It's 2 a.m in Lisbon. The bars and apartments of Bairro Alto are caressed by an incandescent glow. The bar district’s Cobbled streets teem with life as students, expats, locals, and tourists mingle, ignoring their short-lived relationships with foreigners. The air radiates with laughter, toppling language barriers. I watch Nuno fervently pour another pint of Sagres, pairing it with an unexpectedly refreshing shooter of vodka, amarguinha (almond liqueur), and a drop of lemon juice. Lisbon feels like Bacchus’ summer home.
While I exchange politics with my new Bolivian friend, a glimpse of someone in the periphery steals my attention. I pivot, coming face-to-face with Anita: a young woman I once worked with in Toronto, Canada. Our eyes widen and our jaws drop as we recognize each other through the crowd. "What the fuck!" we belt, double-taking to make sure we're sane and sober; it's been nearly two years since we last saw each other. While we were never close work friends, we'd bond over garishly dressed customers. And here we are – in the same foreign country, on the same Friday night, standing outside the same hole-in-a-wall bar.
We catch up. Anita mentions her flight to Paris the following morning and introduces me to her Brazilian hostel-mate, an honorary local, and my next liaison: Livia. The night peters out. I exchange phone numbers with Livia over shawarma (fun fact: Portuguese shawarma is tastier than the Israeli counterpart – who would've guessed). A smile creeps across my face as I fill my lungs with the balmy June air. I imagine every possible tomorrow.
The following day starts like every other - with an obligatory pastel de nata. The tart's creamy, flaky, sweetness balances a dark, full-bodied espresso. I'm a man of many vices, but those edible palm-sized delights bring more satisfaction than the next dozen on my list. I digress.
After breakfast, I walk to Praça do Comércio, which is outfitted with an astroturf field and movie-theatre-sized screen to broadcast the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I find Livia sitting outside a coffee shop, surrounded by the people I was about to meet. She introduces me to Sol and Maria.
Sol is olive skinned, and his name translates literally to, “sun.” The 5-foot-6 firecracker is aptly named. He has a head of thick, sun-kissed hair. Warm, honey-coloured eyes adorn his prominent brow, and last week’s 5 o’clock shadow frames his elongated face. His late-twenty-something jawline is toned by years of singing and dancing. He walks with a humble, confident tenacity and speaks to understand. We bond over a shared passion for dancing aggressively to loud music.
Maria is the calm one of the group - the yin to Sol’s yang. Her black, chest-length hair drapes beside her round face and down, over her slender frame and walnut skin. Her inviting hazel eyes shine with the excited glimmer of youth, and she speaks with the resolute voice of maturity. Her head, balanced on an elegant neck, conveys an inner calm – an insightful dignity, free from pretension. Maria likes to surf.
I spend the next two weeks getting to know the pair. I piece together their backstories, wholly unaware of how quickly and deeply I would bond to those two soulful individuals. They become my locals, and I, their tourist.
At 3 a.m. one evening, the local nightclub, Lux becomes the topic of conversation. We enter, go down a flight of stairs, past soundproof windows, and into a dark room, joining the sea of bobbing, bouncing people. Raving ensues.
I lose track of time and, needing fresh air, escape to the balcony. I find my extended family already there, arms folded over the railing, watching a yellow sun, rising over the Tagus River. The blue water reflects every shade of gold.
They don't notice me as I approach, continuing their Portuguese conversation. While I don’t know the meaning of their words, I wholeheartedly understand what they say. Sol dances lazily to a non-existent tune as Maria talks breakfast.