It’s Saturday morning and I hear the sounds of Porto outside the hotel window. The city greets a new morning, while you burrow further under the duvet. I open the curtains further and look out. A bicycle and rider zip past at break-neck speed, half airborne over the cobbles, heading downhill toward the Douro river. I smile into the cool morning air.
I hear you roll over behind me. “You’re awake.” It sounds half accusation, half disbelief.
“Indeed,” I reply.
“What are you looking at?”
My brain analyzes this fluid question. Seemingly simple, the question transposes and expands into so much more. Why did you ask that question? What am I looking at? Or for? Yes, do you mean looking for? Yet how should this question be answered? Are you seeking a particular answer? A hidden agenda perhaps? Or is this merely a continuation of the annoyed tone in your voice? Or am I mistaken? Is this an invitation to talk?
This last question cuts deep. Certainly, your question is anything but that. A humorless smile masks my face. Hope like a small bubble popped before it can rise.
I’m holding my breath, I realize. Exhaling, I catalog what it is that I am looking at. In truth, my eyes see many things. The azure sky with its clouds running from cotton white to thinning wisps increasingly transparent, the orange clay rooftops and soaring over them the tower of Clérigos, the blood red, dandelion yellow, and Prussian blue buildings across the street, and the dark stone cobbles of the street below. In my imagination, I see ghosts of Roman legionnaires marching down the same street of old Portus Gale. They both follow and precede the bike and biker; he who has now disappeared.
It is a beautiful city, I think silently as I look out this window. The weather promises perfection. A good day then.
I look closer at the chipped paint on the casement, the trace of rust forming there, and a tiny ant scurrying across the sill. A flicker of movement in my peripheral vision breaks my trance.
A breeze fills the sheers. The curtain ripples its dainty response, flicking out to touch my cheek, silky and smooth. I push the curtain away and drive these thoughts back below the surface.
Ultimately, I decide that it is easier to change the subject. “Do you want to go to Mercado do Bolhão? Find something to eat?”
“Where?” You aren’t listening. Before I can repeat my question, you nod and say, “I suppose.”
Did you hear me then? Do you agree? I’m not quite sure. Though I suspect the hour of your arrival and last night’s wine induces at least some reluctance.
You throw back the covers and migrate into the bathroom. My stomach growls as I wait, looking out the window and listening to the water run in the shower.
“I’m ready,” you say after some unaccounted for time.
I am as well. I nod and pick up the room key card from the desk.
On the street, we walk hand-in-hand. “It’s going to be a nice day for a wedding,” I say.
I offer a half-smile and don’t disagree.
You squeeze my hand. “I have to get back to the hotel in a couple hours. To change. Aunt Beatriz wanted me to come a little early. Madalena and Francisco want me to come a little early as well.”
“Oh.” I’m not exactly surprised. I feel more flat. Like all the bubbles, all the fizz, has left.
You release my hand, and I realize you’ve stopped talking. Another question? I rewind what you were saying in my head and it ends with: “What will you do?”
What registers though is your tone: academic and unconcerned. There is a flash of sunlight in the otherwise darkened window of the camera shop as we pass. In that window I can see your reflection, though I realize you don’t know this as you slow a half-step behind me. I see your attention is across the street on the person walking there.
“I’ll find something. Don’t worry,” I mumble mostly to myself. The joke’s on me, I know. Still, there are things to do in Porto, and I’m well practiced at being by myself.
Your reflection continues to follow the stranger’s steps. “Uh-huh.”
I put my hands deep in my pockets, probe at a small pebble with the tip of my fingernail, and turn away. “Yeah. Well, anyway, you’ll have fun at the wedding.”
I see a pigeon on the sidewalk just ahead. It takes flight as we approach, rising rapidly, turning and disappearing around the bend in the street. And therein perhaps an answer.
Photo is copyright by Raul Lieberwirth.