AK ’23 | Ships in the Night

As the sun rose on our second day in Lisbon, I lay in bed dreaming a strange dream. It felt like an astral projection: I could see myself asleep in my bed, see Annie asleep across the room, but I was able to get up and walk around – and Annie too. I talked to the dream Annie as the real one slept.

“Let her sleep dude,” said the dream Annie. “Let’s go explore until she wakes up.”

I said okay and we left our corporeal forms behind, tucked up, and went out to explore Lisbon – except it wasn’t Lisbon, it was Marrakesh, it was Cartagena, and people whizzed by on motorcycles and wooden cranes lifted palettes of dusty bricks overhead and welders threw sparks on the pavement and we ducked into a carpet shop and got into an argument with the salesman, who was insistent that we take something. The atmosphere soured, we irritated the locals, and we got chased back to the hotel and dove back into our bodies – and I woke up.


I told Annie about my dream while we had breakfast in a little cafe. I’d bought a coffee, an orange juice and a little ham and cheese sandwich for €4, which I felt excellent about. We sat outside to eat, hidden in the shade of awnings and tree boughs. Lisbon streets feel very cluttered and busy; they’re narrow, too narrow and windy and steep, as though the city’s original planners had no idea of how many people would one day live there and no concept of automobiles whatsoever. If you pedestrianised the whole thing it’d be a paradise, but as it stands, the thin strips of pavement makes exploring a little wearying – you’re never more than a foot away from being flattened by some windswept hipster on a moped.

That said, the city is very beautiful. I like the tiled exteriors; I like the turquoise and the yellows and the salmon pinks, and I like the miniature square cobbles in their diamond patterns, even though they’re often loose and make it easy to trip up. I like how everybody sits outside too. We can’t really do that in England; it rains too often, and if it’s not raining then it’s freezing, and if it’s neither it’ll be blowing a gale – and on the rare days where it’s actually warm enough to sit outside, everybody gets too excited and starts fighting in lumps.

A boy and a girl were sat behind Annie, eating breakfast. The girl was English, the guy was American – the reverse of us – and they were both attractive in a grunge-chic sort of way, all dolled up in artsy garb and beads and piercings, covered with tasteful tattoos. I eavesdropped a little and it became clear they were expats who’d made a home in the city. They spoke in a very carefree manner, excited about some party happening later and seemingly oblivious to everybody passing by on the thin pavement. It reminded me of how we all used to be, me and Vic and Annie and Dave and everyone, all running around Berlin back in the day. I felt a pang of nostalgia, and began to imagine what life might be like if I moved to Lisbon. I’ve learned that lesson already though: you can’t repeat the past.

I’ve also learned, however, that that’s not always such a bad thing.


We spent the day exploring. Neither of us had anything in particular that we wanted to do or see in Lisbon, but then we didn’t want to waste our time in the city either. We walked down to the waterside, through the enormous main plaza – nauseatingly bright in the daytime – and then I dragged Annie up the winding endless staircases of Alfama. Alfama is an ancient district in Lisbon – a mad collection of crooked steps and hidden squares and washing lines strung across streets so narrow you could lay your palms flat on each opposing wall. Shutters open on you without warning and old men lean out for a cigarette; little old ladies straighten the fabric draped over wonky trestle tables weighed down with miniature bottles of port. We didn’t have long to take it in though; the sun was beating and the climb was rough, and we laboured to the top sharpish to get it over with.

Christ I need to stop vaping.”

We talked about rapping as we wound through the city. I told Annie about Rhymes Highlighted, a Youtube channel where they scroll through the lyrics of influential rap songs on-screen while the song plays, karaoke style, except each pair of rhyming syllables is highlighted in a different colour. It’s cool: you see deeper into the artistry of it all. I told Annie about a favourite lyric of mine, from You Oughta Know by Das Racist. It’s not a clever or meaningful line, it just has a brilliant cadence:

I’m in the middle of Little Italy.

Try it – say it. It’s most fun to say in an American accent; there’re so many ‘diddly-dee’ sounds in it that your tongue gets lost. Annie decided to make her own, harder version:

I’m getting litty with Lily in the middle of Little Italy.

We chanted it as we walked: dehydration was clearly starting to kick in.

When you reach the top of Alfama there’s a viewpoint close by. Viewpoint is the same in Portuguese and Spanish: mirador. I saw it written everywhere in Latin America and I remembered the translation because it sounds like ‘mirrorball’, and at the time the Arctic Monkeys had just released a song called ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’ and so every time I had to hike somewhere and was getting all sweaty and frustrated I would get the song stuck in my head but with the words changed to ‘there’d better be a mirador’, which I thought was quite witty.

We sat at the viewpoint and looked out at the city, drank one water and one small beer each, then went to a secret little tucked away bar, close to the viewpoint but tucked away so you won’t see it unless you already know it’s there. We talked to the barman, who was a very friendly artist from Angola, and we drank tall beers and had surreal conversations overlooking the city’s clay-coloured rooftops.


We weren’t sure what to do with the rest of our day, but Annie ruled out any more strenuous walks. We felt like meeting people, but our attempts at chatting to anyone the previous evening had failed miserably: we got too wasted and spoke to nobody except each other.

“We could try my old hostel,” I said. “Sant Jordi. It’s really cool. We’ll easily meet people there.”

Annie is wary of hostels. She’s stayed in some crappy ones, party hostels by the sounds of it, and drew a hard line ahead of our Euro-trip: no dorms. She was happy to visit the bar though, so we got dinner at a pizza place close by, drank some potent juice called ‘green wine’ which neither of us had ever heard of and made us insane, and made our way to the hostel.

Sant Jordi is nice. It was originally a mansion owned by a wealthy family, but the daughter of the family got very sick. A local convent of nuns looked after the little girl, and when she died, the father gifted the house to the nuns as thanks for their efforts. After its long stint as a nunnery, it became a hostel – and one of the most beautiful I’ve ever stayed in. I took Annie inside, through the gigantic grand foyer of carved wood and marble, down the stairs, through the kitchen and into the expansive garden, in which backpackers were strewn around beneath lemon trees, drinking coffee and writing in journals.

We bought beers and talked to the man at the bar; he was from Chile and was volunteering for a few weeks there. He was the one who told us the history of the building, at the end of which I asked him whether it was haunted. I’d expected a chuckle, but he looked at us gravely:

I’ve never seen anything. But there are stories.”


We sat at a table and drank and talked and laughed loudly, and sure enough, people drifted over to sit with us one by one. A Canadian girl, a French guy, a French girl, a Brazilian girl. The Canadian girl taught me a few swing dancing steps. The French guy smoked a lot and talked about food. The French girl told me how she was institutionalised a couple of years ago for being nuts. And I didn’t remember anything the Brazilian girl said because she was very pretty.

The Canadian girl and the French guy left us at 10pm; they’d been out the night before and were tired. The two girls that remained wanted to go dancing. That’s how they said it: “I want to go dancing.” It always terrifies me when people say it like that. Dancing is never the reason I go out; it’s just something that happens when I am out – a side effect. I go out, or at least I used to, because I want weird things to happen, funny stories, bonding, whatever, not because I simply must dance. I mean, I enjoy dancing, sure, but on my own terms. I like to dance to my music, with my friends for as long as I feel like it. In a club you can’t do any of that – it’s all run to someone else’s watch, someone else’s taste, and there’s a constant stream of elbows in your ribs and feet on your toes: Hell on Earth.

But I went along anyway because I was fairly sure the Brazilian girl was into me.

Annie was quiet in the taxi ride over to Bairro Alto; I wasn’t sure why. When the taxi dropped us off and we bought drinks in the first bar, I asked if everything was alright.

“Eh, I’m okay boys, just not really feeling it tonight I guess.”

“Aw, mate. We’ll have a nice time. We don’t have to stay long. Do you think the Brazilian girl is hot?”

“Yeah but I’m pretty sure she’s straight,” Annie sighed. “Seems like she likes you though, you should go for it.”


We hit a few bars. They were all pretty trashy and lame, but I told my brain to shut up and it was fun. Annie and I sang Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi in a karaoke bar, air-guitaring all over the place, and after, high, I suppose, on post-performance adrenaline, I went over and asked the Brazilian girl what her plans were the next day – with the intention of my follow-up question being ‘would you like to get a coffee’. Her answer, however, stopped me in my tracks: I have a Tinder date.

“Oh,” I said, “Annie might be going on a date too.”

It was true: she’d been chatting to a Portuguese girl on Hinge and they were considering meeting the following evening – hence my eagerness to find someone to hang out with, so I wouldn’t be left twiddling my thumbs.

The Brazilian girl turned to Annie:

“Oh, you have a date too? Let me see!”

They showed one another the profiles of the date they had lined up, and Annie’s eyebrows raised.

“Oh, you’re meeting a girl?”

“Of course,” laughed the Brazilian. “Men? Are you kidding me? Ew?”

Well, darn. All at once my enthusiasm for the night drained out of me like water from a bathtub. Conversely, Annie’s interest in staying out longer mysteriously began to rise, our mojos crossing each other on the rise and decline, passing like ships in the night.


Not thirty minutes later I was slumped against the bar, prodding a straw at the ice in my rum and coke, watching with an expression like an Easter Island head as Annie and the Brazilian made out on the dancefloor. The French girl that got sectioned was nearby, dancing by herself, but I couldn’t be bothered to talk and instead occupied myself with watching the Formula One which was inexplicably being shown on a TV screen behind the bar at 2am. 

A little later on, when I’d gone outside for a pensive smoke, Annie materialised beside me.

“I thought you’d gone home boys, I was worried!”

“No, no. Just existing quietly.”

“I’m sorry about the girl dude. It was gonna be one of us. You’d have done the same if she was straight.”

“I probably would have, yes,” I smiled, reluctantly. “Do you mind leaving soon though? I’m getting a bit bored dancing by myself.”

“Yeah man, just say the word.”

“Thank you. You’re my best mate.”

“You’re my best friend too, boys.”


We got home in the early hours. I bought a kebab and got sauce all over my shoes and shorts, obviously, and we bought a gigantic vape to share, the flavour of which turned out to be ’Milk’. It was like inhaling a bowl of cornflakes. I cursed the heavens for my perpetual misfortune as we drifted home – which, of course, Annie found deeply amusing.

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