To be or not (Fiction)

“I want to speak better Finnish,” we all paraphrase in some form or the other.

The room is filled with people like me, people with nothing else to do with our daylight hours but to sit in a perfectly heated classroom and talk.

A Chinese woman, her belly bulging with her second child spoke rapidly but incomprehensibly, she’s lived in Espoo for eight years. A redhead from Latvia uses simple sentences, but prattles on musically telling us about her three years in Vuosaari with her husband and little boy. Her eyes sparkle when she talks.

My turn comes and I fumble though I practiced. Those few minutes feel like and interrogation and I’m thankful when my self-introduction is over and it’s the turn of the man beside me. I look at my low-heeled Mary Janes with relief and wiggle my toes in their dampness.

One after the other, there are twenty of us though the room could hold twice as many. There’s shuffling of feet, hemming and hawing, looking to the person beside you for help and finally shrugging.

An American woman, the hem of dress marked with a quality label, her legs demurely crossed tells us she wants to speak Finnish sujuvasti her eyes searching the teachers face for approval. She’s rewarded with a nod.

Footsteps pound along the corridor, someone’s running, the sound intrudes into our world and we are momentarily distracted. But not our teacher, she raises her voice ever so slightly to herd our attention back to her.

“How long have you been in Helsinki?” the teacher has to simplify and repeat the question – it’s easy to tell she’s been doing this for many years. She’s knows how to speak to us, fluently but not too rapidly, simply but not as if we were children.

“I’ve been here for ten years, my husband works for Nokia,” she replied.
I allow myself to feel smug, ten years and her Finnish is on par with mine.

Something about her makes me eager to feel superior, or at least equal. Though she’s done nothing that should offend me.

Her clothes and posture tell me one story; a woman who would bedeck herself in makeup and designer clothing for an early afternoon Finnish conversation class at a local library; yet she picks at her clothes, when she speaks she seems anxious as if learning this language will save her somehow.

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