I had never felt as numb as I did waiting for my flight at Heathrow on 31st of August 1981. There were just a handful of us sitting outside the gate for the Finnair flight to Helsinki. No-one wanted to travel from London to ‘Hel’ as the label on my luggage read. It felt like Hell was just what I was going back to.
The Englishman and I hadn’t discussed our future any more since Hyde Park. I’d accepted I was on the losing side. He meant more to me than I did to him. That was one fact I understood. It served me right, I thought as I watched a man wearing a pinstriped suit opposite me read his pink Financial Times. Had I not similarly cast a side a man who was more than devoted to me? My ex-fiancé’s heart must have hurt as much as mine did now. And he’d been right. A foreign man, a sailor, would have a girl in every port. The Englishman did not care for me, not in the way my ex-fiancé did. But the thought of going back to my ex-boyfriend made me shudder. No, I’d have to look after myself. I felt more alone sitting on the hard plastic seats of the airport terminal than I had ever done in my life.
The man in the suit dropped his paper and gave me a quick smile. I looked at my watch. The flight was due to leave in five minutes. We should already be boarding, but there was no sign of an official by the gate. I felt shabby in my jeans and a jumper. I should dress more smartly and take an interest in financial matters like the man opposite. I was a student of Economics after all. Instead I sat there like a love-sick puppy. I straightened my back and spoke to the man, ‘Is the flight delayed?’
‘Looks like it.’ He turned a page and lifted the paper back up to cover his face.
I took out my book, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but I couldn’t concentrate on the text in front of me. The Englishman had given me the paperback. He said it was one of his favourite books. I touched my lips and remembered the long kiss he’d given me by the passport control only half an hour ago. I thought about what he would be doing now. Would he be listening to Radio 1 and singing along as he drove back to Portsmouth in his yellow sports car? Would he give a thought to me? On the way to the airport he told me it was the last night he’d spend with his friends in the terraced house in Portsmouth. His face had looked sad then. I wanted to shout, ‘What about me? This is the last time you’re going to see me for a long time too. Perhaps the last time ever.’ But I said nothing and listened to how the four friends were going to go out the pub for a goodbye dinner.
I didn’t even have a forwarding address for the Englishman. He’d told me only the name of the submarine he was going to join. ‘I’ll write to you as soon as I’m settled up there,’ he’d said when we were standing outside the passport control.
‘I promise.’ He cupped my face into his hands and kissed me. ‘I love you, remember that.’
I hadn’t been able to speak. Tears were running down my cheeks. I gave him a last quick kiss and turned towards the man in uniform waiting to check my ticket and passport. I didn’t look back.
Helsinki was cold and rainy. The leaves were already turning yellow and brown. Autumn was here. The smart Finnair bus dropped me off at Töölö Square and I heaved my heavy suitcase down the hill to Mannerheim Street. I carried my luggage onto the tram and then onto a bus which took me to my empty flat in Lauttasaari. I ignored the pile of post, mostly bills, which I’d received while away. Instead, I dug out of my bag two LP’s the Englishman had bought for me. I read Tess of the d’Urbervilles while I listened to all the tracks on the Christopher Cross and the Earth, Wind & Fire albums over and over. When night fell, I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep.