In how many movies were you the baddie, George? Blessing Finula (3/3)

Image courtesy of Père Lachaise cemetery

“So,” said George, tottering gently in the middle of the room, staring at Finula in his bed. “I’ll just clean my teeth then,” he drawled, before twisting round and heading back out to the bathroom on the landing.

George felt odd. Amidst the swirl created by the alcohol, he could feel himself both aroused, and disappointed, at the same time. He was clearly suffering the effects of that peculiar confusion, where contrary feelings mix with drink, which drives a person into some sort of anxious, rudderless autopilot. He took up in each hand his toothbrush and toothpaste and stared at himself in the mirror.

“Hmm,” he murmured to himself, brushing erratically while letting the foaming toothpaste dribble down his chin. Events had taken a turn and now there was no going back. Returning to the room, he meekly addressed Finula with a “Hi. You alright?” switched off the side lamp and took off his clothes down to his underpants.

The tingling sensation of Finula’s body held against his, and the intimate scent from her perfume on her warm skin, were a complete discovery for George.

Finula immediately began to utter faint gasps and sighs.

“What on earth is she doing?” thought George, as she started to caress his chest and pet his neck. He kissed her, in return, on the forehead, wondering what to do next. Finula had no doubt and raised her leg and began to rub her thigh up and down over his groin, in a jerking motion that George found quite unnerving. The rush of testosterone in his bloodstream had an unexpected effect on George: it not only heightened the affection he was feeling towards Finula but instantly lifted him from the torpor caused by the alcohol. He was by now fully awake.

“It’s OK,” he whispered to Finula, stroking his hand gently over her cheek. “You’re. you’re a beautiful person. We can be good to each other tonight.”

Finula immediately took in the meaning of George’s caring tone. Both stopped still, a moment passed.

“We all need to be loved, Finula,” added George, as the tender sensation they shared brought them into a state of togetherness and peace.

“No one,” Finula said in a voice so docile George sensed more than heard what she was saying, “has ever told me that before, and meant it at the same time. I swear.”

“It’s OK,” he repeated and the two of them lay on their backs, still, closed their eyes and fell asleep.

Despite the brightness of the triangle of bright morning sun entering the room, unimpeded by the badly closed curtain of the night before, George and Finula dozed on till late morning. George had woken first and had sat for a long while looking intently at Finula asleep in the bed, before getting up to make a pot of tea.

Finula stirred, her tousled hair falling loosely over her face. She gave George a demure look and a hesitant, shy smile.

“What would you like for breakfast?” he asked in a reassuring manner.

There wasn’t much conversation between them, until the restorative effect of the second cup of strongly brewed tea perked them both up and they reconnected with the actuality of their student obligations. They both spontaneously agreed they had better get on and get out.

George knew that getting past the warden at the gate at midday was no issue, as soon as Finula was carrying a couple of student files and knew how to throw out a comment about “How fascinating Dr. Giddens’ critique of positivism is,” just as she was passing the porters’ lodge.

“Let’s meet again,” said George on the street, the tone of his voice betraying some sort of limit to his characteristic generosity of spirit.

“Yes, let’s,” replied Finula, accepting the non-committal nature of George’s parting comment. “Charles is bound to be having another party soon,” she added, to make the improbability of their meeting again sound somehow more likely.

George turned down Silver Street on his way to the Faculty of Economics.

“A sweet girl,” he said to himself.

But he was unable, at that moment, to articulate internally what it was that failed to further attract him to her. Only years later did he grow to understand that a person’s inner loneliness, and their own lack of self-confidence, is only really perceptible to another human being through higher faculties of cognition. At that time, Finula was simply unappealing to him, as though he couldn’t fully see her, except for the odd glimpse, for who she really was.

At the same time, George couldn’t prevent himself from feeling he had too much else on his mind than to worry about Finula and her moods. The first-year exams were only six weeks away and he had barely started revising. Finula, in the end, was nothing more than a pretty distraction. But as he entered the Faculty building, little did George realise that the unconscious shrug he gave to the thought of Finula, as he put her at that moment to the back of his mind, would come back to trouble him so strongly later that night.

George was sitting at a desk in the examination hall, with Finula sat next to him scribbling away at her essay, staring down at the question paper, terrified in the knowledge that he had made no preparation whatsoever for the exam. He could find no response in his mind to the question that wavered in front of him: ‘Discuss the economic implications of the following phrase: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are our debtors.’

“But. I. What,” he spluttered, as he lurched forwards in bed, terrified by the images he had just been immersed in. “Oh my God,” he called out to himself, relieved to realise that he wasn’t in an examination room after all.

“What was Finula doing there?” he vaguely asked himself, then immediately switching back to his feelings of inadequate preparation for the exams.

“Tomorrow. That’s it. I’m starting revision,” he promised himself and fell straight back to sleep.

Next day, so spooked had George been by the guilt of not having worked hard enough for his exams, that he proceeded to spend the next six weeks locked up in his room. He dropped his chess club and most of the college meals, and only went to essential lectures, stopping his studies only to pop out to buy food or to take a riverside walk along the Backs, last thing before college closed at midnight. He even developed tricks and games to help himself cement the concepts, authors and dates of key economic theories in his mind and devised quizzes to test himself and monitor his progress. For six weeks he immersed himself in his own little self-testing world.

It was most unusual for George to have panicked in this way. At home in Chelmsford, with the constant support of his diligent parents, he had always been highly organised in his schoolwork. But so deep seated became the fear, at this time in his life, of not being sufficiently well prepared, that the nightmare he had had that night would become recurrent throughout his life, whenever he felt uncertain about himself.

“The true price of a Cambridge education,” he would repeat to himself whenever the nightmare came back to disturb him.

The investment in his preparation that May, however, paid off. In fact, George was awarded a prize for one of his essays. “You were the only one to tackle the complex subject of credit theory in such an accomplished manner,” said his tutor as he congratulated him, during his last tutorial of the year. “Keep up the good work, Kenyon.”

Inside, George felt a silent sting of embarrassment. “How could they fall for it?” he thought, dwelling for a moment on his antics of the previous six weeks and their surprising efficacy.

George, however, did not have long to brood on the question of how much university professors reward their students for doing what they expect, rather than what they don’t expect. His parents had written a couple of weeks earlier, not only to wish him well with his exams, but also to ask him to return as soon as possible to Chelmsford. Their shop was undergoing a major refurbishment and George was badly needed to lend a hand.

Plunging straight into the to and fro of his parents’ business, George had little time to think about Finula. When he did have a spare moment, the adventures of his first year in Cambridge seemed a long way off, even though Cambridge was only 45 miles away. “But goodness knows what exotic destination Finula’s wealthy parents have taken her that summer,” he thought on the odd occasion he recalled Finula. For George, it was four months of ‘sleeves rolled up and plenty of elbow grease’ as his father would put it. The time flew by till his return to college that October.

Back to his studies, if asked, George would describe his vacation rather grandiosely as ‘a four month work experience in a typical small and medium sized enterprise in southeast England.’ But he soon discovered that his exam success the previous June, and the award of the Richard Kahn scholarship that came with it, changed completely the tone in which his tutors, and many of his fellow students, treated him.

George retreated from excessive praise and found the new status had a recluding, yet at the same time motivating, effect on him. He became less and less sociable, enjoyed spending more time than ever in the library, or in his room, reading and studying, and completely lost his appetite for chess. As an additional pastime, he discovered the ‘Earth Science’ section in the library and developed an interest reading old manuscripts on geology, a habit that never left him.

But the advent period in King’s was a special time and George looked forward to the special service on the second Sunday in December, which was something of a dress rehearsal for the televised ‘Carols from King’s’ concert, broadcast on the B.B.C. every year on Christmas Eve.

As a member of the college, George was able to take a seat in the quire and was waiting quietly in the mahogany stalls for the service to begin, when he spotted Charles come in and pass out of sight a few niches up from his.

The service began and George immersed himself in the absorbing reverence of the Anglican high church liturgy and blissful voices of the choir.

“Alleluia, alleluia. Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight….” began the Dean, “…we commend ourselves and all for whom we pray to the mercy and protection of our heavenly Father…..As the grain once scattered in the fields and the grapes once dispersed on the hillside…” he continued “…and now we give you thanks because you sent Him to redeem us from sin and death.”

George thought back on the strange term he had spent enclosed in his studies and breathed in the uplifting words and sounds of the choir, as they filled the chapel with the harmonies of his favourite carols, and thoughts of “Peace, on Earth and Goodwill to All Men” whirled in his head.

Once the service had come to an end, he turned to look for Charles, who was still sitting head down in his stall. Charles looked up and gestured to shake George’s hand.

“I say old sport, how are you keeping?” Charles asked in a low voice, as the congregation was still filing out of the quire.

“I’m doing OK, thanks. Economics seems to be finally starting to make some sense to me,” answered George, realising how odd it was not to have seen Charles at all for the last two months.

“I haven’t been around so much either this term,” explained Charles, “and I don’t see you so often at dinner these days, must be all that studying you’re doing. Top notch stuff, George.” George looked abashed. “I haven’t thrown a party for some time now,” continued Charles, lacking his habitual confidence and swagger. “But you know. About. Finula. Right?” he stammered. “What. Happened.”

George kept a straight face to avoid Charles going any further into how well, or not, he knew Finula. “Finula, your friend, you mean?” he said, to distance himself further. “No. Why? Is everything OK?”

Charles’ eyes moistened.

“Dreadfully bad business,” he began, then went straight to the point, in that matter-of-fact way an English upbringing teaches a young man, when it comes to matters of emotion.

“Well, last September, she hanged herself. She left a note saying she couldn’t face it any longer.” George uttered disbelief and Charles paused. “I’ve known her since she was a kid. I don’t know whether our families will ever get over it.”

George gulped and sweat came over his top lip. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” he said, adding, rather lamely, “It must be terrible for the family.”

Charles looked down, unable to sustain the conversation further, so George took his opportunity to leave. As he turned back to salute Charles, he could see he had already sat back down to pray.

As George walked out of the chapel into the fresh air of that December evening and looked up at the starlit sky, his mind was engulfed by the thought of Finula and her appalling fate. He coughed, unable to contain an intense pang of guilt.

“Why did I ignore her? I could see she was lost. Why didn’t I do anything about it?” he repeated over, and over again, the words of the liturgy churning in his mind.

George’s reverie was broken by the ding-dong of the SNCB passenger information system and the polite call of the female announcer: “Le prochain arrêt est….La Hulpe……De volgende halte is….Ter Hulpen.”

He put back on his coat and his cap and stood by the exit door staring out of the window at the blurred trackside features, as they slipped by and gradually came to a standstill. Stepping out on to the platform, he realised what Lucija’s chance comment that morning about ‘run-of-the-mill-villains’ had triggered.

“Hmm,” George murmured, as he reflected on those black-and-white depictions of the-baddies-versus-the-goodies in the black-and-white Westerns of his childhood, and quietly reaffirmed his growing acceptance that life had many more hues and shades than he could ever describe. “’And who can say they were innocent times?” he asked himself.

Only now, for the first time in his life, all those years later, did George begin to make the inner move to assuming his share of responsibility in Finula’s fate, no longer satisfied to leave the matter as just an open question or put it aside with the eternal excuse of always having something else better to do.

“I forgot her then, and forgot her since then,” admitted George. “I can’t and won’t forget her now, or from now on,” he vowed, promising to find some way of getting back in touch with Charles, who was probably still close to Finula’s family, to make amends and make more sense of what happened.

“God bless you,” George wished Finula, as he finally came to terms with his role, in her biography.

By the time he had reached the drive to the house, George was returning to his more everyday mode of thinking on the political processes he was involved with at the ERA. Despite the shake-up he felt from his transformational train ride, he couldn’t help smiling wryly as the ‘Varoufakis the baddie’ image came back to his mind. Participating in the near collapse of the Greek financial system and ruffling a few feathers of the finance ministers of Europe no longer seemed the biggest sins in the world.

“He can’t be that much of a baddie. Just a bit of a babbler. After all, let’s face it, he’s not the only one with Anglosphere and Keynesian leanings,” George thought, as he turned the key and entered the house.

This entry was posted in Everyone's a bad character in some story, Observing Brussels. Bookmark the permalink.

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