Six Nights & Cinnamon Buns (i)

Thursday — 16th January
8,530 steps 1,148 miles flown 35 mi by train 3.79 mi walked

Nerves turned to excitement. At long last I was in motion. Spanish teenagers sat around the carriage of the express train talking loudly but quite politely and I stared out the window ten minutes before I realised that my coffee had drip-drip-dripped all over my white t-shirt. There was enough space in the disabled cubicle to change. Her present caused a stir with security, scanned many times as I smiled, wondering if they recognised the quality of a fine leather collar! The restaurant had a screen showing the flight times and gate numbers. I ate pizza and regarded the other passengers, mainly groups of men or women; next to me sat another lone man, and I thought to ask him if he were going to visit a young woman too.

The aisle to myself, my ears finely tuned to the sound of the engine. As we touched down I swallowed hard. My fingers were wrinkled from the sweat. I smelled the air. The airport was clean. Past a moomin cafe, I went and took a cigarette, but she was there! early! having monitored my flight and always, always, always on time. Where was she? There were many people at arrivals, until her in black, leaning nonchalantly against some refurbishment hoarding. We smiled; held hands down to the cavernous train station and its punctual echoes. Happy together, from black & white into technicolor, the passing countryside and smothering city in darkness; the gold numbers of bus routes.

The warmth of her apartment; the tour, exploring; piecing together all the photos she’d sent me, examining her books on the shelf where she caught me and our time apart to address priorities and sexual appetite.

Friday — 17th January
15,052 steps 7.15 mi walked 3.6 mi by train

On our first morning we lay in bed like we hadn’t seen each other for two months, then went out to her local cafe, a quiet corner filled with mums and a busy kitchen from which the smell of pastries and fresh ground coffee arose into the outside wide road blinking with traffic lights and passing cars. It was my first time seeing the city in daylight, all perfumed by nordic winter grey.

It was so good to be with her again. Because of the distance, our time together became underlined further still, seized upon. Her presence made me happy, happier than words. Of course my first time in Helsinki was full of spectacle and yet there was nothing better than to hold her hands and laugh to myself as she leaned over her own plate to hoover up the flakes of cinnamon bun and pearl sugar that had fallen from my clumsy lips & fingers. We walked along by the lake and into the library where she often text me from. I adored seeing all the places of her life. She pointed out place after place, filling me with history, facts and little windows into her day-to-day.

We had walked for a few miles before we stopped into the gallery where she works and I met one of her friends. ‘You have to sign the guestbook’ she told me, of every exhibition and gallery we visited (many during the course of my visit). I took a special delight in signing the guestbook where she worked, not taking particular care other than to ensure the I-L-L-E-R of my surname curled deliciously, so that, at a later date, she might regard it fondly (and she did, not even a week later, and we both mused sadly over what had happened and how we wished it would happen again, or was indeed still happening).

It was Friday night and everyone should be having a drink to celebrate the end of the week. She and I went to a bar, half of which had been set aside for a party that, in the end, very few people attended, the host popping champagne sadly amongst the empty seats; the other half a spiral of condensed punters; the young speaking quietly, the old keeping to newspapers. Halfway home we stopped for another drink in a bar she frequented while studying. She annotated everything with her past. On the walls were paintings of Tintin. It was brightly lit. We held hands, we held hands, we held hands. Tintin’s blonde quiff, the dog — I forget its name — in scenes of Hopper and Michaelangelo.

A bicycle passed us with a bottle of tango tied to it; she remarked that it must be a very important bottle of tango. The hospital was being developed. The wind came down the street, stinging our skin but for the alcohol.

We stood somewhere near the middle of the bar, unwise, yes, but with a good vantage-point of all who might approach. She was wearing the present I’d bought her; she looked twice as nice as northern lights. It was some DJ’s birthday party; awful place; I was too sober for it, but she danced against me, a warmth of coat & choker. Strangers arrived, introduced: Pepe, Anna, Antonia!… Antonia!… It grew, caught in a melee of words I didn’t understand I became uncomfortable. She pushed against me, dancing, bobbing; she made me smile, but I wished we were alone. The scenery had its hand around my throat! ‘Do you want to go?’ We took two buses home and I no longer felt anything but wonderful. She lit candles like she was remembering something; they glowed & heated. Both of us drank tea from a pot, looking out on night’s plaything between the pines.
Saturday — 18th January
9,243 steps 4.7 mi by bus 1.6 mi by tram 3.84 mi walked

That evening I was to meet her best friend who I had known of, through text and pictures, as long as I had known her. Out the murk of her history they loomed like a Cretacious period or a Mayan calendar. Their impression was of huge importance and I must gain their approval, lest, in my absence, they seek to disparage my name and call me out for the bastard I am! I was a bastard, but outside it was grey and we arose late, ate toast and headed into a very grey Helsinki. In amongst a cloud of buttered popcorn and childhood five-quid tickets, she promoted a number of moomin postcards to send my mother, then was declined from the most punctual of exhibitions. We ate cinnamon buns in the window of a posh cafe. The colours comforted; we, just the two of us, in a drizzly state, the road and its bluish dying. The world had nothing else out there for me but the coffee, the cinnamon bun and her forking portions of her own cake into my mouth.

There’s something about grocery shopping with your partner that makes it feel real, like you’re an item, so to speak, or the first line of a postal address. She led the way, rushing hurriedly, picking up a tomato, squeezing it and moving on as though she has a column in the Sunday paper about tomatoes. I followed, holding the basket and saying—‘I just really want a can of coke.’ We went to a bar and had a beer against the cold diagonals of weather. Everything was so new to my eyes. All the usual feelings of anxiety were gone; I was not used to it; the world was not such a scary awful place but one where, even on quiet streets, the misery of winter gave a colourful song for the birds not brave enough to migrate and the sensation of joy is so constant that one almost takes it for granted.

Preparing for guests, I saw my parents in a dream and felt for a pot of coffee on the side. We sat on the sofa watching ‘curb and drinking fresh grounds, but then we were orderly, expectant, we greeted and took coats. Her best friend was as tall as I expected, because that is what one says. They tenderly took my hand. How much did they know about me? We would prepare a Russian feast of blinis, as per their tradition that I — and her best friend’s girlfriend — had stumbled into. I hovered around her, nervously. She played host and it was grand to watch her. I felt proud, for some reason, but said nothing; offered to top up her glass, kissed her neck, maybe I could chop something? wash up; this was perfect. Still the city beat on beyond the window and a Russian crooner sang terrible seventies cocaine.

The food was delicious. It was beyond delicious. There was loads of it, all unfamiliar and heavenly. I ate and ate. I thought I might not eat any more, then she started again and I knew I should have some more too. Often I would stand up to refresh our glasses with ice cold vodka, and in doing so, was reminded of my Polish friends (wodka) and last summer when it had condensed all over us — I wondered how he was; I drank to remember him. All of us said some translation of ‘cheers’ and swallowed, each with a slightly different flick or tilt of the wrist. More wine was dragged from the fridge, opened by an english accent and shared evenly between the last survivors of a magnificent meal and the flickering of wax. They coiled on the sofa; she rested her legs upon me and I felt her thighs, anticipating what would happen when they left and we’d brushed our teeth.

Afterwards, in the silence, we sat and shared another pot of tea, the loose mess of occasion shining in front of us. For an hour we languished on the sofa, caught up in the entwined midnight of bliss. It was three when we let our sweat evaporate as nature intended The day thought it would rise soon but did not. We lay there looking at the curtains refusing to budge, the heat of the radiators bulging. Finally we said good-night (tributes to our texts) and assumed the position we wanted to sleep in. I smelled her; the capacity of my lungs carrying past the biological intricacies of my nose, absorbed enough of her reflected oxygen to keep me alive for thirty seconds, and then the sweet sound of her sleep.