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Back to Helsinginkatu 10: Chapter 4 Back to Helsinginkatu 10: Chapter 4
by Thanos Kalamidas
2010-05-17 09:08:58
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4. The couple next table

The coffee was cappuccino, not the best of its kind, the croissant was a bit dry and the sit comfortable. I sat drinking slowly my coffee and watching the people around me. It was a bit after noon and the mall was full of mothers with young children, old couples and people looking for something in a reasonable price. Some where checking the new mobiles offered from a promotion stand and a big middle age woman was showing to a small crowd fresh vegetables in very good prices. The artificial lights of the mall were making everybody looking a bit yellowish and I stretched my legs trying to enjoy my coffee.

And I would definitely have if a couple didn’t land on the table next to mine and it was a really bad landing since the man on his way to the seat he nearly fell down. The smell of alcohol and sweat was talking over any other smell in the small surrounding area and my Finnish might be very poor but I could recognized every second word since it was a popular swear. This couple was really testing my tolerance. Usually I have the attitude, live and let them live and somewhere deep inside I feel really sorry for them, wandering what bitter life and how many miseries have led them to alcohol.

That was before coming to Finland. I’m not some kind a non-alcohol freak or anything like that even though my health problems the last couple of years have limited the alcohol I can drink. But I still enjoy a good bourbon or a glass of cold white wine here and then. But making alcohol the excuse to live is beyond me. A few years ago here in Helsinki I met a girl, a very prominent and promising young writer. She had already published one book and the future seemed so bright until she started dating alcohol. Despite the fact that when I met her she was obviously an alcoholic and she was blaming all her miseries to alcohol she was doing absolutely nothing about it. Sometimes I had the feeling that she was using alcohol to forget the miseries alcohol had brought to her.

Coincidentally my telephone rang and it was Georgios, a Greek friend who owns a restaurant in the same mall I was – the stereotype of a Greek, short a bit round with a restaurant. Of course I started talking in Greek with me and I have to admit that focusing in our conversation I didn’t notice the sudden quiet from the next table. Georgios was fine and we just had our usual chat about the latest sad news from Greece, the whole conversation lasted less than two minutes and when I was returning my mobile phone to my jacket’s pocket I heard somebody talking to me in Finnish and the smell of alcohol and sweat coming really close. I’m sorry; I don’t speak Finnish, my usual reply.

The woman, it was the woman who had just spoke to me; she had a round face, red hair obviously not washed for weeks and a face full of scars, some of the horribly deep. She had beautiful deep blue eyes but they were misty from the alcohol and she obviously could not focus. She could have been anything from late thirties to her sixties, another unfortunate side effect of alcohol. But her eyes looked youthful and clever. “I speak little English!” she said with this characteristic Finnish accent obviously proud of herself and looking at the man who had come closer.

“Where are you from?” I looked at her trying to stay at her worm eyes and leave the rest of her, including the smell, out of sight. I’m from Greece, Kreikkalainen! I have to admit that before writing it I checked in the dictionary how you write it but when I say it I suppose my funny limited Finnish do the work. “I’ve been to Kreikka when I was little, very little!” She said. The man asked her something in Finnish and followed an exchange of short sentences between them. But they both looked calm and despite the smell that started making me feeling a bit dizzy I was pretty fine with them as well. “He say he study Kreikan historia school!” The good thing with speaking Greek is that here and there, there is always a Greek word jumping out helping you to understand what’s going on in most languages at least most western languages. I nodded smiling. Another brief exchange followed. “He know all twelve gods” This time I nodded smiling at him. Oh god I nearly fainted. The man open his mouth in a wide greed and the smell of alcohol nearly killed me. I tried to be polite and coughing I pulled a bit back.

They both laughed. God knows what they thought with my cough and pulling back but whatever was that it made them laugh. “Do you live here?” she asked again. I tried to explain that I lived in Helsinki the last ten years and they both made a face. I know, I know and it always embarrasses me when I have to say it out loud. After ten years my Finnish is still limited to hi, how are you and I know that I’m running out of excuses but …this is it! I don’t know, is not lack of motivation and I don’t know if anybody can understand it but is mainly lack of timing or better bad timing. However this was the wrong audience to talk about my timing with the Finnish language so I just said nothing looking at my cappuccino cup. “It doesn’t matter,” she said with a soft voice, “I speak English!” and they both laughed.

The woman sitting at the next table kept throwing some really bad stares at them and obviously that made them feel uncomfortable. I didn’t understand what was going on to start with but the woman said something to the man using a few times this characteristic Finnish swear looking on my left making me to turn and check what she was looking. You know the phrase, if eyes could kill; well it definitely applied to her look. And I wasn’t sure if that was because of me, the odd couple or all of us. And the thing was that even though the three of us had turned and looked at her she kept staring provocatively like she was asking for some kind of trouble. The woman, the drunken woman stood up scaring me for a minute that trouble was coming. But she just straitened her jacket, said something to the man who immediately stood up and then after smiling at me she said something in Finnish loud enough for the other woman to hear and they left slowly, never looking back.

Is amazing how mean we can be and how something out of our ordinary appears can make our most prejudice feeling come to the surface. I was angry with the woman and the way she had looked at us but I had forgotten how I felt just a few minutes before when the couple landed at the table next to mine. I checked my cold cappuccino embarrassed to be called human. These two seemed so nice really. Obviously trapped in the alcohol, obviously having lost a lot in life, god knows for what reason, but they were still humans ready to communicate and in their way to share. That made me wander how many times I had failed in my life to communicate with others because I was hiding behind the barrier of my prejudice. I just looked around and I was amazed on how many odd people were in the same café and how odd I might look to others.

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