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10 Helsinginkatu: Bonjour, what's your name? 10 Helsinginkatu: Bonjour, what's your name?
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-03-20 14:10:59
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Then it was me again standing in my usual place on my glass-covered patio smoking one of my usual half cigarettes when I saw her again. This time she was in her wheelchair but this time there was the cat sitting comfortably on her lap. Ok, I must admit that cats are different. If a dog was sitting on her lap you would say it was sweet but this cat was majestic! She was sitting back straight and head up, watching everything with curiosity and ready to jump just as a dog would have done but with grace!

“Moi” she said when she came closer. I forgot to say that her wheelchair was one of those with a motor and she was driving it – I’m not sure if this is the right way to describe it – with a small stick on her right side. I have to admit she was quite fast and that scared me a bit since before I answered to her ‘Moi’ she was already round the corner heading for the street. My ‘hello’ was somewhere in the air before she vanished in the street.

Between the three times I had met the woman and the cat, or the woman on her own, it had been something like two weeks. In these two weeks I had met another neighbour that really impressed me. I was standing on my patio as usual having a cigarette when this man came close to me and said something very fast and very loud in Finnish. When I say fast I mean really fast; it didn’t matter what language he used, in the end it was like a continuing noise and he said everything so loud I was sure all the neighbourhood heard.

By the way I was familiar of this method, my grandmother used it often; you see my grandmother used to travel a lot to the States but apart from a very few words she didn’t speak any other language except Greek. But she never had a problem and the woman had travelled from Germany to France and England. The method is simple, speak loud, as loud you can and everybody understands you. And they did, I was a witness once in Kennedy airport where she actually got exactly what she wanted even in one of the cafes plainly saying what she wanted loud in Greek! Obviously my neighbour thought that the same method was working with me and he did practise it a lot ignoring my fragile nerves!

So for the first two weeks he kept coming to me every time he saw me outside and started screaming something with me just nodding all the time, I had told him in the beginning that I don’t speak Finnish and he ignored it so I ignored him. Anyway it seems that two weeks was enough for him to understand that the method didn’t really work with me so he decided to change it. He learned how to say ‘good morning, how are you?’ and I bet he spent a lot of hours practising because the third week he came seriously to me stopped just a meter away and taking a deep breathe he said, “Good morning, how are you?” in really loud voice, this loud part didn’t want to change!

It was not the first time that was happening to me so I decided to play a small joke to him. “Bonjour, très bien. Et vous?” I answered and you should see his face! Poor sod, it was like I had hit him the way he looked at me; and then he turned suddenly and walked away without saying anything, except a small laugh I heard from behind me.

“He had a small accident when he was young and he is a bit slow since then!” It was her again and this time she was walking with her cane of course and the cat next to her staring at me as always. “I didn’t know,” I answered feeling already sorry for my stupid joke. I mean he looked a bit slow but I never thought to be nasty or something like that, it was just a stupid joke and I said exactly that. She looked at me still with a smile on her face, “Don’t worry, he asked me two days ago how to say this ‘Good morning’ and he is practicing the last two days so I’d better do something with my …French now!”

“Do you speak French?” I asked mostly to say something, “Very little, I learned some at school but never spoke them outside school so my French is much poorer than my English!” and saying that she followed her cat that had already obviously got bored and heading away. “Hey, what’s your name?” I asked quite suddenly but I suppose I needed to put a name to the woman with the cat. “Leena” she answered smiling! I had forgotten to tell her my name.

All characters and events depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to persons living, dead, or fictional or situations past, present, or fictional is purely and completely coincidental. 

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