Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lennart, International Casanova

We have a new neighbour whose son is named after a movie star, let's call him Archibald. He's reminded me of an old ICQ pal, let's call her Ella, whose son has the same name. Here follows the story of how Ella fell in love over ICQ with a dead-beat Swede, let's call him Lennart, and had a baby named Archibald.

ICQ ("I seek you") is a real-time chat program like MSN Messenger. I've been using it for years to keep me company while working at my solitary desk. It allows me to keep in touch with on-line friends and share the daily woes and victories, and now and then somebody new pops up and says hello. I used to get a lot of hellos from women in Asia and Eastern Europe who were looking for a Western husband and spoke very bad English. This was frankly tiresome. But since I put in my personal description on the chat service that I'm married with two kids, there's little of that.

I got to know Ella in early 1999. She lived in, let's say, Australia, and was a teacher. Divorced, one kid, tentatively interested in finding a new boyfriend. And she started talking to Lennart from Malmö over ICQ. He was really sweet, really nice, and told her he was divorced, with small kids. She invited him to Australia, he came to live with her, and they had a son. I don't know how she imagined that he'd solve the problem of having kids in Sweden too.

In November 2002, Ella got in touch with me after a long hiatus. She asked me if I would translate a letter to Lennart's parents into Swedish for her. Lennart had zipped off home to Sweden without saying goodbye, and to hide his tracks he had fooled Ella into believing that his folks didn't understand English. It was, as you can imagine, a very angry letter, and it was accompanied by pictures of paunchy Lennart at Ella's place and of their beautiful little son. Archibald has European and Aborigine ancestry, absolutely adorable.

A week later I had the novel experience of acting as a telephone interpreter between Ella and Annika, the mother of Lennart's Swedish children. Annika understands but cannot speak English. During this friendly and supportive conversation, Annika explained to Ella that she and Lennart had never even gotten separate apartments before he vanished to Australia. Lennart had apparently lied compulsively to both ladies. He was now living with Annika and the kids again, including a new infant conceived during a short visit to Sweden in 2001. I helped the ladies to make certain plans.

Another week later, Ella and little Archibald came to Stockholm and stayed a few days with us. Then they took a train to Malmö. And one morning, Annika's door bell rang about eight o'clock... Here's what Ella told me afterwards.

Lennart came blearily out of the bedroom and caught sight of Ella and Archibald. "What the hell are you doing here!?", he stuttered. Then followed a three-hour cross-examination where the mothers of Lennart's children took turns at interrogating him in Swedish and English. He made a lot of visits to the bathroom and looked increasingly haggard as the morning passed. Meanwhile, Lennart's Australian son played peacefully with his Swedish baby half-sister. Every time Lennart lied to one lady, the other shouted "Not true!". He had no idea that they had agreed on a battery of questions beforehand, tailored to expose his lies and conflicting versions. Nor did he know that Annika had read a sizeable sample of his love letters to Ella.

There was news too. For example, while Annika was giving birth to her youngest daughter, Lennart had been in bed with Ella in Australia. After returning to Sweden, he had told everyone that he was working for an international company that had in fact sacked him in Australia the preceding summer. Ella duly produced a letter of "recommendation" from this employer, which stated that Lennart was a hopelessly undependable slob. He then confessed that he had actually spent the days of the past month in a Malmö coffee shop, telling Annika he was working.

Before Ella left Annika's apartment, little Archibald asked his father, "Why Lennart leave Archibald? Why Lennart leave?". When Lennart didn't reply, the boy said, "Lennart yucky!".

I don't know how things worked out afterwards. I think Ella got single custody and alimony, to the extent that it would be possible to wring any cheques out of Lennart. She told me that he wouldn't be able to visit Australia again, because then her father and brothers would beat the man to death. I gather their ancestors used to be warlike people.

Dear Reader, feel free to say hello to me on ICQ. My number is 3776153. Just please don't try to talk me into making any babies.

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