On the morning of February 25th 1984, I found my Father in the kitchen, sitting at the table looking out of the window. It was the day I was due to board the train to Stockholm and onwards through Europe to Harwich and leave my country of birth, Finland, for good. I saw my Father was in his nightwear: a pair of long johns and an under shirt. He had a cup of coffee without a saucer in front of him. It was still dark outside and I wondered what he was looking at when he spotted my reflection in the window. He gave me a sheepish smile which I didn’t return.
‘Coffee?’ he asked.
I sat down in spite of myself. I was so angry at him I wanted to take his cup and pour the hot coffee over his head. That he tried to appease me with that boyish smirk of his, as if all he needed was to be nice to me after what he’d done. I briefly wondered if he had vodka in his coffee but didn’t get any scent of alcohol from his breath when he poured me a cup. He sat heavily back in the wooden chair. Its faint creak was the only sound in the kitchen. My Father’s eyes were still on me, but now he’d stopped smiling. I tried to avoid his glance.
‘So you’re off today then?’ he said.
‘I’ll drive you.’
I opened my mouth to say there was no need, but hesitated. His blue eyes were red rimmed with dark circles around them. He was unshaven and his hands shook as his slender fingers fiddled with the ear of the coffee cup. But I wasn’t going to fall into that trap again. This time I wasn’t going to forgive him for the hurtful things he said about my Mother, or backing out of organising my wedding. My sister said he’d only done it to get out of paying for it and I was beginning to suspect this was true.
‘No, I’ll take a taxi.’
‘Nonsense, you save your money. I’m taking you. No discussion.’ His eyes were serious now.
I shook my head. I didn’t know what to say so got up and left the kitchen. I trembled as I sat on my bed. What was he playing at?
‘What time is your train?’ he shouted after me.
‘Three o’clock,’ I said before I realised this was an acceptance of the lift he was offering. I put my head into my hands. I looked at my alarm clock: twenty-five minutes past seven. In eight hours’ time I’d be on the train to Turku and in 24 hour’s time I’d be with my Mother in Stockholm. I decided to get dressed quickly and go and say goodbye to a school friend who lived nearby. I could cycle to her house in ten minutes, then come back via the shopping centre in Tapiola where I needed to draw all of the money from my bank account. That would take a couple of hours from the day, the rest I could spend in my room finishing the packing.
When I returned from Tapiola the house was empty. I sighed and went to the telephone. I dialled my Mother’s number.
‘Calm down. If he wants to take you, let him.’
I was sobbing again. I was so tired. Wasn’t this supposed to be a happy time? The time before marrying the man of my dreams, the love of my life? Why was everyone trying to make it as difficult as possible? Or just my Father. Why was he trying to make it so hellish for me?
I finished the conversation with my Mother and went to wash my face. I had to pull myself together.
My Father returned half an hour before we had to leave. I had no idea where he’d been but was glad he’d stayed away. Evidently he didn’t want a long-winded goodbye either. I was ready, sitting in the kitchen eating a rye sandwich and drinking a cup of coffee, when he walked inside the house. My stomach churned when I saw him and didn’t want to finish the sandwich. But I knew what my Father’s opinions were on leaving food uneaten, and forced the last piece of the bread and cheese down.
‘All ready?’ he said. He stood in the doorway, and nodded at my suitcase in the hall.
‘We’d better be off then.’ My Father took hold of the suitcase and said, ‘Ohoh!’
I couldn’t help myself and let out a short laugh. It came out more like a snort. I knew the case was heavy. I’d bought some wheels in Stockholm with the Englishman. They made it easier to walk a long distance with a suitcase. Otherwise I knew I’d not manage the long walk between the railway station at Turku Harbour and the ferry. Briefly I felt relieved that my Father was driving me. He’d help me to lift the case onto the train at Helsinki, I hoped.
I soon regretted this.
It started in the car on the long bridge by Lauttasaari island. In the dim light of the car interior my Father said, ‘So what about the wedding then?’
I couldn’t believe my ears.
‘We’re getting married at Tampere Cathedral. Mother’s paying for the wedding. So you needn’t worry.’ I hoped he detected the sarcasm.
‘Oh, she can afford it can she?’ he sneered.
I looked at his profile. His eyes were on the road and his mouth was in a straight line. He looked a little tidier than he had that morning; clean shaven and wearing his striped Marimekko shirt with dark blue cords. This was the outfit I’d chosen for him when he’d asked for my advice with clothes shopping a few years before. It had been a strange day. My Father behaved as if he was a normal, loving, funny man, taking his daughter out shopping and then to an expensive restaurant for lunch. I wondered how he could have changed so much.
It was as if he’d read my thoughts. ‘It all went wrong with us when you moved in, you know.’
‘Really!’ My anger rose again.
‘Yes. And I bet it was your Mother’s idea?’
‘Yes, it’s all her wicked plan I’m sure. You and I have always got along, unlike with your sister…’ here he had the sense to stop. But he continued with his incredible thesis. ‘Your Mother knew living together would cause a rift between us and that’s exactly what she was after.’
I was silent for a long time. We were at the traffic lights at Hietaniemi. I looked at the red lights an counted to ten. But ten wasn’t a high enough number.
‘It’s nothing to do with the fact that you’re a selfish, nasty bastard who doesn’t love anybody and will never be happy? You’re mean and don’t want anyone else to be happy either. You don’t think of anyone else but yourself. You never have. You and I have never ‘got on’ as you put it. Have you forgotten how you tried to hit me? You weren’t satisfied with hitting my Mother black and blue in Stockholm, you had to strike your sixteen-year-old daughter too. I guess I was just a little annoying wasn’t I?’
My Father turned his face to me ‘But I didn’t hit you!’
‘No,’ I said quietly, ‘But you came very close, raising your hand. That’s enough.’
I heard my Father’s breathing grow heavy. We passed Arkadiankatu and the University Disco.
‘And another thing. Last year when I was really ill and phoned you from hospital, you didn’t want to help me. You stayed away just so that you’d not catch the stomach bug. When I was so poorly you made me take the bus all the way into town to collect money from you. Who were you thinking about then? I had salmonella poisoning and frankly needed to be looked after. Where were you? Hiding at your girlfriend’s place, that’s where!’
There was a silence as we drove down Annankatu, past the bus station, crossed Mannerheimintie and parked outside the railways station. We both got out of the car. When my Father lifted my suitcase from the boot of the car he didn’t make eye contact. I reached my hand towards the handle of the suitcase. But my Father nudged my hand away with his elbow, locked the car, and struggling with the heavy luggage, walked towards the station building. I stood still for a moment. Why wouldn’t he just leave me? I’d told him what I thought of him now. I didn’t regret one word, but I had nothing more to say to him.
Looking meek as a lamb, with his shoulders hunched, his eyes trying to search mine, my Father stood on the platform. There was a bitterly cold wind blowing through the station. I’d told him what carriage my pre-booked seat was in, but those were the only words that had passed between us.
‘Go on,’ he now said, motioning with his head towards the door of the train carriage. There were beads of sweat on his forehead, but I had no pity left for him. I was still angry, and jubilant with it. I couldn’t wait to tell my Mother what I’d said to my Father, how at last after all these years of biting my tongue I’d been able to let rip and tell him exactly what I thought of him.
When I found my seat on the train, my Father went to lift the heavy bag onto the parcel shelf. ‘No,’ I said and motioned towards a space between the seats.
‘Right,’ my Father said and looked at me.
I returned his gaze. I felt strong. I was in the right. He was a mean bastard, just like my sister said.
My Father moved towards me and gave me a bear hug. I froze. While holding tightly onto me he said, ‘I’m sorry.’ He let go of me and hurried out of the door.