Photo Disclaimer: This is not me, nor my bus, but thanks for thinking so…
Since being an expatriate in Portugal I’ve forged the most unlikely of friendships. In fact, if life has taught me one thing up until this point, it’s that connections between people are often found in the strangest of scenarios, and shouldn’t be so much questioned as treasured.
For me, one of the brightest and most consistently positive relationships I have here in Aljezur is, unexpectedly, with my mechanic, who I’ll call Luis (not his real name). In Portugal unless you have a lot of money (I don’t), your car—or in my case, a 1999 Volkswagen Transporter bus—is usually either really old, in a constant state of disrepair, or both.
A good mechanic here is worth more than gold–“good” meaning one you can trust won’t rip you off or overcharge you, while still doing a decent job to ensure your automobile of choice stays on the road and passes the yearly Portuguese vehicle inspection that fills most residents with dread (and usually requires a monetary bribe).
I completely lucked out with Luis, a tiny Portuguese man who comes up to my boobs (I’m nearly 5’9”) and—while only about 10 years my senior—seems more like a wise and kind uncle than a contemporary.
Luis speaks—in addition to Portuguese—perfect English, German and Afrikaans, the last from a long stint living in South Africa; has been married twice; and used to be an avid motorcyclist who at one point suffered a severe accident that not only nearly killed him, but changed his outlook on life and his behavior forever.
From the first moment I met him, Luis gave me a calm, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it for you” feeling, something that—let’s be honest—is incredibly desirable in the guy who’s going to make sure your shitty van isn’t going to suddenly fall apart or veer off a cliff. I’m a generally nervous person (in case you haven’t figured that out yet), so this type of demeanor is not just something I value in a mechanic, but also in my friends.
Luis, in the five or so years that I’ve known him, has become just that. Lately, he’s also become a relationship counselor of sorts, listening to me sound off about my now ex-boyfriend (who he’s met a couple of times) and our troubles, and sharing with me his views on marriage (ie, if he had his life to live over, maybe he’d leave out that part) and how ridiculously sometimes people act in intimate relationships.
Today I had to meet Luis to get a couple of new tires put on my van. Rather, I had to pick him up at his shop and then have him drop me off in Aljezur to run errands while he went to another mechanic shop to fit the tires—which he’d gotten nearly new at a bargain especially for me. He was then going to pick me back up in town and I would drop him off at his office, which is just on the outskirts.
These types of arrangements are typical with Luis. In fact, the last time I had tires put on the van, he drove his motorcycle to my house to pick it up, drove it to have the tires installed, and then drove it back and picked up his motorcycle to return to his home in the nearby countryside. He didn’t even make me pay in advance, just asked me for the money after he’d finished the job.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had this type of relationship with a mechanic before. In fact, Luis sometimes even refuses to fix things because they will cost me TOO much money rather than fixes things needlessly (or breaks things so they will need fixing), like many mechanics. (This, in fact, was a running joke between my ex-boyfriend and me after Luis explained to him the seemingly infinite number of things that were wrong with my van but said he didn’t want to fix them because they would run up a huge bill.)
Luis greeted me with his typical, “Hello, beautiful.” He never misses an opportunity to tell me what a lovely woman I am (I suspect he says this to all the ladies, but no matter) and always greets me kindly and with a warm embrace in addition to the customary two kisses that is the Portuguese way.
We proceeded to drive into town, where I planned to run some errands while waiting for my tires. We joked about if I would be safe alone on the streets of Aljezur—a tiny village with little petty crime and a murder rate of about zero. As he dropped me off, Luis asked, teasingly, “What would your (insert ex’s name here) think about you walking around alone in dangerous Aljezur?”
I told him that he would think nothing of it, as he abruptly dumped me by WhatsApp message and hasn’t spoken to me in a week and a half. I tried to make light of it and we didn’t speak more about it, and I headed on my way.
Later, though, when he picked me up and we drove back to his office, the discussion got a bit more personal and intense. Luis, as I mentioned before, has been married twice, and it seems the first time was a rather painful experience.
We talked about the toxic cat-and-mouse game that exists in many relationships—including the one from which I just emerged–with one person doing the chasing and the other running away. “That’s what all the songs are about,” Luis said, alluding to the myriad pop songs about not knowing what you have until it’s gone (including the one very obviously titled “Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone” by the legendary hair-metal band Cinderella) .
“In my experience, when something becomes broken, it gets cracked and is impossible to put together again,” he said. Luis told me he tried very hard with his ex-wife but still couldn’t hold on to her. However, she came back to him later when all was said and done and told him that once he was gone, she idealized him and their relationship.
“I have a feeling that if you give him the cold shoulder, he’ll come back to you,” Luis said of my ex, thinking of his own experience. I mulled this over as he prepared to leave the car and said, “Well, if that’s the case, I absolutely won’t take him back unless we acknowledge this unhealthy dynamic and work on it. I’d even go to therapy.”
“Speaking of that,” I continued, “what do I owe you for this session?” Luis laughed, and said, “Nothing of course, my dear. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.”
Then, he stepped back and took a long look at my van, which he’d also fixed to the tune of 1,000 euros several months back. “I think your van is in good shape for awhile now,” he said, knowing that this also meant we probably wouldn’t see each other for some time.
“Muito obrigada, Luis,” I said to him. “And thanks again for listening to me. I’ll let you know what happens.”
I started to drive away, and he watched me for a moment before, his mind already on other things, turning back to his shop and the business of the rest of the day. I watched him in my rearview mirror for a second before stepping harder on the gas—a small, late middle-aged man in a blue mechanic’s uniform, shuffling peacefully back to his life’s work of repairing the problems that other people can’t fix.