I woke up with a dry mouth and a screaming hangover. I felt constrained, and realised I was pushed against the wall in a narrow single bed. The shape next to me moved and I looked around the room. A studio flat somewhere in Ullanlinna. There was a window draped with a see through curtain, a sofa covered with discarded clothes, a table stacked with books. I was incredibly thirsty.
I felt a hand on my waist, then a bulge against my back. His hot mouth closer to my ear. I froze. ‘Sorry, I feel a bit sick.’
He removed the hand, and got up. I closed my eyes.
‘Fair enough,’ he said and slapped my bum. I saw his strong hairy legs disappear into the loo. The sound of his peeing reverberated against the water in the pan. Then the noise stopped and started again. I shuddered, got quickly out of bed and found my clothes. I cursed my stupidity. Why had I agreed to come home with this guy? Because he was a tennis player? Third in the Finnish rankings. Or because the 4th year guy hadn’t even looked at me when I’d stood next to him at the bar upstairs in the university disco? Because the tennis player with his strong thighs was the only one showing any interest in me in my short skirt and sexy sandals? I was sitting on the edge of the bed, fully clothed when the guy came out of the loo. He looked surprised to see me, as if he’d forgotten last night.
‘Can I?’ I nodded towards the small bathroom door.
The loo smelled. I held my breath and splashed cold water on my face and wiped it dry with paper. I must get away, quickly.
When I re-entered the room, the tennis player was on the phone. Looking out of the window, wearing just his boxers, he laughed at something the other person said. I found my handbag and opened the front door. ‘Bye then.’
Startled, the tennis player swung around and with a brief recognition passing his face, nodded and turned back to face the window.
The bus driver looked down at my short skirt and sandals. It was obvious I was still in my going out clothes. He knew me. I took this same bus into work and university every day. I felt so ashamed. Is this what I wanted – to feel cheap, used, not loved, just fucked? Is this what it was like to be free from my fiancé, who was obsessive but at least I always knew he loved me. Or from the Englishman who was forever deemed to be absent? Was this the alternative? Skulking back home in the morning after a cold, senseless one night stand? I looked at the people taking Sunday walks in the heat of the day, normal people with normal lives, not sluts like me with a hangover and dirty knickers on.
When the bus stopped in Tapiola, a woman in her thirties or forties, wearing a stylish one piece white jumpsuit and pretty white espadrilles, got out of the bus. I’d seen her before, though never with a man. Still, she looked happy, always smiling even to the miserable bus driver. She didn’t seem to need a man, so why should I?
It was 1982 after all, not 1882.
When I got home I realised the tennis player hadn’t even asked for my phone number. I must have been very disappointing. He was probably used to women like the one in the Tennis Girl -poster in the Englishman’s room. Slim things with a tiny pert bottoms and no fat on their thighs. I was in the shower, washing away my shame, when the phone rang.
‘I’ve been trying to ring you all night!’ the Englishman sounded angry. He had a nerve!
‘I was out.’
‘Must have been a late night?’
‘I stayed over with a friend.’
‘So how are you?’ The Englishman sounded hesitant now.
‘Please don’t be like this.’
‘Look, I’ve got more leave, and I’ve decided to come and see you. To talk. That is, if you want me to?’
My heart started beating very hard. ‘When?’
‘Week after next. Is that OK?’
There had never been such a short amount of time between us seeing each other. Only five weeks! When I told my Father the news, he just grunted and shot me a quick glance. ‘Guess you want me out of the way again then?’
But I didn’t care about my Father’s grumpiness, not now. I only had ten days to prepare for the Englishman’s visit. I decided not to arrange anything special.
We sat on the edge of my bed. The Englishman had arrived an hour ago. At the airport he’d hugged me tightly and kissed me for a long time. But now, he was sitting next to me looking down at his hands.
‘What’s the matter?’
He lifted his head and his eyes rested on me briefly, before he turned and looked away. ‘I’ve got to tell you something. I’ve been so stupid.’
I waited. What was he talking about?
‘I’ve slept with someone else.’
I heard the words even though they were whispered in a low tone. They were like daggers piercing my heart. This is what he had come all this way to tell me? I couldn’t speak for a long time. Then anger surged inside me.
‘Me too,’ I said, quickly.
‘What?’ he turned around and his eyes were black.
I couldn’t face him. I lowered my eyes and looked down at my hands. But the Englishman wouldn’t let me be. He took hold of my shoulders and shook me. ‘What did you say?’ His grip was strong.
‘You’re hurting me.’ I sobbed. I couldn’t help myself. I wiped the tears from my face with the back of my hand and stood up. ‘This is it. We’re both as bad as each other. What kind of a start is this to a relationship? We might as well stop here.’
The Englishman followed me into the dark kitchen. A lonely street lamp was shining against the August twilight. The refrigerator hummed into the silence between us. I don’t know how long we stood there either side of the small kitchen table.
‘Come here,’ the Englishman said.
I turned around and looked at his face. He’d been crying too. I ran into his arms and started sobbing again.
‘Shh, it’s OK, we’ll be OK.’ The Englishman stroked my hair, then took my face between his hands and looked deeply into my eyes. ‘Let’s go to bed. We’ll talk after?’