We were sitting on the third step, unaware that one of the oldest churches in the world was towering right behind us, providing the perfect amount of shade. The Lisboa buildings across from us each radiated in the sunlight with different hues of blues and greens and purples, one of them patterned in tiles with the same kind of design you’d see in an action scene where a cartoon goes “KaPow.”
Tom placed his hand on my arm as he was telling me the story of his travels in Spain up to meeting me here in Portugal. I laughed in envy and listened intently as melted chocolate gelato ran from its cup and down my hand. I was awfully aware that it was my last full day of my two-week adventure, a scant amount for the type of exploration I was desperately craving from the world.
As he finished his story, I observed the buildings descending into the distance, lined with cars. People walking in the cobblestone streets jumped onto the sidewalks and back into the street, playing a semblance of a game of hopscotch, to avoid the trams transporting people back and forth through the Bairro Chiado district. I closed my eyes, listening to the tourists shrieking in excitement and a couple walking by, giggling.
I suppose he saw me absorbing my surroundings with awe because he playfully nudged me in the side, pulling me out of my trance and forcing the neglected gelato to drip from my hand, and asked, “Sooo, what’s next for you?”
Like a child scared of getting caught by her parent, I instinctively stopped breathing, unsure if I should say what actually crossed my mind. I decided I must.
“I need to travel the world.” I declared.
He immediately straightened and exclaimed there’s one last place I have to see before I leave Lisbon. I assumed he didn’t even hear me.
As we made our way down the street, practically running from the pull of gravity, we made a sharp left and I suddenly tripped over his stopped body. I looked up to see that we were standing on the corner of where the oldest bookstore in the world is hidden amongst the high-end stores of BOSS and United Colors of Benetton. A juxtaposition much like myself, a frugal solo backpacker paying rent and living in New York City.
I inched my way in as slowly as I could, scared that if I move too quickly the doorway would disappear like a magic trick. I was in awe of how torn and under-cared for the wallpaper was, and I grazed my fingers over the books, gently, as if they were all actually from 1732.
As I maneuvered through stacks, I knew at once that if I couldn’t travel the world, I’d read about it until I could. I looked at Tom, his eyes reduced to little slits as he observed my epiphany.
Only across the world can I form an unexpected friendship with an 8-year younger boy, who can read my needs after a few days of knowing each other. Only across the world can my dreams finally feel plausible.
Lisbon, Portugal; June 2016