1,000 Words, Take Two

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January 30, 2013 by allsho

Ours is not a rich city. It used to be one, but it’s years now we are struggling.

I was about to retire, two years ago. But I have a daughter who’s studying at Coimbra, and I thought we need money, her mother and I, because once you take away the cheque we send her every month, there’s little left for us.

So here I am, after forty-three years, still on the road.

And it’s hard, some days. Thank God, my health is good, but some days, boy! I wish I could take a steamer and go to Madeira, dry my bones and enjoy what’s left in me.

Oh well. I can’t complain, after all. My wife is still with me, we have a good girl who’s going to be a doctor.

And I have a job, which is more than something, these days. A job I like, come to that. I get to see the most beautiful corners of my beautiful city, without even walking. I get to talk to my friends while I work. I get to meet new people every day, foreigners, tourists, and to give them my piece of advice about where to eat, what to visit next, how to reach there.

Oh, sorry, I didn’t mention it. I’m a tram driver.

There is a street, you know, it goes down, and while I drive carefully because these tourists don’t know how to deal with trams any more, I raise my head and look in front of me, and there’s the river! Right there, quiet, shining, wide, ready to meet its destiny, its waters already tasting like salt.

That street is the street where you can see newspapers and seagulls racing in the sky together, on windy days. That street is the street everyone wants to take a walk on, and a good reason why my old 28 is the tourists’ favourite tram.

I think that street is like a stream. Everything in this town goes down, down to the river, out to the ocean. West, to the sunset. And this street, with its paved steps and my tracks in the middle, goes down, down to the river.

The buildings are not particularly handsome, nor well kept. Yet, the atmosphere is a summary of the city’s attitude: old-looking, rough, rugged, alive, even though you never know why or for how long again. And it goes down, down to the river.

Do you think it is melancholic? Well, you are probably right. And yet, people come, visit, sometimes even choose to stay. And I imagine melancholy has something to do with it.

Many tourists, and many young ones too. You would imagine they’d go to places that are more trendy, fashionable, lively. But if you see how many get on my tram every day!

This morning the car was full. I was reaching the top of the street I was talking about earlier, and at the next stop there were many people who wanted to get on. In these cases, doors open, whoever can get in, gets in, and those who can’t, wait for the next car. And so I opened the doors, I heard them squeezing and begging pardon, you know, the usual commotion, then doors closed and I started the tram. Next thing, I heard someone in the back, a girl’s voice, shouting “stop! stop!”. And of course I can’t stop wherever I am. First of all, because this street is a double way but two trams can’t fit so they have to occupy it in turns. And then because of insurances: travellers are only supposed to get on and off at regular stops. I could get in trouble if I don’t follow the rules.

So on I went, and shouted, in Portuguese, “tell him to follow”. After all, the tram doesn’t run very fast, and it’s downhill, I need to limit speed anyway. Of course the girl was a tourist, and didn’t understand a word I said, or a word the other travellers tried to explain to her.

So she came, pushing and panting, to the front, and tried to tell me what had happened. As if I hadn’t understood from the beginning. Her boyfriend had gotten closed out of the doors. That happens.

I told her, in my stammering English, that the next stop was there, you see, where the man with the green t-shirt was standing, and that she could get off the tram there, or see if he could get on, if he was fast enough.

She understood, saw that I had understood, and thanked me, relieved. I mean, it’s forty-tree years that I’m doing this job, I know how things work up here.

Now, at that point, the street is narrow, as I was saying. A fat guy, another tourist, I suppose, decided to stumble on the border of the pavement. I had to halt the tram, that happens all the time, too. The girl wasn’t holding on to anything, and she fell down, poor thing. Of course she didn’t get hurt, the car was too packed. But when she got herself standing again, and saw that the tram was still, as the fat foreigner was trying to put together a thermos flask he had with himself and broke open as he tripped, she asked me: please please please (three times she said please, I counted them), could I let her get off there and then?

And well, I’ve always been sensitive to young girls saying please please please, so I opened the door next to me and closest to her, she got down, bumped into a woman who was standing there and helping the elderly chap to get on his feet. So she fell again.

But then she probably saw her boyfriend, as I saw her running away, waving and limping a little.

She’d better be careful. You have to be careful, anyway. In Lisbon everything goes down, down to the river. If you lose your balance in the wrong place, you might find yourself wet.

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