“I like to think I carry some of Iceland with me when I travel,” said Hekla, reverting to English.
Christina noticed she had an American accent when she spoke English.
“So how is it you decided to come to London?” asked Christina still thinking of Hekla as a country-girl.
“Well, a lot happens in these many years,” she said, “But I realise that with my travelling I have only ever been through London, never stopped in it.”
“Travelling?” asked Christina, intrigued.
“Yes, I know you have got around ‘Christina Nott’ – and well, so have I.”
“Tell all,” said Christina.
“Let’s get a drink first,” said Hekla, “We can charge them to my room.”
“Okay, but I will want to show you London at some point!” said Christina.
They ordered two cocktails, chinked the glasses and said “skál.”
“Right, well, a lot happened to me after you left ‘forever’ to go to Russia,” said Hekla, “I must admit I was sad for several months after you had gone. But then Geir and Hanna moved in and I had some new playmates.”
“Did you tell them about the wool-store?” asked Christina.
“Of course, it was big news to a small farm-girl. I elaborated the story and added some rockets and guns into the picture. Geir was most impressed. The strange thing was, we went to explore it, but it was empty. Just some wool bundles tied up in a heap.”
“Ahah,” smiled Christina, “Have you heard of deep cover?”
“No, but seriously, was your father a spy?” asked Hekla, sipping at her drink.
“What do you think?” said Christina, “Sure he flew jet planes when he was younger and so there was always some gossip following him around. But think of it; he was running a farm. D’you remember, after you fell through the roof and we went to find him? What was he doing? Painting the water trough for the sheep. Now that’s what a super spy would be doing, like James Bond.”
Hekla smiled, and Christina noticed several of the men around the bar area look over to her. She had an ability to light up the room.
“What happened after the playmates?” asked Christina.
“Well, to cut a long story short, I discovered the Americans.”
“Well Geir became old enough to drive and would give me lifts into Reykjavik. We hung out around the Laugavegur and down by the Solfar – you know the Sun Voyager ship.”
“Er – I haven’t had my mind erased,” said Christina, “although you sound like a Lattelepjandi miðbæjarrotta!”
Hekla laughed, ” I see your grasp of gutter Icelandic hasn’t diminished! Although we didn’t think of ourselves as latte-sipping city centre rats, more as fágun – sophisticates!”
“It was easy to meet new people there too. The Americans would come off-base and their entire chat-up line consisted of “What are Icelandic women like?”
They had all been given the same spiel about Icelandic women. You know the one about beautiful Icelandic women – there always seems to be quite a large number of foreign men that just hear the words ‘beautiful Icelandic women’, which they automatically translate to ‘sexy Icelandic women’ but don’t seem to listen when words like ‘strong, independent and feminist Icelandic women’ come up.”
“I became quite practiced at the art of men swatting. One of my friends around this time was an athlete. We’d sit together for a chat in a cafe and get hit on about a dozen times. She went in for the Olympics and for a laugh did Miss Iceland. It was incredible that no-one in the press and media picked up on her athletics. They all just focused on her beauty.”
“Such difficult problems, being a hot female in Iceland!” smiled Christina.
“Well, it was different with Icelandic men. Icelandic men are supportive and respectful. If something needs doing, they expect women to be able to do it just as well as them. Icelandic men expect women to be able to hold their own doors open, and pay for their own drinks.”
“I’ve missed all of this by living in a very macho country through my formative years,” smiled Christina.
“But hey, it seems that we’ve both turned out all right,” said Hekla.
“So, what is this about Americans then?”
“Well, I finally succumbed to one of them. He was sitting alone in a cafe on Laugavegur – Sandholt’s to be precise – he was reading a book and I had to sit at the table next to him. I could see the book was in English and that every time he got to the end of a page, he would look up at me before continuing. So, I asked him if it was any good.
“Well, that stopped him in his tracks. He mumbled something and then said he wasn’t sure yet. He’d only read the first few pages and had not been properly concentrating.
“‘ Here it comes’ I thought, He is going to lay down a line now.”
“Well. He didn’t. Instead, I asked him why he looked so unhappy.”
“He snapped around a bit when I said that, but then he admitted that he was new in town and it wasn’t like he was expecting. He’d come over from Texas, which I thought of as all oil wells and – well – like that Dallas show on television – but he said he was from San Angelo and had been transferred from Goodfellow Air Force Base.”
“It didn’t mean anything to me, but he carried on anyway. He said most people thought of Texas with oil wells and cowboy hats and big shoulders, but the part he was from was a rural farming area. His family farmed sheep and goats.
“I was somewhat surprised by this. I had never even thought about Americans farming anything as small as sheep and goats. Especially in Big Texas. Buffalo, yes, horses and cattle, but sheep and lambs?”
“So, he was a sheep boy, then.”
“Stop it. Anyway, he introduced himself as Daniel Williams, and said he was a pilot. He flew the little jets that the Americans use. F-15s I think they are called. He said that he had been transferred to either Iceland or England, but he thought England would be too intense for him. He was part of some kind of NATO swap.”
“He doesn’t sound like fly-boy material?” suggested Christina.
“Yes, that was the thing, I expected him to be all Tom Cruise in Top Gun, but he was much quieter.”
“Well, that’s how I got to know him some more. He didn’t have a good chat-up line, seemed a bit depressed, but had some potential as a fighter pilot.”
“In other words, a Project?” asked Christina, “I do and don’t like the sound of this.”
“Well, you might not know that the Americans moved out of Keflavik a few years ago, but then, after a few Russian submarines circled Iceland and some of their planes flew around, Iceland decided to invite America back, but as part of some kind of NATO deal. Danny had to go on ‘patrol rotations’ which seemed to cover an awfully large area.”
“Let me guess…You took him to look around the farm and pet the animals?” asked Christina, smiling.
“Ooooh. You are so mean… still …I love it!” laughed Hekla, “That is exactly what I did. He had a car and could drive me to and from Reykjavik, and -well- we sort of fell in love.”
“Hekla! – Nooo. Is he ‘The One’?”
Christina looked at Hekla’s fingers. A few Icelandic rings, but no obvious sign of marriage. She asked, “What did your parents think? Your dad could be quite fierce.”
“Yes, he was to begin with, but then Mamma could see that we were smitten with one another and helped persuade Pabbi.”
“Oh, it’s so good to hear certain words like Mamma and Pabbi again,” said Christina.
“Yes, there were also some practical aspects to consider. Danny had been driving back and forth from Keflavik, but now he could stay over without Pabbi getting emotional about it.”
“Scusi me, ladies, my fren’ and I were wondering if we could join you at this table?” came an Italian accent.
“No,” chorused both Christina and Hekla, and then Hekla went on to add, “We are waiting for our boyfriends.”
“Perfect, man-swatting,” said Hekla, “Just like in Laugavegur!”
“So, is he the one?” asked Christina persisting.
“It all went wrong about a year ago,” answered Hekla.
“His tour of Iceland finished, and he was due to go back to the USA, to his home base. He asked me to come with him.”
“I wasn’t sure, if I’m honest, and the thought of an adventure in Texas was the biggest pull. Danny was up there in my thoughts, but I worried that he was too much focussed on flying to the exclusion of all else. It was like he had a manic state. Something that I’d seen in that very first encounter in Sandholt’s.”
“I met his family. They were not what I’d expected. They were very loud, warm and affectionate, not at all like Danny. They lived on the farm and had dozens of friends and neighbours. Despite the Texan distances, it wasn’t like the solitude that we had around Sprengisandsleið. And it was very hot.”
“Danny and I had arrived without a plan, although everyone expected that we were (a) engaged (b) would get married in a big showy ceremony and (c) start having lots of children.
” ‘Danny introduce us to the little lady, will you,’ was a common request. My mind was starting to explode.
“They had a gun culture too. Everyone had a gun. The women carried small Derringer pistols – they called them Texas Defenders and even the teenager girls had pink pistols. Imagine buying a Glock handgun in ‘Prison Pink’? That’s exactly what one of Danny’s sisters did!
“They wanted me to shoot weapons too; they didn’t know about us on the farm and what we used to get up to. Christina. I think you were the best shot, but I was pretty good too.
“They took me out to a range near to their homestead. The targets were static and laughably close. I borrowed one of the brother’s hunting rifles, it was quite like one of ours, but made to look like a carbon fibre boy’s toy. Then I shot a double.”
“Two bullets through the same hole?” asked Christina.
“Yes,” said Hekla, “Some skills don’t go away.”
“They didn’t believe it of course, and thought I’d missed with the second shot. Then they looked at the target paper. Oval hole. Two grease rings. A confirmed double.”
She sighed, “They called it beginner’s luck, so I said I’d try again. Remember this is over such short distances as well. Pause, listen to heart rate, breathe, Tak-Tak. I admit to certain relief when I realised I’d done it again.”
The men didn’t like it. Danny was different, but they saw it that a random foreigner had somehow done something that they all attempted unsuccessfully. And done it twice. I was now noted as a strong woman. I think Iceland has a history of strong women, since the women would have to stay at home while the men went out at sea and then the women had to completely take care of their farms on their own. Take care of the animals, do repairs, take care of the kids, clean, cook etc – and often their husbands and/or sons would die at sea, so they’d be left to continue on their own.
“Well, in Amer—i—cay, or in this part, the women may be strong, but they keep it to themselves. I kept getting referred to as ‘my little lady’ and ‘ma’am’ when I went out anywhere. No one meant anything by it, but it did stick in the claw.
“And the women folk had a lot of questions for me about children. Was I going to have a big family with Danny? They were questions I was not ready to answer.
“Danny’s family were also Evangelical Protestants. I went to the church with Danny and his family one time at a place called Lakewood. It was like a weekend break. We drove for about six hours to stay in a motel, then went to the church. It was massive. Like some kind of rock stadium. I think it seated over 50,000 people – and that was every week.
“The guns, the church, the heat, the massive family. It was too much for me. I had to tell Danny and then leave him. To be honest, I think, when I did, that he was relieved. I don’t think he’d thought any of it through and the pressures from home were cutting in on him. I sometimes think it improved his status there in Texas, bringing back a foreign girl-friend but then ‘seeing the light’ and picking someone else from local stock.”
“And you know something, I was flooded with relief when I sat on the runway on the way back to Iceland. It was such a tangible feeling, like a whole episode had drained away and I could start to behave normally again.
“So I decided, all in all, it seems that Iceland is the best place in the world for women to live and work, and I can taste the difference in the air each time I come back to Iceland after having spent some time abroad.”
Christina smiled, and Hekla continued, “I don’t know exactly what it is, maybe it’s the fact that there’s no cat-calling on the streets, or that in the office where I work there’s pretty much a 50/50 of men and women, or that it doesn’t take more than ‘no thank you’ to shake off a guy that’s hitting on you if you’re not interested.”
Hekla paused, sipped her drink and then continued, “I think it’s all the little things. The fact that you go to a protest march and you see your little cousins there. And your friend’s parents. Or that when the presidential elections take place, half of the candidates are female – and that fact isn’t blown up. It just, is. And if you’re walking down the street and some mother is breastfeeding her kid, nobody takes notice of it.”
Christina smiled, Hekla was as intense and lovable as she had been when they played together as small children. She’d found a few new causes and gained some worldview too, Christina had expected her to be a child of Iceland but she realised that Hekla was an Icelandic woman of the world.
“But hey, Christina, I can see you are toned like an athlete- the way you move is like a cat – you are as elegant as anyone in the room and clearly cosmopolitan. You’ll have to tell me about your last few years!”
“You’d never believe it, ” answered Christina and started to pour out her edited highlights.