In February 1983 I got a part-time job at Stockmann’s department store selling fabrics on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. My studies at the
I missed my Englishman wherever I found myself.
He wrote nearly every week, his words full of longing and love for me. Occasionally there’d be a late night phone call. Sometimes a fortnight would pass without any communication, and all I could assume was that he was away at sea onboard his submarine. I replied to each letter, but often our messages to each other would cross in the post, and a question would take two or three letters to be answered. We didn’t write about anything important though, such as The Future, but just what happened to us each week. I told the Englishman about how Russian customers at Stockmann’s would try to buy dress fabric with a bottle of vodka, or what marks I’d got in my exams. The Englishman told me about his nights out with his mates, about a trip down to
In April he told me that when he visited his parents they gave him money towards a new car as a birthday present. He sold the yellow Spitfire and bought a more reliable car, a Ford Fiesta. I mourned the open top sports car and couldn’t imagine my Englishman at a wheel of anything else.
I spent my 23rd birthday later the same month with my Father and my sister, who was over from
‘If I were you I’d just move to
We were sitting in the Happy Days Café where our Father had taken us to have a buffet lunch. For once the girlfriend wasn’t with us, even though it was a Saturday. I looked at the uneaten Gravad Lax and pickled herring on my plate and sipped at the half litre glass of beer my sister had insisted I should have. ‘It’s your birthday and he’s paying, for goodness sake,’ she whispered in my year when I’d hesitated on what to order.
‘But I won’t be able to get a job without a work permit.’ I said.
‘Get a work permit then.’
‘You can’t get one. There’s huge unemployment in the
My sister smiled broadly. ‘So, what’s the problem? You love him, he loves you.’
‘Besides, he’s already asked you to marry him, so just say yes!’ My sister lifted her glass and clinked it with mine.
Our Father had a large plateful of food and sat heavily next to me in the leather booth. ‘Yes to what?’ he said, looking suspiciously at my sister.
‘Oh, I just think some-one should marry and leave this godforsaken city and country for ever.’
My Father’s nostrils flared as he took a deep breath in. I wondered if I could ask them not to fight on my birthday. But it was already too late.
‘You’d think that, wouldn’t you! You, who scarpered over to
There was a silence. The little appetite I had before, vanished. I didn’t know what to say. My sister was looking down at her plate. She glanced at me under her eyebrows. Her eyes were dark, dangerous-looking. Father was staring at my sister, holding his knife and fork upright. Like a man-eating giant about to pounce. Waiting for the retaliation. But my sister was silent, for once not rising to the bait.
A waitress came to the table. ‘Any schnapps here?’
My Father’s eyes lit up. ‘Yes, we’ll have a round of Koskenkorva.’
I glanced at my watch. It was barely 11.30 am.
‘Oh, I don’t care what he thinks,’ my sister said later. We were walking along the Esplanade towards a restaurant where a friend of hers was working. It was a sunny, almost warm day. Trees along the park were beginning to bud. Spring was definitely on its way, at last. We’d left Father drinking himself stupid at Happy Days Cafe. His mood had improved with the Koskenkorva. After we’d eaten, he told us to go out and have fun, pressing a few hundred Marks onto each palm. The same old routine. ‘Might as well use the money as His Pisshead Lordship wishes,’ my sister laughed and took my arm.
The Englishman phoned later that night, wishing me ‘Happy Birthday’. I very nearly told him what my sister had said about moving to
‘I’ve only got three weeks left of term.’ I said instead.
‘Right, and then what?’ the Englishman said.
‘I start at the bank on Monday 23rd May.’
That was it. I couldn’t get any more out of him. I tried not to worry that he had stopped loving me or that he’d accidentally slept with another girl, or even the same mysterious girl. In bed that night I again re-read his last letter. He swore his undying love for me. Perhaps he truly didn’t know or couldn’t tell me what he was doing in the next few months, or even weeks? There was a Cold War on after all. Goodness knew who might be listening in on our telephone conversation. It always sounded as if several lines were open when the overseas connections were made. I often heard a click or two as if some-one put the phone down during our call. The Englishman’s jokes about sleeping with a spy, or the ‘honey traps’ the ship’s company had been warned about when we’d met still rang in my ears. Surely he didn’t suspect me of being a Soviet spy after all this time? After two and a half years?
A month later, when I’d already started my fourth summer internship at the Kansallis–Osake–Pankki on Erottaja in the centre of
‘I have been so miserable here without you all this time. But now I finally know what my schedule is going to be for at least the next few months. As you know our refit has been delayed so many times now, and as a consequence they’ve decided to send me on an OPS course in
The Englishman was going to live in his friend’s house in Southsea again and he wanted me to come over ‘for as long as you can, as soon as you can make it.’
I sat down on my bed. My father was still at work, or perhaps he wasn’t going to come home that evening. I was glad, I needed to be alone and think. I had no idea what an OPS course was, but it didn’t matter. How could I ask for time off at the bank when I’d just started? Would they understand I needed to go and see the Englishman? I was OK for money, I’d saved some from the part-time job at Stockmann’s. At the end of the month I’d have my first pay check from the bank. Even though it was just for one week’s work, it would cover the cost of the flight.
The next day I went to see the Manager at the Bank.
‘Young love,’ he muttered and smiled. I’d known him since my first summer at the bank He’d graduated from the same university as me ten years earlier and kept calling me ‘The Lady Economist’. He thought me very smart and I feared the day when he’d realise the truth.
‘Take two weeks paid leave. I’m sure we’ll manage without you.’
I was amazed. It was unheard of for summer interns to get leave, unpaid or paid. We were there to cover for when the permanent staff took their holidays after all. I shook his hand and thanked him. I skipped out of his office.
That afternoon walking back to the bus stop along Mannerheimintie I hummed to myself. Straight after work I’d gone to the Finnair travel agents in the corner of Aleksi and reserved my flights to Heathrow. In only two week’s time I’d be on the aeroplane on my way to