On the Docks
'Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it...'
Photo by Rodrigo Gonçalves on Unsplash
She was tired, of walking through Porto and for fifty-three years, from young girl to woman and through the chapters life imposed, on everyone, in between. Dusk, the heat, and the smog were settling. Everything felt heavy. She wanted to cry. She did. She could. She knew no one in this city.
She usually waited for rain to cry, or to be at the movies, when the lights went out and everyone else was busy looking at the screen. Otherwise, she had no time or patience for such a luxury; there was simply too much to do for her to burst into tears.
Too much office work and housework and laundry. Too many dinner plates to set and fill. Too many selfless acts and emotions to give away before bed.
When she was finally in bed, exhausted, she did allow herself to dream of the stories she had read once as a young girl, of brave knights on noble journeys. Of great expectations and greater accomplishments, castles on clouds and whole kingdoms where everyone was good and kind, justice prevailed, right won. She would go on voyages of her own then, up and down the scented folds of her well-ironed lavender sheets. Nothing forbidden, impossible, or disappointing, till five fifteen.
At five fifteen the alarm would ring, always, even on Sundays and her birthday. Even after there were no children left to wake and dress and feed and send to school. No sandwiches to make. Nothing to do. Even here in Porto, on holiday. It had rung this morning and she had woken up, because she never stopped to change it.
Now it was past five fifteen in the evening, and she was tired. She was tired. But she kept walking, past the cafés serving wine and petiscos. Past the alluring smell of cheeses, bread, presunto, and bacalhau. Past the laughter and music and people to the docks; she preferred the seagulls.
There, it was quiet, save for a few boys stripped down to their underwear, dangling their legs into the water, some in it, completely immersed. They did not bother her, nor she them, though she would really have liked to take her own shoes off and dip her feet into the harbour.
She would have liked to join their conversation and share their view of the sea. Ask them how it felt to be in boxer shorts in public and if they still had dreams. What stories they liked, if they believed them, if tomorrow would be sunny. She would have liked to lay on her back on the wooden planks and fall asleep.
Not wake up till the next day. Not care. Walk back up Porto’s hill, barefoot. Stop at the first open sidewalk café and pick the table with the best view. Order a cappuccino and a pastel de nata, maybe two, because it would be her birthday tomorrow. Or because she wanted to.
She did not. Instead, she walked up and down the docks, her eyes on the gulls overhead. Not that she could see them or feel the rays of sun on the nape of her neck.
She did, however, a few minutes later, hear instruments and singing approaching.
Traditional Portuguese street singers: tunos, though some call them sopistas too. The latter means ‘soup beggars;’ young men who once upon a time roamed Portuguese and Spanish streets, playing makeshift instruments and serenading for a cheap meal. Most were penniless students, activists, artists, dreamers. Most still are. This group of boys was heading straight toward her. She had nowhere to run.
So she stood, her feet finally still, and waited. They caught up. And there on the docks, the night before she turned fifty-four, she was serenaded by street singers.
They sang and played three or four songs in her honour at least. Some had guitars, one or two had chimes, one a drum. Even some sort of flute. All wore traditional robes and all were sweating under them, but smiling. When they finished their leader knelt before her, took her hand, and kissed it. They then bowed respectfully and went on their way. She was no longer tired.