by Steve Carr
Sunlight reflected off the Monument of the Discoveries. As Henry the Navigator looked out over the Tagus River, so did Peter Myles. He had a pair of binoculars to his eyes and watched as sailboats, cruise ships, barges and cargo ships, travelled the glassy, blue water. He then scanned the 25th of April Bridge that connected Lisbon to Almada, and watched as traffic hummed across it. A slow-moving train traversed its lower platform. He lowered the binoculars and realized that Lloyd was still talking to him.
Lloyd was always talking.
He had a tourist guidebook in his hands and was flipping through the pages. ‘It would be nice to stay in a real hotel for a change, even a cheap one, but if we’re going to spend another night in a hostel we should find one while it’s still early.’
Peter let the binoculars drop against his chest, held there by a strap around his neck. He adjusted the shoulder straps on his backpack and turned away from the river. The large square that separated the monument from the beginning of downtown Lisbon was packed with tourists. On one of the benches in the square sat a young man with a backpack at his feet. He had a map spread out across his lap and was studying it. Peter watched him for several minutes, and when no one else sat down next to the young man, Peter said to Lloyd, ‘I’m going to sit down for a few minutes.’
Lloyd was still talking. ‘You like to sightsee. We could find a hostel in the Baxia area. There are tunnels that we could explore dating back to the Romans near the hostel there. If we do, I’ll need to buy a nasal inhaler at some pharmacy. Subways and tunnels play havoc with my sinuses. But you know that already, don’t you? That subway ride you suggested we take in Porto nearly killed me.’
Peter walked away.
Lloyd looked up from the guidebook. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To sit down,’ Peter said over his shoulder.
While walking through a flock of pigeons, Peter put his binoculars in their case and snapped it shut. He politely fended off a woman dressed in black who wanted to read his palm for ten euros. He reached the bench where the young man was still looking at the map, and plopped down. The bench shook.
The man glanced over at him and smiled genially, and then turned his attention back to the map.
Peter took from his shirt pocket the blue handkerchief he had bought in Lucerne and wiped the sweat from his forehead. ‘Sure is hot today,’ he mumbled. He looked over, and getting no response from the man, he said it again, louder and clearer.
The man looked at him. ‘Did you say something?’ he asked.
Peter wiped the sweat from his neck. ‘I was just commenting on how hot it is today.’
‘Yes, it is,’ the man said, with an added nod. He ran his finger along a red line on the map.
Peter tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket. ‘You’re an American also, aren’t you?’ Peter said.
The man turned the map over. ‘Yes, I am. Where are you from?’
‘Cincinnati,’ Peter said. ‘You?’
Peter removed his backpack from his back and placed it at his feet. He leaned over and reached out his hand. ‘My name’s Peter Yarbrough.’
The man shook Peter’s hand. ‘Jeff Longly,’ he said.
Peter scooted a few inches nearer to Jeff, pushing his backpack along with his feet. ‘Are you traveling alone?’
Jeff grasped the top strap on his backpack. ‘Well, uh, why do you ask?’
Peter chuckled. ‘Don’t get me wrong. I’m not out to rob you or anything like that. I saw you sitting here all by yourself reading that map and I wondered if you were waiting on someone.’
‘There is no one,’ Jeff said. ‘I prefer to travel alone.’
Peter pointed at Lloyd who was staring at him with an expression of impatience on his face. ‘I’m with him,’ he said. ‘Or I should say, he’s with me. I started out traveling Europe on my own and then I ran into him.’
Jeff glanced at Lloyd. ‘He looks like he’d be interesting to hang out with.’
‘I thought the same thing at first,’ Peter said. ‘His name is Lloyd Hudson. I met him in a faded restaurant in a small, rainy town on the main line between Brussels and Paris. There were mirrors on the walls all around the room. He was the only other customer in the restaurant and we struck up a conversation. He said that he had become separated from his traveling companion and had no way to contact him. We talked and shared a bottle of wine. He seemed perfectly okay. He said the mirrors were making him dizzy, so we left the restaurant and he’s been with me ever since.’
Jeff folded the map and tucked it into a pocket in his backpack. ‘You could have gone your separate ways if you had wanted to.’
‘It’s not that easy,’ Peter said. ‘He’s like gum that has gotten stuck on the bottom of my shoe.’
The woman in black came up to Peter and said, ‘Ter sua palma lida?’
‘No, I don’t want my palm read,’ Peter said.
The woman walked away.
‘Did you travel by train?’ Jeff asked.
‘Mostly, but we hiked the Camino de Santiago,’ Peter said. ‘All 500 miles.’ A chill went up his spine. ‘He complained the entire way that his feet hurt. I had to carry his backpack for more miles than I care to remember.’
Lloyd closed the guidebook and walked toward where Peter was sitting.
Seeing Lloyd walking their way, Peter said to Jeff, ‘Oh good, you’re going to get to meet him.’
Jeff looked at his watch. ‘I really should be going.’
Peter placed his hand on Jeff’s arm. ‘Please, I need to hear him talk to someone else other than me, even if only for a few minutes.’
Jeff lifted his backpack into his lap. ‘Okay, but just for a few minutes, and then I need to go find a hostel.’
When Lloyd got to the bench, Peter shifted to the far edge, leaving a space between him and Jeff. He pushed his backpack in front of him. He introduced the two men.
Lloyd regarded Jeff warily, but right off said, ‘Your face is sunburned. You should always wear sunscreen. I carry it with me all the time. I have sunscreen with a high SPF in my backpack if you’d like to use some.’
‘No, thank you,’ Jeff said.
‘Have a seat,’ Peter said to Lloyd.
Lloyd took his backpack off, placed it on the ground, and sat down between Peter and Jeff.
‘Have you seen all the sights in Lisbon?’ Lloyd asked Jeff.
‘No, I just arrived here this morning.’
‘Us too, but already we’ve seen almost this entire waterfront,’ Lloyd said. He pointed at the Belém Tower being admired by a hundred tourists. Its white tower was gleaming in the sunlight. ‘The guidebook says that’s some kind of major tourist attraction, but I just don’t find it that interesting.’ He opened his guidebook. ‘What guidebook do you use?’
‘I just travel by maps with no real agenda in mind,’ Jeff said. ‘I like to feel like an explorer when I travel.’
Lloyd shook his head and uttered, ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk.’
‘Lloyd has our entire route planned out according to his guidebook,’ Peter said. ‘From here we travel to Southern Portugal and then cross over to Spain. Isn’t that right, Lloyd?’
‘Poor Peter would still be staring at the crazy mirrors in a restaurant where we met if I hadn’t rescued him.’ Lloyd said with a smug chuckle.
‘Show Jeff the pictures you took inside that souvenir shop in Fátima,’ Peter said.
‘Oh, the religious statues in the shop were a real hoot,’ Lloyd said. He fumbled around in his backpack and pulled out his iPhone, found the pictures, and stuck the iPhone in Jeff’s face.
The woman in black came up to Peter with her hand held out. ‘Ter sua palma lida? Apenas dez euros.’
‘You’re persistent,’ he muttered, and then said to her, ‘Sim.’ He took ten euros out of his shorts pocket and handed it to the woman. He then held his palm out.
She studied his hand very carefully for several moments, and then said, ‘Você deve fazer sua própria fortuna.’ She stuffed the money into a skirt pocket and walked away.
‘I must make my own fortune,’ Peter mumbled to himself. He looked over and saw Jeff nodding politely as Lloyd explained in great detail every picture he was showing.
Surreptitiously, Peter picked up his backpack, stood up, and walked away.
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 200 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. He has two collections of short stories that have been published; Sand, published by Clarendon House Publications, and Heat, published by Czykmate Productions. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960. His website is https//www.stevecarr960.com.
For September Slam writers were invited to submit stories based on the following prompt provided by writer, novelist and publisher Nicholas Royle: “I met him in a faded restaurant in a small, rainy town on the main line between Brussels and Paris. There were mirrors on the walls all around the room.”
Nicholas Royle is the author of three short story collections: Mortality (Serpent’s Tail), Ornithology (Confingo Publishing), The Dummy and Other Uncanny Stories (Swan River Press), and seven novels, most recently First Novel (Vintage). He has edited more than twenty anthologies and is series editor of Best British Short Stories (Salt). Reader in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, he also runs Nightjar Press and is head judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize.
Nightjar Press is an independent publisher specialising in limited edition single short-story chapbooks.