The Englishman and I spent our first day, New Year’s Eve, in the flat in Edinburgh kitting our room with a few missing essentials. Our street was just off Leith Walk where small shops sold everything from light bulbs to loaves of bread. On the corner of our street was a place called Naz Superstore. In there the Englishman bought a cheap reading lamp, a travel alarm clock and small transistor radio. I felt like we were a young married couple buying our first supplies for our new home, when the Asian man rang the till and with heavily accented Scottish told us what we owed. We walked out of the shop hand in hand, carrying our purchases, back to the flat. It was cold and rainy outside but inside it felt even cooler. Our landlady, the dark haired girl, was standing in the hallway as we entered. She wore a short skirt, long leather boots and a black waxed jacket. Around her neck she’d tied an expensive looking silk scarf. I felt shabby and inappropriately dressed in my new suede jacket, which wasn’t standing up very well to the constant rain. Wet streaks had formed in the front and back, soaking through to the padded lining.
‘I’m off to a party tonight. You guys doing anything?’
‘I’m on duty tomorrow morning,’ the Englishman said. The girl kissed him on the cheek, nodded to me, and disappearing out of the door, shouted, ‘Too bad. See you in 1983!’
‘How come she’s got a big flat like this?’ I said, scrutinising the Englishman’s face. I still wasn’t sure about this girl, though I just couldn’t believe he would be as stupid and unfeeling as to bring me to the home of someone he’d been to bed with. However much a ‘mistake’ it’d been.
‘I think it belonged to her aunt or something.’
We planned to see in the New Year in a small pub opposite the tenement block. It was full of middle-aged chain-smoking men. When the Englishman asked what I’d like to drink, I said ‘A pint of 80 shillings’. In Finland girls always drank what the guys did and the Englishman always had a pint.
The Englishman turned to me from the bar and said quietly, ‘I’ll get you a half.’
I looked around the brightly lit pub. I was the only woman there. We drank our drinks quickly, amongst the men who’d stopped talking as soon as we entered and didn’t start again until we handed our empty glasses to the barman and headed for the door. When I asked what that was all about, the Englishman said, ‘They hate the English.’
I didn’t understand any of it, but my Englishman looked upset, so I took his arm and started running towards the door of our block.
The mattress on the floor was a narrow single one, but the room was so cold, we were glad for the warmth of each other’s bodies when we slept. In the mornings the Englishman would get up first and put on the electric fire, before I could even think of getting out from under the blanket. To keep warm I wore the Englishman’s thick submarine socks and his long white uniform shirt in bed. On the days when he went to work in the morning, I’d lie in until ten, then either walk into town or take the bus to the university library. The room was too cold to do any studying in, and I didn’t feel brave enough to use the lounge in the flat in case I’d bump into the dark-haired girl.
It rained every single day of the five weeks we spent in the cold, dark flat in Edinburgh. I realised early on I’d brought exactly the wrong clothes. My suede coat, that I’d been so proud of, was ruined, my beige leather boots looked dirty.
But I fell in love with Edinburgh. The imposing presence of the castle, which at night was lit up and looked like a fairy tale fortress, bewitched me. The people I met in shops along Leith Walk or on Princes Street, in the more affluent part of the city, or at the university, were friendly, in a direct, almost Finnish way. This was Viking country after all, I thought.
Though we had little money, the Englishman and I were the happiest we’d ever been. The longer we spent together, the more in love with him I was. I tried not to think about the future, or that time was ticking away, my return home getting closer by the day.
The Englishman taught me to eat blue cheese, after we found an Italian delicatessen on Leith Walk. We ate the Gorgonzola with water biscuits and red wine on the floor of our cold room, laughing and listening to Radio One on the small transistor radio. In the the small kitchen at the other end of the flat, he cooked new foods I’d never heard of, like kebabs: strips of beef fillet tucked into pitta bread, eaten with shredded lettuce and yogurt. Some nights we met up with his many friends in the small, dimly lit pubs scattered around the old part of town. It’s cobbled streets and low buildings were as charming and enchanting to me as the castle. I felt I was living a dream.
The evening before the Englishman was due to drive me down to Newcastle to catch a ferry to Gothenburg, the first leg of my journey back to Finland, I cried my eyes out. The shoulder of the Englishman’s shirt was soaked from my tears.
‘I know this is the end, ‘ I sobbed. Again we had no idea when we’d next see each other. The Englishman didn’t know where he’d be based next, or even when that would be.
‘This is just the way the Navy is. You must trust me,’ he said taking my face between his hands. ‘You know I love you.’
I looked into his eyes. Before I knew what I was saying, the words came out of my mouth. ‘But what if…what if there’s another girl, just like our landlady, and another accident?’
The Englishman stared at me. He dropped his hands and walked over to the large bay window. He formed his hands into fists and looked down at the dark street below. I held my breath. I wanted to take the words back, yet at the same time I wanted to hear what he had to say. I couldn’t bear another long journey across Europe, not sleeping, thinking about this girl my Englishman had slept with. I had to know the truth. Who was she? What had she meant to him? If as he claimed it was nothing, a mistake, what then of our future? Did he still want to spend it with me, did he still want to marry me one day? Or should I return to Finland without a boyfriend. To carry on as we were, together, but ‘free’. I had to know before I left. I just had to.
‘You know I love you,’ the Englishman said, not turning around. He folded his arms across his chest.
I got up and went to stand next to him. I put my head on his shoulder. ‘And I love you.’ I burrowed myself between his chest and his hands. He laughed, briefly. A dry sound, almost a cough.
‘I need to know.’ I said quietly.
‘It wasn’t our landlady. How stupid do you think I am?’ he said, freeing himself from my embrace. He walked to the other side of the room.
‘Who was it then?’
‘I told you, nobody.’
I thought for a while. ‘So what are we going to do?’
The Englishman came over to me and took my hands into his.’ We’ll find a way. I promise. You know I’m going to miss you so much. Being here on my own in this flat, in this room.’
‘I know,’ I said. His eyes looked sad, his hands were trembling. I knew he was speaking the truth. ‘I won’t be a naval wife like Lucinda, you know. Never.’ I looked into his eyes.
He laughed, relieved now. ‘I know that. And I bloody well hoped you wouldn’t.’