We sit quietly together sipping the thick dark wine, blood red and cloying to the palate. The smoke from strong Portuguese tobacco swirling and shifting in the candlelit glow, the throb of conversation fills the air, the words blown around us by the hot breath from the open door.
The guitarist ambles onto the stage carrying his instrument by the neck like a goose and sits on a small wooden chair. He settles down comfortably. leans his cheek against the guitarra and spreads his white fingers over the strings. He strikes a few chords in the darkness, warming his hands and his imagination.
As if drawn to him by the music, a small dark figure in a long black dress, the bodice nipped tight at the waist, moves to his side and watches him silently. The girl then moves forward into the light, her face waxen and grave, framed by the coils of hair that writhe about her shoulders like snakes, her eyes black as jet, juicy as fruits.
The conversation snaps shut and the audience draw close because they know that what they are about to see they will never see again.
The strokes of the guitar become more confident and free and the girl moves her body in time, swaying gently from side to side like a watch. At once the music becomes more urgent, the girl throws back her head and hits a high barbaric note, a naked wail of sand and desert, serpentine, prehensile. Trembling with emotion she begins the first verse, her breasts rising and falling with passion as she tells of lost love, storm tossed oceans and regret. Her lament driven on by the lash of the guitar and her all consuming love for the fiery bones of her Portugal. It’s a passionate entreaty, an animal cry thrown out over burning rocks, a call lost in air, terrible and impenetrable. She stands there, writhing and coiled in the words, unfettered and alone in her torment, the steady whip of the guitar seeming to strike her small body, sending it into paroxysms of hot movement.
Then it’s over and she runs from the stage, her hair streaming, her shoulders and back glistening with sweat under the lights. The audience stay hushed and silent for a moment as if turned to stone, and then with a sharp intake of breath the roar begins, filling the room and shaking the tables, making the candles sputter uneasily in their dishes.
We walk home through the wine dark streets with only the small beggar children, with their beautiful, diseased faces for company, and as we climb the stone steps to the room I pause for a moment to kiss you and feel once more the aching need for your deep embrace, your sweet, hot breath and love without end.