It was 16:01. The wind blows consistently outside. Branches and leaves of trees dance at the speed imposed by the wind itself, while dark grey clouds moved north, as it is typical in a day of rain.
My cell phone rang and I promptly answered it. I already knew what it was about, I only needed to know when. After finishing an apple, I grabbed by rain coat, entered my car, left the house on it and made my way to the cemetery of the town where I live.
After parking way far from the place, I made my way on foot to the place where the dead rest. Once there, I met with some familiar faces. Some more affected than others, but the look of their faces was all the same, despite of the degree that they could express.
I’ve met the man when I began to work on the bar, around November or December of 2015. An elderly, pale and thin looking man. For the age that he had, he was hardly lacking any hair. His friends called him “poupa” in my language. It was the hairstyle that Elvis used. This old man did not care one bit, about the kind of clothes that he wore when coming to the bar. It could be a red and blue rain coat with light brown corduroy trousers or whatever else, it did not matter to him.
For about a month, he had not yet memorized my name since he was always confusing my name with other similar ones who end in “el”. At the beginning of the afternoon, he was very calm, barely made himself noticed. But after a couple glasses of wine then the man would grab your attention even if he wasn’t doing so with purpose. Cheerful most of the time, he enjoyed to play cards with his friends and every Saturday this group of friends would come to the bar to eat, drink and then they would have dinner somewhere else. Always the same four member gang. They would soon return for another match of cards and to have a drink before returning home. More often than not, they would all go home early once the match of cards was finished. But the man that I described above remained. He stayed. He was not in a hurry to go home. With more than seventy years on his back, the last thing he wanted to do on a Saturday was to go home early, since he usually spent most of the week there.
With some amount of alcohol already in his system, this old man loved to talk about himself. About what he passed through in the various phases of his life. The “Ultramar”, the war that Portugal had with its colonies where he was stationed for Angola as infantry, even though he was trained as a paratrooper if I remember correctly. How he messed up in there and ended up in jail and when he was released, he managed to escape the country before someone got to him. When he returned to his home country, he migrated to France where he found work and then invested in Portugal, only to fail wherever he applied his money. Due to bad management caused by the people that he chose to be in charge of the businesses here, his investments normally resulted in loss. He also shared how people constantly tried to step over him and how he reacted to those situations. And even problems he had with his family and friends.
He was a man who knew his words. He knew how to speak in both ways and he used fancy words in his dialect. Either cordially or not, he was always cheerful. When the mood and the level of alcohol reached a certain point, he would sing “Fado”, a type of music that had its origin here in my country. Some thought of him to be annoying when he sang it, as for myself, it was quite the contrary. It was pleasant to hear him sing. The lyrics and the tone at which he usually sang had a level of emotion worthy of a show. I even drove him home once, because he was in no condition to drive.
Today, he was buried. Last summer, he discovered that he had lung cancer and that there was nothing he could do to cure it. The last time that I saw him was about a month ago, on the bar that I worked before. I did not talk to him because he was in a hurry but he seemed alright, with all things considered. Two weeks before this day, he was admitted in the hospital and that was the place where he had his final breath.
I participated in the funeral at the cemetery to bid him farewell. There were a lot of familiar faces in there, as expected. It is always hard to be present in those times, and for me, it is also a grim remembrance that I will not last forever, nor am I destined to live as long as the deceased did.
He will continue to live, in the form of memories in the people that were around him. I can only ask to have half of the joy and adventures that he had, since he certainly had a life well lived.
Rest in peace Valdemar.
PS: I have a short video of him singing. Although there is a lot of noise from the other people, I still want to share this. This is my tribute to that man and for what he contributed to my life by sharing his past experiences.