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Romance

She

I catch a glance of myself in the hallway mirror and hesitate. I look tired, my hair has one of its stubborn days, and I really should get rid of the mustard-colored shirt I’m wearing. I mean, I love it: it has a nice cut, and it’s the most expensive shirt I bought this year, but it somehow makes my skin look an unhealthy green. What a pity that I’ve already bought wool in the same color for the hat I was going to knit for myself.

I turn back to my bedroom to change, but then I laugh at myself. As always, I’m already late, and anyway, I’m going on a blind date. A literally blind date, meaning he, or rather they, won’t see me, because we’ll all be blindfolded. “True love isn’t in the looks,” the organizers claim, so they’ll make sure we won’t get a single glimpse at the ten people of the opposite sex we’re going to meet. We have five minutes per date during which we can “talk, smell, touch, and fall in love,” but we can’t remove the blindfold.

It’s all kind of ridiculous. Not only are speed dates probably the most unromantic thing I can think of, but I’m not even looking for anyone. I’m only going because my friend Pilvi didn’t want to go alone. Okay, and because it does sound interesting: we get to decide whether or not we’re attracted to someone relying on all the senses but the one we seem to deem most important. Like we’re actually blind.

Well, to be honest, I’m doing it mostly to make Jari jealous. Jari and I have been together for almost six months now—only Jari insists we’re not actually together. We’re “casually dating,” whatever that means. The weird thing is, I don’t think he’s even seeing anyone else. Maybe he really has “commitment issues”, as Pilvi claims. Anyway, hopefully me blind dating other men will make him realize what he has in me.


He

I enter the hotel at the appointed time, tell the receptionist why I’m here, and am promptly led to a conference room. Six of the other male participants are already here. We’re supposed to arrive half an hour before the ladies, and then wait here, in this room, so there’s no chance to catch a glimpse of the women we’re about to meet.

I don’t mind the waiting. In fact, it’s the best part of the evening, because it means I get to spend half an hour with Aada—or that’s what I thought. So far she’s nowhere to be seen, so I take a seat. Aada is the only reason I’m here. I’ve been in love with her for almost two years now, ever since I’ve laid eyes on her that first day at university, but so far she hasn’t shown any sign of interest. I think she’s actually into bullies, or, more to the point, she’s into arrogant, cynical, intelligent assholes who hide their misogyny under a veneer of irony. Or at least she’s constantly laughing at Tuomas’ jokes.

So when she told us her boss was desperately looking for male participants for this blind date thing, I jumped at the chance. Apparently guys in my age group aren’t that keen on speed-dating, and you can’t very well make women between nineteen and twenty-nine meet over forty-year-old guys (unless they ask for it), so if they’re short on men they’ll let you in for free.

Obviously I played it cool, turning the whole thing into a joke, and telling her that, “I don’t need to see a chick to know her.” She took the bait and now we’re having a sort of game: I’ll have to tell her all I can about the women I’m meeting blindfolded tonight, and she’ll hopefully confirm my evaluation. She has no other information than their names, age and phone number, but she’ll get to see them tonight and she can try to listen in on some conversations.

I admit, I am a bit nervous, but it can’t be that hard. I mean, I already know all the women will be between nineteen and twenty-nine. And considering the—in my opinion pretty hefty—attendance fee of thirty Euros, and the fact that the organizer is this expensive hipster hotel bar in downtown Helsinki, you can be pretty sure the women aren’t exactly poor. I mean, nobody really believes he or she will meet their true love tonight, do they? This is just a fun experiment, an anecdote you can tell your friends about for the rest of your life. Then there’re clues like dialect and vocabulary that might tell me about their background and education, and of course whatever they’re going to say.

And really, I don’t have to get it right. It’s just an excuse to spend time with Aada, a chance to impress her with some cynical jokes about the women I’ll have to come up with.

Aada finally makes her entrance, followed by three guys who must be the missing participants. As always, she looks stunning: black skinny jeans, and a tight black top—which is probably her “uniform” for work, but she’d make rags look like designer clothes. Her sleek blonde hair is gathered in a ponytail, and she’s wearing bright red lipstick. I don’t usually like conspicuous makeup, but on Aada everything looks great. I get up, but before I can greet her, she starts talking.

“Hi guys and welcome to tonight’s blind date! My co-worker Jukka will be here in a moment to explain the details. Meanwhile, please do not leave this room, so that the ladies can pass by unseen. I’ll see you later!” With that, she shuts the door.

She didn’t even look at me.


She

Pilvi is already waiting in front of the hotel. “Finally,” she scolds me as she pulls me into a quick hug. “Why are you always late?”

“Sorry, the metro was late,” I mumble, but Pilvi isn’t listening.

“God, I’m so nervous.” She smoothes her perfect hair while we approach the reception desk.

Three minutes later, we’re being ushered into a conference room at the back of the hotel. The other eight women are already seated in wooden chairs, which are arranged in a long row, each about five meters from the next one and facing a wall.

The stunning blonde who brought us here motions for us to sit and hands us both a clipboard, attached to which is a form and a pen.

“Ladies, welcome to tonight’s blind date! My name is Aada, and I’m going to guide you through your dates tonight. Your first date is already sitting opposite you behind this wall. Exciting, right?” She’s trying to sound enthusiastic, but her smile doesn’t reach her eyes and for some reason I’m sure she thinks we’re a bunch of idiots.

Aada picks up a basket full of what look like ski goggles and proceeds to distribute them. “Once your goggles are in place, we’ll remove the wall in front of you. You then have five minutes to get to know your candidate number one. When the five minutes are over, the wall will be replaced and you have a moment to take notes.” She gestures to the clipboard. “Please remain seated where you are. We like things old-fashioned on our dates, so we’ll ask the gentlemen to do all the moving around. Now, if you’d please put on your goggles.”

I do as I’m told, and I can literally not see a thing. Weirdly, I immediately start feeling anxious. So far I wasn’t nervous at all, or not really—I mean, I’m not trying to impress anyone, this is just for fun, but that knowledge doesn’t slow my heartbeat. I hear the wall sliding away, feel someone move past me, and then Aada’s voice comes from somewhere far to the right: “Date number one starts now!”

I take a deep breath and say, “Hello?”

“Hey there,” a deep voice drawls, and immediately I know I don’t like this guy. I can practically see him. So full of himself, he’s wearing a constant sneer on his face, and when he walks, he does so with a swagger. Although, why would a guy like that come to a date like this? Keep an open mind, I tell myself. 

“So how do you look like?” he asks in the same, slightly rude tone.

I guess I should have expected the question. “Well, I’m dark-haired and on the short side,” I say vaguely. “How about you?” Not that I’m all that interested, but I don’t know what else to talk about with this guy.

He tells me about the size of his biceps, his gym routine, and tattoos, and I couldn’t be more relieved when the five minutes are finally over.

Once I’ve removed my goggles, I draw a circle around No for candidate number one and throw a heartfelt eye-roll at Pilvi. Then it’s time for candidate number two.

“Hi.” He clears his throat. “Weird this, isn’t it?”

“Yes, indeed,” I laugh nervously, because again, I have no idea what to say. I should have come up with some clever questions beforehand.

Apparently he feels the same way, because he just joins in my fake laughter and then we both fall silent. Oh god, this is horrible. Why did I spend thirty Euros for an evening that has just proven to be pure torture? I could have gone to bed with a book. That would have been way cheaper and way more fun.

“Um, so… who are you?” I finally ask.

“Well, my name is Petri, I’m twenty-two, and I study sociology...”

He talks in a soft-spoken tenor, and I get a vision of a red-haired, freckled guy with glasses who’s vigorously fiddling with his chewed fingernails. It’s funny how I think I know what kind of guy is sitting in front of me, just by listening to him talk. Unfortunately, I’ll never find out if I’m right, because we won’t get to see the participants even after the dates are over—unless both parties involved choose Yes on the form, in which case we’ll be given their phone number.

By the time the wall closes on candidate number six, I’m somewhere between mortified and utterly bored. There are only so many absolutely uncomfortable conversations you can bear in such a short time. I know it’s not just their fault. It’s not like I’ve come up with some funny, original and truly interesting description of myself, but even if I had, I’m not sure they’d have appreciated it. 

As the wall moves once more, I close my eyes and, taking a deep breath, steel myself for number seven. And suddenly my body is in full alert mode.


He

I think I’m doing pretty good. I might not always get the hair color right and stuff, but really, people are surprisingly boring and predictable. Or then I might just be utterly unperceptive to their dark little secrets, who knows?

The wall slides away to reveal number seven, and as always, I keep silent for a moment to let my senses do their thing. I find it helps to close my eyes, even though I don’t see a thing. Maybe I just need to tell my eyes they’re not supposed to try and see.

“Hello,” number seven says a little breathlessly, and I’m astonished to find the hair on my arms stand up straight, even though her voice is soft and warm like honey. It's a beautiful voice. I wish she'd keep talking.

“Hello,” I echo, and then I hesitate. So far I’ve tried to make the women choose the topic of our conversations, to keep my own questions as open as possible, because I assumed that’s how I’d learn the most. But with Ms. Honeyvoice, using a tactic somehow feels wrong. 

Instead, I say what flashes through my mind: “So, are you going to tell me how you look or how you make your living, or possibly what adorable little pet you have at home?”

There’s a stunned silence, and for a second I’m afraid I’ve offended her. Then there’s laughter, or, more precisely, a chuckle, and it’s the nicest chuckle I’ve ever heard. It’s bubbly, but deep, honest and not at all silly.

“You forgot my gym routine,” she points out, and a smile spreads over my face. Apparently those were the main topics in her conversations as well.

“But no,” she continues. “I’d like to know what book you’re reading right now.”

Again, I hesitate. If Aada had asked, I’d name some fast-paced thriller, or maybe the autobiography of a rockstar or something like that. But this isn’t Aada. And it’s actually funny she’d ask this, because I’m still feeling rattled from the book I finished on my way here. “I just finished Waiting by Ha Jin.”

“Haven’t heard of it,” she says. “What’s it about?”

“Me neither, I picked it up at a flea market. It’s set during the Cultural Revolution in China, and it’s about a man who wants to divorce the wife his parents made him marry so he can marry the woman he loves. But he can’t get the divorce without his wife’s consent, and he ends up waiting for eighteen years. Apparently it’s based on a true story.”

“Wow. Just imagine waiting for so long. But in the end they get their happily ever after?”

I can't get over that voice. It's like music, like a lullaby. It wraps itself around me, enters my my lonely mind, soothing, comforting. “Well, he marries the other woman," I explain, "but he isn’t actually happy with her, either.”

“So he waited for decades for something that doesn’t turn out what he’d hoped for?”

“Yeah,” I nod, and I get that same tight feeling in my chest I got when I read it. “In fact, he kind of wants his first wife back. I don’t know, it was a bit… disturbing.”


She

“So?” Pilvi pulls her chair close to mine once the wall has slid in place after the very last candidate. “I thought number four was funny, and I might also give number ten a shot. What about you?”

We both stare at my form, which is covered in No’s. Only number seven is blank.

“Number seven, huh?” Pilvi rubs her chin. “That’s number eight for me. Hm, he was that all silent and mysterious guy, wasn’t he?”

Silent and mysterious? I thought he was funny and intelligent and thoughtful and—

“Or maybe it was just that he was so blown away by your date,” Pilvi teases. “He did seem rather distracted. Anyway, give him a shot!”

“I don’t know,” I murmur. I’d never even considered giving anyone a Yes tonight. I just wanted to annoy Jari. But what if I’m wasting my time waiting for something that isn’t what I think it is, just like the guy in the book?

I pick up the pen and circle Yes.


He

“So, Romeo, how did it go?” Aada smirks as the last participants leave the room. Again we had to wait for the ladies to make their safe exit.

“Got them all figured out, did you?” Before I have the chance to protest, she’s grabbed the clipboard from my lap.

“Number one: Entitled upper class law student,” she reads. “Probably takes yoga or pilates classes. Has a classic, but expensive hair cut. Brunette. Likes to wear Tommy Hilfiger jeans and a pastel-colored cardigan.” Eyebrow raised, she looks at me. “Not bad. Though I think her jeans were Acne.”

I try to summon up a cocky smile, but give up half-way through. I’m not sure I want to play this game any longer, and anyway Aada’s no longer looking at me.

“Number two is also pretty much spot on, apart from the fact that… wait, what about number seven? ‘Likes to read?’ That’s it?”

I only shrug.

“Well, I can fill you in. You got the book nerd thing right, but she’s also the type who cuts her own hair, which is probably why it looked like an electrified cat. She likes to do homey stuff like cooking and possibly even knitting or crocheting, though she’s absolutely colorblind. That shirt with her skin tone...” She shakes her head. “In short, she’s the boring girly type, who—”

“Okay, Aada, cut it.” Surprised by my own outburst, I bite my lips.

“What?” She stares at me with narrowed eyes for a moment. “OMG. You like her!” Her lips stretch into a malicious grin as she shuffles through the forms in her hands. “And she likes you too. So cute,” she says in this mocking tone I’d always considered tremendously cool. Now, after listening to Ms. Honeyvoice's lullaby, it sounds like poison. “Look, you’re even the only one she likes.”

I stare at the form with all the decisively circled No’s and the one Yes for me.

“So,” Aada says in her normal voice while she drops the forms on a table. “I’m done with work in half an hour. Want to go for a drink afterward?”

“Actually, I already have plans for tonight. See you around.” I grab my backpack and head for the door. “Oh, I almost forgot.” I turn back, pick up the clipboard and draw a big black circle around Yes for number seven.

August 28, 2020 19:43

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8 comments

Amany Sayed
21:43 Sep 01, 2020

Yayyy, love the happy ending! Great story!

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Jenna Van Berke
17:56 Sep 02, 2020

Thank you !

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Amany Sayed
17:57 Sep 02, 2020

No prob! :)

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Mick Dubois
19:05 Sep 20, 2020

I liked the 'karma is a bitch' angle. Funny and romantic.

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Jasmine K
12:55 Sep 05, 2020

this was a really nice read! I really enjoyed how multiple things like her shirt and the book we're mentioned again in their final paragraphs it really felt like they were tied in so well! it was overall a very soft and fluffy read and thank you for making me smile with this!

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Jenna Van Berke
10:03 Sep 07, 2020

Thank you!

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K Lewis
20:16 Sep 01, 2020

This was really sweet and well written. The characters' voices were strong and I felt like I got a good grip on them. I especially love the male narrator standing up to Aada at the end :)

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Jenna Van Berke
17:56 Sep 02, 2020

Thank you!

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