The young woman lived in Porto’s most photographed building. The one stuck right in between the cathedral and the stunning view. Her pretty windows were framed in photos decorating living rooms in Kent, the South of France and somewhere in middle America.
Most people, of course, didn’t even notice her windows. They didn’t notice that she had started putting white flowers on her window sill only after her mother had passed away two years before. They didn’t know that in apartment number 6 was an old Sony Television set that was always on to avoid the silence.
The sickness had happened so quickly. It was in a matter of months that her mother had been bed bound and unable to properly use her voice.
Cíntia Aquela Que Vê had been her mother’s stage name. She’d sang in tiny little bars all over the country with fans glamming up to go listen to Cíntia’s disco songs.
She’d gone on tour around Europe but had had to cut it short after she misplaced her copy of José Saramago’s Blindness and superstition got the best of her. She refused to perform after losing the book that had inspired her stage name and instead returned home two months earlier than planned without her book and pregnant with her only child.
She stopped singing in public after that trip and apartment number 6 became Cíntia’s stage and her daughter her number one fan.
When the sickness came, the doctor prescribed a daily shot of olive oil. But on that Tuesday morning, Cíntia had reached for the bottle on her nightstand only to find it empty. It was some Saint’s day celebration and with all the shops closed, her daughter ran downstairs and knocked on the neighbor’s door looking for some ailment. Meanwhile on the top floor of the building, comfortably tucked inside her bed, Cintia Aquela Que Vê took her last breath and slipped into eternal blindness.
He went to the Giras café every day at the exact same time. He ordered a pastry and a coffee – more milk than coffee – from the same girl every morning and had never bothered to correct her when she greeted him with “good morning Artur”.
His real name was Affonso but he never told her that. He liked to imagine himself with a different name and a different life.
Unlike Affonso who had lived in Portugal his whole life – leaving only once to attend a family member’s funeral in Spain – Artur would have left a long time ago to go travel the world. Affonso had been a widow once and was a stepfather now, he had slept with two women in his life. Artur, instead, would have fallen in love with all kinds of women in different languages and would have made love to them inside fancy hotel rooms and roadside motels. He would have been a war correspondent and written stories underneath falling bombs. He would have taken up sketching and would have sat in ports drawing old lonely fishermen. Artur would have crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a boat.
He would have lived a life so full and so plentiful that by the time he was 60 he would have happily returned home and spent the rest of his life in a small house by the Douro, his published stories in a book, the sketches hanging from the wall and a jug of coffee – more milk than coffee- by his nightstand.
Affonso fantasized about his non existent life at the Giras Cafe before making his way to the accounting office at the top of the road. He had worked there for as long as he could remember and for as long as he could remember he had been bored. At 1pm, he took his lunch break always ordering the daily fish and a side order of red rice. At 6p.m. he made his way home – up one road, turn left on the second and up another one – just in time for dinner. At 9 p.m. he sat in the couch with his stepsons and dozed off watching the nightly news.
When he finally made his way to bed, his wife laced her legs between his legs and say
“Good night, Affonso.”
People in this part of town kept very few things secret. Laundry was always hanging outside people’s windows and everyone knew their neighbors’ underwear, bras and all their fancy wear.
But Flávia was not like most people in this part of town. She dried her laundry inside her living room and didn’t like people knowing the color of her underwear.
As far as her neighbors knew, Flávia lived her perfect little life in her perfect little house with her sons and her new husband. She went to work every morning and came back home every night.
What they didn’t know what that Flavia only worked part time at the doctor’s office. They didn’t know that as soon as her shift ended, she changed out of her black outfit and into her orange flairs, her polka dot top and the cat shaped glasses. They didn’t know that a taxi was always waiting for her outside the doctor’s office to take her to the record store in the other side of town. And they certainly didn’t know that she spent the rest of her afternoons dancing to the same vinyl and drinking red wine until her lips had changed colour.
She’d met her late husband three decades ago in a sweaty Lisbon bar during the city’s first “Noite de Disco”. Theirs had been an explosive love at first sight that had quickly led to two sons in a quirky pink house. Cintia Aquela Que Vê’s album had been the soundtrack to their married life.
But then he had that fatal accident and she’d stop listening to music. She moved to a new part of town and changed her colorful wardrobe for a more sober one. She smiled at her neighbors and made little noise on the weekends. She made sure she was home every day before 7 p.m. having wiped off any red evidence from her lips.
Still buzzed from the afternoon, she’d always be the first one to go to bed. She’d turn off the lights and, still humming the songs she’d heard all afternoon, she’d lace her legs around her husband’s legs pretending she wasn’t really sleeping but still spinning on the dance floor 30 years before. T: Laura Steiner
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