The Queen of Barrio Alto by Nick Gerrard

Roadside Fiction

Okie Juke Joint

 

Photo by Tom Darin Liskey

 
 

‘The Queen of Barrio Alto’ by Nick Gerrard

 

I always knew where to find him.

Behind Liberty Avenue; full of luxury shoe shops and dear cafés with tree-topped shaded terraces.

In the scruffy narrow cobbled streets, where people live and work.

There’s José’s bar and grill, a neighbourhood bar: a few Formica tables, faded Benfica team pictures, and a fuzzy TV.

Full of broken men and a broken grill.

John would be there, you could always find him,

Though he went there not to be found.

He went there to drink, in between classes,

At the posh school on the Avenue.

No one could tell he drank.

He never looked drunk.

Or more to the point he was never sober,

So no one knew.

Except me. And what did I care?

I drank too.

We had met when we had both been living in a flat share, run with an iron fist by the mad Angolan woman, and the travel writer.

She thought everyone was planning to seduce her, and threw fits all the time, and shoes at the writer. She dreamt up drama, it kept her life interesting, but made everyone else’s a bit more miserable.

The writer wrote reviews for guide books, but he never visited the bars he reviewed, he got his information from me and John.

The Rough guide never paid us or accepted our submissions.

It was a tall faded beauty of a building, and the flat share took up a whole floor. There were jutting out tight corners, and shuttered doors to unknown little hideaways.

I often bumped into people in the labyrinth of corridors, and greeted them as long lost friends or introduced ourselves, as new ones.

I knew John lived there, but I didn’t know him.

We met sometimes in the kitchen, when I was cooking and he searching for bottles in the fridge. We would grunt or nod, as one or both of us was usually hung-over. And we knew that. And kind of knew that we should stay away from each other for as long as we could.

But inevitably one day we came together and became friends.

I had been flirting with a woman named Xana for a while.

We had met at the cool flat, in the coolest Barrio, of a cool musician, who I disliked, as he wasn’t cool, just a good actor.

He had invited my friend Nicky to the party. She was a single mum and a great Jazz and Blues singer.

She had played and got raving drunk with the cool musician, and other cool musicians.

I often babysat her kid Megan; or took her to the Indian place, so I could drink while I babysat, as the waiters loved her, and entertained her, while I drank and ate lentils.

Nicky and me had also played some small clubs, dueting to my battered acoustic. I even wrote some tunes for her, and we were good.

So, I was kind of invited by proxy and a reputation; for wildness as much as my musicianship.

At the party I was fine. There were many would be bohemians of the Lisbon night.

And I drank but remained witty, and friendly.

Xana was the cool musician’s girl, but I could tell she was interested in me, by her glances and contact as she squeezed past me. And god was she sexy and flirtatious. A tight blue dress and wild uncontrollable hair to her shoulders, and those full, pouting lips, that gave a hint of the conquests of her grandfathers, in far off lands.

And the more she drank, the more she danced, and the more she danced the sexier, and less of the cool musicians trophy, she became. I knew we would meet again. It was a matter of time. The cool musician, was frowning.

I had shared a really expensive apartment with two American women, who never went out, and dreamed of getting laid by a prince, but baked cookies instead. And I got thrown out for bringing the Police there too many times, and setting my shoes alight; burning the ancient wooden floor was the last straw.

So I moved in with The Angolan woman and the guide writer.

The rent was low, and I made it by selling photos my Irish drinking partner, and would be entrepreneur, had commissioned some guy to take for us. And he got me making frames and standing in the thieves market for hours. Or we went down to Cascais to get the tourists. And again, our partnership was uneven, as he never seemed to be around for the hours I spent standing next to bloody Jugglers and hair braiders. I got my own back; every time I sold a picture, I retired to a bar opposite my patch.

After a few weeks of living in the flat and selling photos, and drinking cheap wine and eating the poor man’s soup, I got lonely, lonely for a woman.

I thought of Xana, as she was always there in the back of my mind, itching me.

So, I did some tracking and rang her, with the pretence of wanting to talk to the cool musician, luckily for me she didn’t know where he was. I made my move.

We went dancing in Barrio Alto and eventually ended up in the bar called ‘A kick in the cunt,’ a real bar, run by this worldly wise old groupie, who still wore leathers and red lipstick. And for those who dared there was a drunk called ‘A kick in the cunt.’

And when you drank it everyone watched, and the withered groupie looked on with a smirk. Now, I don’t know what a kick in the cunt feels like, but if it’s anything like the drink, then it’s bad!

I managed to get Xana back to my room. She was so kicked. I didn’t fuck her.

She wanted to, but I thought I would wait, so she could remember.

In the morning, the sun shone in through the bay windows burning into my skull. The noise of a living street tormented me. I peeled the sheet from around me and looked for something clean to put on, and where the fuck was Xana?

I found her in the living room, slugging back cold beers with John and his even fatter mate Gary, from Northern England, who was visiting for the summer. Xana was laughing her head off at the boys talk, and behaviour and flirting with them like mad. She looked OK, considering the kicks in the cunt she had drunk. Very French Bohemian chic.

This was Xana’s introduction to the Morning beer, which looking back now, may have been the start of her downfall. I pulled up a stool and poured a glass; cheers!

We started to feel well, and then better, then good. We went for more beer. The streets were too hot and too busy; I bought a lot of beer, and some bread and crisps, because man cannot live on beer alone, oh and loads of fags.

We drank and danced to music that made the people next door and above and below bang, but we didn’t care. We danced on the small balconies, in our underpants. Danced to all the top gay tunes, and shouted sexual innuendoes and wolf whistled. And the classic ‘Look at meat on that’, said in a mock Northern accent, I don’t know, somewhere between Blackburn and Bury. I joined in and camped it up with the two Queens.

The two Queens, were the least ‘gay’ gay guys I had ever met.

They were flabby from beer, their hair was not groomed, in fact greasy from alcohol sweats, as was their skin, their teeth were bad and they had bad dress sense, well not bad, they just didn’t care.

There were no flat tummies, the only six packs they…you get the picture!

No pecks but man tits. No manicured fingers but yellowy nibbled nails

There was nothing obviously gay about them, apart from their outrageous campiness, which made me howl and confused, and scared the ordinary man.

Xana and I decided now was a good time to fuck, before we got too drunk; we did, we slept after.  We woke up to a clock ringing, which I threw out the window. I picked Xana off my legs and tried to figure out the time, the day. Shit, the clock was gone. It was dark. We dressed as best we could and went into the living room, to find the two Queens still drinking, in their underpants. We both went to the toilet to retch then we sat down to drink.

They decided we needed a change in scenery. So gathering ourselves and throwing bits of clothes on as best we could, and holding each other up along the streets, we made it to the Chicken Piri-piri joint a block or two away. We ate and switched to wine, we felt better and got well, and felt good enough to finally after a few hours, retire to bed.

Life in the apartment kind of went on like this, never ending and intense, like the summer sun.

I would wake up, walk into the living room, and the guys would be there, in shorts or pants; always a beer in hand, laughing or singing.

It was no bender because they never stopped.

They would drink at home all day then go on fag crawls all night.

Sometimes they left, in taxis of course, hammered, and would return three days later; to resume their positions near the balcony.

Re-telling tales of the guys they’d blown, or fucked or fought.

I was amazed that these drunken road-menders from Blackburn, or somewhere similar, could get laid.

They were the opposite of everything that is classed as classy gay; rude, obnoxious, fat, ugly, smelly, drunks.

But I think they were attractive to gay guys because of this very thing.

They were the ‘fuck it’ guys.

More manly than a stevedore, filthier than a rent boy on dope, more drunk than a Can-factory alley cat.

And I loved those guys.

I loved the whole anarchic drama of them.

I thought I was a good ‘fuck it’ guy, but these guys, these guys,

were the Queens of ‘fuck it.’

They invited me out one night on a fag crawl. I was honoured.

All the crawling was done in taxis, they had a bit of class.

Shit, I was wasted big time Charlie before we even left the apartment. I struggled to get in the taxi, and when we pulled up, outside this little corner, with fags hanging out, outside little bars and cafés, in narrow streets, like in some Mexican border town. I pulled the door handle off as I fell out the cab.

A big argument ensued as I tried to get my legs to stand my body up. The taxi driver was screaming and the bouncers from a little doorway came over and the street looked on, as tinny dance music laid the backing track.

The driver was sent on his way, with a bloody nose and some cash, and a warning.

The Queens knew everybody. They kissed eager lips, slapped friendly hands. It was like royalty were visiting.

I was helped into a café by their followers, and dosed up in the toilets.

I came out, refreshed and able to stand, I was given drinks, and my head started to clear and I began to feel good, really good.

I was riding a wave. We surfed from bar to café, to club. Everyone encouraging us on.

We were the champions!

I was the bar king of Lisbon. I could find you a Cape Verdian house that served you fried chicken and beer at 4am on a Tuesday morning, but the Queens knew places I hadn’t even heard of. As they walked along a street, it seemed like places would open up, just for them.

We were ushered into clubs, quickly given tokes, and passed Es’ like Smarties. To keep us going, everyone wanted us to keep going, urging us on.

Even the police seemed to be on their side when they needed them.

We were in half fag, half straight club, and a female friend of mine was being hassled by this would-be macho guy, she came over and asked me to help. I went and remonstrated with the guy, and his mates. He got all aggressive and pushy, and shouty, and Gary walked over and heat-butted him. The guy’s nose cracked open. The bouncers stopped any further bloodshed by kicking the man with no nose and his chums out.

But then there was trouble at the door, a larger gang of guys now, were, pushing and shouting with the bouncers as they tried to enter en masse to get at us.

‘Fuck this!’

‘We can’t wait in here all night.’

‘Are you ready?’

I wasn’t but shit, when your mates go, you go!

They got to the door and stripped off their tops, and pushed their way into the middle of the group, with me shitting myself beside them.

The magnificent three!

The gang’s gung-ho was shattered a little by our bravado. A few kicks rained in, and we punched and butted.

We fought as we backed up the streets of Barrio Alto, cheered on by workmen up scaffolds and prostitutes on balconies.

It seemed that word had spread and the gang grew in number. We picked up handy wooden poles to help. The mayhem was halted by a group of guys, I didn’t know who they were, but they held us and the gang members apart.  Insults and threats were now rained in on us, as all became brave, now held back. We laughed in faces, and now and again smacked one or two with our poles.

It became clear that the guys holding the trouble back were coppers. And despite the protests of the Pork and Cheese would-be hooligans, we were escorted out of the Barrio, and seen safely into our preferred mode of transport, and as we squeezed up in the back, panting and buzzing and laughing our heads off, in relief, and filled with adrenalin; we flicked the finger at the frustrated remonstrating mob, and flew away with a screech of the tyres and whizzed hastily chopped lines of Charlie up or noses.

After a couple of months, I had an offer of a better room, in a more sane apartment and Gary, moved in full time to my room. Seemed like he couldn’t leave; he was on the bender to end all benders.

I didn’t see the guys that often, we drank in different circles, but our paths would inevitably cross from time to time, and drugs were shared and stories told and beers sank, as we laughed and laughed and hugged, at some crowded bar, of a Café, or trendy club.

One Sunday afternoon, I was walking home alone, after a long night that had become breakfast and lunch. And feeling in need of a change of clothes and some sleep, I had reluctantly left some friends who went to enjoy a day at the beach.

I walked slowly, easing my pains with shots of Ginjinha, in the little stand up bars, on the backstreet, near Rossio, where they squeeze in between the restaurants with spider crabs in the window. Near the end of the street, there was a small café, with a fairly large group of chatting and happy guys spilling out into the street.

I thought it only polite to have a drink there.

As I pushed through the throng, there were Gary and John, at the bar, holding court.

After kisses and hugs, and toasts.; above the din, John told me that this was the usual meet up place for the hard-core gay guys, on a Sunday, where they came down gradually from the weekends adventures.

I was coming up again, never mind coming down.

‘Yeah, here and next door of course!’

‘Next door?’

John laughed and led me by the hand through the twitching giddy mass.

Next door, I stopped to look up.

It was an old Art Deco building, with a small but elegant entrance of columns.

It was now a porno cinema.

‘A porno cinema, you’re kidding right?’

John flung his head back with his guttural laugh.

‘Come on. Mr bloody naive!’

And grabbing me by the hand we entered.

The inside of the foyer resembled an Arabic harem, well a seedier version. There were red and black drapes flowing down, and there were armchairs all around. The smoke sat mid-air, adding to the whole haze of the place. Every chair was occupied by gay guys of all sizes and ages and occupation. Young guys sat on the chair arms of fat loud shirted older guys. Some looked like English Lords and smoked with holders.

I was starting to stop feeling well. And after a quick beer was downed, I made a dash for the toilets.

In the ceramic tiled loos, various wellness therapies were being administered. From squeals of pleasure from a cubicle, to the chop chopping on the sink tops, in front of the ornate mirrors, underneath the golden lamps. I was handed a sliver tube, and welcomed to bend over. I was well again.

I returned to the foyer, and got drunk, and returned to the pleasure toilets when I needed to, and sometime just because I wanted to. I never paid for anything. I was John’s guest and guests of the Queen were well looked after.

John whispered in my ear,

‘You should try the theatre.’

‘Cheers, man but you know gay films, not really my thing!’

‘Do you think they would let us watch gay porn in here?’

Well, with what the hell else was going on, I thought a few films wouldn’t really be pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable.

I walked into the Auditorium and in the hazy, lights, I sat and watched heterosexual porn films.

And a blow job is a blow job, and 100 Escudos is, well, a bargain!

I loved that cinema, and popped in again when I was at a loose end, on a Sunday.

I left Lisbon a few years down the line; the life was too much and it was time to try and stop killing myself.

A few years later I went back, for a holiday, with a woman, I liked a lot. I took her for ‘A kick in the cunt,’ but she preferred the wine and the clams in the splendour of Casa Alentaju, and the spider crab restaurants rather than the Ginjinha bars. After a long night, she decided she needed half a day in bed.

I thought I would check out some places, I couldn’t take her.

I passed the posh shops on the Avenue, and found the little streets where people live and work. And entered José’s bar and Grill. I was happy to see the grill was still not working, but unhappy to see, no John, sitting on his usual stool at the bar.

I sat on his stool and shook hands with Jose, happy to not be forgotten.

And John?

He wasn’t there.

Jose and I raised our beer glasses and toasted him, as he told me he had died.

From a disease that had interfered with his lifestyle, and his whole philosophy on how one should live life.

How did he die?

Many stories are told.

And the one I tell is this:

He could not waste away, that wasn’t him.

I heard he walked to Casal Ventosa, where the Junkies line up on the hillside by the abandoned buildings, called ‘the shooting gallery,’ where you look out over the beauty of the seven hills.  He took a shot. And as the Junkies looked on, he climbed half way down the hillside, and then stripped down to his large stained white Y-fronts.

He climbed the pillions of the Lovers Bridge; a place famous for the suicide leaps of young lovers.

And with one last ‘Fuck it’, with an audience of no-hopers, his two fingers raised in a defiant last gesture to convention, he rolled his head back and howled with laughter and shouted:

‘Look at meat on this!’

And leapt.

 

Did you like the story? Opinions? Praise? Please leave a comment below

 
Nick Gerrard

Bio:

Nick Gerrard – One time Chef, activist, union organiser, musician, punk rocker, teacher, traveller, Eco-lodge owner in Malawi. Lived and drank far too much in 6 countries; travelled to loads more. Loves trains, music, books, football, politics, languages, different cultures and food.

Written articles on politics, music, travel, culture and food for magazines and web sites. One son, one tractor, one Eco-lodge in Czech Mountains! Two books published.

Stories, poems and essays have appeared in various magazines and web sites including; Day12 travel magazine, Citizens for decent Literature, Outsider writers, Thieves Jargon, Bluehour magazine, Etherbooks.

www.nickgerrard.com
 

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10 Responses to The Queen of Barrio Alto by Nick Gerrard

  1. Roland Petrov

    Good one, Nick! Very entertaining.

    • Nick Gerrard

      Thanks Roland x

  2. I was glued to this story right to the very end! Tragic and crazy, I loved it!

    • Nick Gerrard

      Thanks very much x

  3. Wayne

    I had to read this in sections due to that I am a very slow reader, and life kept dragging me away from it…. (not that I wanted to go) This story had it all! Sex, drugs, R&R, and more Queens than you can shake a stick at! I went to Porto,Portugal back in the early 90′s, after reading this I want to go back for some odd reason?! Must be the Escudos. Great job Nick!

    • Roadside

      Thanks for commenting, Wayne. Yes indeed this story has it all. Due to its length I hope that people are not put off and will read it through. I think it is quite gripping though so hopefully it won’t be a problem.

  4. oleg

    Respect!

  5. garreth keating

    very interesting paragraphing, especially good for this story, think I learned something about writing from this story, thanks

    • Nick Gerrard

      Thanks very much for the comments guys x Nick

  6. Caroline Jourdain

    Loved it, Nick. Thanks for sharing.

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