I see him from afar, even before I go through the glass doors. He sees me too. Our eyes meet across the distance and I see his face morph into a smile. I quicken my pace, as fast as I could go without breaking into a run.
Patience, Emilie. You have the rest of your life with him now.
The moment I step through the doors, he's right there. Without a word, he takes first my hand, and then my suitcase, and starts heading further away to an emptier area. I follow him, my heart thumping with delight at seeing him again after so many months. The last time he visited Hamburg was in August last year, when he came for my graduation. For the December holidays, he'd had to go back to Oulu, while I wanted to spend more time with my family and friends before I left Hamburg for good, so we spent Christmas and New Year's apart.
But I am here now. I am finally here.
Stopping abruptly in a corner of the hall, Aksel parks my suitcase against the wall before turning around and, in one swift motion, gathers me into his arms. I wrap my own around him, burying my face into his chest, loving the solid feel of him against me. We've been apart for longer before, in the past when we were both still students and had only been able to meet during term breaks. But since his graduation - a year earlier than mine - Aksel has been flying out to Hamburg whenever he can, so our meet-ups have gotten more frequent over time. These past four months have been the longest we've been apart in the last year.
"You're here," he grins, his hand coming up to cup the back of my head, to entangle his fingers in my hair.
"Yeah," I almost squeal, throwing my arms around his neck in a fierce hug. "I can't believe I'm finally here!"
He pulls away a little to look at me, then leans back in and kisses me hard. I kiss him back, my mouth opening under his as his tongue demands entrance. I feel him shift our bodies so that he is pressing me into the corner of the wall, semi-hiding us from sight, but it doesn't change the fact that we are full-on kissing in public.
Don't Finns in particular frown on public displays of affection like that?
The thought flits through my mind briefly, before I decide that I don't care. Who was it who said, 'airports have seen more sincere kisses than wedding halls'? People at airports should be used to the sight of this by now.
When he lets up on me, I look into his smiling eyes and smile back. He stops and stares at me for a while, like he's eating me up with his eyes.
I laugh, a little nervously. It's been so long since we've met in person that I've almost forgotten how much his physical presence affects me. It really is different, having him by my side. "What?
"I'm glad you're here," he says.
"So am I." My hand lifts to touch his face. It's been too long since I've felt the warmth of his skin against mine. He's real. He's really here, standing right in front of me.
I'm really here.
I must be staring up at him in wonderment, because it's his turn to chuckle. "What?" he asks now.
I shake my head. "I just can't believe it. It feels so unreal to be here, like this, with you."
Aksel reaches up and covers my hand with his. When I remove my hand from his cheek, his follows mine down to rest at my side. I flip my hand over, and he entwines his fingers in mine. I stare at our clasped hands, feeling the heat of his grip ricochet up my hand to spread to the rest of my body.
"I know," I hear him say. "It feels like a dream."
It's hard to contain the sense of joy spreading warmly through my chest. "I could just stand here forever," I say, giving our connected hands a light swing. "Just like this."
He laughs. "Me too, but we don't need to. Let's go home."
Home. I feel my grin grow wider of its own accord. I like the sound of it.
Out in the parking lot, there is a freezing wind blowing. I try to huddle more deeply into my coat as I walk beside Aksel. The walk isn't that long, luckily – we're heading towards a black Toyota parked close to the entrance.
"You have a car?" I ask.
Aksel reaches into his pockets and pulls out the keyring, answering my question without words. He presses a button to unlock the doors, and the car chirps briefly, lights flashing. "I bought it last year," he says. "Didn't I tell you?"
I frown, trying to sieve through my memory to bring forth this nugget of information I should already have. "Maybe," I say, sounding a little doubtful even to my own ears. Aksel looks at me oddly, but I shake my head, hoping he hasn't realised that I don't remember.
Surreptitiously, I look the car over. It's nice, with a shiny black coat that I can almost see my reflection in. Then I glance at the car plate and see that the EU code for Finland is "FIN". Back in Germany, the code is "D", and that makes sense because it stands for the German word for Germany - Deutschland. But Finland, in Finnish, is called Suomi.
"Why is the EU code for Finnish car plates 'FIN'?" I ask, once we are in the car and Aksel has started the engine. "Why not 'S', or something?"
"'S' is for Swedish car plates," he says, shifting the gear into drive and pulling out of the parking lot.
"Okay, maybe 'SUO', then." Another thought hits me. "Actually, why is Finland called 'fin'-something in so many other languages, when its original name sounds nothing like it?"
I see Aksel cast me an amused glance out of the corner of his eye. "How do you know that? What is Finland called in other languages?"
I flush. "I wiki'd Finland once... You know how Wikipedia always has that list on the left - the article in different languages? Most of the names other languages have for Finland start with 'fin'."
"Interesting," Aksel says. "I've never thought about that before."
"It's kind of weird, isn't it?"
He looks like he's trying not to smile. "Have you looked up Germany? None of the names other countries have for Germany sounds the least bit like the name in German."
No, I've never searched for Germany on Wikipedia, but what he said is true, as far as I know. I know that Germany is called Allemagne in French, Tyskland in Danish, Germania in Italian... For our eastern neighbours, their names for Germany seem to tend to start with an 'N'. But this is because of our position in the centre of Europe, as well as our long history of separate tribes and states. "What's it called in Finnish?" I ask.
"Saksa," Aksel replies.
I scrunch up my nose. That is completely different from all the other variations I've heard. "That's... very different."
He shrugs. "Finnish is very different."
"I've started learning it," I say, and beam at him. He turns away from the road for a second to glance at me.
"Yep." I clear my throat and attempt, "Moi. Nimeni on Emilie..."
"Very good," he says softly.
But I'm not done. There is still one sentence – one sentence I spent hours looking up, one sentence that I wanted to say when I met him at the airport, but forgot all about in the heat of the moment. I say it now. "Minä olen kaivannut sinua."
He doesn't react, and I turn my gaze on him, wondering if I've gotten it wrong. I poured through a verb conjugation table for the word kaivata - 'to miss; to yearn for' - in order to come up with that sentence. Google, for some reason, is no help when it comes to Finnish. There are no people online discussing how to say such phrases in Finnish, not the way there are for other languages like French, or Japanese...
While I'm pondering this, Aksel has pulled up at the side of the road. I blink when he unbuckles his seatbelt. Have we reached our destination? But we've barely just pulled out of the car park...
Then he leans over the gear shaft, cups my cheek with one hand, and presses his mouth to mine.
When he pulls away, leaving me flushed and more than a little dazed from the emotion he has put into that kiss, he smiles and whispers, "I've missed you, too." Then he calmly settles back into his seat, re-fastens his seatbelt, and starts driving again.
I stare at him with my mouth agape. "What... what was that all about?" I ask, when I've relocated my voice.
He shrugs, but there's still the faintest hint of a smile lingering in his expression. "I like it when you speak Finnish."
I bite my lip, feeling a surge of warmth hit me at his words. I will learn to speak Finnish, I vow at this moment. If it makes him this happy, I will speak in Finnish all the time.
We are both silent, enjoying the comfortable silence as Aksel drives on. It feels good to just sit in his presence, without having the need to fill up the silence with aimless chatter. Of course, I have so much to say to him. But this comfortable silence is also calming.
It is almost twenty minutes later when we enter Helsinki. I turn to look out of the window, watching the scenery fly past. It's not exactly what I'm used to, back in Hamburg. Hamburg is a big city - more than three times the size of Helsinki in terms of land area; almost exactly three times in terms of population. Helsinki is the most densely-populated city in Finland, but, in comparison with Hamburg, it feels strangely lonely. But the city streets and buildings themselves don't look all that different. Hamburg also has its share of neo-classical architecture, similar to the buildings standing along the sides of the streets here.
"Why Helsinki?" I ask, as I watch Aksel navigate the roads like he has lived here all his life. But I know that he didn't grow up here. His hometown is further north – a city called Oulu. I've looked it up on Wikipedia, too, and it's supposed to be the most important city in Northern Finland as well as the northernmost big city in the whole of the EU. "Why did you decide to move here?"
Aksel shrugs. "I don't know. I've wanted to live here since I was a kid. The capital city – it always sounded like this exciting place where dreams come true, you know?"
"Does it live up to your expectations, then?"
"Oh, yeah." I look at his side profile as he looks out the windshield at the road, and I see the corner of his lip curling up a little. "It's amazing here. We have lots of attractions, places to go to, and the nightlife is incredible. You'll see. I'll show you around. You'll love it here."
We, I note. He already sees himself as a part of the city, as belonging here. I feel a pang in my chest. I want to belong here too. Be a part of this exciting city with him.
"I can't wait," I say, smiling at him. His good mood is contagious. I can't tell if he's happy that I'm here, or that he finally gets to show me his city, after two years of me showing him mine. Either way, I'm glad that he's happy. "So how different is Helsinki from Oulu? Is it colder there?"
Aksel chuckles. "Quite different. Helsinki is a lot different from the other regions in terms of culture, especially from the north. And it's definitely colder in Oulu... It snows more there. But the wind here is stronger, because we're closer to the sea."
I've only just gotten here, but Helsinki already feels cold enough. I am a little glad he has decided to move here, instead of staying in Oulu. Even so... I want to go there. I had the chance to go, to see him graduate two years ago, but I came down with a high fever right before and hadn't been able to make the trip. In the end, he had carried his phone around the whole time, with me on the other end of a video call. And I had gotten to experience the day with him even as I huddled in bed, shivering under the covers.
"We should go to Oulu sometime," I tell him now. I want to see the city where he grew up. I want to see the streets of Oulu and imagine Aksel, as a child, as a teen, running through them.
He glances at me in surprise – surprise that slowly morphs into a soft smile. "Yeah," he says quietly. "Next time I go home to visit, I'll take you."
He means, to meet his parents. I bite my lip. This is serious. I've never really thought about it before, but it hits me now – we're in this for the long haul. I've moved to his country to be with him, and the next time he returns to his hometown, he's introducing me to his parents. He isn't just my boyfriend from Finland now, someone that I Skype every other night and see in person only once every few months. We'll be living together from now on, trying to forge a life together. Now, he is the one guy I may be looking at forever with.
The thought scares me a little.
But it also fills me with unfettered joy.