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Back to Helsinginkatu 10: Chapter 10 Back to Helsinginkatu 10: Chapter 10
by Thanos Kalamidas
2010-06-23 08:25:21
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10. Romas and Ivan

Pekka had left and I was there alone under the gray sky with a cup of cold coffee and no more cigarettes. I decided a walk to the petrol station near my house wouldn’t hurt me so I took my jacket and started walking towards the petrol station.

Actually this is not a petrol station; it is also a self-service petrol station. It is a mini supermarket with a small take away restaurant and news kiosk and I bet if I had asked for anything they would have found a way to get it for me. Except that early in the evening the place transforms into a meeting place with all short of people hanging around. The first time I noticed it because there were too many Roma men and the Roma people in Finland have this funny air of something going on around and usually end up in trouble. Not their fault at least to my opinion. The Finnish society like most of the European societies I suppose, are prejudice in many way to the Roma people and unfortunately this prejudice moves to all the levels of the Finnish society doesn’t matter education and age.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a Roma woman for the radio and I really enjoyed her stories and talking with her. It was amazing when she explained the problems the Roma people have to deal with in Finland and what makes them so different even from other Roma people around Europe. I was amazed to find out that the Finnish Roma are the only ones who don’t speak the common Roma language and how embarrassed she felt when she participated in a Pan-European Roma Meeting and she couldn’t understand what everybody else was saying, she actually communicated in English.

The woman had told ma about her talented graphic designer husband – later I had the chance to meet him – and proudly about her two kids and their amazing scores at school. she told me about hard working people and beautiful families, funny stories and unique customs but then again she told me how it is to be a minority and often stranger, an outcast in your own country. The Finnish state has the right laws that protect minorities like the Roma minority and immigrants. Unfortunately it’s not the anonymous state that applies those laws but individuals, people with hidden agendas, personal problems and ugly prejudice. And on top of that it’s not the hard working people and the beautiful families you usually see but the very few trouble makers that hang around the metro stations, in the East Centre of Helsinki and the central train station. These people sometimes stoned or drank you can sense that they are clear trouble without understanding how much they are harming the group they unfortunately represent.

So here I was inside the petrol station which was also mini market restaurant café and I don’t know what else. On the window side that is looking at the petrol pumps there are some kind of table where you can eat or drink while standing, there are four of them and in the one at the very far was a group of five Roma boys in their early twenties talking loud and laughing. The next table was hosting a mixed group of high-school boys and girls, also loud and the third was empty with the fourth having a very thin obviously Somali old man drinking his tea and looking outside lost in thoughts. In the check-out my friend Ivan!

Ivan is the man and I suppose not only in my thoughts but for everybody who comes to this petrol station the soul of the place. Hundred percent Russian, round face, clever bright blue eyes, blonde hair and the beginning of a blonde beard. A heavy man but obviously heavy from hard work with big shoulder and obviously a lot of muscles. The place is open till early hours in the morning and you can see why it needs somebody the size of Ivan. But Ivan is not just muscles. He is friendly with everybody, always ready to help and of course sell and the amazing thing, he must speak every single language exists. I’m not joking. I have heard him speaking Finnish and Russian of course, but then Somali with the Somalis, Swahili with some Africans, English with me, German with my German neighbour and Italian with a guest. One day he asked I and I told him that I’m Greek and to my amazement but not surprise he started saying things in Greek.

Evan saw me going straight to the cashier, he pulled a packet of cigarettes from somewhere above him and said, “Good day, how are we tonight?” Hello Ivan, I’m fine thank you, you are early today! “My wife thinks that working late every night is not good for our sex life!” he answered with a smile while taking the money from my hand. “Well, late evenings don’t do badly with my sex life!” he added with a very naughty smile pointing with his head the girls that were giggling in the far table.

There was nobody waiting after me so I thought that I could ask the next question, “Have you heard about the crime last night?” he stopped for a moment and then he looked at me with a really sad face, “Alexei, yes we all know what happened to Alexei.” For a moment I felt lost, I felt that I was missing something and he obviously understood my confusion, “they killed his wife in Sörnäinen, bastard alcoholics!” he said with passion.

Ivan checked the shop with just one look and feeling that everything was going to be quiet for a bit he turned behind him where there was the coffee machine with pots boiling filter coffee and he filled a plastic cup nodding to me if I wanted one. My curiosity to find out about Alexei was so strong that won my dislike for over burned filter coffee. I pulled some coins from my pocket but Ivan made me put them back with another nod and then leaning on the counter he said, “Alexei is a good man,” he stopped for a minute thinking, “his Russian heart was always aching!” I looked at him with a real wander. I thought he was here for long time, he had a Finnish citizenship! “A Finnish citizenship in a Russian heart!”  Ivan said with a bitter smile. Before I have the chance to ask him what he meant one of the Roma boys came and asked something from Ivan. Ivan’s face lines suddenly harden and he said something in Finnish very fast, the boy pulled back without saying a word and he returned to his friends. What’s the matter? I asked. “Oh the usual and he’s doing it for a second rime today, he wants cigarettes and pay another day.” Boys, I tried to say with a smile. “This is not a boy,” Ivan said a bit angry, “he hasn’t been a boy since he left his mother tit!” he added.

For a bit we stood there drinking our coffee quiet with Ivan watching the Roma boys who occasionally looked at him. I had seen this scene a lot of times before in my life and in different places of this world, too much testosterone barging and nothing more. I really felt like laughing but Ivan’s face wasn’t letting me, obviously he was taking the whole situation seriously but one look at those skinny young boys was enough to make you feel sorry for them in a case they would have to deal with Ivan. Then Ivan turned slowly to me and asked, “I’m going to see Alexei after work for a drink, do you want to come with me?” jump up and down would have never been the appropriate reaction under the circumstances.

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