And when I arrived at the platform, guess who was there in her coat and small glasses, looking at me as I came out from the station: Leena! “Hi again!” she said with this funny Finnish accent that makes everything so flat! “I decided not to go to work, I think I had more than a couple of glasses, but Juha wants to be alone and concentrate so I’m going to the mall for shopping!” I don’t know what got into me, but I told her I had some time to kill before meeting my friend and I asked her if she had time for a coffee, she said sure!
“He worries all the time!” she said after we sat down in the café Marc and I usually go to, with two cappuccinos in front of us. “He was happily married; at least that’s what he thought, with two kids, two sons. Then one day his wife left him taking the sons with her and now he doesn’t know what to do! You see he misses his sons!” I felt sad for Juha and what made me even sadder was that I hadn’t understood that something like that was going on in his life, so it was natural that he was frustrated and angry all the time. Obviously I had misjudged him!
“Two months ago he lost his job!” You know the saying; bad things always come in twos! “He told them they didn’t appreciate him and when he said this, they just kicked him out, after all these years!” I didn’t know what to say! I was quiet, watching her play with her cup and she continued, “Then he got this writers’ block and he cannot write and he really wants to finish his book, he thinks it will be a bestseller!” I didn’t want to say anything, but a bestseller on the Finnish market doesn’t necessarily mean financial success! How long have you known him? I asked. “I met him at Hemingway’s last month!” she said, and at long last she had a smile on her face. This woman was definitely in love!
I pictured the pub Leena had just mentioned, with Juha inside. The pub is quite nice, actually Marc and I have been there a few times, but I think the main reason we go there is because it is the only decent pub around. The other pubs, especially the ones in our neighbourhood, look like they come straight from a Kaurismäki film. They are sad, they look sad and they feel sad. Depression is the best drink they serve and it has stuck to the walls. The first time I went to one of them, I discovered one basic rule: don’t go there if you are not accompanied by a Finn. Not only because they won’t serve you - you are lucky if they only attack you verbally.
The first time I found myself in one of these local pubs, I was with a Finnish friend and it was summer, so we were sitting on the patio outside the pub drinking beer, smoking and talking. A few of the locals were inside, and more outside sitting by the cheap tables. At one point I saw a man walking on the pavement and when he got closer, he suddenly crossed the street. After he had passed the pub, he crossed the street again and continued on his way. The man was Somali and his reason for crossing the street was more than obvious to me after having a look at the people around us. I felt embarrassed sitting in the pub and since then I have avoided all the local pubs.
You can find pubs like that on every corner in Finland and sometimes they serve pizza or hamburgers. They have a licence to serve only one kind of beer; usually cheap and tasteless, but most of the customers cannot taste it anyway. Usually these places have never seen a brush or soap, and I have never dared to visit their toilets. The barmen look even more drunk than the customers, and the customers are usually irritating. You can sense that a fight might start any minute.
This isn’t a very good way to describe something that happens in every country, but somehow I have the feeling that it happens just too often in Finland. There are pubs like this in every country, but here they seem to be everywhere. I have tried too many times to make sense of this alcohol culture, but it never makes any sense, and it seems to me that this alcohol thing is beyond age, education and class!
Leena looked really sad now, ready to start crying and I didn’t know what to do. Mandy was an excuse and I could call him and tell him that something sudden had happened and rearrange our coffee meeting, but as I was thinking this, Leena stood up, “thank you for listening!” she said quite suddenly, and with an equally quick goodbye she left, leaving two empty cappuccino cups on the table. I didn’t know what to think. I definitely didn’t like the man, there was something creepy about him and I didn’t feel comfortable around him. But on the same time, the story Leena had just told me had really upset me.
Mandy didn’t improve the weird feeling I had, and on my way home, I couldn’t stop thinking about Juha and Leena. When I arrived back home, the first thing I did was to check outside if anybody was on Leena’s balcony. Juha was not there but Pieteri was, screaming as usual to everybody! The weather seemed to have improved suddenly, and a lot of kids were outside playing. Suddenly I saw a shadow walking past Leena’s window, Juha was there watching! I could feel it, I could sense that he was watching me, and again I felt the same strange shiver inside me! Usually first impressions are the right ones, and I didn’t like the man. Now I had to find out why!
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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