When I was a young child I loved to read fairy tales, princes and princesses, mermaids and witches, magical wishes and dreams come true. I fantasised about a handsome prince knocking on my window one night, and whisking me away on the back of his gleaming white horse.
It never happened of course, probably because being a handsome prince he had lived a coddled life and therefore was ill equipped to deal with the peculiarities of our back gate, if you didn’t turn the handle just right, instead of the door opening, the whole frame would lurch dangerously towards you. Had the prince managed the vagaries of our back gate, he would then have had to manoeuvre his horse down through the alley, it was quite narrow and not really designed for horses, that might have put him off a bit too.
Our house was a big Victorian affair. We lived in one half of the ground floor and my bedroom was an extension with a flat roof, tacked on to the back of the house. My room was small and cosy, the window had a view of the next door garden, provided I stood on the far left of the window, otherwise it had a view of it’s opposite number in the house next door.
The feature I loved best in my bedroom, was the other window, a small one high up in the back wall. It had a latch opening which for many years I could only reach by standing on my dressing table that stood under it.
Being at the back of the house and far from any street lights, at night my bedroom was very dark. Through my little window, I could just make out the shape of the tall poplar trees in the garden, which would lull me to sleep as they rustled and sang in the wind, the owls that nested in them occasionally calling out to each other. The trains of the distant metropolitan line made the tracks zing a zing as they approached, quietening to a rumble as the trains continued on their way, over and over, the sounds far-off and comforting.
On the night of the full moon, my room was transformed. The moon would hang, a huge illuminating ball, right in the centre of my little window. There was no curtain to diminish the moons brightness, try as I might, sleep was impossible until the moon slid on its way and out of my room.
In my romantic fantasies, some thing I hadn’t reckoned on was the shock that comes with having someone unexpectedly knock on the bedroom window in the middle of the night.
When I was aged about 14 and no longer expecting a prince, (well at least not on a horse) I was sure I heard some one walking around on the flat roof above my bedroom. I went and told my mother, she was sufficiently concerned to go up stairs and talk to the neighbours, just in case it was a burglar. She came back saying they had checked the room which looked out over my roof, the window was shut and they couldn’t see anyone out there. I went back to bed.
Some time later a leg came down onto the window sill of my little window, my immediate reaction was to pull the duvet over my head. I don’t remember ever reading in any of the fairy tales, of princesses hiding under the duvet when a prince came to call, may be they had never been warned of stranger danger, not that a duvet offers much protection.
Realising that my reaction was less than useless, I dared a look. There were now two legs, then a bit of body and then a face came into view. I leapt out of bed, yelling for the dog who, believing some major misdemeanour was being blamed on her, promptly hid under the table.
My parents were almost as bemused as the dog as I, gabbling about someone at my window, grabbed the dog by her collar and dragged her to the back door. I literally threw the dog out of the door, she stood and looked at me for a moment before deciding that I must, for once, actually want her to bark. The dog duly rushed off down the alley to the garden, barking for all she was worth, the intruder was of course long gone. My mother went back upstairs where the neighbours found they had indeed been robbed.
When I met Neu, one of my friends commented that I had always wanted a fairy tale of my own, she said I’d found my prince in Neu.
When he and I first met, I didn’t speak Portuguese and he didn’t speak any English, conversation was difficult but we understood each other very well. Another friend said in his experience, the problems in relationships only begin when people start talking to each other.
Something incredible happened when Neu took my hand and he won my heart with his kindness. He bought me fish everyday, the only thing he had to give me, and when he knew he had my heart, he painted my name and those of my children in huge letters on the sail of his boat for all to see.
Sometime later, when his boat was entered in a regatta, he had the sail painted with the logo of the capoeira group with whom I had first come here, the people who introduced us, it was his way of saying thank you for them having brought us together, our names were painted underneath.
He takes me out on the boat and shows me the magic of the sea, teaching me to sail the boat and patiently explaining nautical things, over and over when I just don’t get it. He listens when I tell him things and tries always to make things right, and when I’m down or feeling stressed, he takes my hand and leads me out onto the kitchen dance floor, and there we dance our troubles away. A fairy tale? Maybe.