Fiction

INTO EXILE

By 1964, Lisa’s parents, Will and Elizabeth, are divorced. For most people, the Sixties was a time of sexual awakening and experimentation, but it wasn’t until 1967 that gay and bisexual men could share that freedom.  So, Will leaves the UK with Thomas, to start a new life in Portugal, as Elizabeth allows a five-year-old Lisa to believe that her father has abandoned her.

The first time they set foot on the parched earth of their new home and future source of income, it came as a shock. Dropped by taxi during the late afternoon, they stood like a pair of refugees, surrounded by their modest collection of baggage. They were both still under thirty, blond and, outrageously good looking. Two young men that you would expect to find on the front cover of Vogue magazine and not embarking on a seriously get-your-hands-dirty project.

Tired and emotionally drained, they had stared out across the barren earth baking under the glorious Algarve sunshine. The heavy red clay soil had set like concrete due to years of neglect. Making the overcooked earth fertile again would be a monumental task. They were aware that the property had been on the market for some time, but as a working vineyard, it was clear that the last drop of wine was corked a very long time ago.

The house had also seen better days; there had been nothing white about Casa Branca anymore. Large cracks were streaking across the fading facade of what once was a fine-looking building. Long since used farm equipment lay scattered around the outbuildings, abandoned and left to rust several years before.

Unspoken angst had rushed through both their minds about what they had so recently lost, weighing it up against what lay before them. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it was looking more like a terrible mistake.

‘Oh, hell, Will. What have we let ourselves in for? I can’t imagine anything growing in this!’ He emphasised his frustration by stabbing the heel of his Chukka boot into the ground. Always the optimist, Will had replied, ‘This our future, Tommy. There’s no going back for us, not now; this is our new life—yours and mine. We were under no illusion when we came out here. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.’ He turned to face Thomas, cocking his head to one side, and smiling, he walked towards him with his arms outstretched.

‘Look, if anybody can do this, Tommy, it is you and me. Together, we will rebuild this place and restore it to its former glory. Not just for us but for our children as well. Somewhere they can come and stay whenever they want, and for as long as they want.’ The tone of his voice had been reassuringly calm.

Bolstered by his own words of encouragement, they both felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm as Thomas nodded in agreement.

‘You’re absolutely right! We’ve come this far, so falling at the first hurdle is not going to happen. Let’s go and explore minha casa e sua casa.’

‘Minha casa e sua casa? I’m very impressed with your Portuguese, Tommy. Given that you only looked at the Portuguese phrasebook for about ten minutes on the aircraft.’

‘Well, one should be always be prepared on the basics.’

They had picked up their bags and went inside the house, shutting the door behind them and had walked towards the heart of their new home. There was a resounding crash as the hinges of the pine door gave way and smashed on to the debris encrusted tiled floor. They didn’t flinch or turn around, they just carried on walking, as if they had been expecting it to collapse.

Instinctively they had been drawn to the veranda where they had stood for some time, mesmerised by the view. It stretched beyond a small orange grove across the vineyard, sloping gently down towards the Atlantic Ocean.

In the pastel shades of the evening sunshine, the view had been stunning. The smell of dry, dusty earth replaced by fresh, tangy pine emanating from the abundance of umbrella pine trees mingling with the sweet scent of lavender growing rampant and spilling over what used to be flowerbeds. The bougainvillea, too, ran wild and unrestrained. Draping itself around the house, as if trying to cover the cracks, in a fusion of pinks, purples, and reds.

Will and Thomas had felt the tension in their bodies starting to trickle away as they had breathed in the soft, aromatic air. The sun had started its descent into the Atlantic Ocean, and its orange glow fanned across the horizon for as far as the eye could see. Crickets began scissoring their legs, and the calming resonance soothed their minds.

‘There may be a lot for us to do, Tommy, but just look at that! Nobody told us we had a view. I don’t know about you, but I can see us sitting here in the evenings and sampling our latest vintage for many years to come.’  Thomas had nodded in silent agreement as Will had opened one of the bottles of wine he had bought at the airport.

‘I should have thought about picking up a couple of glasses as well, but never mind.’ Will had raised the bottle in the air and said, ‘Here’s to us!’ He took a swig, then passed it to Thomas. In the absence of chairs, they sat on the low, azulejo-tiled wall that encompassed the veranda, captivated by the sunset.

‘The first of many sundowners we will share on this terrace with its spectacular view. Then one day, we will celebrate having successfully breathed new life into this desiccated earth and start drinking our own. How about Mount of the Grapes as a name for our new brew?’ Thomas had thought for a moment.

‘That would be, er, Monte das Uvas, in Portuguese, which sounds much better, don’t you think?’

‘I do indeed. I’ll drink to that. Here’s to Monte das Uvas, and here’s to us!’

 

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