Simon doesn’t do heat, and he doesn’t do hills. He comes from the Marshes in Southern England, where it’s cool and damp and you can see for miles. So how he found himself in the centre of Lisbon, walking up a steep incline in the midday sun, is a mystery to him.
Simon spies a shady spot up ahead where two tall buildings are closing in on each other, squashing the shadows between them. He thinks if he can make it to the shade he’ll be fine. He’s starting to sweat, and mosquitoes are crowding round him like a personal entourage. He doesn’t mind, though, they remind him of home.
As he pauses for breath, Simon notices a girl on the other side of the tram tracks. She smiles at him and calls out, ‘American?’
Simon, who thought his mid-length trousers and navy blue t-shirt made him look quintessentially English, is a little put out. ‘English,’ he says, frowning.
The girl smiles and skips over the tram tracks towards him, her flower print dress fluttering around her knees like a thousand butterflies. Simon tries to return the smile, but it’s more of a grimace as he’s still panting from his short walk.
‘You should have taken the tram,’ the girl says. She sounds almost American, but Simon detects an accent hiding in the elongated vowels. ‘Then you wouldn’t have to puff and huff.’
‘Huff and puff,’ Simon says, in between huffs and puffs.
‘We huff first, then we puff,’ he explains. He holds out his hand, ‘Simon.’
‘Adelina,’ says the girl, but she doesn’t take the sweaty palm Simon offers. ‘Thank you, Simon, I will try to remember to huff first. But you should have taken the tram. I don’t think you will make it to the top.’
‘The tram looked hot and crowded,’ Simon explains. ‘And at the hotel they told me to watch out for pickpockets – especially on Electrico 28. Anyway, I’m fine, I’m fitter than I look. I’ll make it.’
Simon pushes on up the hill, he turns once to see if the girl is following, but she’s just watching him, an amused look on her face. Simon’s legs are pumping like pistons, his heart is bursting out of his chest, and the sweat marks under his arms have joined together, turning his t-shirt almost black. It is only the thought of Adelina’s mocking that keeps him going.
When he reaches the shady part of the route he leans against a dilapidated graffiti-laden wall, the plaster crumbling on contact and falling to the ground in a blizzard of flakes. Adelina laughs and runs effortlessly up the path towards him. It’s as if she’s floating on a breeze, only there is no breeze, just muggy oppressive heat.
‘Half the way there, Simon,’ she says and claps her hands.
Simon looks up and sees that Adelina is right. On two counts. He is only halfway there, and there’s no way he’s going to make it to the top.
‘Maybe I should take the tram after all,’ he says.
‘But the pickpockets!’
‘I’ll take my chances.’
Adelina smiles, ‘I make you a deal. I teach you about pickpockets so you can take your tram, okay?’
‘And in return?’ Simon asks. Adelina doesn’t seem to understand. ‘What do you want from me?’
‘A kiss from a beautiful English boy!’ she claps her hands again and laughs.
Adelina and Simon lean against the wall side by side. ‘See the man there,’ she says. ‘In the green t-shirt, and that one, the tall one behind the fat man with the blue and white striped shirt, and the lady in yellow, do you see them? They are working together. They dress like tourists, but see how they stand back from the crowd? They are looking for a victim. Now watch.’
Simon watches. As the tram trundles up the street, the first man steps forward and drops something on the ground, as he bends down to pick it up his accomplices close in on the man in the striped t-shirt. They move fast. The tram reaches the stop, blocking Simon’s view.
‘Did you see it?’ Adelina asks.
‘I think so, the tall man took the fat man’s wallet, right?’
‘No, you missed it! It was the girl. The green t-shirt is the decoy, but so is the tall man, he pushes to make the victim push back. When he’s busy pushing the tall man, that’s when the girl moves in and takes the money.’
‘So the girl has the wallet, shouldn’t we do something?’
‘Too late, see the man over there,’ Adelina points down the street. Simon can’t see anything except a man in the distance hurrying away. ‘He has the wallet now.’
‘Him? He’s miles away!’
Adelina nods. ‘Now you know all about the pickpockets, I claim my kiss,’ she says.
On a narrow street halfway up one of Lisbon’s famous seven hills, a sweaty English boy and a mysterious Portuguese girl in a flowerprint dress embrace and kiss. They take their time, enjoying the taste of each other’s lips. The girl wraps her arms around the boy’s body and kisses him gently on the neck, then pulls away.
‘Now, go catch your tram, English boy,’ Adelina says, still laughing. ‘And no more huffing and puffing!’
Simon watches her skip up the hill. She slips down a side street and disappears. Simon realises he is grinning. His jaw hurts, but he can’t stop. He feels almost light enough to skip after her, but his legs still ache so he crosses the road and queues for the tram.
He is still grinning when the tram pulls up. He grins at the pickpockets, unnerving them so they step back and leave him alone. He grins at the conductor when he asks for his fare. And he even grins when he reaches in his pocket for some change and discovers that Adelina didn’t just steal his heart. She stole his wallet too.
Written for the Daily Post: A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words Challenge. Click the link for details and maybe give it a go yourself? Mine is exactly 1000 words – it wasn’t obligatory, but I like counting words and it just happened to be pretty much 1000 words worth of story. Hope you enjoyed it 🙂