As to understand

“Phew!” she puffed out her cheeks and blew the air out, hard and slow with exhaustion and an epiphany. “I did not realise that English is so hard.”

Granted, we'd just marched through the rigours of future time and she was entitled to flee the room screaming and tearing her hair out if she felt inclined, I gave a playful jab, “As hard as Finnish?”

The class of five native Finnish speakers erupted (as well as they could in English), “No this is much harder!” they agreed.

Strangely enough most Finns are convinced that their language is the most complex tongue imaginable – though they will narrow it down to the hardest European language.

I’m not convinced at all that some languages are harder than others, even though I’ve even seen several studies that claim Mandarin or Cantonese are the hardest languages in the world to learn - somehow, I don’t think the Chinese would agree. It would also imply that speakers of the languages would be inherently cleverer than the rest of the world. Claiming that a language is harder or easier is usually a Eurocentric exercise, with English and its cousins as the norm.

Still, back to us, fighting to be understood and to understand, be it in Finnish or in English.  As an adult it’s a humbling experience to be reduced from a once eloquent speaker to babbling like a toddler searching for a word or phrase that never quite means what you want it to.  


Deep blues (fiction)

It teases her.

Hanging in the communal drying room, nearly dry. Deep blue satin with black lace skimming its edges, the chemise calls to her.

“You have nothing like me,” it whispers. “Touch me, I’ll be light against your skin. I’ll float in the barest of breeze. Take me.”

Entranced by the silk and lace chemise everything - the chug of the colossal washing machines, the whir of the dryer and the roar of the nameless machine that blows hot air through the drying rooms - is forgotten.

Sheer and sinful, she sees herself in its floating fabric, padding through her unfurnished white corridor in bare feet, someone waiting for her.  He is unknown, a faceless yet erotic form strewn across her bed, he would end her years of loneliness. 

The sudden beep of the machine tells her its chore had ended and brings her back to life, to emptying the machine of her own laundry in various shades of grey, burgundy and black, in wool, denim, corduroy and cotton.

She is captivated.

Forsaking her own washing, she takes the camisole down from the washing line. It belongs to someone else, a woman of daring and self-assurance. It’s not lost, it’s not left behind, it’s surrounded by socks and woollen tights, white shirts, sports bras and jeans.

No one would know. She assures herself.

The other two drying rooms are full, any one of them’s owner could be mistaken for the culprit who, when taking down her washing, pilfers an item she knows doesn’t belong to her.

That won’t be her. Stealing underwear is too far beneath her – too desperate.

She hangs it back in place, smoothing it down, leaving the satin chemise as she found it. She packs her laundry and opens the door to leave.

Abruptly, she halts, drops her bag to the floor and surreptitiously glances around. She dashes into the drying room to where the slip hangs.

She snatches the yellow and black sock beside it, stuffing it in her coat pocket, picks up her possessions and is gone. 

Picture via flickr


Would have been (fiction)

The woman behind me is taking photographs of herself. On the platform at the metro station, she’s oblivious to the sheets of grey rain behind the glass and the occasional curious glances of passers-by. 

She’s using a Nokia, the older kind, not a smart phone like the one I have burning a hole in my bag - a Christmas discount - waiting to be opened and fondled, switched on and stroked.  

She aims the phone's camera at her face – click click, turns her head giving a wide smile – click click, now she juts out her jaw giving her best angle with a pout – click click. She stops, examines the pictures she’s taken, deletes a few and continues – click click

She loosens her scarf and uncrosses her legs, she wears impossibly high heels and they click against the station floor. Click click – I look down at my boots. 

Her phone makes the same imitation camera sound as mine. An intrusive, artificial recreation of the sound of an old camera as it took its designated thirty-six shots before its film had to be reloaded. 

I can’t turn it off though I’ve tried. Thus, I won’t take pictures in public, in quiet spaces where the sound may be heard and heads may turn. I don’t take photos where heads may nod and silently say “she doesn’t belong here.” 

All the photographs I would have taken, all the pictures I’d have emailed back home, picture upon picture – had I been able to turn off that silly click? The pictures would have told stories that words cannot convey. 

I’d have inserted captions – Me at Stockmann! Now at Kluuvi! Check out the Hilfiger shop!

The people I left at home would have been envious, they’d have imagined me bedecked in jewels and designer clothing. Instead of shaking their head –as they do now - clicking their tongues at the child they’d lost, now somewhere in Europe, somewhere very cold.

I wouldn’t need to reassure them in timed and calculated phone calls that, yes, I’m on my way. I’d have shown them in pictures all the things things that one day soon I will have. 

Image via Pinterest


Anticipation, trepidation, dread (fiction)

They'll be glad to meet with her, only if to nurse that little bit of themselves that refuses to let go of home, no matter how far away it may seem when the cold bites and the snow threatens to fall. For telling her that what's new becomes old and the past becomes pictures on Facebook and blurred calls on Skype would be telling her what they don't wish accept.

Why else would you meet only to talk about weather, beer and the all
the seemingly trivial things that you gave up to come here?

In class the others ask "Coffee after, or perhaps even a beer?" Young like her, smart like her, dressed like her - but she'll shake her head and hope for those like her.

"What about Corona - you'll love it? The beer is cheap as are the sandwiches," they try.

She'll go home and wait though she hasn't noticed that she doesn't play far off radio anymore.

Instead she'll tune into music and sounds that though meaningless, grow familiar, transfigure into words and maybe one day she might understand.

In the meantime she'll paint her nails purple, orange or even blue and hope that someone remarks, “What a lovely colour!"

A stop for art

It's easy to forget the little works of beauty that are everywhere in Helsinki. I stroll past this statue, usually out of breath, once a week on my way to class at Lastenklinikka.

I finally inspected the Dainades statue, condemned to perpetual labout, the details of their expressions and posture is in more detail than I'd previously noticed.

I've never stopped before, usually I crane my neck in appreciation and trip on the cobbled stone path that runs past it. It's very often raining as I go past, if not snowing - perhaps it's something about Wednesdays?


Drizzle and grey days

Winter’s coming.

Next week, so the weather app says.

It’s nearing the time of glögi, soup and nests of knitted socks and luxuriant blankets. It’ll soon be the season of hot water bottles and the heating up on high.

This will be my third Helsinki winter. Granted, it seems late this year but I wouldn’t mind winter being deferred indefinitely. It may be the season to be jolly, but it’s also the season of darkness, depression and closing oneself in from the rest of the world.

Soon the streets will be iced, artificial lighting on constantly and I’ll need to repeatedly remind myself that though it may be dark it is, in essence, day.

'I hope Christmas isn't ten degrees and raining' a colleague groaned when discussing holiday plans for the silly season - which, thank heavens, isn't yet as silly here as it is in other parts (you will remain nameless).

The darkness is inevitable and predictable. It's the weather's indecision, prevaricating between cold and colder, damp, drizzling and pouring that makes the transition to winter that little harder to bear.