I’m on my way to work and although it’s only four kilometres I get a lot of traffic. I face the day in a bright mood so I put on some nice music and look at life on the streets.
Today the latest song on my playlist is by a Portuguese band called Capitão Fausto. The title is “Boa memória” (“good memory” in English) and the singer tells us about how he doesn’t really have to remember things for he has friends with a good memory. I smile. It’s so good to have shared memories! I stop a red light and text my friend Beli about the song; she replies saying I’m the friend who has the best memory – after all I’ m the one writing a book based on our teenage adventures…
This brief exchange definitely boosts my good mood even more. I play the song over and over again and I sing and thank the universe for having been blessed with such good friends in my life.
Mother and daughter
Then as I wait in a queue I see them. Mother and daughter, undoubtedly. The mother, a middle aged ( my age!) pale blonde lady wearing a striped uniform and a white cap on her head that make me thing she must work at a bakery or something of the sort (yes, there are still a few bakeries around!). The daughter is a dark haired girl in her twenties who walks with some difficulty while holding on to her mother’s hand as if to salvation. Even from my car I can see she must have a severe handicap, probably cerebral palsy. The lady can only be her mother for she looks at the girl with such love in her eyes, while guiding her with a tenderness that moves me. I have watched her day after day as she takes her daughter to that corner where a special bus comes to fetch her, to take her to a special school or day centre where she will have some activities, I suppose. As a mother my heart goes to that lady, to the courage she must have to face the terrible ordeal of having a child with such a condition. Again I thank God for the blessings He has bestowed on me – the grateful prayer I have always on my lips and deep inside my heart.
The traffic moves on and so do I. Now I stop at a pedestrian crossing facing Luís de Camões High School. In front of me I see a huge group of young people on their way to school.
I look at them with their backpacks, smiling and talking to each other, so full of life and hopes and dreams for the future, and I remember when I was like them and I wish I could travel back in time to the days when life was ahead of me and most choices were yet to be made. Oh, just to have that carefree feeling, if only for a moment.
Lost in my thoughts I don’t move on as quickly as it might be expected so I get a slight warning from the car behind me. I start the car and raise my hand in apology. Ah, the unforgiving Lisbon drivers, of which I am one true representative….
The homeless man
The last leg of this journey – one that should be short but ends up taking a long time – is the worst where traffic is concerned and here I am again, glimpsing the building where I work only one hundred meters away but still unattainable. I look around and see a homeless man sitting on the steps of a building. He sits on a pile of clothes – probably where he sleeps – and he is smoking a cigarette, inhaling the smoke slowly, so slowly. His hair is wild and unkempt and his face is dirty and the hand holding the cigarette sports long nails, much like the claws I saw in a Dracula’s movie a few days ago, but what really strikes me is his look. He looks into the void, disinterestedly, so detached from everything and everyone…I am shocked to see such a look in a human being, a look that speaks of utter loss of hope, of giving up totally, of not having anything, absolutely anything in the world to look forward to. A look that tells us that man is still alive because his body still works as a machine, but his heart and his mind are no longer there. It is as if part of him is already in another dimension where he will suffer no more pain or neglect.
I feel revolt inside me. Against governments and city councils that exact such heavy taxes and then miserably fail to use them to help those who are most in need, those abandoned and lost. In front of that man people pass by, hurrying to their jobs, and I glimpse a very smart woman, with dark straight hair and high heels, impeccably dressed, who looks ahead and doesn’t even see him in his corner. As I probably wouldn’t have had I not been waiting in a traffic queue.
I finally get the green light and leave the lost, bewildered man behind; my attention goes to the cars and motorcycles and even “tuk tuks” around me as we all struggle not to miss the next green light.
Finally I park my car and turn off the music. I go up to the office and while I sip my coffee I give a last thought to the mother and daughter on the way and to the homeless man who lives on a street so near my office, yet in another lost, distant world. Then I sit at my desk and forget myself in the tons of emails waiting for me.
Later today, when I go back, it will be dark already. The mother will have received her daughter at the bus and taken her home. The homeless man will have tucked in for the night in his solitary corner. Only to wake up tomorrow to a new day that will bring him absolutely nothing.
Such is life on the streets. In Lisbon or anywhere else, the sadness and misery are very much the same.