Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Stranger

For audio click here 
I'd slept soundly in Santarem, snored in Setubal, but I was sleepless in Lisbon, maybe not as alliterative as movie insomnia but rarely is life as convenient as fiction. The LED clock told me it was five, and the room was beginning to wallow in that dawn light that Lisbon is famous for. I decided to cut my losses, stop the pretence and go out to enjoy the loneliness of a Lisbon morning.
Plastic cups, hot dog wrappers, and nitrous oxide canisters were scattered around the pavements, while the die-hard revellers staggered around looking for their way home or maybe one last cafe before bed. I randomly turned left, then took a right and at the next crossroads decided to go straight on. The city was still asleep here, asking for another five minutes after the alarm, letting me enjoy its charms alone. I lit a cigarette and sucked in the poison. I needed a coffee to go with the nicotine. I spotted some tables and chairs outside a small doorway and crossed the empty street.
The old man behind the counter didn't look up from his paper when I walked in and the tables were filled with dirty cups and glasses, I hesitated for a moment, but it was the only place open at 5.24am, insomniacs can't be choosers. I ordered a galao and stood at the bar watching the old man wipe his hands on his trousers and then fiddle with the coffee machine.
“Posso?” I said and pointed to the tables out the front.
“Sim,” the barman nodded, and so I picked up my coffee and headed outside where I could smoke.
I closed my eyes and let my lungs fill with nicotine.
“Com licença.”  I jumped a mile. I looked and saw an old man standing next to me. He babbled something else.
“Sorry, I don't speak Portuguese,” I said.
“Can I have a cigarette,” the man asked in passable English. The bags under his eyes suggested he was a fellow insomniac.
“Sure,” I said pushing my crumpled packet of fags towards him.
“And fire?”

 I handed him my lighter.
He smiled and thanked me. The face looked familiar but I was a long way from home. I didn’t know anyone around these parts.
He stood enjoying the hit for a moment and then walked off happily puffing on a Portuguese Suave.
I finished my coffee and went inside to pay the man. ““Com licença,”  I said, but his eyes were fixed on the TV screen. It was replaying the pope's speech from the night before, just up the road in Fatima.
My first thought was that the pope looked tired and bored, but then the penny dropped. 

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