In the late afternoon, when the red clay tiles of our roof have been baked warm by the Lisbon sun, I scramble to the top and pretend I am king of Portugal. I survey my land to the south. From the rooftop, the Tagus River gleams like a blue satin ribbon dotted with the white sails of merchant ships.
If I were king, I would not sit fat and happy in my palace on the hill. I would have my pick of the great caravels that crowd the port of Lisbon, and their tall masts would carry my banner of gold and red. Like Henry the navigator prince, I would explore distant lands, where birds of every color roost in the trees and greeneyed tigers crouch in the tall grass.
Suddenly, Mama’s secret whistle brings me back from faraway lands. It is her way of calling me without having to use my outside name.
If I were king, I wouldn’t need an outside name. I would be called by my Jewish name all the time. On Friday evenings, Mama could place the Sabbath candle lights in the window for all to see, instead of hiding them in the big clay jar by the hearth.
Papa could write his beautiful Hebrew poetry by the light of day. He wouldn’t have to wait until the moon paints the church spires silver, and then hide each slender scroll under the loose floorboard in his study.
I think of my best friend Solomon.
If I were king, I would free his parents from jail and send away the hooded men who took them there. And Solom