“Banana (mumble-jumble)… banana…”, I heard a faint voice behind me. We were in a tiny meeting room, heads pivoted towards a shared screen.
“Umm, you’re leaning on my banana!”
I turned around, and lo and behold, my elbow had somehow wandered on top of my colleague’s banana. I was leaning on her snack!
After duly apologizing, I giggled my way through the meeting, at times erupting into tears of laughter and then managing to recover my serious “I’m at work” look again.
The week wasn’t going very strongly at that point. Apart from using fruit as a cushion, I’d overpaid for a doctor’s appointment, had bad lunch at a buffet, and forgotten my umbrella at home several rainy days in a row. It was dark as midnight outside, no matter what the hour, and looking like we were heading towards a black, black Christmas.
At work, I stalked my co-workers’ ugly Christmas sweater photos on the office’s Microsoft Teams app and had a good chuckle, idly planning what my own ideal ugly Christmas sweater would look like. Rudolph, for sure, and blinking lights. Maybe a hat.
After work, the new Muji was calling me. I think I heard somewhere that it was the Nordic countries’ flagship store – no, wait: the biggest Muji in Europe, oh my – and I still had one more smoothie flavor to try out of all four. The rustling little packages of bead-like hairbands, the aromatic room scents which I loved but wouldn’t know what to do with, the horseradish mustard and pumpkin chips, the childrens’ books (oh! a book about Greta!), and the endless rows of Japanese organizing boxes, organized in boxes. Ah, what a way to de-stress. I ended up buying salted chocolate and Christmas socks.
Ultimately, I arrived at the realization that I’d turned into a mall rat. During this dark period of the year, my go-to place whenever I had a few minutes, had become a mall. Any mall. Just as long as it was a mall with a roof on top of it and no rain splashing in my face. Gosh, it didn’t stop there. Apart from having half of my daily meals at a mall, I even took my kids there to play in its kiddie area on the weekends. What was happening to me?
At one of the malls I now hopelessly frequented, I always saw the same homeless man. He wore wellies and a weathered winter coat day in, day out, from winter to summer. Always carried plastic bags and looked sober and almost cheerful. He looked like he was doing alright, though obviously something was wrong. Now, let me add that I’d spotted him regularly for years, at least once a week, not always at the same spot or even in the same part of town. Our paths just seemed to cross, over and over again. He recognized me for sure, and I’d often get the urge to go say hi, to ask him his story. But as a woman and a mother of toddlers, my self-preservation instincts would then kick in, and I’d decide it was better to not get too friendly with him.
But in a parallel world, I would have loved to have taken on an Amélie Poulain mode, and befriended him, and made his life better, and solved all the world’s problems.
Now, don’t think I’m heartless. I’ve given beggars money and even fetched them lunch from a nearby cafe. The last time I tried to hand a beggar food, he flatly refused! Now that was fishy, if you ask me.
If you’re wondering how I just happened to have food in my hands when I passed the beggar who only wanted money (with a sign that his kids were hungry), well, I had just been handed a free meal from the stall right next to him. Yes, there was a marketing stall there, where factory-made meals were handed to passers-by nonchalantly. I had taken the offered meal, then realized it had nuts in it, and was just wondering what to do with it when I passed the aforementioned beggar who didn’t want my charity. Maybe he didn’t like Finnish factory-made food? (I wouldn’t blame him).
I couldn’t decide which was more ironic: that the beggar with hungry kids didn’t want food, or that a large food manufacturer’s promotion team was handing out free meals to well-clad commuters right next to a beggar – giving free food to people who didn’t really need it and ignoring those who did. Why give free food to people who were well off?? Well, as a marketer, I knew why, obviously (that was more of a rhetorical question), but as a human being, I felt put off and confused. People always have an agenda. Remember that! Always.
It reminded me of the time a politician was awaited at an Independence Day gathering for the financially challenged, and while they stood outdoors in the cold, waiting eagerly for him to come, he made a last minute cancellation, saying he was sick. Later that night, he was seen on TV, dancing away at the President’s ball.
Ah yes, the President’s ball. Have you heard how Finns celebrate independence each year? They stay at home, get comfy on the couch, and watch the President shake hands with the rich and famous. The elite, the crème de la crème. The country’s politicians, diplomats, and celebrities – all of them, Big Brother contestants and the likes – are invited to the ball and the line is long. They queue up, in true Finnish fashion, sans queueing festivities, sans musique, and wait for their turn to shake hands with the host. They wait and wait. And then they shake hands. And then they wait for everyone else to shake hands.
The President has to take a break at some point to give his hand-shaking hand a bit of a rest from all the shaking. (Really.) And all the while, it’s live on air, being televised for the viewing pleasure of the taxpayers who paid for all this luxury they are never going to be invited to. After all the hand-shaking is done with, the elite is treated to food, drinks, and dancing. It’s the most watched TV show of the year.
But just as I thought this week was going down in history as my banana-squashing week, something exciting happened. It turned out, the week had planned for something else entirely. Out of the blue, Finland proudly introduced the world’s youngest PM: female and raised by a mother in a same-sex marriage. She had worked ordinary jobs, didn’t have a wealthy background, and wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Refreshing! My outlook on things instantly improved.
…Look at the time, it actually is midnight! Better go to bed. In the morning, it’s back to my jar of vitamin D and five daily espressos; winter is going to outlast the sparkly Christmas lights that are currently our sole sources of light, apart from headlights. Blink, blink. Let’s keep shining.