Thursday 22 October 2009

How I came to be in England - Part 24

The Englishman and I spent the week in August 1982 playing happy families. We stayed in every night, cooked together, and smiled into each other's eyes. In the mornings I went to work at the bank, and the Englishman went shopping for food. He told me the women at the meat counter laughed at him when he tried to use the Finnish phrases I'd written down for him.

When I came home from work he poured me a gin and tonic. We sat outside on the small patio at the back of the house and had our ‘sundowners’. The Englishman told me that’s what the officers called the first drink of the evening when on a naval visit somewhere hot. They'd watch the sun set against the horizon before it rapidly disappeared into the sea.

'It goes, psshht,' he made the noise of a lit match dropped into water.

I saw the noisy children from the houses around us play on the swings in the middle of the communal gardens. There was a the small area of neglected grass in front of us, grown patchy and yellow during the scorchingly dry summer. The sun was still high up in the sky. This far North it didn't set until much later in the evening. Still, in my mind, sitting next to the Englishman I was in Gibraltar or the Caribbean, smoking a cigarette and drinking a smart cocktail.

We didn’t talk much about serious things. Or not enough. At the end of the week when we said goodbye at Helsinki airport, I nearly pulled him back, wanting to start the week all over again. Later in bed, alone, my mind turned to what we hadn't talked about, and a chill spread over me. I wrapped my thin summer duvet tighter around my body. I tried not to think about the ‘girl’ he’d slept with. The Englishman said it was a ‘stupid accident’ that just ‘happened’. When I asked if it was someone I knew, he vigorously shook his head and didn’t look at me. I ransacked my brain for anyone, any girl, who'd shown signs of being smitten with my Englishman. But I hadn’t met many of his friends; I’d only been to Britain twice.

He blamed the drink. But how drunk did you have to be to accidentally sleep with someone? I’d been drunk too, too drunk to realise that I shouldn't have had a one night stand with a stranger, but I didn't call it an accident. I was fully intending to do what I did before I even set out that night. Did that make it better or worse? Had the Englishman, like me, decided that we were finished before he had his accident? If he had, what had changed his mind?

None of it made any sense and now he was gone I couldn’t ask him. Perhaps I should write to him? No, the wait for a reply would kill me. Perhaps when he phoned? I didn't have the courage to spoil a telephone conversation with my doubts. I too had been unfaithful, so why not just forget about it and plan for the future?

At the end of our week together the Englishman told me that in the New Year he was going to be shore based in Rosyth, near Edinburgh. He said I should come over for a longer visit.

Time passed slowly. In late September I re-started my Political Science course at the School of Economics and negotiated a postponement of my exams with my professor, a rare Finnish Anglophile. He organised a pass to Edinburgh University library for me, and recommended books I should seek out there. I could stay in the UK for six weeks. To save money I travelled to London by train and ferry. The whole journey would take 4 days, but I broke it up a little by staying over at my mother's in Sweden.

‘Can’t believe you're still going strong after two years,' my mother said as she helped carry my heavy bag to the Stockholm Railway Station, T-Centralen. ‘Must be love.’ She hugged me hard. I didn’t want to tell her how much I doubted the relationship.

On the first leg of the journey, I had a bunk in a four berth sleeping compartment. In late December Stockholm had a thick covering of snow, but as the train made its way South the landscape turned dull and brown. It soon became dark and there was nothing to see out of the window. I climbed into my bunk and was awoken sharply by loud clanking noises. It sounded as if the train had driven into a ravine. I gasped, and heard a voice in the darkness explain to someone below me, 'The carriages are pulled and moved into the ferry.' I sighed and lay back against my thin pillow. We were in Helsingborg, about to cross over to Denmark. I glanced at my watch and saw it was 1.30 am. I struggled to sleep for the rest of the journey. Tossing and turning under a scratchy thin blanket, I wondered what made me travel through a Continent to be with a man. I wondered if the Englishman did truly love me, and even if he did, was he to be trusted? Would this 'accident' of his be one of many. But I kept reminding myself I was just as bad. At the end of the night I'd convinced myself there was no future for us, and that we'd find this out during the next six weeks - the longest time we'd ever spent together.

Early next morning, when the conductor made his way through the compartments knocking on doors and giving a wake-up call in Danish, I was already in the loo washing my face. Tired after the sleepless night, I entered the busy Hamburg station. I had an hour to kill and found a place to have a bun and a coffee. I hauled my suitcase up a set of escalators and boarded the train to Ostend. I was to arrive there late afternoon and then take an overnight ferry to Dover.

Finally, three days after I'd said goodbye to my Mother, I was on British soil. I took in the warm sea air, and followed the line of equally exhausted passengers from the ferry to board the train to London. The carriages were full and the only free seat was in a smoking compartment full with noisy football fans.

A guy opposite me opened a fresh can of beer and winked at me. 'Fancy a drink, love?' I shook my head and looked away, out of the window at the green grass. I longed for my Englishman's touch. I closed my eyes and willed the train to move faster. I suddenly realised I knew what loving someone more than life itself meant. If the Englishman left me, I wouldn't survive. I had to make this work at all costs. It didn't matter about the 'girl' or the 'accident'. I had to make him want me, only me. There was no other option. I was going to be like Chrissie Hynde, tough and sexy. I started to hum a Pretenders track which the Englishman had given to me two years earlier.

Cause I'm gonna make you see

There's nobody else here

No-one like me

I'm special, so special

I gotta have some of your attention

Give it to me


Wildernesschic said...

God Helena you write so well , I can feel the journey and the doubts! But when you love like that it is life itself :) Really enjoyed reading that chapter many memories of flights from Tenerife to Barcelona to Madrid and then London and then a bus or another flight up to Manchester !! Yes Iberia airlines and then the return !! Nightmare but when you are in love .....

Anonymous said...

Totally hooked, MORE PLEASE!

Liberty London Girl said...

I love your series so much. I just want MORE! LLGxx

Unknown said...

Thank you, Winderness and LLG, your kind words warm my heart.

Unknown said...

There's a bug in my comment moderation...or it could just be me...

Gloria left a lovely comment but after I clicked 'approve and publish', it disappeared. This is not the first time it's happened - apologies if I've managed to delete others too.

Here is the comment, sorry, Gloria:

'Very descriptive and delightful post! Cheers!'

one of 365 said...

Catching up with your glorious story. I've been in the toilet lately and I have to say, your tale took me away. Really. You are as good as anybody on the bookshelves of Waterstone's. I can't wait until I get the blog post from you that says, "Hey guys, my story has been picked up by an agent." You are a perfect writer---a perfect storyteller---and I just adore this epic tale. I see above I have another one. I am too excited to write anymore in this comment box....must go and read. xoxoxoxoxo

Chic Mama said...

I'm straight off to the next chapter.....glad I left it so that there were two to read. :0)