Prizes? Not me, not usually. I don’t win things. I’m an ordinary fun-loving girl living with two others in a rather posh flat in Highgate. So you can imagine my surprise when a letter came announcing that I had won a trip to Europe by train to stay for three nights. Well, to tell the truth, it wasn’t one of those lucky wins, it was because I had come out top of our team’s sales profits at where I worked. But I like to think it was a genuine win.
I persuaded my friend Jenny to come with me. She’s always ready for a laugh. We’ve had many a fine night in a pub, ending up chatting up a couple of fellows and going on to an up-market nightclub, where we would dance the night away. Neither of us could imagine ourselves going to a quiet place, let alone taking a high-speed train journey.
We giggled all the way to the station, and giggled our way through the train journey, perhaps a little more interested in the wine and food than in the passing countryside. We did peer out a couple of times and admired the greenness of the fields, and hoped it would be sunny.
And then of course the hotel was quite something. Very nice. We couldn’t refuse the four-course meal on offer, and then decided to explore.
“I don’t know about you,” Jenny said, “but I fancy something with broad shoulders and a very heavy accent. Maybe someone who can’t even speak English and we have to spend the time using sign language.”
That sounded about right. And off we went, two girls in search of fun.
We discovered a big square, vibrant with noise, people and laughter. This town was far from being quiet as we had been led to believe. A huge platform had been set up in one corner and preparations for a pop concert were under way. If we were going to chat to anyone we needed to get started quickly before all conversation was drowned out.
“Sounds a good idea.”
A waiter greeted us with great enthusiasm. He smiled and charmed us with his broken English, and produced a wine menu which was a bit pricey. But I could see Jenny rather liked him so we settled down to a rather expensive drink and I giggled whilst Jenny chatted away to him.
Suddenly the soft strains of music caught my attention. Not drums and electronic guitars but something much quieter. The sounds of a balalaika being strummed to background music. And as I looked around I saw a chap on a low stool with a karaoke at his feet as he played beautiful romantic music. His hair flowed down onto his shoulders and he sat forwards, his lean masculine body stretched over his musical instrument.
“What do you think of him, Jenny?” I asked.
She turned back to the waiter.
“I bet he can play something I can sing,” I went on.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“No I’m not. I can sing, you know.”
“In your dreams.”
“I think I’ll go and sing with him.”
“Just watch me!”
Her eyes were fixed on me in horror as I sauntered up to the chap.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Susie.”
He didn’t stop playing. He looked up at me with the most gorgeous brown eyes and a hint of a smile.
“Petrov. I am Russian. You are English?” Low husky tones sent shivers through me.
“Yes. Can I sing with you?”
He gave a little grin. I knew what he was thinking. Tipsy female, out for a good time, ready to belt out some song tunelessly.
I persisted. “What do you know that’s sort of English? Say – something like ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’?”
He looked at me for a moment, studying me thoughtfully.
“Yes, I do know that one,” he answered quietly.
I could see Jenny was getting worried. I knew she would be over in a shot to help me out. She would be ready to sing loudly with me to drown out rude comments. Other diners began to look amused, ready for a laugh. But Petrov didn’t hesitate. Maybe he quite fancied having this loony, but pretty, nutter singing by his side.
He set up his karaoke machine and strummed a few notes on his balalaika. We got going. I started to sing the words quietly at first and then, as my confidence grew, my voice swept into the air and took on the world. People suddenly started to listen to me. Their faces registered surprise as my voice blended hauntingly with the balalaika.
Jenny looked at me in amazement. I suppose in our rather noisy friendship I had never got round to telling her everything about me and had somehow missed out the fact that I’d had voice training – and in my mid teens had sung with a local band for a year or two.
I didn’t let my singing partnership with the Russian spoil our holiday. We did the usual mad things. But I have to admit that whenever possible I would wander off to find Petrov and we would happily busk together, earning quite a lot of money.
After a rather tearful farewell with Petrov, on the journey back to the mainline station I sat thinking hard. What did I really want from life? A social life full of non-relationships and loud parties, or something a bit more stable?
By the time we got to the station I knew the answer. I slowed down. Jenny rushed ahead of me. I called to her.
“Jenny, I’m not coming with you.”
She stopped in her tracks and stared at me.
“I’m going back to Petrov.”
“Oh yes I can.”
I grinned, blew her a kiss, and walked back down the platform, humming to myself.
I knew Petrov would be waiting for me. The gorgeous Petrov whom I had met when I was just sixteen. He had visited England for a bit and during that time we had worked together. I recognised him immediately but it was difficult for him to know who I was. He remembered a slim, rather gawky brunette, not the confident sexy blonde I had become. But he remembered the song – and my kisses.