Raquel and Arnaldo went up the stairs very slowly. I already had my floor, my house and my daughter were smiling at her.
Despite her age, Raquel had not lost the desire to smile and the necklaces chosen for the walk made her even more lively. I spoke of old age for fear that the years would bring a smile to a smile. Arnaldo didn’t smile. Raquel continued to fake life.
One day many times after asking us about my daughter’s age, name, and unique little codes that were set between those who have just been born and those who will soon be saying goodbye to him, I learned that Raquel had gotten sick. How did you know?
I had no idea how her life was organized until she got sick. On that day, on a certain day when smiles were no longer allowed, Raquel was staying in a different room from Arnaldo, so I heard her calling for him. I need help. I would wake up if she asked for help, and I myself asked very much for Arnaldo to come to her aid. Arnaldo had got used to Raquel helping him, so he didn’t know what to do. This ability to take care of something that ultimately sums up love was, in short, Arnaldo said, “What is it?” I knew what it was, but at three in the morning I couldn’t run to go upstairs and help Raquel.
There were many sad nights. I fell asleep fearful that Raquel would wake up and ask for help and that Arnaldo would not see her. Neither of them knew how to take care of a dying love – without knowing that it was already dying.
One day I woke up with Arnaldo, who was crying a lot. He cried like a child, not worrying that his moans of pain echoed through the building below. Raquel died, I thought. I was right. When I felt obliged to explain to my little daughter that what we were hearing was crying in pain, she asked, “But why is he crying if he wouldn’t help her?” I cried too. I just said: it’s love.
Half an hour later, maybe longer, Raquel came down the same stairs we had seen her smile on a silent stretcher wrapped in a cloth. For me, she always had the same necklaces, the same questions.
Many months passed without hearing Arnaldo. There was a scratchy phone that sometimes rang but was not heard at that point. Was it me who separated myself from the top floor?
One day while we were watching football at home, Portugal was playing against the world. That’s how we always see each other and don’t remember that we are this world too. The national team scored a goal and for the first time in many months I heard Arnaldo’s voice scream “Goal!”. Arnaldo was back and watched a kick that brought him back to life.
Arnaldo loved Raquel, but when she was dependent on him she couldn’t demonstrate it. I wasn’t prepared for that. He liked the logistics she was dealing with and flipped through the calendar page with no questions asked. Everything seemed to be written forever without question.
Today, years after all of this, I can still hear the phone ring and Arnaldo’s voice answering with all syllables: “Are you? Are you kind enough to tell me who is speaking? “.
Arnaldo has since died. I would have liked to ask you where love is when time goes by. Where the smile hides when the lips are worn out.
Old age hurts us when we go up the stairs without a smile, a tiredness that comes from within and forces us to use a measured and breathless compass.
They went to the top floor. They had each other, but did not yet know how to reach the neighboring heart.
I know Arnaldo loved Raquel, but he wasn’t taught to care.
Years later, I can still hear his howl slide down the stairs.