The Englishman and I fell sound asleep in the vast bed at The Portsmouth Hilton Hotel at about five in the afternoon. We were both exhausted after the ceremony at the Registry Office, where with my trembling voice and in his confident, sure words we’d promised to love and honour each other for as long as we lived. When at the end of the ceremony I’d been told to sit down at a desk and sign a large book, I was glad to rest my trembling limbs. The Englishman took hold of my shoulders and bending over me also signed his name. There were pictures; everyone wanted to take one. At the end of the day, when we’d stood at the reception to receive the congratulations, and had lifted our glasses of champagne for the hundredth time, and had cut the cake with a Naval sword the Englishman’s best man had somehow acquired, my jaw ached from all the smiling.
But most of all I was relieved I’d been able to go through with the day without bursting into tears or collapsing in a heap. I’d worried I was going to somehow forget to breathe, that I’d not be able to say anything at all during the ceremony or afterwards at the reception. I was afraid the right words would not come out of my mouth when I spoke to all the kind and happy people who’d gone to such trouble to make the day a special one for me, a foreign girl no-one really knew, and the Englishman.
Everything had been new to me; I’d never been to an English wedding. The sword, which the Englishman told me he too should have bought with the money the Navy had given him for kitting himself out, but which he’d spent on other things, ‘ beer and cigarettes’, as he reluctantly admitted to me, was the traditional way for a Naval Officer to cut his wedding cake. The cake itself was different too, it was dark and fruity, a tea cake rather than a sponge which we had in
. The ceremony I guessed was the same; as soon as I said the words I forgot them. The small paper flowers that were thrown over us, ‘confetti’, the Englishman told me it was called, were also different. In Finland we threw rice at the newly weds. Finland
Then there was the strange tradition of spoiling the bed at the hotel. The Englishman’s best friend had somehow got into our hotel and put sand between the sheets. ‘It’s what you do,’ the Englishman laughed, as we stripped the bed. We lay on the duvet cover and unable to even have a glass of the champagne the hotel had left for us, fell asleep.
When I awoke early the next morning, the first thought that entered my head was that in only a few hours’ time I’d have to say goodbye to my new husband. It was pitch black in the room and for a moment I had to remind myself where I was. A thin strip of light came from somewhere between a set of dark, heavy curtains.
‘What time is it,’ the Englishman murmured next to me.
He got up and fell over, ‘Bloody hell!’
I giggled. He cursed once more and after a few minutes he finally managed to crawl into the bathroom and switch on a light. When he pulled open the curtains I could fully appreciate what a vast room the bridal suite was. It occupied the corner of the top floor with large floor to ceiling windows on two sides. The hotel itself was ugly; a seventies high tower building situated outside
, but it was the best one in the city. It’d been a complete surprise to me when, at the end of the lunch reception the best man had led us into a taxi. A small holdall had been packed for me, and the Englishman said, ‘I’m taking you for the shortest honeymoon in the history of Naval weddings. It’ll only last 24 hours but I promise it’ll be memorable.’ Portsmouth
Now that honeymoon was nearly over. I went and stood next to my Englishman as he gazed out of the window towards the harbour. The sun was about to rise and the sky was separated into steel grey clouds at the top and bright white light below where it dipped into the sea. The Englishman put his arm around my shoulders. I pressed myself against his body, ‘What time do you have to go?’
‘The flight leaves at five thirty.’ The Englishman’s body shifted and he turned to face me. He looked into my eyes and said, ‘But I’ll be back before you know it.’