Outside the glass and steel tower, fireworks explode, drowning the roar of the constant traffic. Anka moans, squeezes her eyes tight, and remembers the soft, welcoming darkness of home.
She can feel the embracing cold of the long Arctic nights. When she walked through the crunching snow, hungry wolves would nudge her pockets looking for food. Above the glistening ground, the Northern Lights danced.
“Soccer players,” Aama, her mother, explained. “All the dead people who have gone before us play in that curtain across the sky.”
“Even Daddy?” Anka asked.
“Especially Daddy.” Aama pushed the platter of bannock closer. “Eat, child. You’re too thin.”
Anka took the smallest piece and nibbled it slowly. “Can Daddy see me?”
“Not until you join him.”
“What if I whistle, can he hear me?”
Aama snatched the platter back. Her eyes blazed. “You must never, ever whistle at the lights! If you do that the curtain will touch the earth and the world will explode.”
When Aama died, Anka no longer cared if she lived another day. She took the last of the dried caribou meat and gave it the wolves. Looking up at the shimmering ghosts, she whistled and whistled but the world did not end. The wolves heard her pain and howled their sympathy.
The next day Anka climbed into a Falcon 10/100 jet and flew south to her new life in a concrete village. She met a man on the plane who drove her to his condo in a fancy German car.
“You can stay with me until you get on your feet.” He lifted her battered backpack out of the cavernous trunk of his car. He was kind and gentle. When he made love to her he asked, ‘do you like this?’ and ‘what about this?’
He looked up her name and told her it meant fertile and that he wanted to make babies with her. She shook her head. Babies were not part of her plan.
It’s New Year’s Eve. She has lived with him for a month now but the dim pink light of Northern midday beckons. He declares his love for her and begs her not to go. When she shakes her head again, he points to the fireworks display. “Look—there’s a chrysanthemum.”
Bright red flowers bloom in the night. She stares, slack-jawed.
“That one’s a peony,” he adds.
The bouquet brightens and fades.
“This is a kamuro. It’s named after a Japanese hairstyle.”
It looks like Aama’s hair: a spiky cap that burst out of her parka whenever she pulled back the hood. It is the sign Anka has been looking for.
“Maybe I can stay a while longer,” Anka holds his warm hand in hers. “As long as I can see fireworks in the midnight sky.”
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Northern Lights at the North Pole, C