There was a gentle tap at the door. Seven thirty in the morning. Who was knocking at seven thirty on a Saturday? The postman comes in the afternoon. Nope, can’t think. A tiny trail of sunshine had squeezed underneath the shutter. We’d returned late from Lisbon last night, back to the village house in Castelo Branco and I’d crawled tiredly into bed after a long journey. Sunshine lit up my brain and pulled it out of sleep mode.
“Manuel!”. I flopped out of bed, pulled on a skirt and fleece and ruffled my hair into some sort of order to give the appearance of having been up for hours, waiting. He was half an hour early. Not unusual. He came in with a nod, a serious face, and got straight to work with a hammer and chisel, while I put the kettle on.
What I should have done was raced upstairs and moved everything into another room, covered every object with a cloth, strung sheets across all the doorways. Doors? Oh come on! Naively I thought that chipping away at the render over the stairway would raise a bit of brick dust that would drop neatly onto the floor below. Maybe a fluff round with a feather duster afterwards.
It doesn’t happen like that. What happens is, the brick dust flies everywhere. It leaves a thick film across the entire house, it bleeds into bedrooms, onto every surface, into every crevice. Weeks later it is still hovering, waiting to drop onto a newly dusted surface. It was already too late when I went upstairs a few minutes later with a big mug of coffee and a pain au raisin. Sitting lamely on the floor sat a basket of clean washing which now had a thick, sandy covering. The floor looked like a beach as Manuel’s chisel flew into life, removing year’s old render to expose the beautiful, rugged, original stone beneath.
I dragged everything into the bedroom and hung a sheet across the door, other items into the very back room. The hammering had stirred the rest of the household awake, and one by one they ventured out into the blitz styled hallway in shock. We wondered whether it was worth it, whether we should have just kept the old render and let it fall off at it’s own pace through the years to come and every time we painted.
“Look”, Manuel pointed to a stone with an inlaid pattern he had uncovered in the wall. “My grandfather laid this stone”. We peered down and saw the round pattern on a stone in the thick wall made almost a century before. The house was opening up it’s history to us. The rubble and dust seemed such a tiny price to pay and we knew then that it was worth it.