Hungover Reflections in the Jardim de Santos, Lisboa

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Sunday 13th July 2014

And here sit I. The soft sounds surrounding my seat are quietly absorbed by my muted senses. Chuttering wood pigeons in front of me glance around suspiciously before sinking back into their deep dust baths. I feel utterly anchored to the bench I sit on, a perfectly weighted piece of puzzle slotted into this Lisbon scene of creaking park tables, trickling fountains and rustling branches. To sit here in this moment of quiet, is to feel that I belong here and nowhere else but here. My senses are frozen in this capsule of time, lilting with the hushed scenery around me.

The pigeons chitter and nibble at one another, preening the odd stray feather and blinking sleepily as they soak in the afternoon sun. In front of me three old men sit chatting round a table. Dappled underneath the shade of the trees, they smoke rolled cigarettes and regard thoughtfully the beers they are drinking. They, like the pigeons, are content to sit here chuckling to one another. The men look over at me and a pigeon winks, stretching out a sleepy wing to wave in my direction. I am as gently welcomed into this suspension of calm as the tinkling of a passing cyclist’s bell through the breeze. He is not to know of our afternoon stupor, we alone are hidden by our lethargy. A rigid stranger stands in front of me, caught in the act of fingering his collar proudly. His stone moustache is superb to behold, but his stone eyes betray no emotion. A slight hint of a smile in his stiff lips may be in response to what he hears of the pigeon’s private mumblings at his feet, but we shan’t ever find out, it seems to be a secret.

How sentimental one feels with a hangover. As I write this a slither of humour tries gently to creep into my words, and to crinkle into a smile a corner of my mouth. And yet this time, just this once, I do not let it peep through my heady daze of lethargic satisfaction. My lips remain as firm and as straight as the pencil I write with. This description does not mean to be humorous, as is my usual intent – everything here is as blurred and as beautiful and as breath taking as a painting. A timeless image, a gift for the memory, one never to forget.

One of the old men approaches me, mumbling a conversation to himself in soft Portuguese to which I do not respond. He ends with a graceful “Obrigado” and shuffles off to his next imaginary audience. A pigeon scuffles past me, issuing distressed noises and blinking furiously. I look up to see a crowd of them gathering around a drooping old woman on a walking stick as she gently makes her way to a bench. All is revealed as she settles down into her spot and unfolds a basket of breadcrumbs from beneath her shawl. Agitated fluttering and flapping from her new friends as they anxiously cluster around her ankles disturbs the quiet of moments before. She lays down her stick and with a flourish lets loose a cascade of crumbs onto the earth below. The birds rush for the offerings of bread as if they were precious jewels, and with frenzied shoving, pecking, squawking and scrabbling demolish the lot.

Suddenly all is calm once more. The pigeons seem to remember themselves again and move off in twos and threes, cooing to one another sheepishly and pretending to passers by that there is nothing to see. The old woman eases herself up onto her stick, and shuffles past me, letting loose a small smile. The excitement of a Sunday, gone in a fluttering of wings. The pigeons call goodbye to her as she disappears into the trees, intimating that they would be happy for her to come again next week, at the same time.

Quiet reigns again in the park, but I am lifting out of my sun soaked reflections. A smile returns to my mouth and the glimmer of amusement resumes prime position in my thoughts. Life seems to glide back into the right gear; the pigeons return to their sunspots, two attempting a bath in the trinkling fountain as my reverie merges to a conclusion. May there long be nuggets of time to remember such as this. One day when I have become as crinkled and as muted as this park and the old woman in it, I will urge to mind this happy situation. I will hush all conscious thought, rebathe my senses in the tranquillity of dappled sunlight, and remember above all with blissfully closed eyes just how bloody sentimental you feel when you’ve drunk too much the night before.

 

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