Now and then during my last week in the UK, the words of the Englishman’s mother about ‘all of my son’s girlfriends’ rang in my ears. But as soon as the Englishman took me into his arms, or even just touched me, I convinced myself there was nothing in what she’d said to me. After all, I’d been engaged to be married when we met. He too could’ve had serious girlfriends before me.
The Englishman wanted to show me everything about his country. For my last weekend he took me to visit his older brother and his wife in London. ‘I hear you were put in separate bedrooms in Wiltshire,’ the brother said and smiled. I blushed but was relieved they’d decided we were old enough to sleep together in the guest room of their semi-detached house in Surrey.
On Sunday, the day before my flight back to Helsinki, the Englishman planned a picnic in Hyde Park. It was a sunny, though a little windy day. Before lunch he drove me around the sights. The streets of London were quiet. I took pictures of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace from the passenger seat of the little yellow convertible.
In the park we spread our blanket under a large elm. A few young boys were playing football in the distance. The vast lawns were incredibly green and even. The Englishman’s efficient sister-in-law had prepared a picnic of sandwiches neatly cut in triangles and arranged into a Tupperware dish. There was a thermos of tea and one of coffee. The cheese in the sandwiches was strong cheddar, the pickle vinegary and salty, the ham too fatty. The weak, milky coffee was made out of instant granules. Like most Finns, I liked black, strong percolated coffee. But I would have drunk snake’s blood if I could have lived in the same country as the Englishman. It was just that, whenever I was close to him, I had no appetite.
Lying on the blanket next to the Englishman I tried not to think about the future, although this was the last 24 hours I’d spend with him for a very long time. We’d not been able to make plans for the next meeting. He gave me a kiss and whispered hoarsely into my year, ‘I’m going to miss you so much!’
I took a deep breath and said, ‘What are we going to do?’
The Englishman let go of me and lay down on the blanket. I wish I hadn’t said anything, but I couldn’t bear the uncertainty. I watched the Englishman reach out for his sunglasses and speak to the blue sky above him. ‘You know I’m joining a new submarine up in Scotland next week.’ He turned to me but I couldn’t see his eyes behind the dark glasses. ‘And you’ve got two more years at university?’
‘Yes’ I muttered.
The Englishman put his arms around me. ‘If only Finland was in the EEC, then you wouldn’t need a stupid work permit. You could just come and work here. In a pub or somewhere. I’m sure someone would take you on.…’
I moved away from him. I was shivering.
‘Are you cold?’ the Englishman removed his glasses and looked at me with concern. He handed me his jumper. It smelled of his aftershave and cigarettes. Then he lent over into the pocket of his jacket and retrieved a packet of Marlboroughs and lit one. I was grateful for the interlude. Blood was rushing in my head and my heart was beating so hard I could hardly breathe.
The Englishman blew smoke out the side of his mouth. ‘We’ll just have to be together when we meet.’ I looked at his long legs. I couldn’t look into his eyes.
‘What do you mean?’
‘When we’re not together we’ll be free to do whatever we want.’
It was as if he’d hit me in the face. ‘You mean we’ll be free to see other people?’
‘You know I love you.’
‘Yeah!’ I got up, and with my back turned to him, started tidying the uneaten sandwiches back into the container.
The Englishman lifted himself up onto his elbows. ‘Look, this has happened to me before.’
The Englishman spoke to the back of my head, ‘When I was on a commission in the Canadian Navy I met this girl. She…well, we fell in love. But it didn’t last. She couldn’t work in Britain and I couldn’t afford to go to Canada all the time. So we slowly forgot about each other.’
My head was spinning. I dropped the Tupperware box onto the blanket and sat down again. I couldn’t talk. The Englishman turned to face me and put his arms around me. In a low whisper he said, ‘I just don’t want that to happen to us.’
I looked into his dark eyes, at the straight line of his mouth. I turned around and rested my head on his shoulder and twined my fingers with his strong, long ones. I wanted the world to stop here. We sat like that while I waited for the tears to come. But there weren’t any.