November 1987. I was all of twenty-two years old and had landed in Lisbon. Shortly after this I phoned a relative for whom I’d carried a little parcel from her sister Genoveva (to whom I became a sobrinho by marriage but remained first a primo, via Curtorim). Her name was Rita Maria Gomes. I’d never met her before; yet she sounded so warm that I promptly accepted her lunch invitation. Her brother Nicolau stopped over to collect the item, early the next morning, shaking me out of my jet lag: he was my only visitor at Hotel Berna, Campo Pequeno, where I’d put up in the first three days of my year-long stay in Portugal.

After my maiden Sunday Mass na terra de Camões, I headed for Carcavelos, half an hour’s journey by train from Cais do Sodré. Usually shy at a first meeting, I was nonetheless eager to see my mother Judite’s “Guirdolim cousins”.

At Oeiras, on a near-empty platform, Primo Amâncio Frias Pinto and I easily spotted each other. As he comfortably drove me home in his white Renault 10, his down-to-earth style put me at ease. And then, when Prima Maria and the family welcomed me, I noticed the glow on her face: she had taken a shine to Judite’s son. My gracious hostess had very thoughtfully invited three primos still new to me: Noémia and her children Lena and Stuart. I instantly identified the senior one (now a much-loved Tia) as daughter of Primo ‘Picu’ Stuart, who I’d been very fond of as a child… Now here was a heady mix of Neurá and Curtorim/Guirdolim, and it made my day!

I have no photographs of that memorable coming together. That was altogether another age, the pre-digital age! I vividly remember, however, that the apartment was bathed in sunlight. Prima Maria had the table laid de rigueur and served a full course meal. It wasn’t easy, but she did it! And, yes, she kept up an animated conversation, centred on Goa, our relatives and friends.

It was still a bright and pleasant afternoon when Prima Maria suggested we take a stroll in the colourful feira nearby. And soon it began to feel like home. When evening came and Primo Amâncio (who’d been my father Fernando’s contemporary at Casa de Estudantes) dropped me off to the station, I felt a sudden pang of saudade


August 2018. Years after my unforgettable passage to Portugal, I met the simpático casal at their ancestral house at Ararim, Socorro – which, meanwhile, I’d become familiar with as the home of my wife Isabel’s maternal aunt Bernadete married to Terêncio Frias Pinto. Prima Maria made a few more trips to Goa, travelling solo after her husband’s demise. Last year, we crossed paths at Panjim’s Immaculate Conception church. That’s when I quickly fixed up a lunch appointment; and unable to meet up at home, we decided on a thali at the Fidalgo.

How can we forget the people who’ve made us happy at some time or other in our lives? I’m glad I started off by recalling the lovely moments spent with her family – oh my God! – three decades ago…

As for her, she was soaked in memories. She smiled wistfully, reminiscing about her spinster days in Goa and as a young wife in Mozambique, and gave me the lowdown on her life as a widow.

A grandmother of two, pretty even at eighty, Prima Maria was proud of her Gomes ancestors who made it big in Portugal. She spoke ardently about the Veiga-Gomes kinship, and – surprise of surprises – she pulled a neat set of notes and sepia out from her handbag to confirm that the doctor-politician Pestaninho da Veiga (1849-1901), the physician-writer A. X. Heráclito Gomes (1864-1934), and the poet Mariano Gracias (1871-1931), who died in Lisbon, were indeed first cousins! Prima Maria was thus a third cousin of my mother’s; her children Rui and Lara, and I, sit a step below.

Pestaninho da Veiga

Needless to say, formal relationships are not everything; it’s the level of friendship that counts. For instance, when the infant Maria Rita da Veiga, died of bronchopneumonia, a day prior to the arrival of a baby in the Gomes household, this new-born was baptised Rita Maria. The noble gesture speaks volumes of the oneness of spirit that proceeds from life built around shared values! In any case, a rarity in our day and age, this episode endeared the new Maria very especially to my mother who, aged 3½ years, had been confused and shaken by the disappearance of her immediate junior sibling.

There are, on the other hand, myriad incidents over which one has no control whatsoever; one gets to join the dots only much later. Consider my mother’s passing, at the age of 83½ years, precisely on Rita Maria’s eightieth birthday! Doesn’t this say something about the communion of saints that often goes unnoticed even by practising Catholics?

Life never ceases to amaze us. Prima Maria, despite her aches and pains, travelled to Canada, New Zealand and Australia – aching to connect with friends and relatives – whereas I’d failed to get in touch with her brother Heráclito in Porto. I’d thought of him, even in the midst of São João celebrations there, but it had remained just that – a thought… That I finally got to meet him, thirty years later, on Facebook, is another matter entirely! We now stand in awe of this gift from cyberspace.

My first – and last – lunch invitation to Prima Maria inevitably ended, but not before my mobile phone camera – sensing our connectedness – clicked away, trying to discover facial resemblances between kith and kin… And it was saudade once more…

Still a sunny afternoon, much like the one at Carcavelos, I drove Prima Maria to ‘A Pousada’, a pensão she was staying at, in the city’s charming São Tomé ward. We said our goodbyes, and I left. When I called up after a month, I got no answer… Heaven knows why!

Até sempre, Prima Maria!