On the Wednesday night, Ção’s contented snoring kept Harry awake. He got up, picked up a bottle of dark beer and his transistor radio and took them out on to the terrace. His watch told him it was nearly eleven. He listened to the radio for a while, relishing the joy of being wedded to Ção and in charge of his own fine destiny. Then the radio started on Portugal’s entry for the recent Eurovision song contest, and he quickly switched stations. With the sea air caressing his skin, and the beer calming his racing thoughts, he soon dozed off in his chair.
He was awakened by the sound of men crunching on gravel. Lots of them, rhythmically, as though marching. He jumped up from his chair and looked down at the beach, but there was nobody below him. Then the men started singing and he realised it was the radio, which he had left on. The voices reminded him of a Welsh miners’ choir, and he listened intently until it finished, though he made out few of the words. Then he went back inside, fastened the window, got back into bed and snuggled up beside the now-silent Ção. Within minutes, he was dreaming of mine shafts, excavations and red shirts.
Elsewhere in the country, men had taken the Eurovision song as confirmation of their plans, and the Alentejo miners’ song as a signal to put them into action.
The next morning, clean sea air pervaded the hotel as usual, but the atmosphere was different. The staff stood around in knots, talking animatedly amongst themselves and paying only perfunctory attention to their guests or their needs. Harry and Ção did not mind: they had eyes and ears only for each other, and nothing could sour the mood of their honeymoon. They spent the day on the beach, in the water, and in bed back at the hotel.
It was when they came down for dinner that it became impossible for Harry to ignore the news being broadcast on the television in the hotel dining room, to which all the staff and most guests were transfixed.
“Ção! Look at that. There are tanks in the centre of Lisbon!”
“Probably some military parade. Why haven’t they laid out the fresh fish today?”
“No, look! There are soldiers and civilians next to each other. Something big is going on. I want to know what it is.”
The live broadcast showed a man whom Harry recognised as the Prime Minister, and others he did not recognise, being driven out of a military building in the heart of Lisbon into a square packed tight with ordinary civilians. The crowd reluctantly parted for them. Lines of soldiers kept the people back as the convoy of armoured cars drove away.
“Oh, Harry, it looks like a military coup. We’re probably going to be ruled by some even worse fascists from now on.” She looked on the verge of tears.
It seemed the hotel staff supported the coup, for they broke into an almighty cheer when the television announced that both the Prime Minister and the President of the régime were on their way to the airport to be flown to the Atlantic Island of Madeira. Then someone started singing the song that had woken Harry up during the night. Soon everyone was singing it.
“Ção, I heard this on the radio last night. Who’s the singer?”
“I think it’s Zeca Afonso. His songs are usually banned, because he is too left-wing.”
“Ção, my love, this is not a right-wing coup.”
“Then maybe we’re all going to be free!”
The mood in the dining room grew increasingly jolly and exuberant. It was as if everyone present had made each other into new friends for life. Then came news that sobered people up like a cold shower: the secret police, holed up in their headquarters, had opened fire on the crowd of civilians massed outside. People had died; scores were injured. For a while, in Lisbon, it seemed as if the situation might get out of hand, but gradually it became clear that those murders had been the last brutal act of fury of the dying régime. A new President was announced: General Spínola, who had been fired from the Army just months before for opposing the colonial wars, and a National Salvation Council that promised peace, freedom and justice.
Harry thought this was all very exciting, but what he really wanted was to get that fish grilled and Ção back into bed. It was past midnight when he fulfilled the second wish. Ção was on fire.
“Harry, this is the first day of the rest of our lives. From now on everything is going to be better. Harry, promise you’ll always love me like tonight.”
Harry did not need to promise anything so obvious, but he said the words, lest there should be even a speck of doubt.
Bryan Murphy is currently working on a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s. This is an extract from that work in progress. It covers the evening of 24 April and the day of 25 April 1974.