There I was, in the middle of breakfast (toast and marmalade for those interested) when Filomena arrived. Nothing unusual in that for she arrives every weekday morning at the precise time of 9:07 and, knowing us Brits are interested in such things, presumably to the exclusion of all other things, proceeds to give me the daily weather report.
I knew something was wrong, seriously wrong, when the morning’s opening line was not the usual ‘Bom Dia, muito calor’, followed be the weeks forecast, the time of high-tide at the nearest beach and the fact that parts of the uk were in flood. But what really gave it away were her shoulders which were in rapid repetitive Gallic shrug mode, the beating of her ample breast and the tears that were coursing down her cheeks.
Immediately jumping up and placing a sticky hand on her arm I asked what the problem was. Between hyperventilating sobs the only words I could make out were meu, marido and morreu my, husband and died. Now although over the years I had only met the man on perhaps a dozen occasions, I really liked him. Whenever I saw him and whenever he spoke to us he was smiling – a proper smile, a smile where the eyes also smile, he was charm personified, even when he pruned our two-hundred year old olive tree just before winter set in and the need for firewood was at its height.
I called Sophie in and explained, she was both upset and horrified that Filomena had come in that day and would not take the day off. No she couldn’t do that as she ‘needed to work as usual’. “Stay with your daughter” said Sophie and let me do something for you, can I make you some food?” Now Sophie’s answer to any crisis is to make food. Someone’s ill, make food. a failed eye test, make food. The dog’s been run over, make food, but Filomena was insistent that only she makes the food. Just as well as for I don’t think Sophie’s signature dish of Salade tiede of mousserons. mussels and crosnes would have gone down too well with the natives of our village.
Eventually I managed to understand that the funeral was at 10:30 the following day at the church in the old town and knew that I needed to be there to show my respect to the family but never having been been to a Portuguese funeral and come to that, not many church funerals at all, I needed a quick update on procedure. Flowers to the house, flowers to the church, flowers to the undertakers, no flowers?
I telephoned my Portuguese neighbour/language teacher. “Anthony, are you ok?” she said. When I said yes she shrieked at me to get off the phone I was costing her a fortune - she was in New Zealand. This was not my day and I hadn’t even managed to finish my breakfast.
The following day at ten fifteen and flowerless I, with approximately one hundred others, was at the entrance to the church and watched the coffin being taken in. I took a seat at the back and stood and sat when everyone else did and scanned my fellow mourners. I saw Filomena up near the front with her son-in-law but they were the only people I recognised. After the service I followed everyone out of the church and, hatless with the sun directly overhead and the temperature in the mid-thirties prepared to dutifully follow the cortege to the outskirts of the town. I looked at the hearse bedecked in flowers, to which I had not contributed and did a double take, for there, directly behind the hearse with his nose almost touching the rear window was Philomena’s late husband’s twin brother. I never knew he had a twin but he had to be as he was identical. He was even wearing the same watch with the red and black fabric strap, the only difference between the two brothers was that this one wasn’t smiling but then I reasoned, he wouldn’t would he, following his late brother’s body.