This is a story of an encounter of two solitary worlds that coincide in space and time at the same time and space. It was a short encounter, but it was meant to last for a long long time.
The story takes place in a city called Porto, a small city by the Atlantic ocean, where there are real waves, tall and strong, and the sea smells like the real sea: salty. The actual crash of the actual waves make a strong sound when hitting the sand and the rocks (actual rocks). They have also got a river (the Douro) and an Eiffel-tower-like enormous bridge. But the encounter didn’t take place by the sea, or by the river, or on the top of that bridge, with the beautiful views of the classic Porto boats, or the multi-colored Porto Ribeira. That would have been too special. Too perfect. Instead, they met in this classical quotidian Porto pub.
The map people’s given in the touristic information office contains some routes traced in different colors: orange for the electric train paths (quite touristic), brown for the Porto wine cellars, gray for the art galleries, blue for the churches and monuments, green for the bars and nightlife sites. Trying to pass as a local, despite his blonde hair, transparent green eyes and the typical shorts-shirt-sandals disguise, Guy asked a local to choose a pub for him. Which one should he choose in a typical monday night? Monday? Hard. But the local finally marked the corner of Rua da Conceição and Rua da Picaria. “You’ll see a red phonebooth, similar to the ones you’ve got in London. You’re English aren’t you?”. Guy’s not but he says yes, for there’s where he came from.
Trying to pass as a local Guy uses his poor Spanish to communicate. He naively thinks Spanish and Portuguese speakers understand each other. They do. But when they articulate words correctly. So he switches to English and asks for a beer at this pub called Candelabro. Then, locates an empty corner, right next to the open window, at a table that has just been vacated by a group of fifteen portuguese women that were having a sort of feminine-once-a-month reunion. He sips and looks around. He tries to look natural.
The sunset is already done and the sun is set now. This pub has not enough light to continue reading, so Girl closes the book. She sips and looks around, trying to find out how to take the next step. She directs her eyes to the couple next to her, then to the bartender, the guys on the corner next to the entrance, the friendly group in the terrace, the tourist besides her. She stands up.
“¿Hablas español?”, she asks, somehow knowing that Spanish may not be as useful now as it had been when she asked for a glass of red wine “de la casa”. Guy says yes. No, he answers: “Sí. Un poquito”, to what she immediately responds “English?”, as if she anticipated a negative answer. He continues to pronounce “un poquito”, but these few spoken words are mixing, one on top of the other. She asks him to watch her stuff while she goes to the bathroom, being as cautious as she was told to be in Portugal. She goes away, she comes back. Girl thanks Guy. He suddenly exclaims: “Hey! Are you expecting someone?”. She says no.
He invites her to join him. She does the same and he finally moves to her table. On top of it there’s still her stuff: a couple of flyers, a book, a notebook with the map of Barcelona on the cover, a Portugal travel guide, the Porto map from the touristic office, a pen, a pencil, her bag.
They talk and the night takes them away. Another beer, another glass of red wine. She asks him no to tell her the ending of that novel she’s reading. DJ’s playing a song he knows. Guy stops the conversation to remark he loves the song. Girl has no clue what music it is. This pause makes her notice she’s hungry. He is too. At least, that’s what he says. They approach the bartender and pay the check. She teaches him how to thank in Portuguese. He says “obligado” instead of “obrigado”. She corrects him and teaches him the difference. They laugh and leave the place with a smile, not the first smile of the evening. Conceição street watches them disappear into it and leads them finally to a pizza place.
When they’re done, Girl checks her cellphone, not for a call or a message, but for the hour. She doesn’t want to miss the last metro. At least, that’s what she says. But she does miss it. So he invites her over to his hotel. She doubts but she trusts. He doubts but he trusts. What? No clue.
They climb the narrow stairway that leads them to the entrance of the pension they will be spending this one night. They cross the hallway and reach a door with a 25 on it with opaque golden numbers. The hotel bedroom has a wavy floor that reminds him of the ocean. He’d been imagining he would sleep in a bed-boat floating on the sea since the very first moment he stepped into that old room with old sheets and old wooden furniture. What he didn’t imagine was that he would be having crew aboard.
They turn on the lights and hop on the bed-boat. She tells him that the Porto beaches remind her of the sea she always knew, the one she’s been away from for so many years. The wavy, salty, imposing, aggressive Pacific Ocean.
And they sail. He is not prepared. Neither is she. They’re not expecting anything. That’s why the first kiss came as a surprise. Just like the heavy rain that fell right after they fell asleep. They both wake up in the middle of the night but at different moments. She closes the window and goes back to the bed, sneaks under the covers and settles into his arms. He wakes up, opens the window again, grabs the blanket from the floor and covers their nakedness.
The next day starts with a rush. The sky is clean and it’s hot outside. He needs to hurry because he does not want to miss the train to the airport. Although he wouldn’t mind missing it. They leave the hotel, leaving the key on the top of the reception desk. No one was there to say “obrigado” to.
They walk hand by hand, no conscience at all they’re holding hands. It’s as natural as it is for him to speak Czech, or as it is to speak Mexican-Spanish for her. She walks him to the Aliados metro station. He’s still got 15 minutes, so he takes his camera out of his backpack, grabs her by the waist, as close to his body as she was the night before, and extends his arm. He clicks the button and takes the one and only picture of both. He’s still holding her when she kisses him. She remains there while he kisses her back. They wish this fifteen minutes could last an hour, at least one hour, but his flight’s on time. Planes are always supposed to be on time. So she takes her Barcelona-map notebook and her pencil out of her bag. She writes down her email and rips the page off. Girl gives it to him. Then, she hands him the notebook for him to write his email down. Guy gives it back to her.
Porto can be really hot in September. People rush from one place to another; work, tourism, whatever. Downtown Porto is full of medieval, baroque, gothic, romanesque, rococo buildings. Some of these buildings’ walls are covered by blue-and-white tiles. Others are typical houses with colourful façades that give the city a special charm. In the middle of this scenario, Girl watches Guy disappear into the metro station. Guy looks at her while he’s still able to. Five hours later they faced their frozen-in-time-each-others by the means of a screen.
The truth is he never left Porto. The truth is neither did she.