what do I know about its troubles.
I cycle to school with my child. Food distribution is in the yard. I made my child promise to stay away from the other children, but it was no good: the yard is not ours and there are other people there apart from the distributors. I fill my backpack with spinach soup and fruit, sausages in gravy and potatoes. At last I see them with my own eyes – the famous school-dinner rubbery potatoes.
“This is like a dream,” the child says.
I do not dare to ask whether this is a good or a bad thing.
In March I started spitting fruit seeds into seedling soil. Then the number of infections in Finland was only 27. Now, with an infection rate of 2,487, they’re growing on the top bench of my sauna: pomegranate, papaya, peanut and star fruit. Looking at them, I get away for a moment.
The avocado seed is just ready to burst open, and my head often feels the same: what the hell is this?
I’ve already got used to this peace and quiet, to people staying put, but not to the fact that:
going to the shops is dangerous.
Libraries aren’t sending “your books are due back” messages any more.
We can queue in the supermarket without getting jostled.
I wonder whether my parents will die if I go to visit them.
A friend of mine brings me a book, and leaves it in our yard at the place we agreed on, far away from me, like ransom money.
In the evenings, when the birds are quietened down, and the sky is just like it always is, I wonder how soon we will forget this.
And in that moment the avocado seed in my sauna bursts open, and that new green naked instant:
I am happy that nothing is still intact.
As long as this can be a start of something better.