Monday, October 11, 2004

Weekend in Lisbon

For someone with a lot to say, there are times when I stare at a blank screen and find it difficult to express the thoughts that go through my mind. Not because I don’t know how I’m feeling, but because they somehow don’t make sense. So instead of writing a column, I leave you with what I would’ve written in my diary about my weekend and the thoughts that go through my brain. There are no conclusions to be taken like my usual column entries but I suppose what you could say is that there are times in life when there are no answers and that’s okay too.

Thursday night was spent packing and unpacking clothes into my suitcase. It seems that even though my cupboard is filled with clothes… there is simply nothing to wear! I decided then and there that this weekend I was going to dedicate myself to shopping for a new wardrobe… something I haven’t done since January! I eventually finished packing besides the stress. Lately, most nights have been this way… getting home late, doing my personal things all at the last moment. I can’t remember that last night that I’ve had to myself just to relax. The pressure I’d been under had been immense and my soul begged me for some time alone. Some people fear being alone… I worship it. Time alone is the healing balm that allows you to think and re-evaluate yourself and the pit stop from the rat race we all run daily. But this would not be the weekend for the break my body desperately craved. The company Outdoor would mean a compact weekend of socializing: meeting new faces and catching up with the old ones.
When I boarded the plane, I closed my eyes as I always do and let out a sigh of relief. Though most people don’t understand it, the aeroplane is what I consider to be home. My colleague wrinkled her nose when I tried to explain to her why I felt this way. It’s the only time I feel that I have both legs on either side of the ocean… I can’t miss South Africa because I’m not in Madeira and I can’t miss Madeira because I’m not in South Africa. Some people think that “saudade”… missing something, someone or someplace is a feeling that becomes easier or that goes away with time. “Saudade” the only Portuguese word that cannot be translated, is a feeling that you carry with you all the time. It’s like a knife that is stabbed in your heart and never removed. It may become numb with time but just a little nudge of the memory and it will hurt just as bad as the day it was put there. My twist of the knife was upon arriving in Lisbon. Immediately I felt embraced by the “dirty” city and it’s polluted air. The tall buildings, wide roads and zooming traffic suddenly teleported me back to Johannesburg. I blocked out the conversations in Portuguese from my colleagues in the back seat and gloried in the illusion that I was back in “Joeys”…
Two of my colleagues stared at me in complete astonishment, being island girls I can’t blame them for not understand my pure joy just from being in what they considered the ruthless capital of Portugal. The oldest of the three looked at me with a wiser understanding. Coming from Africa herself, she knew the bittersweet torment that being in a big city represented to me.
Although this was a weekend for fun and relaxation… the pressure and tension had already begun weighing at the airport. Getting out at the terminal, I looked around at the expecting faces awaiting their loved ones… as silly as it may seem, I always expect there to be someone waiting for me too… he may not know it… but the cab driver will soon find out that I was the one destined to be his passenger.
Lunch was rushed as we had three big busses waiting to take us to Viseu were the games would take place. The taxi deposited us right in from of our mother branch. The massive building which we call “Marconi” radiated everything that makes me proud to work for the company that I do. I stared at it with respectful acknowledgement before getting out the taxi. For the first of many times during the weekend I felt like abandoning all my plans for London and moving to Lisbon instead. I quickly shook the idea from my head and fought my way against the wind to the main building where a colleague of mine was waiting to introduce me to some more of the kind of people that I often speak over the phone with but have never seen.
She looked good, different but with a healthier aura than when I’d last seen her. I was surprised with the atmosphere that each department had. My first impression was of tinned sardines but not soon after it was replaced by a more comfortable feeling of belonging. Would I feel more at home at a place like this? London will surely be this way… I felt more relieved.
New names and faces, I felt a stab of guilt knowing that I’d probably forget most of them by the Christmas party but then reminded myself that I wouldn’t be attending this year. Being in the heart of the company didn’t make my decisions any easier and I was thankful that nobody tried talking to me on the bus. I sat on my own and stared at the road, digging out all the good reasons why I was leaving all of this behind.
Phone calls from the office and clients who didn’t know I wasn’t in Madeira kept my mind off the pressuring thoughts.
I tried concentrating on the road and told myself that the long trip is just what I needed to help me relax. I looked out my window and saw a long and wide road, trees, hills and houses. I wanted to appreciate the surrounding beauty but all it did was amount to my growing tension. The road we travelled on resembled the road you take to Durban or Cape Town and I felt more and more homesick. Nauseous and “homesick”, I thought I was just about ready to crack when we finally arrived at our destination. The hotel resembled our main branch and most of us in the bus cracked jokes at the coincidence.
There was time to change for dinner, we put our suitcases in our rooms and chose the nearest table to the food. My stomach was still in knots from all the travelling but I convinced myself that I’d feel better after eating something. I relaxed within the start of dinner and took the opportunity to get to know the three new faces at our table. The first was a lady from the department of quality. In her I saw a strong face covered in feminine kindness. If I had to guess, I’d say she was a perfectionist and a professional at what she did… but with a human and caring side to her too.
The second face reminded of me of George Clooney… the charming man with the boyish spirit. He had a humorous answer for everything that was said at the table, conveying his point across without offending anyone and said it all in a t-shirt that I would’ve bought for my younger brother.
The third face caught most of my attention. I guessed that he was near his late twenties and probably an introverted person by the short, polite answers that he gave.
By the end of the weekend, I learnt that my first analysis of each was as near to the bull’s eye as could be.
When pouring cats and dogs, outside activities can be very hard to arrange and so our experienced team of entertainers drove us off to a building where we would be occupied with an indoor challenge… making a movie.
I was so excited when I found out what we were doing! I hoped that I would be put as a photographer, screenwriter or sound editor… my wish came true when I was announced as the photographer for the magazine that would be publicising the movie titled “Size does count”. The foundation we were given was that the movie was to be about company workers that froze themselves for ten years because they were sick of the clients and now we were to defrost them. The scenery team created a giant microwave for the specific task and wardrobe and make-up prepared our actors for their debut. I particularly enjoyed watching the results of inexperienced efforts. The dance team especially surprised me after making a dance lead by the most difficult of my colleagues. He actually managed to put the dance together well and I wondered if he wasn’t in the wrong profession. The way he put the team working together was out of character for him and the only time I could swear that it was actually him is when he told the director of the movie to wait because he was busy.
The marketing department got a sponsor from the microwave company and we all laughed as we watched a store manager dressed as an assistant having difficulties with his wardrobe. At least we all realised that he was no transvestite because he held up his hands as if the false nails he had on were sharp claws to be held up as weapons.
I ran around watching the chaos and had fun chatting and taking photos, I was exceptionally happy when I was told that I could keep the CD with the photos I’d taken.
Once the fun was over, we had a choice of either going back to the hotel to sleep or venture into the biggest club that Portugal had “Fora d Horas”. I was quite happy to go sleep off my jetlag… but my new colleagues would not hear of it. Compelled by the adventure of a new town, I ignored my exhaustion and joined the two for a shot of a cinnamon flavoured drink with gold pieces in it. The liquid burnt my throat as it went down, but loving the flavour as I do, I was only sorry that I didn’t get its name!
The club which apparently was only pumping on Saturday nights, had most of it’s rooms empty and since the dance floor didn’t contain either dancers or my kind of music I followed the boys to a hidden karting track belonging to the club. I couldn’t believe that the indoor racetrack belonged to the club but I guessed it would be double the fun after a few drinks…
Not having driven a go-kart before, I was afraid of making a fool of myself in front of my two colleagues who drove professionally… but since I never back down from a challenge, I got into the go-kart and told myself that I’d go slowly as not to make any embarrassing spins. After the first two laps, I began getting the hang of it and once realising that I couldn’t “crash” I began pressing for speed feeling the pleasure of letting go…
I didn’t make any embarrassing spins and had an amazing adrenalin rush. The two guys tried to boost my ego by telling me that I did well as a beginner. I mentally noted, that this was an adventure that I definitely wanted to try again!
The karaoke room was full with almost all the company employees. Chatting to the quieter of the two new colleagues that I’d met at dinner, we both agreed that it’s interesting to see the “other” side of the professional people we work with. Mr. Shy was a box of surprises himself. With the right questions, he was no longer quiet and I discovered that along with three cats, he also owned and shared a passion for motorbikes. The contrast appealed to me and I was so indulged on discovering more that by the time I looked at my watch it was nearly four in the morning. The evening ended with George Clooney singing Frank Sinatra´s “My Way” and deep down I fought down my inner battles of the dilemma “Should I stay or should I go?”
Mr. Shy walked me to my room. He had caught my attention in every way possible. Incredibly sincere and down to earth I couldn’t help wishing that I’d met him in another time and place. Looking him in the eyes, I felt guilty for allowing myself to get close to someone I’d have to say goodbye to. Would things have been different if we both knew I didn’t have to leave?
I thanked God for an amazing day and told him of my thoughts, sleep came slow.
The rain didn’t give in for our games and I was sure I was going to catch pneumonia. I lacked some of my usual excitement for play but it was mostly due to my lack of sleep. Deciding that I was going to get wet from the rain in any case, I opted for a challenge I’d never tried before: canoeing.
After the initial challenge of coordination – my two teammates and I eventually figured out the rhythm necessary for getting the canoe from one point of the river to the other. Laughing at our mistakes, singing in the rain and motivated by the awaiting lunch, we managed to get to the end of the river without the organiser’s help.
Proud of our achievements, we arrived at the lunch site like wet ducks. I could feel the water sloshing in-between my toes and the threat of another flu as the fever began rising to my cheeks.
“Go get dry clothes and go take a shower right now!”
I smiled as the colleague from the quality department proved my initial theory about her. Staying a little longer under the warm water, I asked all my angels for strength that I’d need for the trip back home. I knew from the lack of appetite and tight stomach that I was going to be nauseous and probably very sick on the bus.
Getting on the bus, I ignored my urge to go sit next to my newfound friends and tried concentrating on getting some sleep. At lunch a colleague from Porto had already insinuated that Mr. Shy and I looked good together and my colleagues were already inventing a million and one stories, true to their Madeirense gossiping ways. Having failed miserably in the “guy” department, I recalled the misery that distance brings to the heart and decided to stay away from a lurking possibility. Being a loud defender of the slogan “never eat the meat where you earn your bread”… I began imagining the smirks and commentaries that would originate from my standing up and walking to the back of the bus to go talk to him. Just as quickly as the thought came into my mind it was pushed out by my remembering that I don’t care what people think, so I stood up and went to sit next to him. Anything to get time to fly by faster.
George Clooney complained when we talked of work and went further up the bus to avoid listening to our conversation and get some sleep that came quite easy to him. I too grew tired of talk and bit the bullet by asking Mr. Shy if I could lay my head on his shoulder. The more I was getting to know him, the more attracted I became, so I decided that sleeping was the best way to shut the both of us up.
For someone who never sleeps on a bus, sleep came amazingly easy. I told myself that it had everything to do with how exhausted I felt and the little sleep I’d gotten the night before. However, I confess that a lot of it had to do with the sensation of the position I found myself in soon after…
Telling me that sleeping on his shoulder would cause a stiff neck; I was invited into the warmest embrace I’ve ever known.
Why resist? I couldn’t remember any of the reasons why that kind of intimacy was a bad idea… nor did I want to. I took his offer gladly and closed my eyes feeling more relaxed than I’ve felt in months. I sighed as I listened to the beating of his heart and felt the warmth of his embrace. Falling asleep, I dreamt of fluffy clouds and awoke wondering how it was that I felt like I was in heaven… Afraid of the answer, I decided not to look up. I’d had enough of hurting someone by starting something I can’t finish. I cursed distance for making people suffer. I simply couldn’t risk that, so I didn’t look up, instead… I allowed myself to simply feel. Feel safe, warm and happy… the way he was touching my arm almost got me purring and wishing that I were one of his three cats. Disappointment settled in once arriving at our destination, the trip that I had feared would be difficult, had ended up being the best bus drives ever. Goodbye was awkward. How do you walk away from that kind of intimacy? I was tempted to ask him to forget that I was leaving, join me for a movie and let things develop from there. We took each other’s numbers and I promised to call as soon as I was settled at the hotel.
Disappointment mixed with feelings of relief was my reaction when I got his voicemail. I was glad that at least one of us had some good sense. Fighting an odd sensation of hurt, I was quiet at dinner and walked around like a zombie in the biggest shopping centre in Lisbon. Although I had promised myself that I’d shop, I had no spirit for it. Abandoning my other colleagues on their fashion hunt, I decided to pamper myself in FNAC listening to Phil Collins and Bryan Adams’s newest albums. Venturing through the new books and music only made me a happier soul before going back to the hotel to sleep. This time, I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow. But although I woke up at eleven in the morning, it felt as if I hadn’t slept at all. My body was sore from the canoeing I’d done the day before and it took a hot shower and a couple of good yoga positions to make me feeling like a human being again.
Once again we hit the shops and once again I abandoned my colleagues. Not used to my silence, they immediately began making assumptions. I was neither happy nor sad, just tired. I lead myself to the place that I was sure would raise my spirits. The entertainment area was filled with kids and only they managed to extract smiles and giggles from me. I almost forgot my melancholy when a little girl abandoned her play area to sit next to me. She lad long straight hair and big brown eyes, she couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old. She confirmed that she’d just turned six once I asked her. Angela was without a doubt an indigo child… you could tell from the conversation we had:
“Why are you sad?”
“What makes you think I’m sad?”
“You’re here by yourself and you look like you want to cry”
Maybe a good cry is exactly what I needed but I was going to tell her that!
“Well now I’m very happy because you’re here talking to me!”
She wasn’t to be taken for a fool.
“Do you know what I do what I’m sad? I tell my mommy or my daddy.”
I bit back the urge to tell her that I couldn’t do the same. Instead I told her that I couldn’t do that because I didn’t live with them anymore.
“What about your husband? My mommy and daddy talk to each other about adult stuff”
I smiled at her innocence and explained that I didn’t have a husband and that I lived alone. Not wanting her to continue her torture on me, I suggested that maybe I should get a dog to keep my company. Angela took the bait and allowed me to change the subject but told me that maybe a cat was better since I lived in an apartment… a big orange one that I could call Garfield. Noting that I was being watched by security, I realised that I was a potential kidnapper and decided to say my goodbye. Just before I left Angela twisted the knife by giving me her final six-year old advice:
“You know, you’re really good with kids. You really should find a husband and have some, I think you’d make a really cool mum.”
Determined to cure my depression, I decided to shop. Unlike all the women I know, I walked into one shop and found everything I needed… in 15 minutes. A pair of pants, two skirts, a pair of socks and a handbag later I had done all the shopping I needed, telling myself I’d leave the jacket for another time and pay check.
Even though the food was great in business class, I was left with no appetite and it was just before we landed that tears began falling down my face. Years ago I cried when leaving Madeira… now I cry to come back.
I only managed to disguise my tears until the baggage department when my two colleagues finally noticed the river on my face. How could I possibly explain the turmoil I was going through? Instead I half joked that it was at the thought of having to work the next morning. And indeed the idea of returning to routine was enough to make me cry.
In a few hours I’ll be once again dressed in uniform to work, ready to face the day’s challenges and to sort out the work left over from Friday. Tomorrow I’ll tell everyone about the great time I had, show them photos and tell them that it was the best Outdoor I’ve ever gone to. But until then, I’ll brush my teeth, say my prayers and give into the reality that for the sun to really shine, there must be days of darkness too.

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