Tuesday, 18 August 2009

How I came to be in England - Part 16

The Englishman didn't seem at all fazed by the idea of meeting my father. 'You've met all my family,' he said and put his arm around me. He'd just arrived from London and we were walking up from Mannerheim Street tram stop to the bus station to catch the number 105 to Espoo. The year was 1982.

It was strange to meet up so quickly again, after only five weeks, rather than the many months we'd endured without each other before. With the Englishman's lean taut body next to me, chatting about what I'd planned for the week, I was relaxed and comfortable. Again I felt as if we were a real couple. Had I imagined his doubts in Hyde Park? He put his hands inside my coat to warm them from the bitter cold of the late February afternoon. When he kissed me in full view of the other people queuing for the bus, I couldn't imagine he'd be with anyone else. But I couldn't ask. I couldn't even bring up the subject of 'The Future'. I was afraid he'd repeat what he'd said to me in the summer. If he did that I would die. I would never want to see him again and that alone would kill me. Never mind what the failed relationship would do to my ex, who still phoned me on any pretext. Asking, 'Are you still running after that Foreign Sailor?'

In the cellar of my father's place was a sauna with a pool shared by a couple of other houses in the development. I'd booked it for that first evening.

'I didn't bring my swimming trunks.' The Englishman stood in his underpants in the middle of the small changing room. After all we'd done in bed he was shy?

I pulled my top off, and stripped down to nothing.
'Ah,' the Englishman said and followed me into the hot, darkened sauna.

After a few moments, when our bodies were getting used to the heat, I threw water on the coals. 'This is called a löyly.'
The Englishman made a sound and ducked. The steam filled the space and the lovely prickly feeling of the heat touched my body. Like most Finns, I love the sauna. When I was only three days old my father took me into one in our summer cottage by the lake. I enjoyed the heat so much they called me The Sauna Baby.

'You OK?' I said to the Englishman. He was almost doubled over on the bench next to me.

'Yeah, a bit hot.'

'Sorry, we'll go for a swim to cool down.'

'I feel wonderful,' he said after we'd had a few more of rounds of löyly followed by another swim in the cold pool. I smiled. I'd make a Finn out of this Englishman yet.

We met my father at a Russian restaurant called Sashlikki. I’d never been there, but my Father said, ‘She likes it.’ I realised he was going to bring his girlfriend.

The place was decorated with dark red and blue colours, the table cloths looked like satin, the wallpaper velvet. Lamps were slung low over the tables. As we sat down my Father nodded to an unseen waiter who brought a round of clear vodka.

‘To the Finnish Ladies,’ my Father said and lifted his glass. The girlfriend giggled.

I took a sip of my schnapps, the girlfriend drank half of hers and both the Englishman and my Father emptied their glasses. His eyes did not leave the Englishman’s face. The waiter came around with the bottle to refill the glasses. My Father nodded to the man, who was dressed in an old fashioned Cossack’s outfit, to leave the bottle of Koskenkorva on our table. I glanced over to the Englishman at my side. He put his hand on my knee under the table and gave it a little gentle squeeze. ‘I’m fine,’ he whispered in my ear.

‘So, you like vodka?’ My Father said and lifted his glass again. We hadn’t even looked at the menus yet.

My memory of that evening is a little hazy. But if I recall rightly, no-one fell under the table. No-one had as much as an argument. The food was excellent. Beetroot soup, rare spiced beef with dark sauce, garlicky potatoes, cabbage of some kind. We laughed a lot. My Father bought both his girlfriend and me a long stemmed red rose. He wanted us go dancing together. When instead we decided to leave, he looked sad and embraced me as well as the Englishman warmly.

‘I think I passed,’ the Englishman laughed outside the restaurant. My Father had insisted on giving us money for a taxi and ordered it for us. It was as if the past ten years hadn’t happened. It was as if the Englishman had resurrected my old Father. During the evening he’d even called me ‘My Best Girl’ again. I curled up against the Englishman on the strongly smelling leather seat of the taxi and fell asleep.

The Englishman's visit coincided with the annual School of Economics Ball. My friend wanted to know if he was going to wear his uniform, but on the phone from Faslane the Englishman had told me he wasn't allowed to. I'd been a little disappointed but thought it must have something to do with Finland being so close to The Soviet Union and the Cold War. Not that I could see anyone in Helsinki being interested in my British Submarine Sub-Lieutenant.

On the night, he looked handsome in his DJ. I wore a ball gown an old school friend had made. It was a strapless white silk dress, with a narrow black belt, which tied with a small bow at the back of my waist. The long ends fell behind me.

This was my first university ball, but the Englishman had been to many during his time at Dartmouth and since. But none quite like this one. According to the School of Economics tradition, long tables were served rounds and rounds of schnapps, which were consumed along to various drinking songs. There was a Drinks Master who led the proceedings and towards the end of the evening some of the top table climbed onto the table to sing. One of them was the Finnish Foreign Minister.

But the Englishman didn't just watch the other people in the room. We danced. I floated in his arms on the vast dance floor. I wanted everyone to see, especially the gang of year 4 boys, how in love we were. Back at our table the Englishman turned to me and said, 'You're beautiful, did you know that?' I smiled and felt his warm hands around mine. He looked at me intently. I burned under his gaze. 'Can I ask you something?' he said.

'Of course.' I felt out of breath. Was he going to talk to me about 'The Future'?

'Will you marry me?'


oneof365 said...

OH MY GOD! The marriage post! I was wondering when this was gong to happen! What a lovely, old-fashioned way to propose. Like Cinderella at a ball, your prince asked you. You must have been dancing on air. Everything seemed to be going your way that evening. Your patience (which must have been agonizing) and will-power paid off and you got your prize. How wonderfully romantic and beautiful. I am so jealous of how he proposed. Magic. I assume you said YES right then and there! Oh how wonderful that the 2 men in your life acted perfectly and that you got everything your heart desired. Really special. The story flows beautifully. I can just see you in that dress.........

xoxoxox--One of 365

Helena Halme said...

Oneof365, I don't know what to say...except I'll hurry to post the next part. And thank you! xxx

Wildernesschic said...

How wonderful,so romantic of him. Obviously your father felt you would be safe with this man too.
I love your description of the sauna tradition. Once again another great chapter x

Liberty London Girl said...

Blissful. I know I keep saying it. LLGxx

Liberty London Girl said...

ps i don't 'follow' you, as I don't follow anyone. I started my blog before such a widget existed, and use boring old links on LLG as I have always done, and subscribe to your RSS feed instead & read you in Google Reader. I just wldn't want you to think I don't follow you avidly! LLGxx

Miss Whistle said...

What a beautiful post!

-- MissW xx

Helena Halme said...

Thank you so much everyone, it means a lot to me to hear that you're enjoying the story.

LLG, I posted a comment on your blog, but if you haven't seen it, just to say how nice it is to know you are following me.

Wildernesschic, sauna is in my blood, have you ever tried it?

Miss Whistle, nice of you to pop by, hope to see you again soon?

Part 17 is on the editing room floor. Helenaxx

Helena Halme said...

Oh dear, did I say editing room floor, meant desk...xx

Midlife Jobhunter said...

What a great story - romance in reality. Enjoyed it.

Cheryl said...

How did I miss this one? The moment I've been waiting for!!! But I'm glad I waited until when I was better able to give it fuller attention. I read it, and read it again. And I don't know what to say except sigh...sniff. Wonderful. So worth waiting for.

Will there be more???