Although it was just past 6 a.m., the sun was already high. We were in the middle of July and the mornings were as hot as the evenings. Lisbon could be a real oven when the wind went AWOL.
The voice and the face in front of him brought back good memories. Marcos Segador, adopted by Barcelona but born in Ibiza, with his curly hair and a roguish smile that drove girls crazy, was a friend from across the border José had met in a summer festival in Paredes de Coura*.
- José, what the hell ? blurted Marcos.
- What are you doing in Lisbon?
Marcos pointed at two girls by the entrance but outside the door.
- You know I love Lisbon, and now, even more.
- You’re unstoppable. How long are you staying?
Behind the counter, a boy with a never-ending string of earrings on his left ear and a difficult to explain haircut was trying to come to terms with why he had to be there working rather than home in bed.
José’s attuned ears could not help but also make out the sounds coming from the small speakers on either side of the till. Yes, it could only be Daft Punk — a kind of small personal revenge on all the old ladies that would come through the door in the early hours of the morning.
* Paredes de Coura Festival is a rock festival that is held every year in August at Praia do Tabuão in Paredes de Coura, Portugal. The first edition was held in 1993. In 2005, the Spanish edition of Rolling Stone named it as one of the five best summer festivals in Europe.
Marcos was in Lisbon visiting two friends. Soon he would head to the north of Portugal to visit a cousin who lived in Galicia, and who had promised him a memorable night in Vigo, in the famous Hogueras de La Noche de San Juan*.
They spoke a bit while eating two cream-filled doughnuts – with more cream than dough- and quickly realized they were on the same page.
Marcos, a Telecommunications Engineering student, had been waiting for the end of July to finish his degree and leave behind more than five years of terror and frustration. He was planning to go on a journey, — maybe one way only — to Tibet.
José listened carefully to what Marcos told him about Buddhism and how he was curious to experience close up a way to bring men closer to God, without so many intermediaries.
He could have stayed there for hours. The conversation was so good.
But his friends waiting outside the bakery started to stare. And when Marcos noticed, in his unmistakable style he placed a hand on José’s shoulder and told him:
- On Friday I’m taking the bus to Valencia. My cousin, who has a car, is coming to pick me up and will take me to Vigo. Why don’t you come along?
- I’d love to, but my life is a bit chaotic at the moment.
He thought that what he had just said was not exactly true. His life had always been chaotic; the difference was that for years it was controlled chaos. And now that wasn’t the case.
* San Juan in Vigo is a magical experience. The tradition of celebrating the shortest night of the year dates back to times much earlier than Christianity, with the celebration of the summer solstice, on the night of the 23rd to 24th of June. Our ancestors feared that the sun would not return to its total splendour. Therefore, they would initiate purifying fire rituals in the evening to symbolise the power of the sun and to help it renew its energy.
He pictured of his mother’s face when she would hear in stereo that he was planning to quit the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design, applying instead for a Marketing degree. And that on Friday he was going to Vigo with a friend she did not know. And to make all that happen he would need 10 contos*.
José had never travelled much outside Portugal, except two or three times with his parents on holiday. His curiosity for something outside the world he knew was expanding in proportion to the depth of his detachment from the things around him.
Three days later he was at Avenue Casal Ribeiro with a small backpack and the guitar that never left his side.
On his ears, he had headphones. Old ones, but which didn’t detract one decibel of pleasure as he walked the streets to the ever more worn sound of 80’s songs that, while no longer in that decade, continued to power their way into his ears.
In his pocket he had his enrollment to the Portuguese Institute of Administration and Marketing, and the official withdrawal from the Fine Arts and Design course.
The arts were no longer fine.
Marcos went into party mode when he saw him coming. He promised him an unforgettable weekend. And, maybe even seeing his life change with new ideas and viewpoints. You never know.
He was feeling lucky, which was a strange feeling for him. He didn’t believe in chance, nor in the flyers promoting the services of Professor Karamba** or Salim, or Sado or Fofana or Umar or Mamadu, this latter one assuring results within seven days.
* 10 contos = 50 euros
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