From one lunch to another

The three of us were having lunch at a terrace of a Peruvian restaurant downtown, in one of the fashionable quarters of Lisbon. It felt like a summer day: the sky was blue, the sun was hot – in fact it was more than 25 degrees Celsius, uncommon for the beginning of April but still it felt so good…I couldn’t help thinking how different it was from our lunch of a year ago, on a cold, wet, dreary day.

Back then I had agreed to meet my friends Lita and Nora at a restaurant in Chiado – also a very fashionable quarter in an old part of town – and as I got out of the tube and walked up the street, sliding on the cobblestones of the typical Lisbon traditional pavement I cursed the idea of meeting them there; I hate walking in the rain, in fact I hate everything about rain, and I was soaked. But there was a strong reason for us to meet on that day, as Nora was leaving her job and she needed our advice – well, mainly Lita’s, who is a lawyer, but then I had introduced them so I joined in.

We discussed a strategy for her to leave in the best possible way – after some years of being bullied by her boss and some months with a terrible depression Nora was anxious to close this chapter of her life and start anew. Lita was, in my opinion, the best person to help her – she is a dedicated professional and above all an incredible human being. When we met she was acting as my lawyer, too, and we became friends in the process. During that lunch a year ago we agreed to get together again to celebrate Nora’s “liberation” and due to my hectic agenda this was finally the day when we achieved it – and what a day, I said, laughing – this magnificent summery day had been worth the wait!

We ordered a typical Peruvian cocktail so that we might toast to Nora’s new life: what courage it has taken for her to leave an executive, well paid job in the financial sector for an uncertain career in coaching and psychology; still, a job that was killing her for a profession that lights up her eyes when she talks about how important it is for her to help people, how happy and fulfilled she feels in what she is doing – which she feels is her mission in life.

During lunch Lita told us about her about her childhood which we understood had been tough; she talked mainly about her mother, who was a harsh, bitter woman who decided that at twelve her daughter should take care of all household chores, from cooking to cleaning… while she sat on the living room couch herself, giving short answers to  poor Lita who came to ask her how to proceed with the cooking every five minutes…she told us how her mother beat her and her brothers very hard and punished them for no reason; how she was a tomboy who was always climbing up the trees and coming into the house through the windows rather than the doors…how at fourteen she had left her country town and come to live in Lisbon, running away from her mother only to find herself living with a tyrant uncle and aunt…how her aunt, who was her mother’s sister, once had seen her smoke in front of her uncle and had taunted him so much about it that he had slapped her face, and then she had of course taken revenge on her niece. At this point both Nora and I were listening entranced, as we had no idea Lita, a happy and carefree person if ever there was one, had had such a difficult youth. But then she told us how she had got her first job, and on the very first day, had met the man who would become her husband only a few months later; the true love of her life as they have been married for thirty five years and one can feel they are very happy and still very much in love with each other. And she concluded, with a sigh: “I think my mother was really an evil person, very bitter, unhappy, but still evil”. How sad, I thought, to have had such a mother, the antithesis of what a mother should be.

We came back to the present: Lita regained her easy laugh and told us she is taking Zumba classes and enjoying it enormously; Nora described her new hectic schedule, but her radiant look told us all about how she is enjoying her new challenges. Slowly, she is building a new career, the one she has dreamt of for so many years, and the one she had the courage to fight for. She is happy, fulfilled, and trusting her present and her future. Lita helped her leave her former job with a fair settlement that has allowed her the space to readjust to her new life.

Then it was my turn to tell them my news, and my dreams. I told them about how I had found the perfect person to edit my novel, how we are working together to turn it into what we hope will be a bestseller…why not? After all, we have to believe in ourselves and what we do and I feel I have a good story…we all toasted to my success, and to Nora’s; we also toasted to Lita’s 50th wedding anniversary – only 15 years to go! – and we agreed to celebrate our (future) achievements together: Lita’s long and happy marriage, Nora’s new career and myself turning into the author or the new “Twilight” or “Fifty shades of grey” (with somewhat less erotic content than the latter, for sure…).

Much too soon it was time for us to kiss and say “See you soon”. As I walked down the street, feeling the sun on my face – and loving it – I thought how life can change in a year. How things have changed from one lunch to another – literally, from a dark, rainy day, to a sunny spring afternoon. As in Nora’s life.

I went into the tube station and whispered a heartfelt thanks for that most wonderful of things in life – a true friend, always by our side, be it in hardship or in our achievements.