“Why does God love to smite me?” I lamented. “And where’s Milky Boy?”
It was a hot morning as we walked through Lisbon, ambling through side streets in the broad direction of a market I thought Annie might like. She took the gigantic milk-flavoured bright-orange vape we’d accidentally purchased the night before and handed it to me. I puffed on it and sighed.
“You don’t get smited,” said Annie. “It was just a weird night. And anyway, this is payback for Budapest.”
“Budapest?! It’s hardly the same!”
I began to laugh. The strange nature of our long-distance friendship has meant that each reunion over the years has taken place in a different European city. As a result, I sometimes find that our conversations sound like clichéd dialogue from espionage thrillers – those scenes where two old agents meet up and say things like ‘relax, this won’t be like Sarajevo’ or ‘man, it’s Istanbul all over again’, or ‘we don’t talk about Budapest’.
It was a long, blinding-white walk to the market, and my forehead throbbed in the heat. I get spooked by the heat now, ever since Lake Bled last year when I tried to cycle up a mountain in the blazing sunshine. I lasted 45 minutes before I collapsed off my bike from exertion, vomiting powerfully into the bracken while a topless Australian man poured water over my hyperventilating body. It’s not the sort of thing you’re keen to try twice.
The market was cool: we ate some juicy burgers, explored a quirky bookshop, and I dropped Milky Boy on the floor and his head cracked off. We were distraught – we had grown quickly accustomed to his frosted-cornflake-scented clouds – and pocketed his corpse for future revival, once we could find some masking tape.
We took a taxi to the beach at the height of the afternoon. The cab out that way is a gorgeous ride; you drive over Lisbon’s giant bridge, hundreds of feet high, into the open arms of the giant stone Jesus that watches over everybody from a distant hilltop. To my right was the ocean, glittering so brightly it hurt to look at, and over my left shoulder was a sweeping view of Lisbon and its hilly streets. Like painted wooden backdrops wheeled to and fro at the transition of a play, Lisbon’s colourful pastel apartments slid towards and behind one another as the city shrank in the taxi’s rear window. For reasons I cannot articulate, seeing the great sprawl of a city diminish into one dense shimmering patch always precedes the same three thoughts: I wonder who’s having the luckiest, most fabulous day in the entire city? I wonder who’s having the unluckiest? And I wonder through which of those many thousands of windows the most debauched, sordid, insane scene is unfolding? You never know.
Our taxi got stuck behind a boy as we neared the beach. We were navigating narrow streets, creeping along between closely-parked cars and bikes, and we turned a corner to find a small, portly boy sauntering down the centre of the road. Our driver beeped the horn at him several times, but like a cud-chewing cow down a Delhi sidestreet, the boy didn’t flinch. I considered the possibility that he had headphones in, or was deaf – but for five long minutes he remained so staunchly focussed on maintaining his exact path and gait and plodding pace that it can only have been deliberate. Our driver cursed and cursed, sticking his head out of the window and flinging his hands around as though launching invisible frisbees in all directions.
We sat on a bench overlooking the beach. The sun had a few hours left, still hot, and I took my top off and tried not to feel self conscious in front of the bronzed Portuguese people drifting by and raising their eyebrows at my flamboyant whiteness.
“Hey, wanna try it out?” said Annie.
I followed her pointing arm to the spot where a seesaw sat alone in the sand.
“C’mon Danny Boy. It’ll be fun!”
With a grumble I accepted and trudged over to the seesaw, draining the last drops of a can of cola. People are always making me do things I don’t want to do.
“If you crush my ballbag I swear to god,” I sighed.
I swung one leg over, gripped the metal bar, and Annie pushed off with her legs, sinking me to the floor with a bump. I pushed in turn and rose up, and at the top, when Annie hit the floor, the jolt of it sent me an inch out of my seat. Then I leant back and dropped down and Annie sailed up into the air. Our eyes widened at each other, full of mischief.
We seed and we sawed, breathless with laughter, until I thumped Annie too high into the air and she plunged off into the sand.
We lay on the beach, each using one of my discarded shoes as a makeshift beer holder, with the late afternoon sky golden and clear.
“Okay boys, let’s take the gummies.”
I made a noise like this: hmm. I knew Annie had brought shroom gummies over from the US, but I was hoping she’d forgotten. There was too much going on at home for me to feel relaxed enough to get wavy. I felt calm enough in the moment, sure, but I knew somewhere in the corners of my mind I still had the stresses of the job hunt, the flat hunt, teaching, money, the future, everything.
“I think I’ll give it a miss. I can’t be arsed being locked into some grinding desert trip in the sun.”
“It’s not like that, they’re super weak. You’ll barely even notice dude, I promise.”
“You said that about the weed gummies in London and I went insane for three hours.”
Annie laughed. “Okay, yes, but those were stronger. I promise you boys, these are really weak. It’ll be fun. No visuals.”
“But my tolerance is horrendous. I get visuals from a joint.”
“Well – okay. You’re my friend and I respect you and I would never force you to do anything you didn’t want to. But you can trust me, you’ll barely feel it.”
I looked at Annie and narrowed my eyes in a mock seethe. I mulled it over. I had nothing else to do.
Annie hadn’t been lying: the gummies were indeed mild. They made me a little woozy, but no woozier than one beer, and they made the ocean look very beautiful – but it was already beautiful, of course, so it was hard to tell where the effect ended and where simple sober appreciation of nature began. What they certainly did do, however, was put me in one of the silliest, goofiest moods I’ve had in recent memory.
We left the beach after a few hours chatting on the sand and a brief paddle. Annie and I found shells that we thought each other would like; I gave her a gleaming black one and she gave me a sandy-coloured one with a couple of chips in it (which I lost within 15 seconds). We bought a couple of beers in a beachfront bar, then wandered down a long jetty made of rock to watch the sunset. Annie told me about the green flash that supposes whizzes across the sky for one second at the exact moment of sunset; we didn’t see it.
As we sat and watched the sun go down and the clouds turn red, I found, increasingly, that I couldn’t take anything seriously – not even remotely. Anything Annie said I somehow tossed back at her transformed into a stupid pun, or in a foreign accent at a jaunty pitch. I couldn’t stop, one second yelling ‘slaaay giiiirl!’ at the fiery scarlet slash of the sunset on the horizon, next thing launching into a Dracula impression which I could not bring myself to cease for a full five minutes.
Sunsets make you think meaningful thoughts. The ocean makes you think meaningful thoughts. And we did speak of meaningful things – but only briefly, because the mudslide of goof thrust upon me by the shrooms wasn’t letting up.
“You really beat yourself up too much. I think you carry a lot of guilt with you, dude,” said Annie, as we sipped our beers and watched a dozen black crabs scuttle over the rocks below.
“I know I do,” I replied, with a sigh. And then the shrooms spiked unexpectedly and wrestled the helm from me, and with an opulent Matt Berry-esque boom, I lifted my legs and shook them at the ocean like a Muppet. “I’m rrrrrriddled with it!!!!!”
Annie launched and groaned, horrified by the monster she’d created.
Back in the city we ate dinner at a cosy seafood restaurant, filled with a party of beautiful, happy and atrociously loud Spanish people. Annie encouraged me to try a few seafood dishes which I habitually avoid. She applauded me for sucking the juice out of a shrimp head. It was delicious, and I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t think it’ll ever be a go-to dish. It’s so visceral. It can’t help but picture a tiny man on my plate and I’m there pulling his arms off and snapping his legs and chonging on his neck.
We’d been intending to meet up with the girls from the previous evening, but we were both sleepy and satisfied and decided there wasn’t much point. It’d been a pleasant and busy day. Annie had a Hinge date lined up for the late evening, but she let that slide too. She said she was too tired and couldn’t be bothered, but part of me wondered whether it wasn’t on my behalf. I felt a little guilty – I wanted her to have fun – but I felt grateful we got to spend more time together.
We sat in a park on the way home, empty in the warm night, and we talked a while. I talked about the past – I always talk about the past – and after a while we ended up talking about Berlin. Annie told a horrendous story that made me laugh.
“I mean, who wants to walk into a bathroom and find somebody else’s shit-soaked butt hose?”
Shit-soaked butt hose. Nobody has a way with words quite like my mate.