Madonna does not talk to people. Or, more to the point, common people. It’s not her need, nor her want. But a touch of whimsy had inundated her spirit of late. Enough to make fans act as though it was still the Blond Ambition Tour era, and waiting outside of her hotel window would produce the worthwhile result of catching a glimpse of her.
As she dragged her tour of the moment to Lisbon, the city that had inspired an album, I was one such fan struck with the belief that if she could just look at me for one second while passing out of the venue after the show, I could get her to notice me, talk to me. It just so happened to be Laurêncio’s foul luck to be dating me during this period, for few, if any, straight men can endure a Madonna show and, usually, if they do, the pure and undiluted camp of it turns them gay by the end.
Ironically, Laurêncio was the entire reason I was in Lisbon in the first place. We had met in London before Brexit rattled him and so many others off of the country, shaking itself like a dog trying to get rid of so many fleas. But the thought of going on in that cold, desolate (despite its population density) place without him suddenly seemed unbearable and I decided to drop everything in London and follow him to Portugal, my only plan being to leave every so often in order to get a different stamp in my passport and not outstay my welcome in the government’s eyes.
I had some savings from working in the administrative department at Harrod’s, but quickly needed to find some type of under the table work in order to sustain myself. Laurêncio, whose family owned a restaurant in Alfama, put the feelers out to find me a job as a barista at the Lx Factory. I suddenly wondered if I really loved Laurêncio after all. What had I done, sacrificed the First World life I had grown accustomed to for this? Madonna probably felt the same when she moved to Lisbon, and with ten times more venom. Foolishly buying into the lie that New York is the end all, be all. It seemed antithetical to her self-declared “rebel heart.” And I doubted she would return to Lisbon again for anything other than playing a show. One I did very much want to see, particularly as Madame X played on a loop in the coffee shop.
She would be coming in January, much to Cristo Rei’s dismay. It’s a time of year that is strange in Lisbon, I would come to learn. For without the sunshine and tourists, it felt like a ghost town. In the best way possible. Her London leg of the spectacle would come after, and I thought it to be telling that Lisbon would be the first city in Europe she chose to infiltrate, speaking to the sentimental value it held for her. I told Laurêncio as much, and he offered to get us tickets, perhaps not completely aware of what he was walking into. I think he just wanted to please me as we had been seeing a lot less of each other with our work schedules, me in the cafe and he teaching English to hopeless cases. He couldn’t have known what was going to happen. Not only in the Coliseu dos Recreios itself but outside while we waited. While I waited and subjected him to my inexplicable desire to be noticed by Madame X.
When she finally flounced out of the back entrance, the hordes waiting for her and calling out her name just like a little prayer, she actually–just as I had intuited–glanced in my direction. There was a gleam in her eye, the kind that many men had seen before in her bedroom. For a reason I’ll never understand, she decided to pause in front of me, sizing me up, then she did the same to Laurêncio.
“You two want your picture taken?” she demanded in an unprecedented instance of fan interaction.
“Sh-sure,” I stammered.
“You don’t sound it,” she snapped back, ushering a minion in the wings to bring her the Polaroid camera she had taken a shine to using during the shows for the purpose of auctioning off her own image, knowing full well that the no phone policy would drum up some extra cash for it. A businesswoman through and through.
She clicked the button just as Laurêncio was trying to kiss my cheek. It looked like he was going to eat me. She waved the photo impatiently, her jewelry jangling like the sound of a tambourine. She ceased the movement to order Laurêncio, “Move! Just one of the girl now.”
I could scarcely form an expression before she clicked the button again, waving the latest Polaroid churned out with even more fervor. She appraised both pictures side by side in one hand, still holding the camera in the other before thrusting it back toward the minion who had handed it to her. She was, like her “character” Susan in Desperately Seeking Susan, a Polaroid junkie. I could easily envision herself returning to her outskirted castle that night lying on the floor with a glass of champagne and just taking Polaroid after Polaroid of herself.
Assessing each of the photos she had taken with her hawk eye for a few more seconds, she pulled me toward her and whispered, “You look more like yourself when you’re alone. Maybe you should ditch this guy.” And with that, she bequeathed me with the picture of myself sans Laurêncio, ripping up the one of both of us and letting the pieces flutter in the wind like some sort of re-creation of the “Frozen” video. Laurêncio, by this time, was growing annoyed, having not eaten since lunch and wanting only for this entire affair to be over. But I stood stock-still watching Madonna crawl into the backseat of the car and then whisked away into the night. Maybe Madame X was more of fortune teller’s name than anything else, and she ought to have donned a turban as opposed to an eyepatch.
I’ll never know for certain if her prophecy is what led to the eventual breakup of Laurêncio and me that summer, but I can only assume it was at least a partial influence.