"Is there a toilet around here?" I ask the night watchman at the station.
"Not at this hour," he frowns. "Believe me, it's a big problem."
The poor fellow had to hold it until morning. It's amazing what people are forced to do in order to earn a living.
So I let myself go behind some trailers parked on the other side of the bus station parking lot. I tried not to make too much noise, should I attract the attention of adjacent alcoholics. When you think of the term "alcoholic," you might think of an old man with a strawberry for a nose and the stink of rotten innards that shocks the air with its outrageous foulness. But the alcoholics at the Tallinn bus terminal weren't old, they were kids.
I watched them pass a bottle of moonshine around. It had no label. Just a bottle of vodka. Not water. Not juice. Not even limoncello or a 40 oz. Pure alcohol. And how old were they? 19? There was some commotion at the Tallinn bus terminal. Some yelling, some chest beating. Some cry of the frustrated Estonian youth. Maybe it had something to do with unemployment, I don't know. But when Epp told me that the meteorologist for Postimees was beaten to death with a baseball bat outside of Tallinn's Old Town two weeks ago, it didn't come as a complete shock. There are evil people in that city, Tallinn. They lack hope and access to necessary facilities.
The taxi driver was bad. He broke the cardinal rule: don't bitch to your customer about how great things were during "Russian times' (vene ajal -- which actually means "Soviet times" in Estonian, he wasn't talking about life as a subject of that affable chap Nicholas Romanov). Oh, vene ajal this and vene ajal that. "In Russian times, trains were going everywhere all the time: Riga, Moscow, Minsk."
"Who the hell wants to go to Minsk?"
That shut him up.
And the worst thing is that I was coming from Copenhagen airport. All of Kastrup was enlightened by Tivoli-like goodness. There were oceans of Tuborg Julebryg, the Danish beer maker's delicious Christmas blend, waiting to be swum, steppes of chocolate waiting to be traversed, armies of titanic flight attendants waiting to be noticed, and, the most endearing, my old girlfriend, Matilde, waiting for a late-afternoon rendezvous.
For me, my study abroad period in Denmark in 2001 was deafening in its destruction of all things sentimental and sane. It was like trying to sleep inside a timpani during the 1812 Overture. My neighbor was your typical Scandinavian nutcase. Every time she got in a fight with her boyfriend, she'd visit my room just to make him jealous. He'd sit there in her room moping, blasting "I Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode, while she would tuck herself into my bed and light up a smoke. This happened two or three times, and each time I told her, "I'm sorry, but you just can't smoke in here."
But there were others. The Swedish aristocrat who hated my guts. The Faroese girl who invited me to fix some furniture in her room and then rewarded me with morss (juice from concentrate). The ex-model who used to date the son of the star of an American 1980s TV show, and kept telling me about how she really preferred his dad. "He was just so funny." Only once did I see a normal pige in all of Denmark: she was wearing a shirt with a picture of the Buddha on it and seemed genuinely pleased by the efficiency of Danish mass transit. She was smart. She didn't talk to me.
Through all of this, there was Matilde, the chocolate milk I drank every morning on my way to school. She was always there waiting for me, soothing me in times of distress. And when I saw her there in the airport -- I actually saw about 50 boxes of her there -- my eyes moistened. It had been too long. Yes, I cut my teeth on sweets in Denmark. I pounded the sugar, I saturated my blood. And in the airport I had to relish one more. One more Matilde for old times. It was good. Just as I remembered.
The dark is rising now. In Denmark and in its former possession, Eistland. The dark consumes us, breaks our souls on a wheel of mist and moisture and night. It's sinister. It's the kind of creeping dread that can make a man fall in love with a box of chocolate milk. In such a despondent crapper of humanity as the Tallinn bus terminal, you'd think they'd make it an all night party, just to help us live through this. There should be batches of fresh piparkoogid, vats of simmering hõõgvein, Hanseatic bus drivers in medieval costumes, and toilets that stay open all night long that you can use for free. Free toilets? I know, what you're thinking: that's socialism.
The bus that night eventually dropped me off in some foggy forlorn armpit of south Estonia called Veeriku. I walked past the glimmering Selver, the oase di pace of Tartu, a spark of northern commercial vibrancy in a junkyard of imperial trash, then crossed the miserable railroad tracks where trees are ugly and want to die, and the buildings look as if they permanently contemplate suicide. This was my spot on the earth, for now, the only thing redeemable about it being my little family, a family of women so resplendent they could light up a mining shaft.
As soon as my head hit the pillow, I knew that I would have to procure the necessary ingredients just to survive here. Lemons would have to peeled for more limoncello, armfuls of spaghetti, fusilli, and penne bought just to keep our insides aglow. We would need kalamata olives and pesto and a lifetime supply of passata di pomodoro. And, most of all, dolci, sugary sweetness, loaves of gingerbread dough, ladles full of glögi. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I believe in it, I can almost see it. The more chocolate milk I drink, the brighter it gets.
***By the way, My Estonia is now available via Amazon (finally). It should also be available soon through, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble and other online bookstores. Enjoy.