On Mannerheimintie

Little by little, she’s watched the days grow shorter. Every day the darkness comes a bit earlier, until twilight becomes synonymous with mid-afternoon. Now though, shortly before nine, it’s properly nighttime. The street names and their suffixes no longer feel foreign on her tongue. “Katu” and “kuja” have replaced “boulevard” and “avenue” for the time being, and she is comfortable with them as she walks to her destination, listening to the snow-covered gravel crunching under her feet.

Even after almost five months there are still moments of disbelief that she’s here, blending in until she opens her mouth to be betrayed once again. It’s strange, to be in a place where everyone recognizes her home country and yet hardly anyone knows were she comes from. Not east, not west, not north, and not south. Not coastal or even in the center of the vast American expanse, her origin is just there, under the radar of most of the planet.

She’s done her best to protect herself from the elements tonight but the Nordic winter penetrates through layers of black wool and nylon to brush along her skin, reminding her she is vulnerable. Still, she is safe, in ways she never was in her home country. Daring has replaced inbred caution and she walks without worry off of the main road, without constantly looking over her shoulder or crossing the street to stay in a well-lit location. Numerous times she has tried to explain this to the women here, but her point never quite manages to transcend language and upbringing. Maybe it’s just impossible to articulate fear.

Somehow the season makes the stars appear sharper when she looks at the sky, squinting a little to distinguish them from the city lights. Her teeth are chattering and she nestles deeper into her coat, searching for any remaining scrap of warmth, but the cold won’t matter much longer. She’ll burn in a few moments, when the music starts and the sound ignites her from the inside out. She’s waited for this like she always does, days filled with anticipation culminate in breathless moments when she is lost in a sea of bodies, taken away to a part of herself where emotion takes over from words.

From the outside it has to look insane, to spend money she can’t afford to be frivolous with on the same experience again and again, but she doesn’t care about appearances. She’s learned the hard way that her happiness is in her own hands here, and she refuses to relinquish a source of such consistent joy. The music brought her but it’s the nuances that keep her coming back, the subtle differences in sound and interaction that can vary wildly on any given night.

The wind picks up and she shivers again, shifting her weight from foot to aching foot, fighting to ignore the toll of winter and the eagerness in her stomach, coiled and writhing and impossible to deny. It won’t be long now.

Meredith Foster