When I finally saw the Englishman through the glass wall at the Helsinki airport arrivals hall, I felt suddenly calm. I hadn’t imagined how handsome he was. The Naval Officer I’d met at the British Embassy cocktail party six months earlier in October 1980 was real. I hadn’t fooled myself into an affection of this man just to have courage to end my relationship with another. I hadn’t fought with my ex-fiancé and his mother for nothing. Here he was, the man of my dreams, standing a few metres from me, impatiently changing position and staring at the empty baggage conveyor belt. He hadn’t seen me yet. I was grateful for the few moments when I could observe him without his intense eyes on me. At the same time I was desperate for that look of burning desire.
He didn’t see me until, with his bag over his shoulder, he walked through the automatic doors. He dropped his bag and kissed me. I melted.
I’d planned a celebratory dinner at my flat of prawn cocktail, followed by chicken fricassee. He ate heartily, praising my cooking while I could hardly face a bite. When I served coffee with the small Pepe cakes I’d bought in the bakery that morning, he asked if we could move to the sofa. Instead of eating we kissed, and kissed. ‘You haven’t had your coffee,’ I said emerging for a breath.
He gave me an intense look, ‘Please let’s go to bed?’
We didn’t leave the small flat for the next 48 hours.
‘We have to go for a walk,’ I said on the 3rd morning of our seven days together.
His arm around me, we walked on the shores of Lauttasaari Island. The sea was stormy. Spring was late that year and the chilly wind blew against my face. I didn’t feel the cold, but the Englishman had not brought the clothes for the Baltic spring storms. We took the bus to the centre of Helsinki and bought him a water proof coat from Stockmann’s. On the way home, it started snowing and he pulled out his sunglasses. Everyone on the street stared. I laughed.
‘There’s no sun,’ I said.
‘The snow flecks hurt my eyes.’
The Englishman brought music tapes with him. Finnish radio played just domestic hits or a few foreign tracks by Elvis or Frank Sinatra. When the Englishman had left me the first time he gave me a tape of Pretenders, ‘Brass in Pocket’ LP and told me to listen to it. I wore it down.
The day before the Englishman was due to go back home was my 21st birthday. My mother made a visit. She bought a layered sponge cake with pineapple slices arranged on top. I made coffee.
‘She’s come to see if I’m good enough for her daughter,’ the Englishman said while we were waiting for her.
‘No, it’s my birthday!’ But when we sat around the small table and I saw my mother assessing the Englishman, I wondered if he was right, perhaps my mother had planned it?
My mother didn’t speak English. Before we had the cake, I’d put out some bread, ham, cheese and slices of tomato and cucumber. I’d bought some white bread for the Englishman. I didn’t think he’d like the Finnish dark rye.
‘Please,’ I said and nodded towards the Englishman to start. My mother and I watched as he took two slices of white bread, buttered them both and filled one side with ham and cucumber. Then he put the other on top and pressed hard on it with the palm of his hand. He took the butter knife and diagonally cut the thing in half. There was a silence.
The Englishman looked up from his plate and smiled. ‘What?’
‘That,’ I said pointing at the thing he’d made with the bread.
He laughed. ‘It’s a sandwich!’
‘Oh’ both my mother and I said at the same time.
‘It’s what we do in England.’
I showed the Englishman what we did in Finland, filled just one side and balanced the contents with out finger as we ate it. I translated to my mother. She laughed.
When the Englishman excused himself and visited the loo, my mother whispered to me, ‘He’s so handsome!’
‘When’s he going back?’ she said. My mother knew me too well. The thought of the week ending had been on my mind since the first evening. Like a ticking bomb, the day loomed, getting closer and closer. How could I go back to living in the flat on my own, how could I be able to sleep in the same bed on my own? The longing for him would kill me.
‘Tomorrow.’ Tears filled my eyes. My mother put her arm around me, until we heard the loo door open and I got up and escaped to the kitchenette to wipe my eyes.
Back at the airport I felt a horrible dread. I’d cried on the smart bus that took us there. The Englishman held me. ‘It’ll be alright, you’ll see. You’ll come to England in August, promise?’
August was four months away.
After he’d checked in his bag, we had half an hour before the flight was boarding. We stood looking at the large display of flights. The white characters flicked, and moved upwards. Now there were only three destinations before London. Suddenly the Englishman said, ‘Wait here, I’ll be back.’
I stood there watching another flight move forward. An awful emptiness filled me. Every molecule in my body felt his absence. Why did he go when we had so little time left?
He handed me a red rose. ‘This is for you’
I started crying again. He took my face in his hands and wiped away my tears with his thumbs. ‘I love you. Don’t forget it.’
He took me in his arms once more and whispered. ‘I have to go now.’
I nodded. He kissed me and then he was gone. I couldn’t watch but ran blindly down the stairs, clutching the rose.