A Long Time is a Short Time

Untitled 2 300x201 A Long Time is a Short Time(Simo, Finland. August 2003)

All winter she had waited for the summer time when the weather was warm and perfect and the sky clear.  She took a small backpack, her sleeping bag, all her money and a glass unicorn that fit in the palm of her hand.  It was a gift from her grandmother who had died when she was twelve.

She hitched a lift from her flat in Leeds and grinned uncontrollably when the sun came through the windshield and warmed her lap.  A single ride, a man and his three children, took her all the way to the ferry at Dover where she paid seventeen pounds for a ticket on SeaFrance and embarked for the Continent.

It was her lucky day.

From Calais, she took the train to Frankfurt, then to Hamburg, then to Copenhagen where she spent a week in a small, cheap hostel with oversized windows and sills that could fit an entire person lying down.  The kind man at the desk gave her cigarettes every evening and she passed her nights sitting in the sills, smoking.  Then she hitched a ride over the Oresund Bridge to Malmö and Sweden.  There was no way he would find her there, she thought.

“He’s a real scuzzbag, he is.  Dumb bum.  Good for nothing.”

In Simo there was a café near the water.  It was morning and the air was cool and fresh and a breeze was blowing off the bay.  Several wire baskets of ivy, fern, browallia and heather hung from a wooden beam near the door, on which there was a coat-of-arms displaying the four fish tails that symbolize the village.  Leaving my pack and broom handle in the grass next to a birch.  I went inside, ordered a coffee and pulla and sat down.  She was the one other customer, a girl with pink hair and tattoos.  She wasn’t very pretty but she was sweet and small with a turned up nose and a ring in her eyebrow.  She wore green fatigues and a grey tank top.  It was much too cold for a tank top.  I offered her my coat.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Finnish,” she said.

“Good.  Me neither.”  I sat down across from her.

From Malmö she called her mom.  He was looking for her and had been to her childhood home in Churwell, near Leeds.  He was polite and had spent the night on the couch.  Her mother had lied for her but he knew something was up.  He wanted her back.  She didn’t want to go back.  She panicked and moved on to Stockholm then to Sundsvall and finally to Umeå where she hopped the ferry to Vaasa, winning thirty euros on a gambling machine.

“It’s always: ‘sorry baby.  I didn’t mean it baby.  I love you baby.’  Finland.  What the fuck am I doing in Finland?”  She asked me for a cigarette.  I don’t smoke and told her so.  “Yanks,” she said and shook her head.  She ordered another coffee.

“’It was a long time ago baby.  I’m not like that anymore’, he says.  What he means is:  I’m an asshole.  I’m out of control.  I don’t know how to stop it.”  She stuck her arm on the table.  There was a small scar across her forearm.  “He broke my arm two years ago.  I went out on a Friday and had some pints with a friend.  A girlfriend.  When I got home he was all fucked up and said I’d been cheating on him and he threw me into the wall.  Broke my arm, he did.  The bone was sticking out, right here.  Popped through the skin,” she pointed to the scar.  But, it was a long time ago.”

He hadn’t hit her since then but you could tell that she was still scared of him.  A ‘long time’ doesn’t seem so long when you can’t let go of what happened.

In the Vaasa hostel she got a phone call.  It was him.  She couldn’t figure out how he’d found her there.  He said that he loved her; he was sorry for everything he ever did and that he was coming to bring her home.  She took the bus north, running from him.  “Ok, so I’m a poor, uneducated English girl from a working class family.  I don’t have any big dreams but I don’t deserve to be smacked around by a loser asshole who can’t keep a job.  I just want a normal life.  This is the third time I’ve tried to get away from him.  Every time, he finds me.  Every time, I go back.”

They were together in a campground cottage near the river.  He’d found her in Tornio and was taking her back.  She couldn’t figure out how he’d found her.  And she couldn’t figure out how he’d gotten the money to come for her.  She suspected her mother.  “My dad was an asshole.  She thinks I don’t deserve better than she got.  Fuck.”

He’d cried at the door to her room.  He’d dropped to her knees and cried.  He begged her to come back.  He’d told her he’d be better.  He would get a job.  He would never punch her again – and that had been a long time ago, anyway.  He would stop drinking.  The next afternoon he pushed her against the wall.  She showed me the bruise on her small shoulder blade.

“He didn’t hit me though.”

The morning that I met her, he was at the train station buying tickets for Helsinki.  They’d fly back to London from there.  He had cheap tickets with Ryan Air.

“You’re going with him?”  I asked.

“’Dreams are dreams’, he says.  But what dreams?  I don’t really even have any.  Maybe that’s the problem.  ‘Life is supposed to be tough’, he says.  “Fuck, I don’t know. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”