A glass of vinho verde, what else?
I entered the café behind the cathedral just after twelve thirty, only one table was occupied. The young woman behind the counter smiled, gestured to indicate that I could sit wherever I liked, so I walked to the far end of the room and took a seat by the window. I looked out over a small garden containing the busts of several bishops. A boy followed me with a menu.
Having chosen a dish, I looked towards the door and smiling, the woman came towards me.
‘You are English?’
‘I study English.’
‘At the University?’
She nodded, raised her pad and pencil poised, asked. ‘What you like?’
‘Chick pea and shrimp salad, please.’
‘And to drink?’
‘A glass of vinho verde.’
‘Did you enjoy?’
‘Yes, it was tasty, thank you.’
‘Anything more? Ice cream, we have six varieties?’
‘No, thank you, perhaps an espresso when I’ve finished my wine?’
She nodded, collected my plate and walked away.
More diners had entered while I’d been eating and a second waitress had appeared. The girl who had served me must have been particularly observant as seconds after I emptied my glass, she appeared with the coffee.
‘Not many English drink the green wine,’ she told me.
‘I like it and it’s a good lunchtime drink, doesn’t make me sleepy in the afternoon.’
‘You have plans, for the afternoon?’
I shook my head. ‘I’ll stroll back to the hotel, or sit in that garden and read, or perhaps get on with some writing.’
‘Are you an author?’
‘I try to be,’ I mused, remembering my most recent rejection.
‘How exciting,’ she said. ‘I’ve written a short story, in English, would you … will you read it and tell me what you think?’
‘Do you have a copy with you?’
‘I finish at fifteen … three hours, can I come and sit in the garden?’
That was a week ago and we had spent some time together each day except Sunday, when Lina visited her family. They live in a village, Santa Maria Magdalena in the north west of Madeira, where they have a shop and bar, a mini Mercado, she calls it.
On the following day I went to the café again for lunch, bacon and apple salad on that occasion and again waited in the garden for her to join me.
‘I told my mother about you.’
‘What did you tell her?’
‘That you were an author, famous in England.’
I laughed. ‘Not true, I’m afraid.’
‘I told her you were handsome and loved Madeira, that—’
‘Did you tell her I’m an old man?’
‘You’re not old.’
‘Old enough to be your … grandfather.’
‘That would be nice, for you to be my Avô.’
‘Both mine die, once before I was born. I only see photos.’
‘What was their work, your grandfathers?’
She smirked, leaned towards me. ‘One was a pirate … when ships crashed on the rocks, he rowed out and collected the barrels.’
‘Did he only collect wine?’
She nodded. ‘You not tell?’
I shook my head. ‘I not tell. And the other one?’
She looked perplexed.
‘What did your other grandfather do for a living?’
‘Farmer, he grew sugar. Lots of sugar here until …’ She was distracted by two youths who walked past, pointing and laughing.
She nodded as one of them shouted in Portuguese.
‘What did he say?’
She shook her head.
‘You don’t know?’
‘It was not nice.’
‘Okay, thank you for protecting me.’
My final visit to the café was the day before I was due to fly home. When I entered there was no sign of Lina. I asked her colleague who said she was unwell, had telephoned. In a way I was relieved. I’d not been looking forward to saying goodbye, always shy regarding how to react. Each time Lina and I had met and parted, we had hugged and kissed cheeks, but I didn’t know how I should behave when it came time to say farewell.
The taxi was late collecting me the following day; so that when I arrived at the airport I was flustered, fearing I might miss the flight. As soon as I’d joined the queue to check in, Lina appeared carrying a small case.
In response to my look of surprise, she said. ‘You said I should come to England.’
I shrugged. ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘that’s just fine,’ but I’m not sure my body language conveyed the sentiment.