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Did you enjoy The English Heart?
The Faithful Heart
Also by Helena Halme
About the Author
Kaisa realised she’d never felt like this before. This was love. The stuff she’d read about in books since she was a teenager; the films she’d watched. This was how Ryan O’Neal felt about Ali MacGraw in Love Story, and BarbraStreisand about Robert Redford in The Way We Were. Kaisa grinned. She’d wanted to pose the same question to the Englishman that Katie had to Hubbell, ‘Do you smile ALL the time?’
The British Embassy was a grand house on a tree-lined street in the old part of Helsinki. The chandeliers were sparkling, the parquet floors polished, the antique furniture gleaming. The ambassador and his wife, who wore a long velvet skirt and a frilly white blouse, stood in the doorway to the main reception room, officially greeting all guests. When it was Kaisa’s turn, she took the invitation, with its ornate gold writing, out of her handbag, but the woman didn’t even glance at it. Instead she took Kaisa’s hand and smiled briefly, before she did the same to Kaisa’s friend Tuuli, and then to the next person in line. Kaisa grabbed the hem of her dress to pull it down a little. When a waiter in a white waistcoat appeared out of nowhere and offered her a glass of sherry from a silver tray, Kaisa nodded to her friend and they settled into a corner of a brightly lit room and sipped the sweet drink.
A few people were scattered around the room, talking English in small groups, but the space seemed too large for all of them. One woman in a cream evening gown glanced briefly towards the Finnish girls and smiled, but most were unconcerned with the two of them standing alone in a corner, staring at their shoes, in a vain attempt not to look out of place.
Kaisa touched the hem of her black-and-white crepe dress once more. She knew it suited her well, but she couldn’t help thinking she should have borrowed an evening gown.
Kaisa looked at her friend, and wondered if Tuuli was as nervous about the evening as she was. She doubted it; Tuuli was a tall, confident girl. Nothing seemed to faze her.
‘You look great,’ Tuuli said, as if she’d read Kaisa’s mind.
‘I keep thinking I should have worn a long dress.’ Kaisa said.
Kaisa’s friend from university looked down at her own turquoise satin blouse, which fitted tightly around her slim body. She’d tucked the blouse smartly into her navy trousers. On her feet, Tuuli had a pair of light-brown loafers with low heels. Kaisa’s courts made her, for once, the same height as Tuuli.
‘What did the woman at the bank say, exactly?’ Tuuli asked. Kaisa noticed her blue eyes had turned the exact same hue as her blouse. Her friend was very pretty. Students and staff at Hanken, the Swedish language university to which Kaisa had so remarkably gained entry a year ago, thought the two girls were sisters, but Kaisa didn’t think she looked anything like Tuuli. As well as being much taller, her friend also had larger breasts, which made men turn and stare.
‘Cocktail dresses…’ Kaisa replied.
‘Well, I don’t wear dresses. Ever.’ Tuuli had a way of stating her opinion so definitely that it excluded all future conversation on the matter.
‘I didn’t mean that. You look fantastic. It’s just that she was so vague…’ Kaisa was thinking back to the conversation she’d had with her boss at the bank where she worked as a summer intern. The woman was married to a Finnish naval officer whose job it was to organise a visit by the British Royal Navy to Helsinki. She had told Kaisa it was a very important occasion as this was the first visit to Finland by the English fleet since the Second World War. ‘The Russians come here all the time, so this makes a nice change.’ The woman had smiled and continued, ‘We need some Finnish girls at the cocktail party to keep the officers company, and I bet you speak good English?’
She was right; languages were easy for Kaisa. She’d lived in Stockholm as a child and spoke Swedish fluently. Kaisa had been studying English since primary school and could understand almost everything in British and American TV series, even without looking at the subtitles. She’d all but forgotten about the conversation when, weeks later, the invitation arrived. Kaisa’s heart had skipped a beat. She’d never been inside an embassy, or been invited to a cocktail party. The card with its official English writing seemed too glamorous to be real. Kaisa now dug out the invite and showed it to her friend.
‘Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador and Mrs Farquhar request the pleasure of the company of Miss Niemi and guest for Buffet and Dancing on Thursday 2 October 1980 at 8.15 pm.’
‘Whatever, this will be fun,’ Tuuli said determinedly and handed the card back to Kaisa. She took hold of her arm, ‘Relax!’
Kaisa looked around the room and tried to spot the lady from the bank, but she was nowhere to be seen. There were a few men whose Finnish naval uniforms she recognised. They stood by themselves, laughing and drinking beer.
‘Couldn’t we have beer?’ Tuuli asked.
Kaisa glanced at the women in evening gowns. None of them were holding anything but sherry. ‘Don’t think it’s very ladylike,’ she said.
Tuuli said nothing.
After about an hour, when no one had said a word to Kaisa or Tuuli, and after they’d had three glasses of the sickly-tasting sherry, they decided it was time to leave. ‘We don’t have to say goodbye to the ambassador and his wife, do we?’ Tuuli said. She’d been talking about going to the university disco.
Kaisa didn’t have time to reply. A large group of men, all wearing dark Navy uniforms with flashes of gold braid, burst through the door, laughing and chatting. They went straight for the makeshift bar at the end of the large room. The space was filled with noise and Kaisa and Tuuli were pushed deeper into their corner.
Suddenly a tall, slim man in a Navy uniform stood in front of Kaisa. He had the darkest eyes she’d ever seen. He reached out his hand, ‘How do you do?’
‘Ouch,’ Kaisa said and pulled her hand away quickly. He’d given her an electric shock. He smiled and his eyes sparkled.
‘Sorry!’ he said but kept staring at Kaisa. She tried to look down at the floor, or at Tuuli, who seemed unconcerned by this sudden invasion of foreign, uniformed men around them. ‘What’s your name?’
He cocked his ear, ‘Sorry?’ It took the Englishman a long time to learn to pronounce Kaisa’s Finnish name. She laughed at his failed attempts to make it sound at all authentic, but he didn’t give up.
Eventually, when happy with his pronunciation, he introduced himself to Kaisa and Tuuli, ‘Peter Williams.’ He then tapped the shoulders of two of his shipmates. One was as tall as him but with fair hair, the other a much shorter, older man. Awkwardly they all shook hands, while the dark Englishman continued to stare at Kaisa. She didn’t know what to say or where to put her eyes. She smoothed down her dress. The Englishman took a swig out of a large glass of beer. Suddenly he noticed Kaisa’s empty hands, ‘Can I get you a drink? What will you have?’
‘Sherry,’ she hated the taste of it, but couldn’t think of what else to ask for.
His dark eyes peered at Kaisa intensely. ‘Stay here, promise? I’m going to leave this old man in charge of not letting you leave.’ The shorter guy gave an embarrassed laugh and the Englishman disappeared into the now crowded room.
‘So is it always this cold in Helsinki?’ the short man asked. Kaisa explained that in the winter it was worse, there’d be snow soon, but that in summer it was really warm. He nodded, but didn’t seem to be listening to her. She tried to get her friend’s attention but Tuuli was in the middle of a conversation with the blonde guy.
Kaisa was oddly relieved when the dark Englishman returned. He was carrying a tray full of drinks and very nearly spilled them all when someone knocked him from behind. Everyone laughed. The Englishman’s eyes met Kaisa’s. ‘You’re still here!’ he said and handed her a drink. It was as if he’d expected her to have escaped. Kaisa looked around the suddenly crowded room. Even if she’d decided to leave, it would have been difficult to fight her way to the door. The throng of people forced the Englishman to stand close to Kaisa. The rough fabric of his uniform touched her bare arm. He gazed at Kaisa’s face. He asked what she did; she told him about her studies at the School of Economics. He said he was a sub-lieutenant on the British ship.
Kaisa found it was easy to talk to this foreign man. Even though her English was at times faltering, they seemed to understand each other straightaway. They laughed at the same jokes. Kaisa wondered if this is what it would be like to have a brother. She had an older sister but had always envied friends with male siblings. It would be nice to have a boy to confide in, someone who knew how other boys thought, what they did or didn’t like in a girl. An older brother would be there to protect you, while a younger brother would admire you.
Kaisa looked around what had been a group of them and noticed there was just the Englishman and her left in the corner of the room. She asked where her friend was. The Englishman took hold of her arm and pointed, ‘Don’t worry. I think she’s OK.’ She saw a group of Finnish naval officers. Tuuli was among them, drinking beer and laughing.
When the music started, the Englishman asked Kaisa to dance. There were only two other couples on the small parquet floor. One she recognised as the Finnish Foreign Minister and his wife, a famous model, now too old for photo shoots but still envied for her dress sense and beautiful skin. She wore a dark lacy top and a skirt, not an evening gown, Kaisa noticed to her relief. The woman’s hair was set up into a complicated do, with a few long black curls framing her face. They bounced gently against her tanned skin as she pushed her head back and laughed at something her minister husband said.
The Englishman took hold of Kaisa’s waist and she felt the heat of his touch through the thin fabric of her dress. She looked into his dark eyes and for a moment they stood motionless in the middle of the dance floor. Slowly he started to move. Kaisa felt dizzy. The room spun in front of her eyes and she let her body relax in the Englishman’s arms.
‘You dance beautifully,’ he said.
Kaisa smiled, ‘So do you.’
He moved his hand lower down Kaisa’s back and squeezed her bottom.
‘You mustn’t,’ Kaisa said, not able to contain her laughter. She removed his hand and whispered, ‘That’s the Foreign Minister and his famous wife. They’ll see!’
‘Ok,’ he nodded and lazily glanced at the other couples on the dance floor.
After a few steps Kaisa again felt his hand drop down towards the right cheek of her backside. She tutted and moved it back up. He must be very young, Kaisa thought. When the music stopped, the Englishman put her hand in the crook of his arm and led her away from the dance floor. He found two plush chairs by a fireplace in a smaller room. It had windows overlooking a groomed garden. As soon as they sat down, a gong rang for food.
‘You must be hungry,’ The Englishman said, and not waiting for a reply got up, ‘I’ll get you a selection.’ He made Kaisa promise to stay where she was and disappeared into the queue of people. She felt awkward sitting alone, marking the time until the Englishman’s return. She could feel the eyes of the ladies she’d seen earlier in the evening upon her.
Kaisa smoothed down her dress again and looked at her watch: it was ten past eleven already. She saw Tuuli in the doorway to the larger room. She was holding hands with a Finnish naval officer, smiling up at him.
Quickly Kaisa walked towards them. ‘Are you going? Wait, I’ll come with you.’ She was relieved that she didn’t have to leave alone.
Tuuli looked at the Finnish guy, then at her friend, ‘Umm, I’ll call you tomorrow?’
Kaisa felt stupid. ‘Ah, yes, of course.’ She waved her friend goodbye.
The Englishman reappeared, balancing two glasses of wine and two huge platefuls of food in his hands.
‘I didn’t know what you liked,’ he said, grinning.
He led Kaisa back to the plush chairs. She watched him wolf down cocktail sausages, slices of ham, and potato salad as if he’d never been fed. He emptied his plate and said, ‘Aren’t you hungry?’
Kaisa shook her head. She wasn’t sure if it was the formal surroundings or all the sherry she’d drunk, but she couldn’t even think about food. All she could do was sip the wine. She leant back in her chair and the Englishman sat forward in his. He touched her knee. His touch was like a current running through her body.
Kaisa felt she could sink into the dark pools of the Englishman’s eyes. She shook her head, trying to shed the spell this foreigner had cast over her, ‘A bit drunk, I think.’
He laughed at that. He put the empty plate away and lit a cigarette. He studied her for a moment. ‘You’re lovely, do you know that?’
They sat and talked by the fireplace. The heat of the flames burned the side of Kaisa’s arm, but she didn’t want to move. While they talked the Englishman gazed at her intently, as if trying to commit the whole of her being to memory. Kaisa found this both flattering and frightening. She knew she shouldn’t be here with the Englishman like this.
Once or twice one of his shipmates came and exchanged a few words with him. There was an Englishwoman he seemed to know very well. He introduced her to Kaisa and laughed at something she said. Then he turned back to Kaisa, and the woman moved away. Kaisa liked the feeling of owning the Englishman, having all his attention on her. She found she could tell him her life story. He, too, talked about his family in southwest England. He had a brother and a sister, both a lot older than him, ‘My birth wasn’t exactly planned,’ he smiled.
‘Neither was mine! My parents made two mistakes, first my sister, then me,’ Kaisa said and laughed. The Englishman looked surprised, as if she’d told him something bad.
‘It’s OK,’ she said.
He took her hands in his and said, ‘Can I see you again? After tonight, I mean?’
‘Please don’t,’ she pulled away from his touch.
An older officer, with fair, thinning hair, came into the room and the Englishman got rapidly onto his feet.
‘Good evening,’ the man nodded to Kaisa and said something, in a low tone, to the Englishman.
‘Yes, Sir,’ the Englishman said.
‘Who was that?’ Kaisa asked.
‘Listen, something’s happened. I have to go back to the ship.’
Kaisa looked at her watch; it was nearly midnight.
The Englishman leant closer and held her hands. ‘I must see you again.’
‘It’s not possible.’ She lowered her gaze away from the intense glare of his eyes.
‘I’m only in Helsinki for another three days,’ he insisted.
Kaisa didn’t say anything for a while. His hands around hers felt strong and she didn’t want to pull away.
‘Look, I have to go. Can I at least phone you?’
She hesitated, ‘No.’
His eyes widened, ‘Why not?’
‘It’s impossible.’ Kaisa didn’t know what else to say.
‘Why do you say that?’ The Englishman leant closer to her. She could feel his warm breath on her cheek when he whispered into her ear, ‘Nothing is impossible.’
People were leaving. Another officer came to tell the Englishman he had to go. Turning close to Kaisa again he said, ‘Please?’
Kaisa heard herself say, ‘Do you have a pen?’
The Englishman tapped his pockets, then scanned the now empty tables. He looked everywhere, asked a waiter carrying a tray full of glasses, but no one had a pen. Kaisa dug in her handbag and found a pink lipstick. ‘You can use this, I guess.’
The Englishman took a paper napkin from a table and she scrawled her number on it. Then, with the final bits of lipstick, he wrote his name and his address on HMS Newcastle on the back of Kaisa’s invitation to the party.
Outside, on the steps of the embassy, all the officers from the Englishman’s ship were gathered, waiting for something. The blonde guy Kaisa and Tuuli had met earlier in the evening nodded to her and, touching his cap, smiled knowingly. She wondered if he thought she and the Englishman were now an item. She could see many of the other officers give her sly glances. It was as if outside, on the steps of the embassy, she’d entered another world – the domain of their ship. As the only woman among all the men, she felt shy and stood closer to the Englishman. He took this to be a sign, and before she could stop him, he’d taken off his cap and bent down to kiss her lips. He tasted of mint and cigarettes. For a moment Kaisa kissed him back; she didn’t want to pull away.
When finally the Englishman let go, everybody on the steps cheered. Kaisa was embarrassed and breathless.
‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ she whispered.
The Englishman looked at her and smiled, ‘Don’t worry, they’re just jealous.’ He led her through the throng of people and down the steps towards a waiting taxi.
‘I’ll call you tomorrow,’ he whispered and opened the car door.
When the taxi moved away, Kaisa saw the Englishman wave his cap. She told the driver her address and leant back in the seat. She touched her lips.
The dark Helsinki streets whizzed past. The city looked different; it had taken on a magical air. The taxi seemed to fly through the neighbourhoods. As they left the Esplanade Park behind them, the driver crossed the normally busy Mannerheim Street, now deserted, and rattling over the tramlines, began the climb up the hill on Lönnrot Street. Kaisa loved the Jugendstil buildings in and around the centre of Helsinki. Their ornate facades, built at the turn of the century, and pale coloured walls dominated the landscape. She’d dreamt of living in one of the round towers, like a princess surveying the people on the streets below. She wished all of Helsinki was built in the same style, instead of ugly modern structures in glass and steel. Turning into a small street, the taxi slowed, and Kaisa wound down the window to get some air. Here, on top of the hill, even though you couldn’t yet see the sea surrounding the city, you could smell it.
As the taxi crossed the bridge to Lauttasaari Island and made its way towards Kaisa’s flat, she wondered what it would be like to live in the city itself rather than in the suburbs. It wouldn’t have to be a Jugendstil house, if truth be told, she’d be equally happy to live in the more modern buildings off Mannerheim Street in Töölö, where Tuuli lived. Her flat was close to Hanken and had large windows and tall ceilings. How wonderful it would be to walk up the hill to lectures, or if it was raining, take the tram. The number 3b stopped right outside Tuuli’s block. But rented flats were hard to come by in Helsinki. Kaisa was lucky to have somewhere within the city limits. Besides, Lauttasaari was a well-to do area, and she had a separate bedroom, a balcony with a partial sea view, as well as a small kitchenette, so she really shouldn’t complain.
At home in the empty flat Kaisa felt inexplicably lonely. Her heart was still pounding when she got undressed and climbed into bed. Suddenly she jumped up and went to put the chain across the front door. For a moment Kaisa listened for steps outside. It was dead quiet. She got back into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. The streetlight shone through the venetian blinds and formed a familiar zigzag pattern on the walls of her bedroom. What had she done? She’d given a man – a foreigner – her telephone number and she’d let him kiss her. Now sober, Kaisa knew she wouldn’t be able to see him again. What she’d done was bad enough already. Not only had she let him think she was free, she’d also betrayed her fiancé. A cold shiver went through her body when she thought what Matti’s mother would say if she knew.
Peter had hardly slept. The divers hadn’t finished searching under the hull of the ship until the early hours of the morning. The excitement had made him sober up pretty quickly after the party at the British Embassy. Perhaps the Duty Officer had been a little jumpy calling them back when it was probably only seagulls fighting over pieces of bread in the water. But, as the Captain had told them, any suspicious activity was to be taken very seriously during this visit. By all accounts, the Russians had a more or less free hand in Helsinki, so who knew what they might try. Peter knew he shouldn’t have had so much to drink on the first night ashore, but what could you do when you were required to attend three cocktail parties in one evening?
He stretched his legs over the narrow bunk and smiled; someone had to do it. Who’d have thought the cuts in the Navy’s budget would have such an effect on his personal life. The first visit to Finland by the Royal Navy since the Cold War started was supposed to include three ships, but in the event only Peter’s had been sent to this small country bordering the Soviet Union. It was pathetic – and embarrassing. I bet the Russians are laughing into their samovars this morning, Peter thought. All the same, this was the closest to visiting a country behind the Iron Curtain Peter would ever get, so he was planning to make the most of it. It wasn’t that he’d not taken heed of the Captain’s talk about honey traps, but Peter believed in the old proverb, you only live once. This was the most exciting trip of his naval career so far and he was sure he’d spot a KGB agent a mile off, however beautiful she was. And he could keep his mouth shut, he was sure of that too.
Last night Peter almost wished the Russians had planted something – one of those mini-subs they kept hearing about – under HMS Newcastle. He could see the newspaper headlines, ‘Brave Royal Navy officer Peter Williams discovers Soviet mini-sub in the Baltic’ with a picture of himself from his early Dartmouth days. Of course, it would not have been him – as a sub-lieutenant, he was one of the lowest ranking officers on board. He’d only left Dartmouth a few weeks ago, after all. And he wasn’t even a diver. But the image of him as a hero was irresistible. Something like that would have impressed the girl last night. He got up swiftly and found his mess undress jacket. The napkin was still there in the pocket, with the telephone number scrawled on it. Still legible – just. He took a long, deep drag on his cigarette and blew smoke to the side, away from his bunk.
At noon Peter thought it would be a good time to call the girl. He had nearly an hour until he was on duty again. He walked along the gangway to the wardroom.
‘It’s the lover boy!’ The older officer grinned. Collins was only jealous; his a wife looked like a bulldog chewing a thistle. But Peter liked the guy – although not his wife who, at the last cocktail party in Portsmouth, had tried to flirt with him. He grinned at the lieutenant and lifted the receiver. He felt a pleasant twinge in his groin when he heard the phone ringing at the other end. She’d really been quite lovely. He thought back to the night before and knew she’d been smitten by him too. The phone kept ringing at the other end.
‘Your bit of foreign fluff not at home?’ Collins said.
He dialled again, making sure he got each digit right, and pulling the long cord with him took a step out of the mess and out of earshot of the older man. He tried the number four times, but there was no answer. He was standing in the gangway, and was about to dial again, when Collins passed him a second time and gave him a knowing look. It seemed everyone on board was talking about him and the pretty Finnish girl. There was nothing for it – he’d try ringing again after his four-hour watch on the quarterdeck.
Two days after the embassy party was a cold autumn day. The single tree outside Kaisa’s block of flats had long since lost its leaves – it stood there, desolate, trying to survive the stormy winds from the Baltic that beat its tender trunk. She sighed as she watched its struggle from the narrow window of her kitchenette.
Living alone in a flat in Helsinki had seemed glamorous a year ago. Now the beige walls of the one-bedroomed place in Lauttasaari seemed restricting. The flat, which belonged to her boyfriend’s family, wasn’t even in Helsinki proper. There was a bus service but it took almost an hour to reach the city centre. While Tuuli could walk to Hanken, she was forced to memorise bus schedules and carefully plan her trips into the city. She was always late for lectures.
When the phone rang she jumped.
Kaisa heard the familiar voice at the other end of the line and sat down on a kitchen chair she’d placed next to the hall table. ‘No Matti, I’m not feeling any better.’
She took the receiver away from her ear and looked at her reflection in the mirror above the table. Was this the face of a cheat? She listened to her boyfriend talk about the British ship he could see from his office window. Matti worked as a customs officer at the South Harbour. Kaisa tried to sound nonchalant. ‘You can see the English people coming and going?’ she asked.
‘Yes, their uniforms are very smart.’
Kaisa’s mouth felt dry. She couldn’t speak. The thought of Matti looking at the deck of the British ship and possibly seeing the Englishman walk along it made her feel dizzy.
‘You still there?’ Matti said. She could hear the irritation in his voice.
‘Englishmen are boring,’ Kaisa had told Matti when he’d called her the fourth time on the eve of the party. She knew he was desperately jealous of her and would have forbidden her to go if he’d been able to. Now she almost laughed at her own words to her boyfriend. Oh, what a mess she’d got herself into. Perhaps Matti had been right, perhaps she should never have gone to the embassy party.
‘Yes, I’m here,’ Kaisa said. It took her over ten minutes to convince him that she was still ill. Matti had phoned twice the day before, and she’d had to put on a throaty voice to stop him from coming over. Kaisa just couldn’t see him, not yet. She felt bad because she’d never lied to Matti like this before.
When he finally let her go, and she’d replaced the avocado coloured receiver, Kaisa realised the embassy party had been the first time she’d been out without her fiancé since they got engaged. And that hadn’t really been going out either – not in the way her friend from university would call going out. When Kaisa first met Tuuli, on the first day of term in the autumn of last year, her friend had been surprised to see the ring on the finger of her left hand.
‘But you’re the same age as me!’ Tuuli had said. Of course, Kaisa was fairly used to that kind of reaction – not many girls got engaged at the age of sixteen – so she just laughed.
Now sitting in the hall, next to the silent telephone, Kaisa looked at the invitation from the British Embassy. She traced the gold lettering with her fingertips and turned it over and gazed at the smudged lipstick on the back. His name and address. For two days Kaisa had sat in her flat waiting for the Englishman’s phone call. Like a fool, she’d made only short calls to her friend and tried to get her boyfriend off the line as quickly as possible. She was supposed to be studying before her university lectures restarted on Monday, but all she could think about was the Englishman. Kaisa was furious with herself. Matti had been right; she should never have agreed to go to the cocktail party. Luckily he didn’t know what a fool she’d been, so completely taken in by a foreign sailor. Thank goodness all he’d got out of her was a quick, stolen kiss.
She dialled Tuuli’s number.
Kaisa tried to listen to the tone of her friend’s voice. Was Tuuli getting bored with her talking about the Englishman? ‘No,’ she said.
‘Forget about the Englishman. It was a bit of fun, that’s all.’
Of course, Tuuli was right. Kaisa changed the subject. ‘Are you going to see your guy again?’ Her Finnish sailor had gone back to his barracks at Santahamina, a few miles down the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia.
‘I don’t know. He was a bit too – correct. You know what I mean?’
Kaisa said she did, but didn’t really understand. Matti, her fiancé, was very ‘correct’. The Englishman wasn’t at all like that, although he was serving in the armed forces. He didn’t seem to take anything seriously, he was always laughing. Perhaps that was why he hadn’t called; perhaps Kaisa was a great big joke too? Or was it some kind of a game? Was he one of those boys who liked to conquer and then chuck you as soon as they’ve won you over? But they hadn’t done anything; all he’d had was a hasty kiss. It didn’t matter now, Kaisa told herself. Why was she here waiting for a call from some foreign stranger when she was engaged to be married anyway? It wasn’t right. That was another thing: sooner or later she’d have to come clean to her boyfriend. First she needed to get over her own embarrassment. Matti’s questions about the party, the embassy, the foreign officers, the food and the drink could wait.
‘You must have it bad, old chap,’ Collins slapped Peter on the shoulder as he passed. He’d lost count of how many times over the last two days he’d tried to dial the number the girl had given him. He’d called it all day yesterday and now on a Saturday it still kept ringing and ringing at the other end. ‘Plenty more fish in the sea!’ Collins shouted and, turning around, cupped his pretend breasts and pursed his lips in a mock kiss. There was dirty laughter all around him. Peter wanted to tell him to ‘Fuck off!’ but he was senior to him, so he just laughed half-heartedly. After about ten rings he replaced the receiver on the wall and sat down on an empty sofa in the officers’ mess. He ran his fingers through his thick hair. A young steward was clearing away the tea dishes from a table littered with half-filled cups of milky tea and cake crumbs. Peter gazed at the paper napkin under the table, trying to see if he’d missed something in the numbers.
‘Still no answer?’ Nick, the other sub-lieutenant onboard, was sitting opposite him, reading a magazine. Peter and Nick had graduated from Dartmouth at the same time, but it was really only during the last few weeks on the ship that they’d become firm friends. Peter waited until the steward, balancing a tray full of cups and saucers, left them.
‘I don’t get it – why would she give me a wrong number?’
‘To shut you up?’ Nick grinned at him.
Peter didn’t look at his friend. He sighed and, leaning back against the hard edge of the wardroom sofa, flicked the now tattered piece of napkin onto the table. He took a packet of cigarettes out of his breast pocket and lit one. Blowing the smoke upwards, he wondered why he was so keen to get in touch with this girl anyway. They were going to sail tomorrow, so there’d be no time to really get to know her, to have her. Still, there was something about her, something different. The way she reacted when he touched her. The hidden passion under that cool exterior. He wanted to know how she looked with the dress pulled down her shoulders, onto her waist. She’d worn no bra and he’d clearly seen the outline of her breasts. God, he mustn’t think about it now. He looked over to his friend, who was studying the napkin.
Nick turned it this way and that. ‘That last number – is it a seven?’
Peter nodded; he could recount the number by heart now, ‘245 527’.
‘Have you tried it as a one? You know, Europeans put that little slash across a seven and this hasn’t got one, so…’
Kaisa decided to make some bread rolls. She looked out of the window of her kitchenette. It was snowing; first fall of the year. Light flecks dropped slowly to the asphalt below and melted as they landed. She turned away from the cold scene and started mixing flour with water and yeast. The loud ringing of the phone filled the flat with its urgency. Not Matti again, please, Kaisa prayed, and picked up the receiver with her floured hands.
The Englishman sounded elated when he heard Kaisa’s voice.
‘You’re late,’ she said.
‘Sorry?’ Now there was a serious tinge to his tone.
‘Exactly 24 hours late.’ Kaisa was surprised by her own tone of voice; she hadn’t realised how angry she was.
The Englishman started talking fast. Kaisa balanced the receiver between her neck and shoulder and listened. Even when he was being serious she could hear the smile in his voice. He’d rung the wrong number. The digit ‘one’ that she’d written in lipstick on his napkin looked like a seven, he explained. A mate had told him Europeans write numbers differently.
‘I see.’ Could Kaisa believe this foreign sailor? Everyone knew foreigners, and sailors in particular, had loose morals. She thought about her fiancé. How could she tell Matti she’d met up with the Englishman twice? If they didn’t do anything and met up just as friends, was it still wrong? If she didn’t kiss him again, would that be alright? Kaisa knew Matti would be so angry; he might even leave her. Was she really prepared for that? Then there was the flat, owned by his aunt, not to mention Matti’s mother. How would she be able to face her?
‘Please, please come and meet me!’ Kaisa could hear the Englishman’s sincerity in his words. She closed her eyes and thought about the kiss.
‘But it’s impossible,’ she whispered. Kaisa sat down and held tightly onto the receiver now, not caring about the dough sticking to the plastic. She’d have to clean it up later; besides, what did it matter anyway?
There was another short pause. Kaisa held her breath. Was he giving up on her?
Peter looked along the gangway. Involuntarily he crossed his fingers and waited. He could hear her faint breathing down the line. ‘If I phone again in half an hour, you’ll think about it?’ he said.
The Englishman was ten minutes late. Kaisa had been early as usual; she was a Finn, always on or before time for a rendezvous. But as soon as she saw him walking towards her, wearing a dark navy mac, she forgave him his lateness. He didn’t know Helsinki after all. His hair was darker than she remembered, as were his eyes. When he spotted her, he opened his arms, scooped Kaisa up inside his coat and quickly let go of her again. She looked around; it wasn’t something people in Finland did on the street, in public. Besides some of her boyfriend’s family might see her. Kaisa could just imagine what would happen if his aunt spotted her with a dark-haired man. The old bat would know he was foreign straightaway, with his features and the way he dressed; a summer mac in October! Luckily it was a cold, windy evening and very few people had braved the outdoors.
‘So,’ he said. They were standing opposite each other, ‘You’re here.’ His dark eyes were again boring into Kaisa.
She looked down at her boots and said, ‘Yes.’
‘Well, I’m glad,’ he said and took her hand. They walked, arm in arm along the deserted North Esplanade. Their steps matched easily, it was as if they’d done this for years and years; sauntered together like this along the streets of Helsinki, looking into shop windows with their bright and inviting lights. But everywhere was shut; it was well past six o’clock. Kaisa suddenly realised she hadn’t given a thought to where they should go.
As if he’d read her mind, the Englishman said, ‘Shall we go and have a drink?’
Kaisa looked up at him.
‘A pub, perhaps?’ he said.
She took him to the only place she knew none of her boyfriend’s family would go, Kaarle XII. ‘Kalle’, as the students called the place, was popular with young drinkers – there was a disco on Thursday nights, when it was difficult to get in. Matti hated new music; he only liked the old-fashioned dances, such as tango, Finnish humppa or the waltz. Kaisa knew he’d never set foot in a bar like Kalle. For a Saturday night, it wasn’t too full; they found a table in the corner and Kaisa went to get two beers from the counter. When she handed the bottle and glass to the Englishman, he glanced behind him, where a group of guys were whistling and pointing in their direction.
‘Sailors from my ship,’ the Englishman said and poured beer into his glass. He laughed; it seemed to be another joke.
He put his hand over Kaisa’s and smiled. She felt inexplicably happy; here she was sitting opposite a foreign sailor, a man she’d met only once before. He was good-looking – in an obvious way, which usually would make Kaisa mistrustful. Yet she didn’t want to shift her position even slightly in case he let go of her hand. She smiled at him and he pulled her fingers to his lips and kissed them. ‘I’m really happy you’re here.’
The noise from the other tables and the music grew louder; they couldn’t hear each other. One of the sailors came over to the table and, looking at Kaisa, said, ‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to the lovely lady, Sir?’
Kaisa couldn’t understand what the Englishman replied, but he finished his beer quickly and said, ‘Could we go somewhere else?’
Kaisa found another place near the Helsinki train station, where they ordered some food. She watched the Englishman eat a steak, while she picked at a salad.
Over the meal he told her about his childhood, how he didn’t do as well at school as he should have done. ‘I was very lazy,’ he said. His father wanted him to join the Navy, and he did that as soon as he could after finishing school. ‘And I love it,’ he said, and smiled.
Kaisa in turn told him about her childhood, about all the schools she’d been to, about how her family moved to Stockholm when she was eleven, after which she’d hardly spent more than a year in one school.
‘How many languages do you speak?’
‘Just Swedish and English, and a little bit of French and German. And Finnish, obviously.’
‘Wow,’ the Englishman said.
‘But my English isn’t so good,’ she said.
‘You speak English wonderfully – I love your accent.’
Kaisa could feel her face grow hot and was afraid she’d blushed. She lowered her eyes. The Englishman took hold of her hands and bent over the table, closer to her. ‘I love everything about you.’
‘You mustn’t say that.’ Kaisa could feel the Englishman’s fingers over the ring on her left hand.
‘I’m engaged to be married.’ She saw the Englishman glance down at her left finger, with the white and yellow gold band on it, and let go of her hands.
There was a silence. Kaisa held her breath. This would surely be it; next he’ll say he has to get back to the ship. Kaisa stared at a piece of lettuce on her plate. It had gone brown at the edges.
At last the Englishman said, ‘But you’re not married.’
She looked into his dark eyes; again Kaisa felt like she could sink into them, ‘No.’
Kaisa was so relieved the Englishman still wanted to be with her even though he now knew that by being here with him she was betraying another man. She knew she should be strong and go back to her fiancé, but something pulled her back to this foreign man. She knew he’d leave soon and then would never see him again; still she remained there, fiddling with her engagement band, rooted to her seat.
‘So…you could come and see me in England?’ the Englishman said.
‘No, that’s impossible,’ Kaisa replied without thinking.
The Englishman took her hands into his again. His lips had turned up at the corners into a bright smile, ‘I told you – nothing is impossible!’
Kaisa smiled too. The Englishman began to lean towards her, but just then a waiter came over and, looking at Kaisa’s half-full plate of salad, asked if they’d finished. ‘Yes,’ Kaisa said. The waiter turned to the Englishman, pointed at his empty glass of beer and asked in Finnish if he wanted another one. Kaisa exchanged glances with the Englishman. The waiter was being rude on purpose; surely he’d heard them speaking in English.
‘We’re fine – just the bill please,’ Kaisa said in Finnish.
After the meal they did all the things would-be lovers with nowhere to go do. They walked along the Esplanade under the steel-coloured sky, flitted from one Helsinki bar to another. Kaisa was petrified that they’d meet someone she knew, especially as the handsome English naval officer insisted on holding her close to him. So she steered him to places where her boyfriend’s posh family were unlikely to go. Of course, they bumped into his shipmates everywhere they went, inducing hilarity and cheering.
In Happy Days, a large bar that had opened only a few weeks before, the Englishman told Kaisa his commanding officer had warned him about her.
‘What do you mean?’
‘There are honey traps, you know.’
When Kaisa looked at him, not comprehending what he was talking about, he added, ‘KGB agents posing as beautiful young women to trap young officers.’
Kaisa laughed. She had to. Her as a KGB agent! In Helsinki! ‘But I’m not,’ she said and put her hand on his arm resting on the table.
‘I know you’re not. Very few of these honey traps wear an engagement ring for one.’ He laughed and made Kaisa smile too.
‘So you noticed the ring from the start!’ she said.
‘But how, if you knew…’
The Englishman shrugged his shoulders and took her hand between his. ‘I couldn’t help myself. You’re very beautiful.’
Kaisa stared at him. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered.
‘And we sail tomorrow,’ the Englishman said. His eyes had grown even darker and Kaisa had to look away to stop herself from leaning over to kiss him.
It became embarrassing to stay inside the restaurant without ordering more food or drink, so they got up and once again braved the cold weather in Esplanade Park. At least it had stopped snowing. They sheltered from the chill wind by the statue of Eino Leino, the Finnish poet. Kaisa tried to remember some of his romantic works, but all she could recall was a verse from a poem about old age that she had to study at school, ‘Haihtuvi nuoruus niinkuin vierivä virta’. Kaisa translated for the Englishman, ‘Youth disappears as fast as a river flows.’ She looked up at the imposing figure, with its heavy cape, and wondered if the great man was trying to tell her something. The park was deserted and they were standing in the shadow of the statue. Kaisa was sure no one would be able to see them, and relaxed a little.
‘You’re lovely,’ the Englishman said, and he took Kaisa into his embrace. She forgot all about the poem, or being cold, or her boyfriend’s family. She felt safe in the Englishman’s arms. He took Kaisa’s face between his hands and kissed her. She kissed him back. He held her tight, kissing her neck, and lips again. His hands, now warmed by her body, were moving around inside Kaisa’s jumper; she didn’t tell him to stop. Kaisa couldn’t resist him. She felt his desire hard against her thigh and she wanted him so much her body ached.
‘Can’t we go to your flat?’ the Englishman asked breathlessly.