At eighteen she arrived in the big city with butterflies in her belly – leaving her island to come and study at university was no small adventure! She had many friends there, though, and through one of them she had found the place where she was going to stay. For years, friends of friends coming from her island had stayed there and recommended it.
She knew Lisbon of course, she had been there several times with her family; as she made her way to her new street, so well located in a fashionable quarter, she looked around: the wide avenues, the green trees, their leaves now acquiring a slight brown shade, the small gardens, so many cafés and terraces, restaurants, shops; the tube only a few metres away, the inviting sidewalks – she felt she was going to be happy there.
She was warmly received by her landlady, an energetic woman in her late forties or early fifties; she lived in the last floor of the building with her children and her mother, an old lady that seemed to be nodding on a chair by the window. When her daughter introduced the girl, saying “Mother, she’s our new tenant, she will be staying in the attic,” the pale grey eyes seemed to come alive in the worn face and she opened it in a smile, “Ah, the attic! It has been much loved, my dear. I hope you enjoy staying there too!” The girl politely replied she certainly would, and soon followed the landlady upstairs as there was no lift beyond that floor.
For her, it was love at first sight. The attic was small, very small; it consisted of one room, with a single bed against a low wall, a writing desk and a chair in the highest part. On the left a minuscule kitchen; on the right a tiny bathroom, and that was all. But in the centre, a huge ceiling window opened up to the blue sky, bathing the whole place in abundant light, enhancing the bright colours of the bedspread and cushions. She wondered if she would be able to see the stars at night.
She hung her clothes and ranged her books on the bookcase. Texted her friends saying she had arrived, and she would meet them tomorrow. And then she fell asleep, a deep, untroubled sleep for the day’s emotions had exhausted her.
A few nights after she had her first dream.
It was that same attic, but somewhat different. It had a huge double bed that occupied most of the space. On one side the same bookcase and on the other a wooden writing desk with a different chair. A couple was lying in bed, dark hair against the pillows, their nakedness barely covered by the white sheets, limbs entwined and the smell of love, mixed with a woman’s floral scent, hung in the air. She was there but she was not; she was a silent observer who could neither move nor speak; just watch. And she stayed there, in her dream, fascinated by the sensuality of those bodies, by the knowledge that they had been making love to each other. Far away a song played on the radio and the sun rays came in through the window, but the two lovers seemed oblivious of it all, wrapped in each other’s arms, in such sound sleep that it seemed they would never wake up.
She was the one to wake up and at first, she was uncertain of what had happened, so vivid had her vision of the two lovers been. She shook her head and thought her imagination was running wild as well as her romantic nature. She told no one about her dream but she wished she could learn more about those two lovers: had they really existed, or did they still, in some parallel universe? Had they lived there, in that attic? Had theirs been a beautiful love story? Had it ended well? Silly girl, she thought, it was just a dream! She shook her head, got dressed, went to meet her friends and forgot all about the dream.
A few nights later she dreamed again. This time the young man was lying on the bed, a look of anticipation on his face; he looked at his watch from time to time. She studied his features; dark, slightly curly hair, a long, handsome face, small dark brown eyes; his feet reached the end of the bed, so she assumed he was tall. He wore a checked shirt and old, worn jeans and was barefoot. He looked at the bookcase and she saw a photograph of a young woman there, curly hair in the eighties style she had so often seen in the photos of her mother’s youth, huge earrings, dark mysterious eyes and a seductive smile. And then there was a knock on the door and he jumped, and there she was, the young woman of the photo, and they were hugging and kissing with the hunger of new lovers, and he was taking her clothes off and she was taking his, and they were kissing again, and laughing, and then they were rolling on the bed… She felt like an intruder, but she could not keep her eyes from the intensity of the scene on the bed. And when it was over, he held her in his arms, her head on his shoulder and they whispered words of love and then he said something about the song that was playing on the radio, that talked of lovers like them, lying in each other’s arms and feeling in Heaven. And she felt so much love there, such passion, such happiness between those two that she never wanted to wake up from her dream, she wanted it to go on and on.
She began to live two different lives; one, during the day, at university, with her friends; the other, at night, when she went to sleep praying another dream would come, so that she could go on learning more about that love story.
Time went by. The story unfolded before her eyes, a story of passion, love, happiness. Until, one day, she noticed the young woman’s eyes were different, colder; she seemed more aloof, distant. The girl had heard the young woman say she had finished college and was now working, and perhaps she had other worries in the beginning of her adult life. The young man seemed as loving as ever, more loving if possible. After she left, he spent hours looking at her photo with an adoring look in his eyes. He worshipped her; he loved her with all his heart.
The girl began to worry as she noticed the young woman become more and more distant. The love she made was no longer passionate as it used to be, but more like an old habit. And still he didn’t notice.
And then one day, in her dream, the attic was empty. Suddenly the door opened violently, and he came in. He looked dishevelled; his clothes were torn, his hair wild, but what frightened her most was the look in his eyes; she saw despair, unbelief, pain. He threw himself on the bed sobbing, crying out words of rage. Then he saw the smiling photo and he grabbed the frame and threw it against the wall, where it crashed into a hundred pieces. And on that moment, she knew. His heart had been broken, just like the glass, and she understood the young woman was never coming back to the attic again.
Through the months she dreamed less and less, as if the story had run itself out; still, she saw him at times in her dreams, coming home drunk, late in the night, dark shadows under his eyes, crying out his lover’s name in his sleep. And then, one day, she dreamed no more.
She was devastated. This story had become part of her life and she very much wanted to know the outcome. Had they met again? Had they made up, or had she left his life forever? How would she ever know?
The school year was at an end, and she went to see her landlady to talk about next year. The landlady’s son opened the door and told her his mother would be in shortly, would she mind staying a few minutes with his grandmother, as he was leaving? She said of course she’d stay, and, greeting the old lady, sat by her.
“So, my dear,” asked the old lady, “how did you like our attic? Coming back next year, are you?”
“Oh, I absolutely love it!” The girl said. “If you’ll have me, I’ll be back for sure!
The old lady chuckled.
“That attic is magical. Everyone just loves staying there. People have been happy there…”
The girl´s heart beat a trifle faster. What if…
“Have you known all the tenants of the attic? I mean, do you know their stories?” She asked the old lady.
“Oh, yes, my dear. I used to be the landlady many years ago. And I remember many stories, but one, in particular, is my favourite, for it is the most beautiful, and sad, love story I know.”
“I’d love to hear about it.”
And the old lady told her the story of a young man who had arrived from her very same island, like her to attend university, full of dreams of building his future. He was in love with a young woman, and they lived their love story in this attic. The old lady’s lips opened in a naughty smile and she remembered the sounds of love when she passed outside their door; their coming in together, always hand in hand or arms entwined, two lovebirds lost in each other. They had been happy for a while, and then she had broken his heart, never to be seen again. And he had been lost for a long time; his recovery was slow and painful. He had finally found someone else, said the old lady, and they eventually married and had children. But, she added, she was positive he had never, never forgotten his old love.
The girl knew she had finally come to the end of the story she had witnessed in the attic. She asked the old lady:
“Why do you say so? He probably forgot her and was happy with someone who really loved him and deserved his love.”
The old lady looked at her sadly.
“My dear, you are so very young and still have much to live; in the matters of the heart, we don’t always choose those who love us the most; our choice has much to do with the lessons we have to learn in this life. Although this young woman must have known he loved her truly, for some reason she stopped loving him. Why, we’ll never know. She went to live the life she chose, the one written for her in the stars. As for him, the day after he went away for good, I went to clean up the attic and I found a forgotten scrap of paper, some lines he had written to her, or maybe he wrote them to the attic.
“And?” The girl waited in trepidation.
“ He wrote, ‘I was in Heaven here, and I’ll be back on Earth for the rest of my life’ ”.
The girl felt a tear come down her cheek.
“How I wish someone would one day love me with a love so strong, so deep, so true. I would never let him go.”
The old lady looked at her and sighed.
“If you find that love, do just that. Hold on tight and never let go. Who knows – maybe his girlfriend one day came to the conclusion that no one would ever love her again as he did. Who knows?”
At this point the landlady came in and the conversation ended. The girl kissed the old lady goodbye, thanking her for sharing this heartrending love story with her.
The following day, taking her suitcase out of the attic, the girl looked inside one last time. She wondered why she had dreamed so vividly about the two lovers, as if she were watching a movie inside her mind. Maybe there are parallel universes after all, or simultaneous timelines or whatever they may be called. Or maybe the love they had lived so intensely within these four walls had unleashed an energy so strong that it was still there, forty years later.
As she silently shut the door, she left the attic to the lovers, and prayed for them to still exist in a dimension of their own, where their happy time together had stood still, and they could go on loving each other for all eternity.