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Not, perhaps, what one would expect in an historical romance, but very reflective of one who finds heat evervating!

Old and tired, she proceeded with care. Because the streets of Lisbon were paved with a type of white, broken tiles connected with gray grout, and because those same tiles were in poor condition, she used a cane to help with balance.

            A blistering sun baked the city in its relentless heat. Today, as always, she endeavoured to hug the shadows of the trees in the boulevard. Awnings jutting from storefronts also offered some respite. In spite of her best efforts, freckles, absent since adolescence, dotted her face. Her new cork hat with its narrow brim offered minimal protection. It covered most of her white hair and shaded the tops of her ears, but exposed her neck. Sun block or no sun block, skin damage and a nasty burn were all too possible.

            Doing her best to ignore the heat and a glare that seemed to penetrate her clip-on sunglasses, she kept her thoughts focused on the Yellow Bus sign which was slowly becoming visible. She willed it to be the right Yellow Bus sign, not just one of the city buses.

            Lisbon’s main roads were in stark contrast to the charming, winding streets of the less-travelled areas. The main thoroughfares often featured two auxiliary lanes between the sidewalk and a long island, with bus shelter and light standard. The islands bordered the broad centre designed to permit the swift flow of traffic.

            It really wasn’t the expenditure of the thirty-five Euros for the two-day pass, she mused. It was an attempt to look friends in the eye and say she had seen such and so building without burdening them with the knowledge that the viewing was external. And fleeting.  She refused to be daunted by heat and exhaustion.

Timing her departure to avoid the morning rush hour, she was able to cross the first two lanes at something less than an inelegant hobble. The only shade was offered by the garbage receptacle attached to the lamp post. Its dimensions were paltry compared to her own, but by utilising what was available, she avoided direct rays on her face and pretended to feel cooler than she was.

She waited. And waited. Surely her watch stopped unless her eyes were upon its face. Three minutes seemed like an hour. Yesterday the thermometer registered thirty-five degrees by noon, and today was hotter still.

            Finally, after five yellow city buses had taunted her with their empty seats, air conditioned interiors, and annoying signs indicating city routes, she read the magic words, The Yellow Bus, flowing slowly across the screen of the oncoming vehicle.

            Ensconced in the seats designated for handicapped patrons, she unwrapped the earphones supplied by the driver, plugged them into the receptacle, and determined that the English commentary was broadcast on channel two. She folded her cane and placed it in her handbag, mopped her dripping face and neck with a tattered tissue and prepared to enjoy Lisbon.

She congratulated herself on such a brilliant solution to a problem which had loomed as overwhelming. Under no illusions about her physical limitations, she knew that a bus ride around the entire route—the longest of the five to which her ticket gave her access—would let her tap dance around some of the sightseeing questions friends and family would ask upon her return.

            The driver eased the bus into traffic with consummate ease. Destruction of a further two tissues had reduced the flow of perspiration to a moderate drip, and she prepared to enjoy the view. Alas for the best laid plans of old women. The purring of the motor blended with the movement of the vehicle as it stopped and started in gentle obedience to traffic laws. The delightful Fado music which filled the interludes between those sights and locations worthy of mention by the mellow voice of the virtual conductor had their inevitable—and soporific—effect. Her eyes closed, and she woke when her head jerked in that bob so beloved of those who sleep in an upright position. She opened her eyes to check the location.

            Unlabelled buildings lined the route. The road had narrowed.  The driver was an artist at the wheel. The music continued its mock-lively tune in a minor key. The narrator’s voice was still in abeyance. No more sleeping, she resolved: time to pay attention and prepare for the inquisition which awaited her. She blinked and jerked awake at the next chicken-bob dance of her head.

            And so it continued. When the voice spoke, her sleepy brain sent a message and her eyes flew open. Her head swivelled quickly from left to right and back again in an attempt to locate the object of the narrative.

            Then she discovered that by scrunching down just the teeniest bit she could rest her head on the back of the seat. Quite aware that she had been providing the other occupants of the bus with a free show with her head bobbing-jerking-swivelling, she realised that this unexpected headrest would deprive them of their amusement and give her some dignity.

            She woke abruptly to the sound of a voice, inexorably encouraging her to view yet another historic site, only to discover that the head dance had been replaced with the open mouth. Because her seat was the first one, she had not only provided unwonted amusement for those hopping off and on, but had probably added a contrapuntal bass of snoring. The only redeeming fact was that she hadn’t added drooling to her act.

            Naps finished, her knowledge of Lisbon increased, she successfully de-bussed at her starting point and tottered back to her hotel.


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