Helsinki

I smile, rounding the corner at the hotel. I’m walking at eleven o’clock in the warm, fuzzily lit June evening.

Three people and a dog are at a table. I stop to pet the dog and they are all over me friendly. Where am I from? That blouse looks beautiful on you. California! Oh, do sit down. We’ll get you something to drink. Waiter! I sit down with the two men and a woman. Conversation and laughter fly like sparks in the twilight. They want to take me some place. My friend is in the room. She can come along. Go ask her. Okay. I know she will be asleep, but I go up and tell her my plans. I was going to take a shower, but they said I didn’t have time, the place would close, and I was fine anyway.

Going back down in the elevator, Mother asks, is this okay? Are you safe? She travels with me, in blood, and bone.

We go in a taxi, laughing at nothing. One man keeps hugging and kissing me. I think he is gay and just being friendly. The woman is a journalist. They drive me past the home of the president of the country, so they say. I am whirling through a strange and distant city with people I’ve just met, whose language I don’t speak, through the gathering night, a darkness in which I would be totally lost if I were on my own.

When we arrive, the restaurant is dark. One of them goes in, and soon comes out. We all go in. The owners greet us, set out coffee and liquor, and serve us the traditional favorite dessert, a rich cake soaked in a liqueur. Some of the talk is in English and some in Finnish. The laughter is all the same language. Many warm handshakes and smiles are exchanged before we leave. I take cards from the restaurant—for the next person I run into going to Helsinki. In the early morning hours, they drop me back at the hotel.

“Write,” the woman says.

Yes, I say.

“Maybe, she will. Maybe she won’t,” one of the men says. “You never can tell. It’s okay.”

The next day, as promised, the woman has a copy of the Finnish magazine for which she writes delivered to my hotel. I never write

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