(the characters below are fictional but not the places and the experiences!)
Done with the cathedral that I awaited all day, instead of feeling lighter, I felt heavy, as if I gained all the experiences of those old days, little lost. It was like being rummaged into the past that then became a part of me.
Well, finally we were… at the proverbial crossroad. We didn’t plan that part of the day. I do not know why! Maybe for all the rush that we were in in the morning. Instinctually, I pulled out the map as if it were the solution to every problem anyone could ever have. Unsurprisingly, I found nothing more than labeled colors scattered around in tiny bits.
“So what are we gonna do now?” Pankaj – as if I am the map now! But then, an interesting idea struck me (god bless the cathedral). We are in Belém. A short walk to anywhere and we can catch a tram or an elevator (nothing more than a tram but just that it takes people up and down the steeper streets of the city). It was six in the evening. Can roam around in the trams and be back to Belém for those egg tarts by eight just like the driver said – I thought.
“Hey,” I said, still looking into the abyss, “why don’t we take a tram?”
“Really?” He asked considering the suggestion.
I laid my thoughts out to him and the next moment, we were walking away from the monastery searching for the streets where we could find the trams. On the way, Pankaj stopped what he was saying and went to an old man sitting on the bench by the road to ask and quickly enough, I stopped him. “Lets do it ourselves.”
“You got a hell of an adventure in you suddenly!”
I thought about the cathedral again.
We walked a bit more and found tramcar tracks flowing down a steep street down to the road we were on. As soon as we turned into the street and took a few steps, a tram going up the street stopped for people to get on. We ran and climbed up the old metal steps on the tram. And then, it moved, with ease into the Portuguese street with the beautiful European buildings that looked like a piece of art each, with their tiny metal railed balconies and full bloomed flower pots.
It’s hard to call them ‘trams’ actually. It’s always only one short cabin not connected with any other, each running individually, up and down the streets. The yellow colored metal cabins were iconic of the city for they were so common and so much used by the people.
Unlike Pankaj, I did not get a seat when I got up but soon found one by the window. And the same feeling returned from the Hippo Trip. I felt lonely… and strong and self-assured. Strange and shocking to me, the sun doesn’t set here until eleven in the night. And while we were in the tram, the clouds spread themselves out into the naught and made way for the evening sun and the thin layers of rain water on the streets glittered sharp golden.
We took the tickets till the last stop and sat in desultory comfort, having no worry that could bother us. The street went higher and higher before it started descending down steep and the tram went along with it. Pankaj got up from his place in the front and sat beside me, “look at those cafés, brotha,” he said, pointing to the many cafés that were by the road, calm yet with so much activity, friends nurturing their friendship, lovers loving, families laughing their own private laughter and artists thinking deep with their cups of coffees in their hands.
“We gotta sit in one of those today. “
I thought for a moment and approved, “Why not! The Café that the cab driver suggested is just like these. I’ve seen it on the way.”
“Yeah? Okay then!” He said and after a long pause, “hey… do you see that man sitting there in the front?”
He pointed towards a man who I guessed must be in his early fifties, with his hair grey here and there. “Yeah, what were you talking to him about?”
“Listen, this guy says he studied Portuguese law, was a lawyer for a few years, got disgusted, and went to London to study Art History. Isn’t that crazy? A lawyer turned art historian who now writes for a magazine.”
“So technically, he’s also a writer and a journalist!” I said as stoically as possible.
He rolled his eyes in thinking and said, “yes!”
“What about him?”
“He said he was jobless so came out just to go around in the streets. And he agreed to join us for dinner. It’s cool right?”
I didn’t give a second thought to it, “absolutely. Seems like a hell of fun.”
He went back to the man whose name I forgot to ask and resumed his conversation and I leaned onto the sill and watched the street go by for another hour. The tram reached the end of the street. We paid for another ticket to the last stop and alighted the tram, at the same place where we got on.
On the street, standing by a shop that sold souvenirs to tourists, we introduced ourselves.
“José Miguel! Do I pronounce that right?” I asked.
With an equable smile that radiated temperament, he said, “absolutely. That’s hell of a way to pronounce for the first time. It’s a Mexican name by the way.”
We walked back down to the main road and arrived at Café Niccolo. It was modest in space but dripping with Portuguese adornment everywhere with paintings of navigators on its thin walls and full-bloomed flowers and green leaves everywhere inside. A typical café, it was not rich but was friendly and accommodating.
We have let José order the food for we had no idea about what was good. While we talked over a continuous flow of issues, the food arrived smoky with its aroma spreading all around. The diet ranged from fish to beef to prawns and the best part of it, there was not one vegetarian dish available. José and Pankaj gulped down their food with a bottle each of chilled beer. I’m a teetotaler and far from alcohol, I do not enjoy the idea of having a cool drink. As much as I get pestered into alcohol by my friends, I have abstained myself hard against it. In fact, the first conversation between Pankaj and Me when we met in law school was on our shared hatred towards alcohol and how we supposed a ban on it would better the society so much. As it can be seen, I wouldn’t mind people drinking before me, and so would I not in calling Pankaj a hypocrite either.
Our stomachs to the brim, we suspended the egg tarts for tomorrow and decided we’d go back to our hotel. José too had to head back home as fast as possible to his waiting children.
Soon, Pankaj and me were standing outside the café and it was 10:20. The sun was half set and from outside the café, it was a view.
“Evenings beautiful here aren’t they!” Pankaj said from beside looking deep at the sun.
“Want to see the other half set?”
“Do we have time?” he asked and I was sure he wanted me to say ‘yes’.
I took my eyes away from the glittering semicircle and turned towards him, “look! It’s not too often that we’d tour Lisbon. High probability that this if the first and the last time. Would it be a bad idea if I said we walk individually – you in some direction, me in some other, and both meet at the Carmo Lift in Roccio Square at say…” I looked at my watch.
“11:30?” Pankaj asked and I could find excitement flowing from his voice.
I smiled in approval, “lets meet at 11:30.”
“I’ll probably go that side between those buildings…” he said and started walking away. I turned the other side and looked intently at the houses around. To my left was a busy street whose end I couldn’t see. But a kind of affection radiated for it felt like reading a novel of Charles Dickens about his eighteenth century Europe.
The sun was almost set and the last rays of crimson lit one side of the buildings. I took the street and walked, looking at all the shops and Cafés that passed by on either side. I walked slowly randomly changing the streets as if I knew the city since birth. After a few minutes, I entered some kind of a Centre where there were huge fountains in the middle with gigantic pedestals over which men of history were standing tall in stone.
Amidst the many shops, I eyed one that sold souvenirs for tourists just like the one we had seen at the tram. I went inside and waded through the number of eccentric items on the racks. Returning the smile of the stout old woman at the counter who ran the shop, I approached the perches that held miniature versions of Portuguese attractions and took the Torre De Belém in my hand. Admiring its bitsy size, and the exactness to the real one, I bought it for 4.5 euros and moved out of the shop.
Just outside the shop, on the other side of the street, three youths were playing saxophone, drums and a keyboard and people walking by the street stopped for a minute or two, enjoyed the music with a grin of content on their faces, put a few euros in the bowl full of coins and went ahead on their way. The music was pulling and I stopped there for some time listening.
While the tune played on and on, I thought of the grumpy and sullenly look the driver who dropped us at Oeiras Station in the morning put. What could have been the reason! And suddenly it struck me, like a kick from behind. “Oh my God, we forgot to tip him,” I thought clutching my forehead. I almost laughed out loud about it.
Simpering and laughing inside for what I had done hastily in the morning, I put 5 euros in the bowl by the trail and proceeded, back onto the street and turned right by an antique shop; with the smile remnant on my face. The sun had then completely set and the night had taken over. And I kept walking on and on!
For part 1 of 2 (the first part) https://pratheekreddy68.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/why-dont-we-take-a-tram-part-1/