|Photo: Cheri Lucas
I hope you enjoy it!
Late for work again. Would I never learn time management, or was I doomed to forever spend my life running from place to place anxious, and harassed by my watch? That Friday morning I skipped out my front door onto the tiny Portuguese street where I lived and, even after four months here in Lisbon, I teetered until I found my balance on the steep incline of the hill. I checked down toward the bottom of that same said hill looking for the tiny street car that ran the length of my street.
Even though I ran perpetually late, I still marveled at my location whenever I stepped from my tiny apartment. This morning was no exception, in fact, I paused even longer than usual because not only was the street car approaching my stop, but a young couple embraced each other on the cobbled steps of the sidewalk not fifteen feet from where I stood. On the far side of the tracks a group of tourists, having just descended from the street car and looking decidedly American, like me but not, ambled as if unsure exactly of where to go. They had no real time schedule to worry about. Neither, evidently did the young couple.
The street car clanged a warning before resuming its daily climb up the hill. It lurched its way toward me as my eyes lingered on the young couple now talking to each other as their eyes remained locked. The street car stopped and I climbed, reluctantly, on board. I sat toward the back so I could watch them until we climbed too high to see them. I didn’t feel like the voyeur that I was. I felt instead a profound loneliness. I loved my work. Here in Portugal I helped small businesses get back on their feet during these recession-torn times, and I did truly love seeing the look on a proprietors face when he realized he would, with a bit of refinancing, which my company afforded, be able to keep his family restaurant open, or his family’s garage without owing interest unto his unborn great grand children. Helping people had been my goal since high school and I’d spent long hours volunteering through high school and college as well. Which had helped me land this job.
So to see that young couple deeply entranced with one another touched a part of my spirit that I’d denied. I realized I’d done the typical, forsaken human relations for work success. The young couple had me questioning if what I’d done was still necessary.
At work I made it through five appointments, got three new loans in motion, and closed out two. By any calculation a successful day and my boss would be happy. But I left the office ready to go home and mope. The young couple on the sidewalk had stayed in the back of my mind all day and I dragged my feet toward the street car stop. I checked my watch. I’d left the office late, of course, tidying up so on Monday when I came back to work I’d start with a clean slate. My shoulders slumped. I had a television in my apartment. I had food and wine. I had a hot shower waiting for me, but no person to ask me about my day: no one with whom to discuss how to spend the weekend. In the four months I’d been here I’d taken many weekend trips to anywhere close. Now the novelty of traveling had passed and I wished for someone to talk to instead.
The familiar clang of the street car sounded and I roused myself to board as it pulled to a halt in front of me. I barely heard shouting from within the street car before I found myself flat on the sidewalk, a hulking mass of man on top of me struggling to get up and away. “Detê-lo! Ele roubou minha bolsa!” I heard a woman yell her purse had been stolen. I grabbed the edge of the man’s coat as he pushed himself away and I hung on for all I was worth. The thief struggled to get to his feet, staggered almost losing his balance as my weight inhibited his escape. I still lay prone on the hard cobblestones when a large hand reached past mine and grabbed the man’s coat farther up. Within seconds the thief lay on his face. A man in a black uniform jumped over me to sit on him, pinning his arms behind his back.
Someone helped me to my feet and clucked over me and my bravery. Someone else picked up my purse and handed it back to me. It had fallen during the scuffle. The policeman cuffed the thief and pulled him to his feet where he glared at me and then started cussing until the policeman shut him up. Disorientated, I stared at the scene. Everyone had gathered round from the street car. The driver shouted at the policeman what had happened, then shouted that he needed to get moving or he’d be late. I started to giggle, and then rolled into full fledged laughter. The driver was worried about being late and I wasn’t! My tardiness this evening had made me a hero. I laughed at the irony of it. Another policeman drove up, parked behind the street car on the tracks, and the two of them stuffed the criminal into the back of the car.
The first cop walked back to me and asked, “Senhora, posso perguntar-lhe algumas perguntas??” Could he ask me some questions? I gazed into earthy-brown eyes, polite as they were deep. His smile warmed me, told me that here was my true reward for my habitual delay, that maybe, just maybe, this weekend I’d travel on a voyage of a different kind, and I wouldn’t be alone.
I smiled. “Claro, Sr. Policial. O que você gostaria de saber?” Of course, Mr. Policeman. What would you like to know?