Vi elsker vort land,
når den signede jul
tænder stjernen i træet med glans i hvert øje,
når om våren hver fugl
over mark under strand
lader stemmen til hilsende triller sig bøje:
vi synger din lov over vej, over gade,
vi kranser dit navn, når vor høst er i lade,
men den skønneste krans
bli'r dog din, sankte Hans,
den er bunden af sommerens hjerter så varme, så glade,
- men den skønneste krans
bli'r dog din, sankte Hans,
den er bunden af sommerens hjerter så varme, så glade.
Greta hummed the song to herself as she cycled back from the centre of Horsens to her home in the neat outskirts of town. Shubidua were one of her favourite bands, and their version of the classic midsommer sangen was a popular tune with her fellow teenagers.
Life in the Danish towns in 1980 seemed to eighteen year old girls like Greta to be a mixture of boredom and boys – if there was a difference between the two in her mind – but she was also aware she was fast losing the attributes of a young girl and becoming a young woman. She was dressed casually – a blue sweatshirt with a small strawberry motif on her left breast, faded jeans with trainers, and a Palestinian red and white check scarf wrapped around her neck. Even like this, however, she could see from the corner of her eye the way the boys looked at her as she rode past, and she could not deny she was enjoying the attention.
Riding down the road, she let her strawberry blonde hair blow in the warm summer breeze. It was Midsummer Day – a holiday for her – and she wanted to enjoy every moment of this last summer before she left for university. There wasn’t a thing to worry her as she turned into the driveway of her house and left her bike against the garage door.
Opening the door, she kicked off her trainers and left them in the alcove. “Mum? Are you home?” she called out, but getting no reply she walked into the kitchen to get a bottle of apple juice from the fridge. On the table she saw some rye bread and cold meat, and figured her mother had just gone out to get some more food.
Opening the fridge door, she reached in to pick up a bottle of juice. As she closed the door to, she turned round and screamed when she saw a young man standing there. That scream was stifled when a hand clamped itself over her mouth and nose, choking both the noise and her breath. As she slipped into unconsciousness, the last thing she saw was the face of the young man swimming and blurring before her rapidly closing eyes.
The cool breeze in her face made Greta stir and start to open her eyes. Her bottom was cold, as if she had been sitting on an ice block for far too long, and she felt strangely stiff in her arms and legs, but initially she had no idea what had happened. As she slowly returned to consciousness, however, she suddenly remembered the strange young man in her kitchen, and she opened her eyes wide.
She realised that she was actually in the basement of her house. All Danish houses had to be build with a reinforced basement and supplies kept there for some time in case of war or disaster – looking to the side, Greta could see water butts and stacks of tins. As she looked down, she realised that she was sitting on an old rug that they kept in their car, but she also realised that there was a reason she felt stiff and sore in her legs and arms.
Greta’s wrists had been placed together, palm to palm, in front of her and some old climbing rope had been used to bind them tightly together. She tried to reach round to where she could see the knot, but whoever had done this had also secured her wrists down to a further length of rope around her thighs, and that was making it very difficult to move them at all. Another length had been used to tie her ankles together, with the cuffs of her jeans sticking out from under the loops of red and green.
Realising that someone had broken in; Greta tried to stand up, but was unable to move. A glance down at her chest showed her that there were loops of rope over her blue sweatshirt, and looking over her shoulder she realised she had been lashed to one of the supports for the cellar roof. In frustration, she tried to call out, but all she heard was a muffled moan. Shaking her head, she saw the tassels of her scarf below her nose, and realised with a sense of horror that the taste of cotton in her mouth really was that – her shawl had been used to gag her.
The full hopelessness of her situation would have hit her had another thought not struck her – where was her mother? As if in answer to that, she saw a light to her left as the door to the cellar opened, and the sound of two sets of footsteps descending the stairs.
Recognising the young man she had seen in the kitchen, she watched him and another slightly older man carrying her mother down the stairs into the cellar. She was dressed in a light blue denim blouse over a brown roll neck sweater, a long peasant skirt and short brown boots, and was struggling as she was lain down on the floor. Greta could see that her wrists had been tied together behind her back, and there were loops of rope above and below her breasts to hold her arms against her side. Her skirt was gathered around her legs above her knees and a length of rope tied round to hold them in place, while her ankles were crossed and tightly bound together. Greta could also see that they had tied a large floral print scarf over her mother’s eyes as a blindfold.
The two men laid her on her side at the opposite side of the floor to where Greta was sat, with her back to the frightened young girl. The younger man then came over, checked the ropes around Greta, and followed the other intruder to the top of the stairs, the door closing shut behind them. She sat still for a few minutes, watching her mother as she tried frantically to get free, but only succeeded in raising some dust on the floor.
She did manage, however, to get herself into a sitting position and somehow to make the scarf fall down around her neck. As the older woman looked round, she saw Greta sat there, and tried to call out – but to no avail. The intruders had stuck a large strip of brown plaster over her mouth, and it was proving to be a most effective gag.
“GRT!!!! O M GD!!!” she tried to scream out.
“Mmmm – wht hppnd,” Greta mumbled back through the thick cloth that filled her own mouth, but her mother just looked at her daughter, shaking her head and making Greta more than a little scared.
After some time had passed, with the two women sat in silence while the sun began to shine through the thin window at the top of the cellar wall, Greta’s mother pulled her legs up and shuffled her bottom along. Stretching her legs out again, she repeated the process and slowly started to make her way across the dusty cellar floor to where her daughter was sitting. Greta started to encourage her with grunts and nods until she was finally able to get alongside her daughter and lay her head on the younger woman’s shoulder.
“m srry, grt, m srry” her mother mumbled as she started to cry. Greta placed her own head against her mothers, but then a thought occurred to her.
“ly dwn wf yr mth nr m hnds.”
“M gng t tr t mv t gg – ly dwn.”
Looking at her daughter, the older woman nodded and shuffled back, before gently swaying from side to side. Eventually, she toppled over and landed with her head on Greta’s knees, before wriggling up so that the tape over her mouth was within the reach of Greta’s fingers.
Greta leant forward as far as she could, and gently began to rub at the edge of the brown plaster. Time passed slowly as she tried to move the sticky edge little by little; eventually she managed to loosen enough to grab hold of a corner.
“Rdy mm?” she mumbled through the cloth, as the saliva from her mouth started to soak through and dribble out. Her mother nodded, and Greta started to pull the plaster away from her skin. The older woman closed her eyes as the plaster came away, leaving a residue around her lips and exposing a small piece of white cloth that was sticking out from her mouth. As the plaster stuck to one hand, Greta took hold of the cloth with her other and gently pulled out a white scarf that had been pushed into her mother’s mouth. As the last part came out, her mother took a huge breath of air and lay there for a few minutes.
“My dear Greta, I am so so sorry,” she eventually said, “We had no idea you had come home before us. When we walked in and those two men grabbed me, your father had no choice but to do as they said – they didn’t even tell us you were down here.”
“cn u unt m?”
“I’m sorry, Greta, what did you – oh, of course. Be brave, my little angel – I’ll see if I can at least get your hands free.”
She looked at the ropes holding Greta’s wrists down to her legs, and started to gently pick at the knot with her teeth to loosen the binding. Eventually, as the sun began to set, she managed to release Greta’s wrists from her legs, allowing her to reach up and pull the now sodden scarf out of her mouth.
“Who were they, mother?” she finally asked once she had her breath back.
“Robbers – they tied up your father, then me and brought me down to the cellar. I honestly was praying you would not come home until I saw you after shaking that scarf off.”
“Where is papa now?”
“I hope and pray he is upstairs, but I don’t know if we can help him. Can you undo the knots that hold the ropes around me in place?”
As her mother sat up and turned her back to her, Greta could see that the chest ropes had been pulled together behind her back and tied in a single large but complex knot. Her wrists had also been pulled up her back and secured to the knot.
“I’m sorry, mama,” Greta said with a tear in her eye, “but I cannot use my hands as they are tied to do the knot. Can you try and untie them with your teeth?”
“I will try,” her mother replied, and Greta held her hands up so that her mother could start to unravel the knot that held that length of rope in place.
“I am grateful for one thing, mama,” Greta said as the rope started to loosen.
“That it is midsummer?”
“No – although it does mean we can see without light. No – I am grateful we are together here.”
“I am too, Greta,” her mother said as she started to cry as well. The two then turned as they heard the cellar door open and a male voice call “Inga – are you down here?”
“Yes, I am Michel – and Greta is here too, but we are both bound.”
“I’ll call the police, and then come and free you."
“Thank you, Papa,” Greta called up as her father made her way to make the emergency call.