It’s my first night in Lisbon and Brianna is raving about the party scene. She’s telling me about the bars, about the clubs, about walking around the city with open containers, past the cops, past the mustached men in black and red uniforms patrolling the metro platform. No one cares as long as you’re not acting the fool or causing a ruckus. Carry your forty, your bottle of wine, and just go. It’s so strange to hear her going on and on about it all, Brown undergrad, straight A’s always with her nose snorting life’s answers out of books. Brianna got drunk once over the summer. Stumbled over Eddy, Jack’s German Shepherd, and split her chin open on the deck. The blood oozed as she vowed she’d never drink again and I believed her then. But now she’s talking about caprianas and some strawberry liquor smoothie “you just have to try!” She answers her phone, “We’ll be there in fifteen, babe.” And I roll my eyes, ‘babe.’ You’ve got to be shitting me.
All I know is I have been awake for over twenty four hours, and its midnight in early spring and outside it must be somewhere in the mid 50’s. Brianna’s telling me that we’re going out early. Man, back in those Berkshire mountains things start up by nine and I find myself waltzing almost always, drunkenly, home by one. I’ve never been one for the party scene.
I don’t dance like most people do. What I do is, I get a little drunk, to let myself loose, and I throw my arms here and there, kick my legs by your ear, past his knee, limbs disconnecting and flailing and everyone laughs because they think I’m just being silly. I’m just dancin’ is all. I just don’t know how I feel about the possibility of embarrassing myself in front of a bunch of Brianna’s friends and strangers in a foreign country who I will most likely never see again anyway.
“Oh, here’s a fact for you: you can smoke inside pretty much anywhere,” Brianna tells me and my agitation quickly molds itself into rapturous joy before I feel disappointment slap my hand. Something tells me it might be wrong to get so excited over the prospect of smoking indoors. But if you’ve ever known the peace of drinking a nice cold beer in a warm bar, and holding a cigarette to your lips in the presence of good company, you’d understand.
We hop on the metro from Saldhana to Bairro Alto. Bairro Alto, where the bars are open until 4 AM and the clubs don’t let loose until 9. Bairro Alto, where the cobblestone streets are just massive sidewalks littered with alcohol bottles, empty packs of cigarettes, and glass. Where one in every five women wearing heels will either sprain their ankle or break their leg. Trash cans don’t exist there, you drop the trash on the ground, and in the early hours of the morning, sanitation workers turn on their jet power hoses and push all the debris to the end of the street, toward the statue of Fernando Pessoa—the famed Portuguese poet with multiple personalities and a liver that failed him, and of course it would, he was hanging around Bairro Alto.
On the metro Brianna tells me about her friends, who she figures I’ll like and won’t like, who she likes and doesn’t like. She’s rambling and her high pitched voice is stabbing through my ears and into my brain. I’m trying to build an imaginary sound barrier but I can still hear her jabbering on and on, and suddenly there’s a sharp metal clang and she stops speaking. I look up.
“That’s the metro rapper!” She squeals.
“I’ve never seen him before,” She pulls her phone out and starts text messaging one of her friends, “I’ve heard about him! He walks around the metro, banging his can and rapping. I didn’t believe it when they told me about him!”
I glance down the cart, and sure enough there he is: The Metro Rapper. He’s maybe 5’3 with short black hair, a terrible crew cut, with tufts behind the backs of his ears. A small wooden drum hangs around his neck. It is beaten and tanned and alive, the feathers on the edges are molting. He’s got an old tin coffee can in one hand and a walking stick in the other. The Metro Rapper is blind. He’s blind and he’s rapping and beating against the tin can, against the poles, against seats, passengers jump up startled, kids pull out their phones and take videos, and he doesn’t see any of it. He keeps hitting the can in time and there is rhythm in his metal madness.
“What’s he saying?” I ask Brianna.
“I have no idea,” she whispers back.
And it doesn’t really matter anyway, what he’s saying. He passes by us, he walks straight down the cart, he doesn’t stagger when the metro comes to a halt, spins himself around like a soldier and marches back, rapping something that sounds like “Tim, Tim, Tim, Da, Da Da, Na, Tim, Tim, Da, Da.” And I feel my feet stir, and my pulse beating in time with the smack, smack, smack against the sharp metal pole pole, of the aging drum, of the rusting tin can.
The metro stops and Brianna stands, ready to get off, “It’s our stop.”
I stay seated for a few seconds, watching the infamous Metro Rapper, spitting out his Portuguese rhymes and banging his cane, “Come on,” Brianna says as she begins to step out of the cart.
I rise, pause, grinning, impressed, and Brianna rolls her eyes. I shrug, and follow Brianna onto the platform thinking that I can sacrifice the cigarettes and the drunken conversations with company I will soon forget. I think I would rather go get a beer and jump back on this train, spend the early morning hours riding the metro back and fourth with The Metro Rapper, dancing like mad to the beat of metal.