This trip to Portugal had been in the works for months. Jordan, my travel companion, is a kind of unrequited love of mine, so I
had more than one reason to hope for a memorable journey.
In Lisbon, we decided to stay with a man I met through couchsurfing, Joao, a person I now consider to be a good friend. His house is a kind of
freewheeling hostel, a meeting point for vagabonds, buskers, travelers, students – anyone looking for a cheap and easy place to stay.
Among the more interesting characters I met there were: Afghan and Kinga, the Polish traveling musicians living in a tent in the backyard, Andy,
the disarmingly intelligent British would-be writer, Denisa, the quirky Austrian university student, and an American boy whose name always escapes
me. There were several other folks who made their way through Joao’s small home throughout those few days. A beautiful
traveling jazz singer, a large Danish man who looked like he could crush my entire arm between his massive index finger and thumb, and my personal
favorite – the tiny, portly neighbor man, a Portuguese local, semi-fluent in English, who had one of those smiles that not only invites you to take
part in the magnificent joke he gleans from life, but demands it.
If it was memorable I had asked, it was memorable I received: Jordan fell ill with food poisoning during the third night, an unavoidable fate that
left him feverish and bed-ridden for a good 24 hours. I frantically ran around Lisbon for a few hours searching for an open pharmacy. I think that my
broken attempts at Portuguese hindered me more than they helped.
“Onde Eshta a Farmacia?” Where is the pharmacy?
I eventually found one after mishearing directions from several locals. I grabbed some Tylenol and a thermometer, ran back to Joao’s. The night finally settled down. I took a place in the large, minimally-padded “bedroom” next to the American boy. This was after I piled every blanket
in the room in a tower on top of Jordan, a 4-foot-high mound that was really impressive, once I stepped back to look at it. The British writer
eventually joined us; we decided on a Monty Python marathon. In the adjoining kitchen, many of the others were laughing, talking, smoking and
drinking; I caught the sweet smell of some kind of curry wafting in through the sheer hanging “door”. Jordan eventually fell into a fitful sleep. I
continued to worry and mother him, but life was good.
As we sat, the happy little Portuguese man I had met earlier, his cheeks pink with alcohol and his smile as brilliant as ever, pulled back the sheet to
have a look at what we were doing so quietly on a Saturday night. Acknowledging him, I pointed my finger at Jordan, the now shorter (as he had kicked off
most of the blankets I had thrown on him) pile of blankets curled up in the corner on my left hand side. His head was at a slight angle with the wall,
something he was obviously unaware of.
“Ohh, he is so sick,” said the Portuguese man."
“Yes”, I said, “He just needs to sleep. He’ll be fine.”
“Oh yes, he must sleep.” He paused. “And you must give him much, much love.”
He gave another pleasant fluctuation in his smile, indicating his sincere intentions, and sincere drunkenness.
“I will. He just needs some quiet and sleep.”
I wondered if he had noticed the slight rise in vocal pitch I gave out at the phrase: give him much, much love. I had been doing my best to mother the
poor kid, a feat that confused me more than anything else. I had carefully navigated the unstable cliff between friendship and romance for the past two
days. This illness had thrown me a big curve ball: how to comfort without getting too close?
“But what is this?” Noting Jordan’s slight tilt against the back wall, he took a couple of steps closer to where we were seated, pointing. “This cannot be
so very comfortable.”
“He’ll be fine,” I said, uneasy with his steps towards our side of the room, beginning to feel protective. The American boy next to me took out his headphones
to follow our conversation.
“No, no. He must move his head. He is uncomfortable against the wall. It is okay, I can move him. He will be comfortable and he will be so well.”
Alarmed with this promise to “move” him, I became more firm.
“No! No. Just leave him. He’ll be fine. He’s sleeping. He doesn’t even know his head is like that. He’ll be fine. Just leave him.”
Stepping even closer, he gave me what he assumed was a reassuring smile, as if he were a doctor convincing a child to take cough medicine.
“It is so very easy,” he said, his blood-shot, happy eyes looking with concern at Jordan’s awkward position. “We just lift him up.”
I was lost for words. He had straddled the sleeping 6’2” bundle of blankets that was my friend, lifted him halfway off the floor by the armpits,
and proceeded to drag him across the makeshift mattress-covered floor. Jordan woke up with a sudden shake and outburst of coughing in the arms of this
drunken Portuguese man, eyes wide, staring at me and the American boy sitting no more than 6 inches from him. I was mortified, unsure whether to laugh
or to attempt a rescue. Jordan’s expression was something I canonly describe as: what the hell!
This tiny man is shorter than I am, at 5’6”, and while a bit portly, cannot have weighed more than half of what Jordan does. His attempt at “moving” him
ended up as a strange sort of awkward and long-winded hug. Finally satisfied, he put Jordan down again, arguably unmoved from his original position.
“This is good,” he said, giving me another one of his characteristic smiles. “Give him much love. Much love.”
I thanked him, reassuring him that we would take care of our now vividly awake sick friend. (Although I wasn’t sure how much love Jordan was going
to want from me after this.) Between my own sobs of laughter and Jordan’s renewed coughing, I watched him awkwardly retreat across the pillow-strewn
floor and out of the sheet-door that separated us from the unsuspecting revelers outside.
The next day, when Jordan gave me an awkward pat-on-the-back man hug before hopping on his plane to Madrid, a part of me felt sad that our silly little love
story had come to naught. I couldn’t help but smile at the new love story that had been born throughout those four days. Everyone we had met at Joao’s
humble apartment had opened up their hearts to us. Joao gave of his home, Afghan and Kinga shared their music, the British writer lent his conversation and
his wonderful stories; even the funny Portuguese man offered his love to us both on that last night, albeit in a creative way.
I waved an honest goodbye as Jordan retreated across the turnstile to security. Life was good.