Some people are impossible to know, to really know, unless you grow up with them and experience everything they experience.
A lot of people think they know Irina. She is blonde, blue-eyed, playful and provocative. She has an impossible figure which, despite its impossibility is almost every man’s dream. Her waist is thin, her frame is willowy and her bust is unbelievably exuberant. Sometimes her bust is a burden but she knows she is hot and when she wears high heels and tosses back her abundant blonde hair every head in the street turns and takes note. When I walk beside her I am invisible.
A lot of women dismiss her or judge her because she is blonde and flirtatious. A lot of men chase her for exactly the same reasons.
I am no exception. Last week I chased her to Helsinki. I followed her all over the city. She was wearing flat white shoes in which she could walk really fast so at times I struggled to keep up but at the top of the art deco tower in the hotel Torni, 12 storeys up, she finally slowed down, leaned across me and pointed with a slender arm to all the places we had been.
“Your perfume is heavenly,” I told her.
“Oh this? I hate it. I’m trying to use it up. My boyfriend bought it for me in an airport.”
“Oh! I thought you were trying to impress me.”
“But I am impressing you, aren’t I?”
“Effortlessly,” I had to admit.
I was so impressed that a couple of days later I jumped in a boat and chased her across the Baltic sea to Tallinn. Now she was slightly handicapped by high heels and I was getting used to her pace, so I was managing to stay closer for longer.
“What do you think of Tallinn?” she asked me.
“It makes me uneasy.”
“Me too. So you feel like I do.”
Tallinn has extremes of rich and poor. There are worn out, ugly shacks squatting in the shadows of huge, glistening skyscrapers. It is the kind of environment in which gangs and gangsters can thrive. The old town is charming and picturesque but it’s the backdrop for stag parties for tourists where sex and shooting are sold as a package. Just a few decades ago the shooting didn’t take place in rifle ranges but in the streets. “It was more bloody than Chicago in the thirties,” Irina told me.
So we didn’t stay in Tallinn long. We jumped on a bus and drove through the forests to Pärnu, beautiful Pärnu, where she was born.
Here the houses are all different. Many are made of wood and are painted in pastel colours. The roads and pavements are not in good condition. She was struggling in the stilettos. But the atmosphere is calm and peaceful and bathed in balmy sea breezes.
She showed me the wooden house where she was born and the street that she played in as a child. She pointed out the apartment that she looked after as a teenager while her aunt went to work in Helsinki. “I looked after it by having parties. Lots of men came there. KGB men, Mafia men. I’ve seen it all, I tell you.”
The neighbours saw it all too, and told tales. She wasn’t her aunt’s favourite.
Nevertheless, we walked up to the block of flats and she started playing around with an intercom at one of the entrances. She punched some numbers and started talking in Estonian.
“Come on!” she told me.
I followed her up. I had no idea where she was taking me or who we were going to visit.
But it was here, inside this small, clean, humble flat in Pärnu, in the presence of two old women who spoke no English, that I finally began to understand Irina.
What I learned there will take me a long time to tell.