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This story is directly inspired by my recent visit to Stockholm and I’ve tried to describe the city as best as possible after only three nights there. I wrote it from a Swedish woman’s POV just to see how far I can push the envelope. It’s a fun little piece while I work on the sequel for The Singer. Not sure how far I can take this story but we’ll see, I have included some Swedish words and phrases, with translations as well.
When I first moved to Stockholm I found it hard to adapt and that might sound strange considering that I was raised in another big city, Malmö but the two cities are quite different and I’m not just talking about the difference between Skanian and Stockholm dialects. Malmö is a real cultural melting pot, because it’s closer to Europe. Stockholm on the other hand can seem a little snobbish to outsiders. Stockholmers are reputed to be a little aloof, which is not entirely untrue, but like most stereotypes it falls apart when you look closely at it. The truth of the matter is that Stockholm is a major city and life here is pretty hectic, people can and do get close to you but they value privacy, both their own and yours.
I mention that because it relates to the rest of this tale. My name is Sigrid and before I fell pregnant I was a lawyer for a fairly successful law firm and at the time I met Moira I was on maternity leave. When I first set eyes on the auburn-haired beauty it was on the train from Malmö to Stockholm, I’d gone back to my mother’s house to look after it whilst she was visiting her new boyfriend in New York. Sweden has a reputation for having generous maternity and paternity leave, I was on day 200 of my 290 days paid leave. Sofia was born via an IVF program.
As I mentioned, the first thing I noticed about Moira was her hair, she was engrossed with her phone and a tablet, but now and then she’d write a few lines in a notepad or stare out the window at the snow-covered landscape whipping past. She has a look she reserves for when she’s concentrating, her mouth tightens up and her eyes narrow as if she’s trying to picture the thought and at other times she nudges her glasses. I was attracted her almost right away but on the train I thought it more a passing fantasy, I’ve been out since high school but until six years ago I identified as bisexual.
Nevertheless, we only made casual eye contact on the five hour journey, I had a child to look after and as any mother can testify they take up most of your time but when we arrived at Central Station I did pause once more to look at her. She was staring at her phone and then turned around to face the direction of the overpass. I almost stopped to ask if she needed help but then she turned away and a moment later headed for the exit. I followed at a discreet distance before we finally parted company when I went to the elevator. I had to pick up some baby formula and food before heading back home to my apartment in Södermalm.
I was so engrossed in my shopping that I didn’t notice her until I came out of the underground mall near Central Station to find her some thirty feet away. She looked at her phone and then did a full circle with the phone held up and it was then I did something uncharacteristic for me, I approached her.
“Hello,” I managed a smile, “you look lost.”
She stared at me as if not understanding and then she too smiled.
“I am so fucking lost, I’m trying to get to Skeppsholmen.”
What impressed me was not the Scottish accent, it was the fact she knew how to pronounce that word without mangling it. The first two letters of skepp are pronounced with a soft ‘ch’ as in the Scottish word loch. Most native English speakers just see the ‘sk’ and come out with something totally different.
“I’m impressed that you know how to pronounce it,” I replied, “are you staying there?”
“At a hostel,” she glanced at Sofia wrapped up like a bundle of furs, “cute bairn.”
I took a few moments to reply, because I was lost in her accent, one of my ex girlfriends was from Scotland but eventually I did manage to answer.
“Thank you,” I glanced past her, “I could walk you part of the way if you like.”
“Oh,” she frowned, “you don’t have to, I think I have the directions right but I wound up in a totally different part of the city and somehow ended up back here.”
“I saw you walking out to the street level,” I answered, “the station is on two levels, you should have come up the escalator and out at the next level to our World Trade Centre.”
“Oh,” her eyes shifted, “that’s a schoolgirl error.”
“And you’re not even a schoolgirl.”
“No,” she chuckled, “definitely not.”
“Come on,” I inclined my head, “let’s go, it’s not the shortest route but it has the least amount of turns so you’ll be able to find your way back.”
“Thanks, my name’s Moira.”
“Sigrid, you’re Scottish?”
“Yes, and your name couldn’t be more Swedish,” she fell into step beside me, “your English is much better than my Swedish.”
“I have to deal with güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri English clients all the time, just not so much lately.”
“I’m on maternity leave,” I replied, “but in three months time I have to go back to work.”
“What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I’m a lawyer, I specialise in corporate law.”
“We’re in similar jobs then,” she flicked at her hair, “I’m a kindergarten teacher so I negotiate with miniature terrorists.”
I chuckled at that and she reciprocated.
“So, you are here on holiday, at this time of year?”
“Uh huh,” she replied, “it’s the second thing on my bucket list.”
“Your bucket list?”
“Yes, I’ve already done the first one, booking a holiday without my boyfriend, Mark and the second was a holiday to Sweden. He’s gone to Benidorm and it’s like a breath of fresh air to go on holiday without him nipping my ears,” she paused.
“Nipping someone’s ears means.”
“Nagging,” I replied, “one of my oldest friends is Scottish.”
“Now I’m impressed,” she grinned, “where’s he from?”
“She lives in Dunfermline now but she was born in Glasgow..”
“Ah, the noble kingdom of Fife,” she grinned, “I’m from Glasgow, the city of love and sharp objects, what part was she from?”
“The west side.”
“I’m a northern girl, Bishopbriggs.”
“I don’t know Glasgow that well,” I frowned, “she’d moved to London for work, which is where we got together, I’ve only been to Glasgow once with Frankie and we just stayed in a hotel for the night and then went to Edinburgh for a day,” I trailed off, suddenly aware I was rambling.
“So, where do you live?”
“Södermalm, I was born and raised in Malmö but moved here for work.”
“So, your husband is bringing home the bacon?”
“No he’s not, I’m single.”
“He didn’t want to stick around?”
At that point I could have clammed up or made it clear I didn’t want to tell her more but that accent was seductive and she came across as self assured in a somewhat naïve way and so I replied.
“No, I went through an IVF procedure but if I was with someone it wouldn’t be a man.”
“Some of my best friends are gay,” she shot me a cheeky grin, “seriously, my best friend is gay and sometimes we pretend to be together to keep the guys away, which works most of the time but you know the cliché about guys and lesbians. They all want to be partner number three and it’s not the place to be for any man.”
Something I could well agree with, I’ve had a few offers to get into threesomes with some drunk guy and his girlfriend, and I couldn’t think of anything more disgusting. I found out a little more about her on the way to Kungsträdgården, which was lit up like a Christmas tree with an ice rink in the centre of the garden and lighted arches extending along both sides. I told her the brief history of Kungsträdgården and the day ordinary Stockholmers spilled out of shops and offices to congregate in the garden and stop the developers from destroying it to build another skyscraper.
“Nice to see people power still accomplishes something,” she sighed, “in Britain all it’s done is divide the country, even our so-called Parliament can’t make up its mind on Brexit. They can’t agree on the colour of shite.”
“We can’t understand it either,” I replied, “we’ve got British clients who are setting contingency plans into place to reduce the impact. We had talk about it but there is no appetite for it here.”
“Ha, maybe I should move here,” she peered ahead, “what’s that building on the other side of the water?”
“Wow, you look like you could walk right up to it.”
“You can and you can even go inside.”
“Now that would never happen at Buckingham Palace, all we can do is peer through the gates at the guards and take pictures. I’ll add that to my bucket list.”
“I have been to Buckingham Palace twice,” I came to a halt, “once just because I had to say I’d been there and the second time I had my little sister with me and she wanted to see the changing of the guard.”
I pointed at a sailing ship in the distance.
“You see that ship?”
“Yes, that’s the hostel.”
“That’s your landmark, just keep going. You will cross a bridge and just stay on the path and head towards the ship. The office will be on the right.”
“No bother,” she looked at me, “thank you for showing me the way.”
“I would walk you there but I have to get her to home and fed and changed.”
“I wouldn’t hear of it,” she bent forward, “she’s asleep now.”
“Not for long, a mother’s work is never done.”
“Would it be okay to get your number?”
“Of course,” I blinked, her question had taken me by surprise, “text me when you get into your room.”
After we’d exchanged numbers I farewelled her and headed for home.
My apartment on Sibyllegatan in trendy Södermalm is small but cosy, I consider myself fortunate that I’ve been able to buy anything in güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri this part of town. One of the benefits of being a lawyer is a wide network of contacts and this apartment was owned by a former client who was looking to sell his mother’s old home. He’d inherited it as part of estate but after enduring a series of bad tenants and a hefty bill for rewiring he just wanted to get rid of it. One of the more fortunate results was that the place came almost completely furnished, I just had to buy a bed from Ikea.
I was in the middle of feeding Sofia when my phone beeped.
Moira: I am here, tack så mycket! (thanks so much)
The selfie that came with the text showed Moira minus the big puffer jacket and scarf standing in what looked to be the top floor of the hostel, I could see a row of beds underneath roof beams and Moira was grinning.
Sigrid: You’re welcome.
Her next text came a minute or so later.
Moira: Ah, I can hear the translation on Google. Whatever did we do before Google?
Sigrid: Went to language classes.
Moira: Seriously, thanks for taking the time to show me the way. I owe you a coffee or two.
Sigrid: Kaffe is god.
Moira: You’ll never imagine how that reads to a native English speaker, Coffee is GOD!
Moira: Well, I’ll let you get back to feeding, text me when you want to catch up.
I had an eerie feeling as I put the phone down. Granted she could have guessed I was feeding Sofia but even so it felt strange to have someone showing interest in me again and here I have to tell you a little about my so-called love life.
I’m what you call a toe dipper. I dip my toes and don’t submerge until I’m sure it’s going in the right direction and even then I’m still nervous. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I so nearly drowned when I was a child but being out of my depth is more likely to make nervous. I’ve had quite a few lovers but most were fleeting romances, a bit like friends with benefits but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of lovers who became permanent.
The woman who had the biggest influence on me was Francine or Frankie as she preferred to be called. She was nearly eighteen years older than I. The daughter of a diplomat, her mother had worked in the British embassy in Stockholm for nearly a decade before the family returned home to London which was where I met her eight years ago. I was staying in London for six months while we helped a client negotiate a rather difficult oil deal off the coast of Shetland. We met by accident when we literally bumped into each other and when she discovered that I was on my way back from a visit to a landlord that hadn’t quite worked out the way I wanted she offered to put me up in her second bedroom.
It was the start of an eighteen month long relationship, lasting well past my stay in London. For a time she lived with me in Stockholm and it was here that the relationship finally soured as money worries took over. In that way London and Stockholm share a rather troubling similarity, they’re both notoriously expensive places to live.
Nevertheless, it was whilst I was with Frankie that I finally ditched men altogether and identified as a gay woman instead of bisexual. Frankie was born in Glasgow and spent the first ten years of her life in Glasgow before her mother started with the British Foreign Service. She had a well-defined sense of who she was as a woman and indeed her boldness was instrumental in drawing me out of my self-imposed prison. I’d always been something of a closet girl, preferring to stay discreet but Frankie was out and proud. The thing I missed most about Frankie was her habit of just throwing her arm around my shoulder and we’d walk down the street arm in arm.
One of the consequences of our breakup though was my decision to take out a mortgage on this apartment in Södermalm. Frankie was and still is very astute when it comes to financial matters, she was an accountant for a multinational corporation and as such could balance budgets in her sleep. I learned a lot about money from Frankie, I also matured whilst with her. In fact Frankie had been such a big influence on me that I still subconsciously compared other women to her, I called it the Frankie Standard.
Coming out of that relationship and juggling a mortgage I found myself backing away from any relationship that hinted of permanence because I had a responsibility. It was a very rare occasion indeed when I’d take a woman back to my place, I was ever mindful of the old adage to never let the other person wake up in your bed. But I’m no hypocrite, I’ve left a girlfriend’s apartment and walked home in blizzards because for me waking up with someone is sending out a signal. Maybe that’s why I have a reputation of being what the English called ‘mannish,’ and I’m not talking about my looks either. I’m of average height with a good figure and a healthy head of blonde hair and an eye for güvenilir bahis şirketleri fashion. In that way I’m a typical Stockholm woman!
However the fact that Moira and Frankie were both born in the same city had nothing to do with my decision to go out for coffee, for me it was a happy coincidence and I was looking forward to just meeting someone who wasn’t from here.
I spent a bit more time than usual getting ready for my ‘date’ the next morning, discarding several tops and trousers until I finally settled on a sensible angora knit over my blouse and matched with a pair of jeans and my boots. Moira was wearing similar clothes although she had opted for trainers and a Scottish beanie.
“I haven’t worn this beanie for ages,” she grinned when I noticed her hat.
“But it’s winter in Scotland now, I know, I’ve been there in the winter.”
“My boyfriend is a Rangers man,” she pulled a wry grimace, “he hates anything with a Scottish flavour, it’s the good old Union flag all the way.”
“So, you voted for independence then?”
“I did and it was nearly the end of our relationship,” she fell into step beside me, “when I told him I’d voted for independence he was like you didnae, how could you betray me like that? And I was like whose vote is it, mine or feckin’ yours? We didnae speak for a month until he ran out of money and I just decided to forgive him, worst mistake of my life,” she grinned.
“And how does he feel about Brexit?”
“Now that’s a thorny question,” she replied, “he didn’t vote in it but now we’re leaving he’s all for taking back control and I’m like take control of what? Do you even know what the EU is?”
“They say opposites attract,” I ventured.
“And they also repel too,” she puffed at her e-cigarette, “every year at this time we go to Tenerife and he sits in the Rangers bar and I go exploring but this year I decided to head north. He nearly came along too but then changed his mind.”
“How long have you been together?”
“Five years,” she shrugged, “my mum says you get less time for armed robbery, she’s a detective and she’s always saying I could do better than him.”
I learned more about the tempestuous relationship between Moira and Mark. It seemed that whilst they could manage to survive living under the same roof the pressure was starting to build. It begins with the little things, leaving the toilet seat up but soon it gathers momentum and other things along the way. Just lately he’d been promoted at work and was now a sales manager at Debenhams in Dundee, which meant he spent a good couple of hours driving to and from work.
“He was trying to get me to move to Dundee but I hate Dundee, it’s a shit town and my mum and all my friends are in Glasgow. It’s different for Mark, he was born in Dundee.”
“So, why are you still together?” I finally raised the subject.
“That’s a loaded question,” she peered at the remains of her cappuccino, “I guess you could say I’ve fallen into a rut but up until now it’s been comfortable in my rut. Mark is predictable to a fault, I can tell you what he’s going to say three days before he says it.”
“That isn’t always a bad thing,” I ventured.
“No but it isn’t exactly a good thing either,” she frowned, “that’s why I’m here, I just wanted to feel independent and do shit that I haven’t done before.”
She eyed me for a few moments.
“What are you doing for the rest of the day?”
“Probably a bit of shopping.”
“Fancy a trip to the Vasa Museum?”
“I haven’t been there in years,” I admitted, “I went there with Frankie because she wanted to see the ship and I’ve always meant to go back but you know how it is.”
“You think of her when you think of going?”
That one was a little close to the bone. Was this woman reading my mind? Logic told me otherwise but it seemed as if she’d picked up on my subtle body language. The last time I was at the museum she and I were very much in love.
“Look if you really need to go shopping I get it, but you look like you could use a bit of down time and I could practice some of my Swedish on you. Learning Swedish is another thing on my bucket list by the way.”
“Okay,” I nodded, “the Vasa museum it is, we would say, vi ska gå till vasamuseet.”
Little did I know as we wandered around the old sailing ship an hour or so later that Moira was also ticking off yet another thing from her bucket list, a date with a lesbian. Her body language could have been misinterpreted as just normal female bonding, she touched my arm frequently but when we went to the toilet she waited with Sofia whilst I emptied my bladder. I came out to find Moira squatting in front of her with one of her favourite toys, a stuffed moose she calls Mads. She calls him that because I happened to be talking about the latest Mads Mikkelsen movie to my sister who had just bought her the toy.
“Isn’t Mads a Danish name?”
“It was one of her first words,” I started washing my hands, “she loves Mads the Moose. We lost him twice already, the second time a tourist picked him up off the street and came running after me, I thought the guy was going to, hassle me, but then he held out Mads and asked if it belonged to me,” I glanced at Sofia.
“I even have to ask permission to wash him, would you believe it?”
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