“God. Why doesn’t God do anything to help us?”

“Dude, he kind of did. I am here with you and while I am here I can keep you company. And make sure the cafeteria ladies don’t give you beef for lunch!” It wasn’t time to discuss religion, it was time to do what I could in the bad situation I was in.

I don’t believe in god, gods, deities with attached religions. Maybe a spirit of the universe, a sort of Zeitgeist.

A phrase echoed in me.

"If there are gods, they are cruel."

Andreia and Benny were the brightest lights in the hospital. Andreia was comforting and calm, Benny was full of energy and good spirit.

“Can we make a big one of those? I want to give it to my boss.”

“Sure, bring me the biggest piece of paper you can find. A newspaper for example.”

Benny wasn’t afraid to reach out and talk with K in the little English that she had. I have always admired people like her, who step out of their comfort zone in such a natural way. When she came back with a newspaper I wasn’t surprised she found it so fast.

She is the kind of person that walks into a room and energizes it to get something done.

I folded a triangle, ripped out a rectangle, folded back, made it into a two layered square, brought the sides to the center into a paper kite. Unfold, make it into a diamond, narrow its sides, fold it up, turn the pages. Make it go around to find the head, bow it down. Spread the wings gently.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a newspaper or a subway ticket. One fold at a time, any square turns into a crane in its classical style, with a rounded center. “If you fold one thousand you get a wish, how many have you done?”

“I guess I have folded way more than a thousand, but I never made a wish.”

Maybe I should have made a wish. I never did because I always believed that we work for what we need and want. “Hard work always pays off”, but this thought is me lying to myself.

"You can play your cards right and still lose in the end."

And other times I see people play them so poorly that I am appalled on their behalf. Take our most recent companion for example.

A slender man that smokes a few cigarrettes a day. Enough to feel withdrawal symptoms after a day of joining our room.

“Dad! Oh my God, dad! Don’t worry, I have already spoken with social services and we are going to get you home.”

That was his daughter who burst into the room as if she was coming to free a prisoner. She wasn’t a bad person at all, just misguided. Her father had suffered a stroke, two actually.

The first one knocked him down and he went to the emergency room, where he waited long enough to give up. “I’m fine, I just fainted.”

Not long after, a second one took him down, but this time he woke up in the hospital. He couldn’t walk and needed a nurse or orderly to help him get up or onto the wheelchair.

His daughter was about my age, insistant on getting him back home after the exams. She brought her daughter to visit once, and the child was oblivious to her grandfather’s ordeal.

Looking back, I don’t remember him voicing an opinion, taking charge, or doing more than asking for cigarrettes and answering his mobile.

Three friends came to visit him once, a curious trio of stereotypes. I would describe them as upper middle class, with government jobs, the kind that demand little effort and allow for a good measure of comfort. 2 to 3 hour lunches, and the assurance that they would not lose their job. All of them worked with him, but they cared enough to not settle for a phone call and show up.

“Pois é, pah, a ver se melhoras, vais ver.”

There’s no translation to such an empty sentence. The whole dialogue was filled with common place phrases, and workplace gossip. It was over in less than an hour.

“That’s right, you’ll be ok. Then we will go to that place we went for lunch, remember?”

I can’t imagine what restaurant it was, but it was odd that these three would hangout with him. After all, he was a simple man, maybe a driver or security guard.

Either way he wasn’t a bad man, I saw a great deal of care for his family, and heard nice words on the phone. I just didn’t see my culture in his manner, and so I managed my distance.

"You can't save them all".

avatar Bruno Amaral
Bruno Amaral

I am a Digital Strategist, divided between tech and creativity, working for the Lisbon Collective and teaching Public Relations at the …