There’s an old saying about not going back to a place where you have been happy, and, although sometimes I succumb to the temptation, I must admit there’s much wisdom in that sentence.
There are many places where I have lived very happy, intense moments, be it in Lisbon, Madeira, or cities I have travelled to. While I pass by some of those places in Lisbon quite often – never without a smile on my lips or a nostalgic feeling as memories invade me – I hadn’t been to that square in almost forty years. I don’t think I ever went back there since you moved house.
I wasn’t counting on going there either. It’s completely out of my usual circuits, a residential square somewhat secluded, a sort of haven between two busy avenues, only accessible through a small street, the one with that corner café where they made the best jesuítas in town, or so you said. Yes, the triangle-shaped pastries with a filling I could never exactly discover what it was made of, and small pieces of nut on top, that made them unique and delicious. The cakes that – I wonder why – bore the name of the religious order that was under persecution by the Marquis de Pombal, Portugal’s Prime Minister back in the 18th century, the man who rebuilt the city of Lisbon after the terrible 1775 earthquake.
And it was precisely the jesuítas that brought me there after such a long, long time.
I was going for a walk with my PT and on that day, he suggested we go further than usual. When he mentioned the itinerary, I recalled that café near the square and mentioned the cakes to him. He said we might make a stop there; he was keen to try them. And so, we walked for miles, and when we got there, we sat and he ate one while I just tasted another, trying to recapture the taste of so long ago – and bringing the rest home to my son, as I rarely eat cakes these days.
I looked up the street to have a glimpse of the square, but nothing else. It didn’t look familiar, but I knew it was there. How could I forget us, coming down the street from your house, hand in hand, laughing, happy, full of life and famished as you always are after making love, and getting into the café to order two cakes, one for each?
My PT and I went back to finish our long walk, but I promised myself I would return. And so, I did. One day that I was exercising by myself, I decided to take the long walk again, and again I approached the corner café, but this time I didn’t stop. I went up the street and found myself in the square.
The small street came out on the right side of the square. I instinctively looked left and headed towards your old building, which, I remembered, was at the far end. I walked slowly, taking each step carefully, as if I wanted to delay the moment when I would come face to face with that door I had pushed so many times, with the window of your bedroom whose shutters were inevitably down, especially when we were inside.
Back in time
I finally stood there, facing the building. There was no one around, but I was not alone. I was no longer there in 2021, but back in the early eighties, and I was ringing the bell, and you were buzzing me in, and I could see you smiling, the door ajar and your arms opening to let me in, and then closing around me as if you would never let me go. And then you’d kick the door shut, and somehow, we’d get to your room without knowing very well how, the whole universe circling inside those walls. Nothing else existed but us, nothing beyond that love we felt for each other. Those moments were ours, and ours alone, and time stood still, and we believed this happiness would never end, it would still be there for us the following day, year, decade… in each other’s arms we felt loved and secure, and each encounter was more passionate than the previous one. How I loved you, how you loved me! Our Endless Love, as in the song by Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross you dedicated to me.
I don’t know how long I stayed there in that half-dreaming, half-awake state. My craziest dream is to time travel, and on that day some kind fairy made my dream come true, for I truly saw you, felt you, touched and felt your scent, your kisses, and your body next to mine. It was such a powerful sensation, and I could not say how long it lasted for, only that suddenly, I felt a darkness upon me, and, opening my eyes, realised this was not the winter morning of my dream but a warm summer evening, and dusk had just fallen.
Disappointment invaded me. I still closed my eyes and wished I were back with you, but reality was upon me. When I opened them again, I was facing your old building, the door was closed but the bedroom shutters were not, and I could see light and some movement inside. The moment had passed.
I turned back and slowly walked away towards the small street with the corner café. Two lovers were coming out, sharing a jesuíta, immersed in each other as we used to be back then, with the same certainty we also once had, that of sharing a love story that would last forever. Little do they know, I thought – nothing lasts forever, much less a love story.
As I resumed my walk a wave of sadness swept over me, and I remembered the old saying. For a moment, you may relive wonderful moments lost in the mists of time but waking up to reality is cruel. As no man ever steps in the same river twice, so is the past something you cannot return to. Never go back to a place where you have been happy, the old saying goes, and it’s too damn right.