Thursday, 29 January 2009


Moving countries, continents, worlds, plays tricks on the mind. While family are missed, it is friends that are missed the most, at least in this émigré’s book. Family are there in the beginning and the end, but during the thick part of life they flit in and out like butterflies, or crash in and out like rhinos, depending on the family. In the end it is friends that carry us and sustain us through our teens, twenties and thirties, even until we lose touch with those friends and replace them with wives and families of our own (or small Brazilian dogs and Wannabee Top Brazilian Models of our own as the case may be).

So with apologies to mother, brother and sister, it is friends that I have always missed in Brazil. I have made friends here, good friends even, but with Brazilians there will always be a line, a language barrier reef – jokes not understood, shipwrecked arguments, debates floundered on rocky grammatical shores and cultural faultlines. There is a word for this type of friend in Portuguese. I don´t have many friends, Paulo or Paula might say, but I have a lot of colegas – acquaintances, occasional drinking partners, someone you know well enough to cadge a lift to one of the beaches down the coast.

Colega - a friend but not really a friend. In some ways it often seems that Brazilians don´t much care who they spend their time with – as long as there is someone there to talk to. This can often be taken for tremendous friendliness, and while it is friendly, it sometimes feels more like a puppyish desire for company and affection from any petting hand that might be around.

The Girl With One Of The Biggest Smiles In The World, for example, who is definitely a colega and not a friend, and perhaps not even a colega (though is of course a very nice person), when told of Mr X’s trip to Sao Luis and Belem, leapt to her shapely feet and clapped her shapely hands. That’s wonderful, she said, I want to go there too. Let’s go together! Mr X has exchanged handfuls of small talk with TGWOOTBSITW, and once a lift from one place to another place that was 5 minutes drive away from the first place. And now TGWOOTBSITW is proposing a two week cross country trip together, a trip which will involve several 30+ hour bus trips, sitting shapely cheek by shapely jowl, and over fourteen nights in cosily shared accommodation. Which makes such an enthusiastic response as hers, to any chilly hearted celtic anglo-saxon, as confusing as questions such as where do clouds come from and why don´t bicycles fall over.

But this is not the reason for writing. My own response to the absence of friends I have known for twenty or even thirty years, friends that have helped me through work and relationship troubles, friends that have helped me financially, friends with whom I have spent the moments that form the memories and the experiences that make up the essence of who I am, is to carry them with me everywhere.

I hear their voices - their criticisms, their jokes, their anger, their happiness - wherever I go. Different friends appear to me at different times. When I stand on the terraces at Arruda and watch Santa Cruz, I am accompanied by friends with whom I stood on the terraces at Maine Road and watched Manchester City. This Adilson, we might say about Santa's clownish left-back, is worse than Michael Bloody Frontzeck was! When I am drinking in a bar, often alone, I am accompanied by the friends who followed me all the way to a thousand closing times, beer by beer, shot by shot, in Belfast and Manchester and London and a hundred points in between. There are distant friends, distant voices that I hear when a beautiful girl walks past in the street, when the sky turns a particular shade of orange and pink at the end of the day. There is a friend for music, a friend for books, a friend with whom to agree that that skinny bloke with the glasses was a proper arsehole, wasn’t he?

And there is one friend whom I hear more than all the rest, that I hear in all of these places and all of these moments and many others besides, despite that all has not been right between us in recent years. I will not use the word gone, for this friend has not gone. He will never be gone, I know that - though he is now in such desperate straits that I know I will happily pray to any God that can help him, and this from one who believes in no such God at all.

All I know is now that he lies stricken and quieter than he has ever lain before, I hear his voice, loud and bright and strong, wherever I go, and I know I will hear him speak tomorrow and the next day and the next day and for year upon year still to come.

1 comment:

Karen said...

way to put it..this one was definetly my fav! ps. I never noticed your writing skills..hehe