The most elegant man I've never had lunch with.
Never have I ever enjoyed a meal by myself as I did with him. There was so much to see, so much to take. His table was perpendicular to the restaurant’s door. His chair was not on the original position. He switched it so he could face the door. As much as one would be staring at a television, he was watching the by-passers. Rua Nova da Trindade was his television.
I chose my seat, perpendicular to his. I wanted to watch the watchmen. This voyeuristic lunch experience left me excited. I tried observing as much as I could of his traits. I both envied and cared for him. He had this classy trait that I could never meet.
As he sat in his chair, he kept an unusual and respectful distance from the dining table. He would eat in a very formidable rhythm, I tried to mimic. He was eating jazz. I couldn’t keep up. It was 7/8, 5/4 or something else. I was still stuck with a 4/4 time signature. It was pretty to see.
I cared for him, no one of that age should be eating by himself, at first I thought. What a stupid one. Why wouldn’t he have chosen that? Was there anyone that would surprise him if walked through that door? Was that the reason why he ate in such a spirited pace? As if in a game, where he would extend both the pleasure of the food and the agony of the suspense. A game that I’ve always enjoyed.
Within every bite, that he arranged on the fork, he would wipe his mouth. A very well encompassed sequence of motions. He conserved his energy quite well. Efficiency, as a friend described me the tips she’d received from a fellow bartender. That was the key. Conserving energy during your movements. Keeping it to a bare least without loosing its grace.
I tried to copy him again. With every sip of my soup, I’d lay the spoon down, enjoy its full-bodied flavor on my mouth and then wipe my lips. Conserving energy.
I remembered Bernardino, my grandfather. I thought about what he would think of him. My grandfather was always very vain and this was Lisbon, people don’t dress like this. I’m pretty sure he would be willing to engage with him. Ask various questions as if to examine and figure who this person was, exactly like I didn’t.
I tried to learn from distance. I sit, I watch, I try to create empathy, I try to view the world from theirs perspective. To appreciate things from a view that was not mine.
Later on that afternoon, I devoured “Just Kids” by Patti Smith. There was this beautiful quote describing Robert Mapplethorpe’s that resonated a lot to me: “The boy I had met was shy and inarticulate. He liked to be led, to be taken by the hand and enter wholeheartedly another world. He was masculine and protective, even as he was feminine and submissive.”
Who was he? It was definitely not his first or second time to that restaurant or was it? I could only guess. From the way that he talked with the staff. He’d always make them lean towards him, like in a position of power or intimacy. I thought about The Godfather, “Come closer to the circle”. Maybe he just speaks very quietly.
Did he always sit in that chair? Would he come everyday? Every Tuesdays and Thursdays? I didn’t want to know the answers, the truth sometimes is not as exciting.
As plates came and went, he would meticulously instruct the waiter on how to place them on the table. “How would you like this cold cut’s board: perpendicular or parallel to you?” He chose parallel. He would then call for another waiter. Who somehow instinctively leaned towards him, as if he was confining a secret.
He had a small bottle of água das pedras and then he’d fill his glass up to three fifths. The waiter would then return with this whimsical and almost puzzled face. As told so, the man carrying a bottle of white wine proceeded to fill a fifth of his glass. He nodded in consent.
Was it the taste? Was it enough to give him some sort of lightheadedness or small buzz? Or was it another memory? I remembered a thing that my dad would always tell. This story of when he was a child and was living in Portugal with his grandparents. My great-grandparents would give him a bottle of watered wine to take with him to school. He was 9-10. I connected with him.
As we both finished our meals and ordered the check, I snapped this picture with my phone.
He’d seen me coming in, I’d see him going out. I waited for him to leave. As with life does, and as if to complete a cycle, something of him stayed with me.