One more week until publication day for The Secret Life of Daydreams! In the mean time, I’m sharing the first chapter. Hope you will like it.
The Secret Life of Daydreams
by Lucinda Whitney
copyright © 2016
all rights reserved
Why had he come?
Josh Conrad palmed the steering wheel as the road curved right. He had left Portugal on a sunny October morning and was now back on a wet May evening. Eleven years was a long time. The twists and turns life had taken since then had somehow guided his path back to the nearby streets and squares, to the places he remembered and to the people he hadn’t forgotten. He had worked hard then.
This time, the work was different, and even though he had choices in the kind of jobs he took, he hadn’t planned to return to this part of the world. He preferred new places that didn’t provoke painful introspection. Maybe this trip wasn’t a good idea.
He rolled down the window a few inches. What was that Portuguese saying about thousands of water? Something fitting for this kind of weather. The rain lashed against the glass and sprayed his hair and forehead. He inhaled. The trees in early bloom, the asphalt, the richness of dirt not too far from the road. The scents were both familiar and foreign, rousing memories he had long put to sleep, memories he didn’t want to awaken.
At first glance, the city of Braga had grown. How they found the space for that growth was baffling. In the approaching evening, the blanket of city lights hugged the hillsides in places where only fields and trees had previously been. The sounds filtered in through the chink on the window—the traffic muffled by the rain, the nearby peal of a church bell, bits of conversation in a language he hadn’t heard in a while.
He longed to stop and take a closer look. The first reconnaissance walk would have to wait till morning, when the sun was up and the weather drier. Hopefully much drier. He wasn’t in the mood to carry an umbrella, one he’d have to buy first. At least the weatherproof sleeve for his equipment was packed in the camera bag. A few years back, when he’d started out in photography, he’d spent a month in Venezuela in the rainy season, four and a half weeks of holding a fraying umbrella over his camera and telelens as if he knew what he was doing. That mistake had cost him some crucial images, and it was a lesson he had learned dearly.
Josh had a full schedule for this trip, trying to fit everything he needed to do into the six-week work visa. Interviews and research could take place at any time and under any kind of weather, but the photos for this project required the trademark background of sunny skies and cotton clouds that Portugal boasted. That’s what his clients wanted, and that’s what he’d deliver. Good weather willing. He didn’t want to entertain the alternative if the wet days persisted.
The rain intensified and when his cell phone rang, Josh pulled to an empty parking space on a side street. He grabbed the phone from the center console and checked the caller ID. “You didn’t tell me it was raining.”
The man on the other side laughed. “I guess I didn’t. Are you in town yet?”
Josh rolled up the window. “I just arrived. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“You need directions?”
Josh tapped the screen on his smartphone, where a map highlighted the remaining distance between his position and his destination. “You still have no confidence in my navigation skills, do you, Paulo?” He couldn’t hold back the teasing in his voice.
They hung up and Josh replaced the phone. He waited for the passing traffic before turning onto the main road. The usual excitement that came with the beginning of a new job didn’t reach the proportions he was used to. That’s what happened when the city was too familiar, from a past life he didn’t wish to see resurrected. As the wipers slid on the windshield, he only hoped this trip wasn’t a mistake.
* * *
Sofia Monteiro had left the school ten minutes ago, and already she was soaked. Her red umbrella wasn’t much of a refuge from the heavy rains on that Monday afternoon. As the saying went, “Em Abril, águas mil.” Only April had come and gone and still the rain continued. It was the wettest May in her recent memory. Hopefully Mother hadn’t tried to pick the laundry from the line. Sofia would rather deal with a load of rain-soaked sheets than worry about Mother leaning out the balcony too far.
The way to the parking garage cut through Avenida Central and its gardens. The blooms on the linden trees weighed the air with their sweet fragrance, adding to the kind of spring day she so loved in Braga. At times, Sofia sat on a park bench to read in the shade of one of the centennial trees. The nearby bells in the twin church towers across the garden chimed every fifteen minutes with their familiar clang, and it didn’t take much to distract her as the pedestrians walked by. Today people hurried along hunched behind umbrellas, and she longed for her corner on the sofa, her woolen socks, and a cup of lemon balm tea.
When she rounded the corner, a man stood in the center of the square, facing away from her. He wore a backpack under a navy rain slick with a hood, and the water dripped from him onto the granite pavement as if he were a permanent fixture instead of a mobile one. As Sofia approached from the side, he turned, holding a covered object to his bearded face. It had to be a camera, though she hadn’t seen one protected from the rain in that fashion. The Nikon brand stamped in white letters confirmed her guess.
He was tall. For some reason, Sofia had always had a predilection for tall guys, and this one caught her attention. His height and build suggested he was not Portuguese, and she wished she could see his features to guess his nationality. It was a game she had played with her fellow workers on a job as a tourist guide in her late teens. After a few weeks of practice meeting people from other countries, she could guess any new tourist’s nationality. She still tried to predict their country of origin whenever she saw foreigners.
The man kept the camera in front of his eyes and Sofia slowed down, tipping her umbrella back slightly so she could have a better look. Nosiness—that was, curiosity—was a trait Portuguese people cultivated with blunt finesse, and one from which she couldn’t escape at times.
Dark hair stuck to his forehead, and his strong profile reminded her of an actor who starred in the British dramas she watched. He was lost to everything around him. Sofia knew that kind of concentration, the kind that sneaked up and obliterated all distractions. As a little girl, she had been easily distracted. She had tried to hide how she could daydream and disconnect from her surroundings in the most normal situations. All grown up, she still did it, both the dreaming and the hiding. She inhaled quickly as the sense of awareness increased, the kinship felt with a stranger who shared something with her. Not the photography, but the pursuit of a dream without interference. He didn’t even know she watched him.
He wore boots but Sofia didn’t and soon her shoes leaked and her feet were wet and cold. It pulled her out of her daydreaming and into reality. She didn’t have the time to look at men, even if they appeared to be interesting. It was beyond the list of possibilities in her life at the moment, and any related diversions meant nothing more than that. The thought didn’t surprise her, however maudlin it rang.
As she resumed the walk back to the car, Sofia planned to watch an episode of her favorite British show after Mother’s bedtime. In the comfort of the living room, she could gawk at foreign men out of the torrential rain and daydream of sunny days and long strolls with attentive companions.
If only reality could be as fulfilling as fantasy.