It was still pleasant on Sunday when he arrived at Jenny’s flat. In the kitchen he met Lorna and Susan.
“So it seems you have some news, Paul,” said Lorna with a smirk.
“I think, I stumbled over a couple kissing last night,” said Susan. “It couldn’t have been, you could it?”
“I’m very happy,” said Paul. “I was stupid not to see what was in front of me before.”
“Just you be good to Jenny,” said Lorna.
“Or you’ll have us to answer to,” said Susan.
Jenny came in. She was dressed in jeans and a jumper, neither hugged her figure, but rather expressed the fact that she didn’t think that much about how she looked. She had on as little make-up as he did.
“Where shall we go?” she asked.
“I always like the beach in winter,” said Paul.
“OK. I like looking at the grey sea and the boats waiting to come into the harbour.”
They set out walking the familiar streets, but this time they were walking together for the first time in daylight. Jenny put her arm in his, and it took a while to get used to this method of walking without having the benefit of alcohol.
The beach was practically deserted, with just a few people who had the same idea as they did. There were people with dogs, there were some children, but clearly most of Aberdeen preferred to stay inside watching Sunday afternoon television.
“Have you liked it here these past four years?” Paul asked.
“Well enough, I think. I ended up here more or less because I wanted a change from Glasgow. I was offered a place at Oxford and Cambridge, too, but…”
“Why didn’t you go?”
“Money, really. My parents could have afforded it, but why spend so much when I could study here for free?”
“It was awful what they did putting so many students in debt.”
“I suppose so.”
“We can disagree you know, Jenny, we’re bound to.”
“I know. It’s just I don’t want to argue quite so soon.”
“You should hear how I argue with Effie. It gets quite heated, and we’re only discussing theology and literature”
“What have theology and literature got to do with each other?”
“Well, that’s something I’m beginning to learn about. You see a couple of years ago I sort of reached the conclusion that traditional theology wasn’t much use.”
“You’re right there, you know.”
“I’d learned Hebrew, Greek and German just to analyse texts and theologians who were somehow all missing the point.”
“I never did see the point myself. It always struck me as wishful thinking and insofar as I agreed with the morality it was always obvious that it required collective action to bring about anything in the real world.”
“I see that. There are good arguments for it. I know them well. It’s just that two or three years ago I had a chat with Effie about some ideas I’d had from reading a couple of books. One was by a Danish man, and the other was by a Russian.”
“Why did she offer to tutor you, by the way? It’s like you got an Oxbridge education here in Aberdeen.”
“I think, she liked my ideas. She’s quite something, you know.”
“But didn’t it give you an unfair advantage? What did the department think?”
“Not really. It wasn’t their business anyway. She’s been teaching me Russian and Danish and discussing literature. We hardly touch on the things that are in the lectures. I’ve ceased to go to most of them anyway.”
“But, Jenny, that’s like doing two courses at once.”
“I know it’s been hard. But I’m nearly there. It looks like I’ll get the grade I need and then it will all be a good foundation for when I start my studies in September.”
“It’s as if you completely ignore the most important event in September.”
“I don’t think anything much will happen. Aren’t the SNP way behind?”
“We’re not the SNP. There are people from all sorts of parties and none in the ‘Yes’ camp”
“Oh I’m sorry, but don’t let’s discuss it. I hardly read about it. Sometimes I read something Effie writes, but that’s about all. She seems to be taking it seriously for some reason. I never watch television or even glance at the papers. I’m far too busy.”
“We’re not going to get anywhere if too much is off limits. It’s something I spend a lot of time with. I’m very active with the campaign.”
“We’re just going to have to find a way to discuss these things without it affecting how we feel about each other. It may take a little practice.”
By this time they had reached a point where they could either continue further along the beach towards Footdee or turn off towards the centre.
“What now, Jenny?” asked Paul.
“I’d quite like to go back and do a bit of study.”
“And I have a campaign meeting.”
“Can you come by later, around ten? Just for an hour or so. We can have some tea and a hug.”
“Are you leading me into temptation again?” Paul said with a laugh.
“But wasn’t it nice to hold each other yesterday? I want to again.”
“Yes, very, it’s just, you know it makes me want more.”
“I understand, don’t you think I have desire, too?”
“I might desire to eat chocolate every day, but I don’t.”
“I never really understood what Christianity had against people loving each other.”
“I don’t think it does have anything against this.”
“Isn’t that playing with words, Jenny? You know full well what I mean. Does everyone who believes act as you do? Does Susan?”
“I don’t really ask myself about what other people do. It’s not my way of thinking. Not the perspective I choose to take. I suspect very few people act as I do nowadays.”
“It’s not about following rules, it’s about how I feel, where I am just now. I can’t justify what I believe, nor do I try. It’s just faith. That’s all there is.”
“And so I’m left with desire and frustration.”
“Trust me, Paul, we’ll find a way so that you have no frustration ,but only love, just be patient, please. We’ve only been together one day. We’re going to need to spend a of time together learning about each other in all sorts of ways. Will you be patient with me?”
“I’ll certainly try. Yes, Jenny, I’ll be patient.”
“So around ten then?”
“I’ll be there.”
When she got home, Jenny picked up her mobile and dialled one of the few numbers stored in the memory. She listened as it rang for a while and eventually obtained the single word answer.
“It’s me, Effie” said Jenny.
“Oh. I’m sorry Jenny, I was expecting Petr. He’s going to take me home in a while.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in my office. Is something wrong?”
“No, but I would like to talk to you.”
“No, not exactly.”
“Well, why don’t you come over. I’ll make us some tea. I could do with a break from marking anyway.”
“Thanks, Effie. I’ll be along in a few minutes.”
As sometimes happens, Jenny had gradually developed a close friendship with her tutor over the past couple of years. It wasn’t at all one-sided. Effie was as likely to call up Jenny for advice about something or just to go out for some coffee. They had to guard a little against talk of favouritism, but everyone in the department knew that Effie was honest. They also knew that Jenny didn’t need any favouritism, but rather was one of the best students anyone could remember.
Over time Jenny had found out quite a bit about Effie. She was a little over fifty, short, with dark hair. She’d met her husband Petr sometime a little while before the Soviet Union collapsed and had gone with him to live there. They’d stayed for a while, but eventually had made their way back to Britain and Aberdeenshire in particular because that was where Effie was from.
Jenny knocked on the door, opened it and saw her friend with a pile of papers and a red pen.
“Hello, Jen! Do come in,” said Effie.
“Hi! Thanks for letting me come for a visit.”
“No ‘thank you’! This marking is dull and at times very stupid.”
“Well, I’d better not say. But there are one or two of your colleagues who would be better off working as hairdressers. They’d do more good than writing essays about Karl Barth.”
“Sit down, my dear. But what is it? You look happy and yet there’s something else.”
“I’ll tell you in a minute. I think I need a sip of tea first.”
A few minutes later they were drinking black tea without milk as Effie always did. You either drank tea that way with Effie or not at all.
“I met someone,” said Jenny.
“How nice! Do I know him?”
“I doubt it. He’s called Paul. He does French and Politics.”
“Well, it’s closer to what we do than if he did Engineering or Medicine. How did you meet?”
“I’ve known him a long time as part of a group of friends who come round to the flat.”
“So what changed?”
“Well, I went to a ball last night.”
“I don’t think I’ve been to a ball since Cambridge. What was it like?”
“Well, I was a bit nervous. I’d sort of got a friend to help things along and Paul had asked me to go, but I didn’t really know if he was keen or not.”
“These things are often a bit mysterious.”
“Well, anyway. I’m not very used to wine and I had, I think, four glasses.”
“And why not once in a while? It can help these things along. Did it?”
“We chatted and danced and then we sat on the stairs and he kissed me.”
“You kissed him back, I suppose?”
“So what are you worried about?”
“There’s lot’s we don’t agree on.”
“He’s a nationalist.”
“And you’re a Conservative?”
“They hate Tories,” said Jenny.
“They say they do, but it’s just a myth they hate.”
“I’ve got so much to think about, so many interesting ideas to explore. It just seems so uninteresting.”
“It is uninteresting, but we have a fight on our hands.”
“But surely we’re way ahead?”
“At the moment. But why do you think I’ve been writing so much about independence?”
“I don’t really know, Effie.”
“Because it’s necessary. They will put up one heck of a fight this summer. They dominate online and they’re much more dedicated than most of our side. It’s like insurance. It may not be necessary to fight as hard as I do, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. I’d rather do all I can.”
“You think I should do more?”
“Perhaps. Let’s wait and see. For the moment your priority should be to develop your thought about important matters, gain the skills necessary to read what you need to read. Besides you’re going to have to be careful about how you discuss these sorts of things with Paul.”
“It’s not just on this that we differ. I don’t think he has any faith, but he’s not just indifferent. He’s hostile.”
“This is something we’ve all had to face for centuries, Jenny. I think, you know how to respond.”
“Come now. We’ve discussed this long enough. Do you know any effective arguments for what we believe?”
“No. Except some parts of Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, but they’re not really arguments are they?”
“Not in the traditional sense, and they only really work if someone is open to them. It’s like grace, I think. An adult has to be open to faith to receive it or at least that is often the case, though sometimes it can strike even the unwilling. A bit like that other Paul. Infants, on the other hand, are open to grace and so baptism is always a help. That’s where the Baptists go wrong. I’ve always thought.”
“So, I shouldn’t argue with him.”
“No, Jenny, you should avoid argument with someone you want to love. You especially.”
“I don’t know this Paul at all. But I doubt very much that he is even close to your level.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I know people in his department, and I would have heard if they had a student at your level”
“But he seems very bright to me.”
“I’m sure he is. But there’s a difference. If you attack his arguments, you have the power to make him feel foolish. You know how to attack from within and make it all come tumbling down. It’s not something you should use lightly with someone who is not at your level. I did that once to someone and have regretted it for thirty years.”
“It would hardly make him love me if I did that, would it?”
“No, of course not.”
“So what do I do?” said Jenny looking a little as if there were no options left.
“You argue by example. You stick to your beliefs and show gently why you think he is wrong.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You believe in Christianity. So show by how you live that being a Christian is a good place to be. You’re a Conservative, well show by example that Tories are not monsters. You can’t do more anyway.”
“There’s something in particular that he’s not going to like very much about Christianity. You know I’ve never really had a boyfriend before and I’m very old-fashioned. I want to live like the people I admire from the past. I like the style and don’t like the modern style at all.”
“You must continue to be who you are. If he loves you, he’ll respect that individuality, but if he doesn’t, he’ll soon go”.
“But how am I to find anyone, if everyone expects, you know, after a few days?”
“Don’t be embarrassed about it, Jenny. This is all part of human nature. We can’t change human nature, but we can bend it.”
“But what do I do? We went back to mine last night and I wanted to kiss him and hold him, but we both get excited.”
“Of course you do. Why not? Explore what is possible and what is not possible. Be imaginative. You can find joy in your embrace now and still remain the person you want to be.”
“I don’t really understand.”
“Sure you do. Listen to yourself and listen to him. Adapt, adjust, don’t be dogmatic, but stick to your principles above everything else. Be patient. You’ve only known him a little while. Find out whether he’s worthy of your love. There’s lots that you can give him physically that breaks none of your Christian ideals.”
“I’m scared that if I go any further it all becomes inevitable.”
“Sure it’s inevitable eventually. We are human beings and our desire tends towards making love. But because we are human beings, we can moderate our desire. For you at the moment, and I love and agree with this ideal, making love should be something that happens in marriage. But remember, marriage is not primarily about going to a church and signing a book. Marriage is simply the promise two people make to each other before God that they will love each other always. When you sincerely receive that promise you are free to love in any way you want. It’s just important to be absolutely sure that the promise is sincere and genuine.”
“Where does that leave me now?”
“You must be patient, Jenny. Kiss him. Hold him. See how it all feels. Show him what you want and also what you don’t want. Talk to him. Explain how you feel. If, he’s worthy of you, he’ll listen. If he’s not, drop him like a stone. Never let a man take advantage; never let him do one thing that you don’t want. But be fair also. Understand that he has needs and desires, and do what you can to answer them. That’s what love is.”
The phone rang and Effie started speaking in Russian, she talked very fast and without a trace of a Scottish accent. After she finished she asked:
“How much of that did you get?”
“Almost none. I pick up about one word in four.”
“Well, it was Petr ready to take me home and you need to practice your Russian, or you’re going to struggle when you start your course.”
“It all sounds completely different than it look on the page.”
“It will take time. Don’t be discouraged.”
“The same with relationships, I suppose.”
“You’re learning about them, too. How much Russian did you know after one day? Not even the alphabet. Be patient, Jenny.”
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: