Sad Times - Glad Times

I had been in Carvoeiro almost a week when, on going into Hemingways for a nightcap, I was greeted with the news that a recent acquaintance of mine from the village, had died. I knew that she had been ill and in a coma for a long period but I have to admit that it came as a shock.

I had met the lady through mutual friend Marilyn when I came to Algarve to promote my book last autumn. Being a Londoner like myself, we had got on well and had quite a few chats about how it was there when we were young in the 60s. I suppose, during my months stay we met about 4 or 5 times and it pleased me so much when both she and Marilyn came to the book-signing at ‘Magna Carta’ book shop in Alvor last September. I really appreciated their welcome support.

But the last time we met was a few days before I came home. There was to be a BBQ and I had a kind invitation to her house. Marilyn and I took a taxi for the short drive and as we arrived I was surprised to see that I knew the house, mainly the garden!
As we chatted I said how it was familiar to me and that during our time of living in Algarve, I had helped out with the garden at one time for the previous owner. Life is strange sometimes, how you make a new friend, then that leads to something familiar and we take a trip down memory lane.

The BBQ was a big success with fine food, lovely weather and above all good company. When it was time to leave, she gave me a farewell kiss, we wished each other well and as I left she was happy and smiling. That was the last time I saw her.
But on hearing the news of her death I went to bed that night with a heavy heart and over the following days I thought of her and how suddenly life can be snatched away from us. I admit it saddened and also frightened me.

Saturday came and something inside had me determined to go to Lagoa. I had been told she was buried in the cemetery there; I felt the need to find her grave. In all the time we had lived in Lagoa, we had never had cause to go to the cemetery, so although I knew where it was I had never set foot inside.
It was another very warm day, so after being dropped off at the bus station, I made my way to the little park for a short rest and drinks from my water bottle. After wards I walked through the pedestrian way and round the back of where our old apartment was, up the road past the market and post office and onto the narrow road that bypasses Lagoa’s main church. By now I was feeling the heat and I sort the shade of the little park that sits in front of the church; its tall leafy trees make this a shady bower from the relentless sun.

Its a very pretty little park and the ferny foliage of the Jacaranda trees offer relief on a hot day.. though my favourite time of sitting there is in early summer when the pale purply- blue flowers of the Jacarandas are in blossom.
Sitting there, with no one around, I had time to reflect on what I was about to do. The cemetery was 5 minutes walk away and then it suddenly occurred to me that I was going ‘empty handed’! I hadn’t any flowers. I had no idea where my friend lay in the cemetery and I might have difficulty locating her grave, but to go without some floral offering seemed wrong to me. What to do?
As I looked around the empty park I got a glimpse of scarlet in the bushes close to the entrance opposite to where I sat.
Wandering over I now saw, at closer quarters that it was a gorgeous Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, that has the huge and most beautiful red flowers. As I looked at the flower closest to me I thought ‘Can I do this? Something I have never done before? It’s stealing to take a flower from a public park’!
I hesitated, feeling guilty, it seemed wrong but I needed a flower, I needed to say ‘ I’m here to say goodbye’ and to leave just a little ‘something’. Looking across the road I saw the handsome façade of the public library, but apart from a few parked cars, the place was deserted
Suddenly of its own accord, my hand reached up and quickly the beautiful red bloom was snatched from the shrub. I glanced all around me, there was no one, nobody to see my ‘bad’deed and wrapping the flower in a large tissue I furtively tucked it away in my bag.

The cemetery gates stood wide as I wandered through. Looking from left to right at the rows of memorial containers, with names and photos, then at the graves that stretched out before me, I realised I had a big task on my hands in trying to locate my friend’s grave.
After a while and examining every headstone, it occurred to me that this was silly. She had only been buried a short while ago, so therefore it must be in a newer part !
I saw some men preparing the ground for more burials, so I stopped to ask them. Not knowing the word for grave I simply said ‘ Desculpe (excuse me).. and pointing at a grave,, Nova (new)?’
No problem. I was given clear directions which soon found me in the newer part of the cemetery, but there were so many new graves ! I walked around everyone of them but many of them just had numbers. I felt a stab of despair, and sadness. It seemed a waste of time and I just stood and stared. Then I found myself standing in front of a grave with just a number and a few faded flowers. ‘Something’ made me think ‘Ill leave the flower here’. So I gently laid the blazing red Hibiscus flower on the dry rust-coloured earth and silently said ‘I don’t know if you’re here my friend. Hope so! God bless you ‘

Footnote: On telling Marilyn of my visit and the ‘number’ it appeared that I had somehow located our friend’s resting place.. and without knowing it, I was also told Id chosen her birthday for my visit. Just luck? Or perhaps Divine intervention…..

Rest in peace Cristabel.

I love Lagoa’s little parks and I do like to visit them, not only for solitude but to sit and watch. I like to see the folk that come and go, that sit or walk; the old men that gather there for an afternoons chat, no doubt ‘to put the world to rights’ or remember how things were when they were young. I watch and try to imagine what sort of lives these people lead. Seeing young mothers with their little ones, snatching a brief time to have a break from the house work, to take coffee and enjoy some free time for play in the open air with their children.

Not only is it interesting but its so relaxing, as if the worlds at a standstill.
Then I walk through to the out road, which leads into countryside and I remember the many times I did that walk when we lived there.. it was a daily exercise for me and my then ‘young’ son Jamie. On the corner I noticed a new Art College had been built, then walking past I see the houses with pretty front gardens and I think back to when the ‘goatman’ used to drive his flock through this busy road and the goats would often stop and go up on hind legs to take a Rose or leaves from flowering shrubs that bedecked those front gardens.
This day it was getting hot, so I made my way slowly back, past the pastelaria on the corner, past the little house next door where a black-clothed elderly Senhora sat at her window and bid me a smiling ‘Bom dia’ as I passed by.
I crossed the road and sat myself down in the tiny park that houses the ‘Nossa Senhora’ shrine’.. there are just 2 benches in this little green square. It is neat, clean and tidy with the ever present bunches of flowers laid at ‘Our Lady’s feet. I can see our old apartment from this angle and looking up, I recall sitting in the spacious airy sitting room on the top floor where, on a summer’s night we often heard the low chant of prayers drifting up and we would listen to this comforting murmur.
This little park is filled with Rosemary bushes, the Lantana hedges give it shelter and Orange trees still blossom there year after year. I don’t belong to any organised religion, neither do I go to church but sitting somewhere like this tiny place I find myself almost meditating and thinking of loved ones, past and present and without realising it, I am offering up a prayer.
Hunger was calling me and as I walked back I decided to pay a call on Maria at her little pastelaria. I hadn’t seen her for some time and I was curious as to how she and her family were getting along. On entering I saw that Joao her brother was serving customers and his mother was busy too.
I went to order my ‘galao’ (the large milky coffee) and a ‘naughty’ cake, as I did so, Joao looked up in surprise. We greeted each other warmly and his mother came round to say hello. This little family used to run a small supermarket in the main street of Lagoa, and it was the place where I did most of my weekly shop. Always welcoming, always obliging, there used to be 4: Maria, Joao, Mae and Pai (mum & dad).. sadly the father died a couple of years ago and when they speak of him there is still sadness in their eyes.
Halfway through my snack, a petite figure came running into the café, it was Maria. When she saw me she came over and we hugged each other. She then reminded me that it had been nearly 2 years since we’d seen each other. This young woman has a remarkable memory and always remembers exactly how long it is between our meetings. But I find most Portuguese are like this; they never forget you and its one of the things that endears them to me.
As we chatted, I took out my book and showed it to her. She was so surprised and even more so when I showed her the short piece I had written about them, when we knew each other way back in ’91 !
I told her that I’d just received news from my publisher, that the book suppliers and publisher ‘Bertrams’ had expressed interest in my book; had requested some copies for a few of their outlets and that I was keeping my fingers crossed. Maria had heard of them and wished me luck; she also added that I should consider a ‘Portuguese’ translation and that there were probably people like herself who would like to read it. That gave me food for thought.

I caught the bus back to Carvoeiro and though I had been quite melancholy and a little sad for a few days, meeting Maria and her family cheered me. It’s nice to be remembered and to be welcomed. To be able to be ‘just yourself’, to feel at home, which is how I always feel when I’m with my Portuguese friends.
A warm feeling spread inside me and as I stepped off the bus and walked to get some sea air in Carvoeiro’s little bay I thought, ‘Yes, there will always be sad times in life but the ‘glad’ times certainly help make up for them!