The monument stood tall on a street of Lisboa, in its entire colossal glory. I boarded the train to Porto. I sat by the window and opened ‘L’invitée’ at the page where I left off the night before. The old woman that was standing on the platform just minutes ago, sat across from me facing me. She must have been around seventy-seven. Seventy-seven just seems like a good age for her. Her hair was almost entirely white, her skin, albeit plummeting from the weight of the years, had a sunny glow to it. She must have seen me examining her, because when I lifted my head to assess her face, she was smiling at me. ”Vous aimez Simone de Beauvoir?” She asked.
Yes, at that age I liked Simone de Beauvoir more than ever. A couple of years before I had trekked in the cold to the Cimetière du Montparnasse to visit her grave. It was a rainy afternoon, and my stomach was severely upset that day. It could have been the jet lag, or the excessive amounts of caffeine combined with cream, a combination whose nocuous nature I was unaware of at the time. Still, sluggishly I arrived to the tomb. A midst patches of concrete and grass she laid there, by Sartre. I started to wonder whether it was her who was in his shadow, or him who was in hers, but I quickly realized that depended on the earth’s orbit.
I didn’t share any of that with the old woman on the train, for it wasn’t very interesting. Instead I replied ‘yes. I do’, and asked her how she knows french. That simple, almost banal question, led to her telling me tales from times long ago all through the train journey. She informed me that she left Portugal as a young girl at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. She arrived in Switzerland and took up a job as a seamstress in Lausanne. She stayed there for years, until she decided to move to New York, which was a short lived affair, because she ended up somewhere in Scandinavia shortly after that where she worked as a chef. She spoke of people she had known in previous years, and then she spoke of them passing. She spoke with fondness and admiration. Later, well after Salazar’s reign, she returned to Lisboa. I admired her life course, which she shared with such eloquence and youthfulness. ‘I never married, nor did I have children, so it made it easy for me to travel around and live my life exactly how I wanted it.’ Her openness was everything but intimidating, so I probed for further details. She informed me that she has made vows of celibacy early on in her life. She realized that life is a journey she wanted to pursue on her own. She wanted to take it all in, see places, meet people, live without societal expectations, and so she did just that. I was fascinated. I have never heard of anyone but nuns and priests making vows of celibacy. Did I give it a thought? Briefly. I was twenty-two and have had my fair share of disappointing encounters. But I knew nothing about love, or the limits accompanied with solitude at that point in my life.
I asked her if she had any regrets, and with such a certain humility she replied ”Absolutely none. I’ve lived, and continue to live a life of plenitude” The train slowly pulled into Campanha station. She gave me directions to my hostel and we boarded off. On the platform her nephew awaited with his children. The woman who’s name escapes me and I exchanged goodbyes and ‘have-a-good-life-s’ and parted ways, never to cross paths again.