(To my aunt C.)
My phone rings the week before my last faculty exam. “I managed to take some days off, I am coming to Prague with you!!!!” – her voice sounds excited on the other side of the line. Like a kid who had just been told they are going to Disneyland. Although I was happier than ever with the idea of having her with me for probably the most stressful day of the past 26 years, my excitement was not so apparent. I was happy, but feeling that heavy sword over my head tapered my reaction to an olympic minimum. “Okay, great”. Why am I always like that? Why do I keep letting my anxiety muffle my true feelings? I have no idea. Twenty six years at the surface of the Earth were not enough to give me an accurate answer to that underestimated (yet absolutely critical) metaphysical life question.
And so we did. We set off to Prague with our cabin luggage, a mask that could block the passage of not only Coronavirus but many other airborn infections (and also air in general) over our faces and a ream of printed Internal Medicine notes to have some light literature to entertain us onboard.
First things first, booking our flights was an absolute nightmare, with which my father dealt in secret while I was still studying in Lisbon. I could not deal with anything remotely stressful at the time, and as every Portuguese knows by heart, TAP is both the national airline that we proudly brag about when talking to foreigners who nod their heads in accordance as a polite way to keep the conversation going (“Did you know that TAP was voted the airline with the hottest crew members in the world?? I just saw it on Buzzfeed! Sorry if I am getting too emotional but I am just so proud…”), and also our biggest….pain in the ass. Flights were expensive, relatively long, on a strict fasting-onboard regime and, most importantly, completely unpredictable. You could have it booked in a second, your boarding card already printed, and have nothing in the next. This brought up two issues: the outward flight and…well, the return flight. But small details aside, always trust TAP, they have the hottest crew not serving you drinks and snacks and also not even taking you anywhere on their planes. It is worth your money. And time. And peace of mind. Thank you, dad, for all your three.
Our pre-exam time in Prague was a delicate mix of enchanting and dramatic. Breakdown after breakdown, interspaced by brief deep breaths at the sight of that magical city I am so in love with. My aunt perfectly performing her role as a human-benzodiazepine and me being the usual drama queen. I guess that if you squeeze those 4 days and try to make juice, you will get a thick emotional liquid mesh of stressful, yet beautiful, memories: binge eating the food of my favourite restaurants, being hugged so tightly that made it hard to breathe, eating a bit more, scramming through my notes until the last minute, entering the exam room, leaving that same room as a doctor.
If I had to pick, the top 3 moments of our stressful trip were (not necessarily in this order):
1 – My aunt deciding to apply a nice anti-ageing facial mask at the peak of my despair. Because if the house is burning down, take some spa time. This episode is not only ridiculously funny, it also quite accurately describes my aunt’s personality and her delightful attitude towards life in general. And that is exactly why I could not think of anyone else better to walk with me through uttermost stressful situations. Thank you aunt C., from the bottom of my heart.
2 – Dressing up nicely for the exam, flaunting some sexy make up and a clean cut, only forgetting… a bra. Yup, you read it correctly, my subconscious feminist made me leave the hotel room in a hurry, my nipples shyly bulging free under my pearl-white top. Thank god my blazer was there to preserve my dignity.
3 – Asking a random policeman at the exit of the hospital to take me a victory picture, while explaining to him in a broken czech that it was because “I WAS A DOCTOR!”. He seemed confused as we were at a hospital, a place full of medical doctors, and they did not seem to want pictures all the time to celebrate their profession. Oh, well.
On our way back to Lisbon, while stress dissipated and exhaustion started to kick in, I wrote a draft of what would eventually become this piece of text you are reading right now. Words don’t come easy when you are balanced between stress and calmness, happiness and sleep deprivation, and so it took me about a week to be able to organise my ideas on what was, without a doubt, a life-changing trip. Literally.