Sauna Girls

(From Balti to Baltic)

Photograph courtesy Unsplash

When Marika began to work at the Blue Eden, it did not take her long to become the most popular girl at the Parlour, both with punters and management. First, she has a stunning body, a pleasant face with high cheekbones and twinkling eyes, silky blonde hair, legs that go all the way up to her arse. And tits to die for. Not that they were massive, it’s the shape, the consistency and the way they don’t droop downwards but flare to either side and defy gravity, reminiscent of those of Goya’s Naked Maja’s. I’ve seen punters go mad at first contact with her nipples, soft pink little things which I swear undergo an erection as spectacular as a man’s dick. When you see the men suck them, you understand what Freud meant when he talked about mother fixation. I know, because in any given week I get to do at least one threesome with her, and the wonder is that I get paid on top of it. How lucky can one get? She is Estonian but says she is a Swede, I never understood why. Magda says she is the classiest girl in our books.

What few of us knew is that she went to university in Tallinn and has a Master’s in Law and English. Strange combination, I said to her when she first told me. But what do I know about universities.

‘Let me explain,’ she said, ‘in Estonia now, cchobs aren’t eecy to come py, so we haf to plan for … all continchencies … with my tegree it should have peen eecy for me to get a coot gofernment cchob, but you know, the old apparatchiks still haf too much power … if you’re not in their coot pooks, then you’re … fucked.’ She told me about filling shelves in supermarkets, helping her mum run her small stall selling odds and ends. ‘So, Cchodie,’ that’s what Jodie becomes in her lovely parlance, ‘you ton’t neet to be a cchenius to work out what a coot catholic kirl like me is toing selling sex in a foreign country.’ I nodded, and told her about my own less justifiable entry into the oldest profession.

‘But I don’t see myself making my liffing this vay forefer. I am making

more money than I thought possible, I haf plans,’ she began.

‘Don’t tell Magda,’ I joked. She smiled.

‘I am not spenting my earninks trinking or puying clothes and jewellery. I am infesting in the stock market, and-’

‘You’re a dark horse,’ I exclaimed in admiration, ‘just make sure you don’t lose your shirt.’

‘I studied Economics in my first two years, so I know what I’m toing.’ I admired her self-belief and hoped she was right.

It is surprising how little friction there is between us girls working in the Sauna. one would have expected that a bunch of problem women like us, comprising of the statutory number of alkies and druggies, mentally damaged and abused bints, would be at each others’ throats at the drop of a hat, but surprisingly we’re a friendly and supportive lot, always helping each other out, with shoulders ready in case crying is on the menu. Most of us take a working name, and few girls, even when we go out drinking together would tell you their real name. To my surprise Marika volunteered the information herself, without any prompting from me: her real name was Margit, Estonian for Margaret, I presumed. She laughed when I told her that I was baptised Maria Colomba.

I discovered that Marika was very professional in everything she did; if she told you that she’d do something for you, she always delivered. We often lend each other books or magazines, and she always brought back the borrowed items or those to be lent on the promised day, she is scrupulously honest. I have witnessed her returning money to a punter who when, in a hurry to leave his guilt behind, had made a mistake. I have no doubt that she would have been a big asset if she could have got a job as a legal adviser somewhere. Oh, her spoken English improved tremendously after the first few weeks.

Shortly after she started at the Blue Eden we both happened to have Saturday off and we decided to go out together. We could have been teachers or nurses to judge by the unostentatious way we dressed. I have been in this business for two years now and the big surprise is that I have never recognised or been recognised by any punter in pubs or shops or shopping malls. I suppose I’d find it awkward if someone in a shopping arcade winked at me cheekily. Obviously it would be much worse for the punter if I tried to embarrass him in the company of his prim wife.

As I am an habituée of Peter’s Yard, a Swedish style bistro in the Meadows, that I often visit with Magda or some other mates from the Sauna, I took her there. We seated ourselves in the open-air terrace and I went to order. When I came back with the coffee and cardamon buns, she whooped with delight. ‘Pullas!’ she said, ‘just like back home.’ In subsequent years I’d not often witness such an outburst of joy from the unostentatious Nordic woman. I think that until that point I hadn’t entertained lubricious thoughts about her, but I now suddenly felt a libidinous frisson. I know that she had to agree to do threesomes before being hired, and we had done at least three sessions together. I was wondering whether she would be shocked if I suggested what we might do if she agreed to come see my etchings later. All evening thoughts of carnal lust would never be far from my consciousness.

‘But this a machick! How did you know?’ She meant about the bun. It is

an Estonian specialty. ‘You can seduce any Finn or Estonian with a plate of these,’ she said. Afterwards we went for a walk in the Meadows and linked arms like old friends. Interestingly women doing this are hardly noticed, but even gay or lesbian couples holding hands are no longer frowned upon here. On this warm spring day there were hundreds of people doing a number of things, some sitting or lying on blankets round bottles of wine, drinking, laughing and telling stories; lovers indulging in foreplay rather than innocuous cuddling completely oblivious of passers-by. Perversely shunning designated areas, surrounded by a smoky mist, some loud delinquent groups were enjoying an illegal barbecue whilst others were rehearsing music pieces, practising tightrope walking on a rope suspended between two birch trees, or executing those near impossible capoeira moves.

‘People here are so …’ She changed her mind and did not finish her sentence.

‘So… what?’ She shook her head, and I insisted. She blushed and hesitated. ‘You … they are so untidy… throwing things all over the place… look at the litter.’ I can’t say that I had noticed and was just a bit sore that a foreigner who’s only recently arrived here should feel able to make negative comments about us, but the evidence was there for all to see if you bothered to look, I had clearly become immune to the dirt- I did grow up in slummy Ardwick Green after all. ‘You’re right, we’re proper litterbugs here,’ I admitted grudgingly.

‘In Tallinn, you could eat off the pavements.’ I had to make an effort not to take her observation in bad part, but she must have picked my vibes for she never again made disparaging remarks about us. As I said, she was no ordinary bint.

When we were both feeling hungry, I was surprised when she suggested we had a Balti. As I am very partial to Indian, I was only too glad, so we went Mother India in Infirmary Street. Naturally I like my food, but I am no big eater. Usually I can never do justice to a three course meal, but Marika wanted everything including the pakora starters. Often after eating one of these, I am nearly full and ready to pay and go home (if they’ll let me). I had a methi kheema of which I ate half, because no way was I going to forego my pistachio kulfi. I was happy to pass on half my pakoras to the Estonian who had lamb kofta with rice and nan as well as my unused half of methi kheema, and ras mallai for dessert. I had a pint of Cobra and she had two. We finished with a large cup of sweet spicy chai.

We walked randomly and ended in the Earl of Marchmont in Warrender Park Road, where we downed vodkas. I normally have mine with orange, but my companion looked scornfully at me as she tipped hers straight in one go. I cannot remember laughing so heartily when, with a straight face she declared that she was practically TT. You’ll be telling me that you’re practically a virgin next, I said. No, she protested, she ate and drank quite sparingly. ‘I know, I know, but this isn’t me,’ she added, whatever that meant. Today, she explained earnestly, you have the Saturday Margit, and explained that it is an Estonian tradition for people to stay sober five days a week and indulge during the weekend, but she only had one binge night a week, Saturday. True enough I never saw her drink on any other day. And it was the same with food; she was quite abstemious; she would bring a small plastic container to work containing a salad, two boiled potatoes with either one boiled egg or two sardines, a pot of yoghurt and a clem or a handful of grapes, but once a week, she ate like a horse and drank like a Pole. Her words. Well I never…

Although it was drizzling when the pub kicked us out, we chose to walk to my place, arm in arm, singing bawdy Estonian songs that she taught me. We got called a pair of Lezzies by Saturday night revellers, but it was in an unthreatening if not entirely good-natured way. In my flat, as we dried each other, I made it plain to her what my intention was, by lingering on well-defined parts of her anatomy. I placed the towel between her legs and carried out my drying process rhythmically, blatantly applying pressure on her pussy, which made her smile. I dwelled upon her glorious tits and leathery nips with my tongue hanging out meaningfully. She kept smiling in a manner suggesting that she had read me loud and clear, but was not sure about how to react. For her part she had dried me efficiently but without any hanky panky. I might have to redefine our friendship I was thinking when she suddenly snatched the towel from me, flung it away and seized me by the waist. She lifted me up in the air and fairly threw me on the bed. ‘In our country,’ she said, ‘we have a game in summer called husband tossing, I think we borrowed it from our neighbours the Finns.’

We stayed with our arms around each other, hugging and putting our tongues in each other’s mouth, at the same time I seized one of her nipples between my thumb and two fingers and gently rolling it like I’ve seen my dad do with his tobacco.

If I had a silver ring I’d put it on her index finger as a tribute to its sterling quality as a clit-seeking weapon, fanning the flames of lust before quenching it. Seeking and dealing with. I had great sex that night and she told me that so had she. In the morning we had breakfast in near silence. True to what she had said she ate next to nothing, and told me that she will only have a full meal next Saturday.

‘You know of course that I am perfectly heterosexual-’

‘Could have fooled me,’ I laughed.

‘No, it’s true, I do what I have to do in the sauna, that’s what I am paid for … with you … what can I say? You’re so beautiful … you have such animal vigour … I mean this as a compliment … such sex appeal, I should say. It doesn’t matter with you, you’re unique, anybody who likes sex would be attracted to you … if you were a man, even gay bashers would love to have you in their beds.’ I wasn’t quite sure of the logic and laughed, but these words coming from her were music to my ears.

We often went on binges on a Saturday, but we didn’t always end up in bed. They were about the most pleasant six months of my life. I was sleeping soundly, had fewer nightmares and headaches. Ever since I was a teenager I had this perpetual pain in the jaws, an obvious sign of tension, but now I was waking up with relaxed mandibles.

Marika wasn’t normally secretive, but after a few weeks I started thinking that she was avoiding my eyes at the approaching weekend. If I asked her whether she’d like us to chill out together on Saturday, she’d invent the equivalent of, Sorry have to wash my hair type excuse. I was determined not to be possessive as a friend is harder to find than a sex partner. In any case I wasn’t in love with her or anything like that. There were other girls I fancied and I didn’t mind blokes. Fact is on a desert island I’d be happy to have either a bloke or a bint as my sole companion.

On several occasions I had seen her cast a glance at me which I interpreted as a wish to confide. She too obviously valued our friendship and did not want it tarnished. I read that loud and clear and was grateful. One day when there were just the two of us in the lounge as all the other girls were entertaining clients in their bedrooms downstairs, she breathed out a sigh of relief. I looked at her in anticipation.

‘I was not trying to keep it a secret from you, Jodie, believe me, but I don’t want everybody to know too many secrets about me.’ I nodded my approval.

‘You know Seb, the builder?’

‘So you’re seeing him, you crafty old thing.’ She burst out laughing and shook her head.

‘Seeing is perhaps the wrong word, let’s just say that he took me to see a show at the Playhouse two weeks ago, then again a couple of weeks ago, we had a … Balti _’

‘What else would a Baltic eat, eh?’ Not a very witty interruption, I know.

‘Last week he drove us to Glasgow and we went night clubbing.’

‘Now, don’t tell me, he swears that he is in love with you and wants to make an honest woman out of you.’ She stared at me as if I was Mrs Nostradamus.

‘It’s what blokes do,’ I said. Her jaws dropped- literally.

‘So he’s just cowshitting me?’

‘Not necessarily, Margit,’ I said, ‘but before committing yourself, make sure …’

‘I know he isn’t married or has kids; he must make as much money as he says, judging by his flat in Trinity. Oh, and his Peugeot. You should see all his electronic gadgets, his cameras … ’ That sounded reasonable. I stressed that all I was saying was that she should show discernment, and I assured her that I was pleased to see her faced with prospects of happiness _ and I meant it.

For the next few weeks, Margit seemed very relaxed and pleased with herself. She would have walked on air, if people from her part of the world knew how. I suspect that they have their feet pretty much screwed to the ground. Although we had stopped going out together, when we were able to, we’d exchange innocuous snippets of gossip or share a joke. I did not wish a blow by blow account of her love life and she was not a compulsive confider.

Without consciously thinking about it, I had assumed that the day would surely come when she would inform me of, and perhaps even invite me to, an engagement party, for Seb had made it clear to her that he had been talking about tying the knot, and she had hinted that she was not averse to the notion. There is no future for me in Tallinn, she said.

She had told me that once married, she would try getting a waitressing job, in a restaurant or a pub, not that she needed to, as lover boy minted money, but she did not see herself staying at home watching daytime television and baking for her man all day long.

One morning, we again found ourselves the only two women in the lounge, and I felt that she had something to say.

‘You know, the more I get to know Seb, the more I like him; he’s really a sweet man, but I am not sure if I really want the sort of life that he’s offering me.’ After a short embarrassed silence she went on.

‘You see, I am not sure if I want to spend the rest of my life here in Edinburgh.’

‘There are worse places.’

‘Of course, I really love everything about this place, but it’s just that I’ve always seen myself growing old in Estonia.’ Or maybe Finland, she conceded, where her sister who had married a Finn lived, or Sweden where she knew one or two people … these places I can call home, but Edinburgh is just a lovely place to visit for maybe two years.’ I think I saw what she meant and knew what she was driving at. All things considered Seb was not who she really wanted.

‘So you’re free on Saturday?’ I beamed at her. She demurred.

‘No,’ she said, ‘I am going out with Satish-’

‘Satish? You mean your Indian waiter at the Jaipur Mahal?’ First she shook her head, then nodded.

‘He is the nephew of the owner actually. He has a university degree in psychology, but as he can’t make up his mind about what to do next, he helps his uncle run the place, but yes, he sometimes serves at table.’

‘So what’s special about Satish?’

‘He says he is in love with me.’

‘Ha!’ I said in a superior tone, ‘he is, is he?’ Are you in love with him?’

‘No, I don’t think so, not yet anyway.’ And she explained earnestly that she had the ability of dictating the agenda to her heart. I have always known that her head had sway over her heart.

‘I am not saying that anything’s going to come from this, but if we do join forces, I can promise you that I will do everything in my power to make it last.’ What did she mean by ‘join forces’ ? I wondered.

‘Knowing you as I do, I can well believe that,’ I said, meaning it, and she gave me a big hug.

From that moment, things developed very fast between the two of them, and my Baltic friend confided her plans to me. They were going to get married and then emigrate to Jyväskylä in Finland, where Margit’s sister Ilona lived with her Finnish husband.