We got up late again the next morning. I had set my alarm for 7am, but after hitting the snooze button, I fell asleep again after that. The other two trouble makers didn’t seem to care, although I distinctly remembered how Ludo wanted to be on the road early on.
Around 8am, I forced myself to get out of bed and poke the bears into waking. They responded in a slow, molasses way. We didn’t get on toward the bakery until almost 9:30am.
Ludo and I went to get food for our breakfast and lunch, while Kath said she wasn’t hungry and needed to get to the pharmacy.
We agreed to meet on the bench when we were done.
Halfway done with our breakfast, Kath still had not come out from the pharmacy.
“How long does it take to get a bit of chapstick?” I asked him, picking at my breakfast quiche of tomato, feta cheese, and mushroom.
“Trust me,” Ludo said, “I had to wait for her before in this type of situation. She is slow.”
But she wasn’t back when we’d eaten the rest of our meal.
“I’ll be back,” Ludo said, leaving his pack with me as he crossed the street. A few minutes later, he came out, shrugging his shoulders. I put on my pack and tried the church nearby, thinking maybe she’d gotten lost in thought while waiting for us. But it was closed.
“Isn’t there another pharmacy over there?” I asked, pointing down the road. “I thought I saw it while walking last night for food.”
We began to walk, me getting nervous.
“She’s fine,” Ludo would say, and I would reply with, “You don’t get it, we’re single, female, and Taken is a thing that happens.”
That pharmacy was closed. The people sitting for their own breakfast hadn’t seen her.
“We should get on the road. Maybe she thought we would meet her there.”
“Maybe,” I said, doubtful. I was beginning to feel as I did when I’d thought Ludo had left. “It doesn’t make sense. Ludo, she knows how it feels to be left behind. There’s no way she would do that!”
We both cursed.
“I’d feel better if we tried down this street before getting back on The Way,” I said. We walked past Cyber bars, salons, and department stores. She wasn’t there. I checked the super market, and then we saw a large pharmacy across the main highway.
“Do you think she could be there?” I asked, feeling defeated.
“She wouldn’t have gone this far,” Ludo replied.
Worried and angry and just wanting to know where Katherine was, we made our way back to where our gite resided, where the Camino started up again. I pushed all thoughts out of my head except that she had misinterpretated where we were going to meet. I made Ludo question a few people we passed in French, to where he started doing it of his own volition.
No one had seen her.
I tried to keep it light, but it was already very late in the day before we had been able to start our trek, and the heat was already strong as we walked uphill towards the next destination.
Finally, we ran into a group sitting outside. Ludo asked and we received good news–a woman of the description he gave had walked past about thirty minutes earlier.
“Fuck me,” I said, heart unclenching. “She wasn’t murdered, and now I’m going to kill her.”
“I didn’t understand what you two were so upset about when you thought I’d left,” Ludo said slowly. “But now that this happened…I get why you two were the way you were.”
We’d officially all lost each other in one pairing or another. The cycle was complete.
Except we didn’t meet back up with Kath. We passed through the first town, and she wasn’t where we could see her. She had said her plan was to take it slow, maybe stay in the first town, but we hadn’t gotten word via Ludo’s phone to see if that was what happened.
We continued on.
The day was even hotter than the day before. Ludo’s right peck had been hurting a few days prior, and Katherine being a nurse had recommended a cream that would take away the pain and perhaps heal what was bothering him.
It wasn’t working the best that day.
Within an hour, we were both panting at a mansion, out of water and slightly upset that we were already feeling as if we’d hit a wall for the day. Ludo took initiative to ask the owners of the house for fresh water. As we drank, a young man came up from behind us. He had been walking for over a month, starting in Germany. With fresh blood to talk with and fresh water to cool our bodies, we got a bit further than anticipated, at least to the next town.
We took lunch and departed from Sebastian (age 18, wearing a hat with crossbones that said Bad To The Bone on it, who camped everywhere he went). Ludo and I took refuge in a church area set aside for pilgrims to rest and drink.
We took off our shoes and we ate while Ludo wrote in his diary. I took a slip of random paper and wrote myself the thoughts of the day. It was so hot, we rested longer than we normally would, just to stay out of that heat.
Ludo got a call, which he took and seemed good, but it just went to show how much French I actually understood as he became upset as soon as he shut the phone off.
His family didn’t understand why he was walking the Camino and were urging him to forget walking and come early to their family reunion instead. He had apparently been getting messages from many different family members, guilting him. I also already knew that he had planned everything to get his sister to the reunion.
He typically planned everything.
I was beginning to see why he held such high expectations for himself.
That was when Kathrine messaged Ludo.
She had been told to go to a far away pharmacy that took her forever to get to. Figuring we’d go on without her after it taking so long for her to get what she needed, she waited at the start of the Camino for a good thirty minutes before walking along and stopping from it being so hot. She found a gite with a swimming pool and was currently staying, saying she’d fight for the next stopping town the next day to catch up.
I finally saw Ludo upset.
We talked while he smoked a cigarette to calm down. We were both relieved to finally hear from Kath, but I accepted her behavior much easier than Ludo, the planner extroidonaire. We’d lost hours from our trek from starting so late to search for Katherine, and even more from the heat that ensued later. Between that and the pressure of his family and his chest hurting (we were calling it his ‘tit problem’ because learning English is fun)…
I wasn’t sure if I’d helped at all.
When he sat down to write back to Kath, I took a moment to step outside the church and let my own emotions go. I felt tears on my face.
I couldn’t imagine having a family who didn’t support me trying to change my life for the better. I couldn’t think of having so much pressure on me to be consistently perfect from those around me and myself. I couldn’t believe taking that with the emotional breakdown of a longterm girlfriend who had moved in with you leaving to go back to Mexico.
All while hating yourself.
I was a very, very lucky woman.
And I felt he’d seen a horrible part of me early on in the game. I was now seeing a bad part in him. An even trade.
After I composed myself, I went back in to help Ludo write a proper response to Katherine (which started with Fuck You, respectively). Then, we took a look at the guide book to determine what we would do next.
We had rested for maybe almost an hour and a half at that point, and the sun had taken the last worst turn from the mid-day crisp.
“What are you up for?” Ludo asked, tapping his hand on the table. He was looking at his guidebook. “I have so far to go, too far…If I did…phsssssh, 50km from Carjac where I end tonight…”
“I feel refreshed,” I admitted. “I think I could go at least another 10km before we part ways. If we part ways. I’d really rather you take your time if you think of going further due to the heat.” He opened his mouth to argue. “But, I know that you’re an adult and whatever I’ve got to say won’t change your mind. So, let’s hit the road and go as far as I can at least.”
“I suppose if we get caught at night, we could use my tent. It’s meant for only one person, though.”
“Then I guess you’ll have to get used to me being all up in your business,” I teased.
“We’re crazy,” he said, smiling and shaking his head.
“The only way to live. Allons-y!”
And we really were crazy.
We walked up hills, around bends, drenched ourselves in the water provided by cemetaries, and continued to walk.
I saw a lake and told Ludo how I’d force him to swim with me, but we were both disappointed to find they had signs everywhere that the lake wasn’t good for swimming, and it smelt of dead swamp creatures.
We both forced ourselves to pretend the lake didn’t exist, too tempted to at least touch the waters with our toes.
The heat persisted.
I finally found a house restaurant that was advertised to serve drinks to pilgrims, but when we arrived, they said they were closed. The woman said we were allowed to sit in the shade where there were chairs and tables set up and take water from the hose set aside for pilgrims.
Ludo dunked his head into the bucket filled with water while I took off my shoes and socks, gasping as I discovered a new blister that hadn’t been there that morning between my toes. He took out extra snack food from his backpack, insisting I eat up.
We were the happiest most miserable company.
I let him take a quick nap as I thought about our next plan of attack. Looking at his guide book, there would be a gite in the next 5km, which I’d started saying, “You used to run that all the time, not a big deal” to myself to get me to keep walking.
I prayed I could find something easily. Ludo was taking so much time to take care of me that I was slowing him down. He would never get to where he needed to go with me around, this I knew.
He woke up just as I had a decent plan in place. He agreed and we slowly got ourselves ready, refreshing our water again. It was so warm that cold, fresh water would be hot within fifteen minutes.
And so we walked.
I tried to keep the energy up with singing. When I couldn’t, Ludo sang a bit. We’d make each other laugh. But then there would be a long stretch of Ludo getting ahead on the trail and me lagging behind, thinking of how great a bath would feel.
“Why are we still walking?” Ludo asked at one point. I looked over at him, thinking he was joking.
“Because you said so,” I replied, laughing a bit.
“Stupid,” he said, shaking his head.
“Probably.” I bit the inside of my cheek. “I probably should have stayed back. Your need to take care of me is becoming more important than you getting ahead. You’re no where near where you planned to be.”
“No, it is no problem. This is probably for the better. Without you, I wouldn’t have rested. This is good.”
We passed a few signs for gites, but they didn’t look good enough to call and request rooms. We passed a hotel, one that Ludo said would be too much money with summer hours.
The sun was starting to get low.
He hugged me sideways as the suffering became apparent on my face.
“We’ll get there,” he promised, smiling at me. I nodded, having no option but to put my faith in that.
We came out of the trees to find a sign for a cute gite just down a road. He called the place and spoke French rapidly. I caught a few things, but my feet and head just wouldn’t allow me to fully understand what was going on. By his tone, he was making sure there was at least one place for me to sleep. I was going to get upset if he didn’t have a place to stay.
When he got off of the phone, I said, “What’s happening? You have a place, right? You’re not going ahead, are you? Not now.” I hated having such a limited knowledge of French. I always felt he wasn’t telling me the whole truth so I wouldn’t worry.
“There is a bed for you, I made sure of that. I will be using my tent.”
“Where? You’re staying at the gite, yes? So you can eat and get a shower?” I was beginning to feel like the worst person ever. So much for my independant woman show. I realized I’d been taken care of for twelve days. And he was giving up comfort for the tag-a-long. The lady who had no idea where she was going or how to get there, but had showed up anyway.
“I will be there, let’s find the place,” he said, leading the way.
A bit of a ways down the road, we found the place. Someone else was pitching a tent, and my heart didn’t feel as heavy–this was normal. Another woman was lounging in a chair, and she waved at us. We set our bags on the ground as our host ushered us in for a drink.
We sat down, and Ludo excitedly spoke with our host in French. I wasn’t completely sure what he was saying, but I could tell that it almost didn’t matter.
Ludo had missed speaking in his own language. It was plain as day.
I looked out the windows and noticed that our host had two geese, chickens, rabbits, a dog, a turtle, and even an apple tree. I later found out he had a lamb as well.
With our drinks finished, the owner of the house took us back to show where the bathrooms were and where I would be sleeping. He opened it up to show a blue room with deep, dark brown shutters. The bed was lovely, with a handmade light, quilt; there was a lamp next to the bed with lotus markings; there was a desk next to the window, begging to be written at.
I looked at our host and said softly, “C’est parfait.” He smiled warmly back.
“Take a shower,” Ludo said. I started to protest. “No, I need to set up my tent.” He smiled widely. “Oh, yeah, I finally get to try out my tent!”
His boyish excitement made me smile and shake my head.
I had to wait to shower, so I got internet connection together and wrote a bit. By the time the showers were cleared for me, he had finished his tent and was beaming like the sun itself.
“Mallory!” he said when I stuck my head out of my window. “Look! Isn’t it beautiful! Oh, yeah!” I laughed. He had never set up a tent before. “I’m texting Katherine right now! I’ve messaged my dad and sister!”
I didn’t feel as bad about taking over a room in lieu of his pure happiness.
Supper was absolutely magnificent. There were four courses, wine, and the lady next to me was from Germany, but had lived in the states for four years and knew English much better than French. There was a couple sitting by Ludo and I that he excitedly spoke to over supper. I couldn’t help but smile. He had spent two days with ladies who only knew English. Of course he was happy to be back in his element.
After spending some good time with Ludo, I knew that the best way to say thank you for his help was to feed him. Since he was never recieving my thanks, I stealthly anticipated his needs by handing over bread, meat, cheese, and anything else on the table. It sounds stupid, but it made me feel better about taking away his day.
He was excited about every piece of food I sent his way.
By the end, he realized he’d been speaking French the whole time, but I said I’d been talking to the lady next to me and not to worry.
The lamest, and only, gift I could give without him refusing.
By the end of the night, we were tipsy on wine and a type of plum alcohol that reminded me of tequila.
I got ready for bed, windows wide open, and still feeling incredibly hot. I wrote a bit more and downloaded an application to better my French.
Whenever I’d asked Ludo to teach me French, he only taught me swear words. Useful, but I didn’t think I’d want to use them while trying to get a gite for the night.
The wind was picking up a bit, which I thanked the gods for to get rid of this heat. I was only in my underwear because anything else would have made me pass out from heat exhaustion in the night. The owner of the house popped out in front of the window, hooking part of the window to the wall so it wouldn’t bounce in the wind.
He spoke to me in French, and from his gestures, I could tell he was asking about the window being open.
“It’s warm, so the window is fine,” I explained, hoping it made sense. He made the gesture to shut it, and I could tell he was saying that it should be closed. “Oh, but it is so warm. Does it need to be?”
“He’s saying the wind is dangerous.” Ludo came around the window. I’d heard them talking in the distance, so it made sense he’d followed him over. I just wasn’t used to being in a sports bra and undies with a quilt over my bottom while talking to him. “It should be kept closed.”
“Nothing has happened yet,” I said. “Does it have to be? I’m so hot…”
He shrugged and the owner said something again.
“Oui, oui,” I said, slightly sad at the prospect of no fresh air. “I’ll close it.”
They waited for me, but I just stared back. I wasn’t going to remove myself from the bed in my underwear.
The owner and I said bonne nuit. Ludo half-smiled at me and waved goodbye.
And the night was then perfectly dreadful.
The most comfortable everything in the room that I couldn’t fully enjoy due to night being sticky and hot. I was more awake than asleep the rest of the night. I cheated and opened my window again, but to no avail–the night air that had threatened storms before was staying hot.
Breakfast was at 7am, and I was surprsied to have to prod Ludo awake in his tent. I guessed he’d had the night I did, as the rest of us did I soon realized as everyone said they’d slept as best as one could in the heat.
I had the best lavender honey I’d ever tasted in my whole life on my toast that morning. I made noises of pure approval while I ate. Looking at the jar, I realized the host had made that, too.
The place was a paradise. Even after a bad night’s rest.
As we packed to get ready to go, the guy from the couple that had been talking to Ludo the night before stuck his head in my room and said, “You play the ukulele, yes? Would you mind giving us a song before we leave?”
I was completely embarrassed, and knew Ludo had said something.
I chose You and I by Ingrid Michaelson because it had the words “south of France” in it.
As I sang, the rest of the house slowly came out to enjoy. I had been nervous in the beginning, but as they came out to watch and listen, I felt good. I thought of myself giving something back to the atmosphere that had been so welcoming before. It was weird to have so many people applaud and tell me I had a good voice. But I felt as if my confidence in playing for the public was slowly starting to go away.
We said our goodbyes shortly after, me kissing the host on the cheek in the French way and thanking him profusely.
While we’d left earlier than we normally would, the weather was a humid fog. Between that and light resting for the night, we trudged our way 9.5km to Figeac. We stopped for a drink and to buy a lunch for later. Ludo was happy to enjoy a Coke (apparently, having a Coca-cola in France is a HUGE thing–people say it a lot, I’ve noticed) longer than I anticipated, but that is because I didn’t realize we’d walked that far.
Walking out of Figeac, I should have noticed more signs to Ludo. But I was tired myself, not complaining that we would stop more often to rest.
We stopped for lunch. I decided to take a nap. When I woke up, Ludo was sleeping, too. I finished my lunch (like a child, I’d stopped halfway through to sleep), and the couple we’d been with at the gite before started to pass by. They knew English decently, so I was able to participate in most of the conversation. Lunch ended up being a large break for us.
When we got on the road, Ludo moved ahead and kept going. This was the usual sign that he was thinking, so I let him be as we continued on, even breaking away from the couple. We made it another 4km or so to the next town, and while I gathered fresh water, Ludo said, “It’s getting tough, non?”
“I’m actually feeling okay,” I said. “It’s not too hot, fresh water…I can make it to Beduer.” Beduer was another 3.5km away.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, looking away. “Just thinking.”
I drank some water while I looked at him. He was being more pensive than normal, but I didn’t like to pry. Not until we could sit and talk. And not when I knew we were supposed to part at some point that day.
“Did you want to get back to walking so you can think some more?” I asked. “Or sit down and write? We could find a table.”
“No, let’s go.” He got up and we made our way out of the town.
I figured he must be in Super Thinking Mode because he was ahead of me within minutes. He got so far ahead, I’d only see the red of his backpack turn the corner as I got onto the proper roads. I wasn’t worried in the least bit. As I should have been.
When I slowly made my way up a steep hill, I saw him sitting and waiting for me at the top.
“You waited for me!” I teased, thinking of the last time I’d told him not to wait. I sat down next to him as he smiled. He was looking at the guide. “Where are we?”
“Here,” he said, pointing to Mas-de-la-Croix.
“Ah, only a little more until Beduer! That’s where I’ll stop, I think.” He was quiet. “What are you thinking?” I put my chin on his shoulder, looking over it at the map. I was silently hoping he’d say he’d stay. After we parted, he was going to try to go 50km per day.
“I’m thinking I have to see a doctor,” he replied. The tone of his voice was hard. He wasn’t very happy.
“Oh.” I took my chin off of his shoulder. “Your chest? It hurts that much?”
“Yes. I’m just trying to think what to do about it.” It hit me that he’d been thinking about this for almost 7km. That he’d felt the pain in Figeac, almost 10km ago, where a train station was, but he’d pressed on anyway.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, also thinking of how he’d said it was getting tough, and I’d replied that it was fine.
“I don’t know. Ahhh, fuck,” he said, getting up and starting to pace. “I think I have to go back to Figeac.”
“Ludo, no, that’s stupid. We’re halfway between places, and you can’t carry that bag! Hitchhike if you have to, but you’re not leaving me to go back like that.” I honestly didn’t trust him to not walk the whole way back himself.
“This is not the plan. This is not how it was supposed to go.”
“The Camino is not planned!” I said. “You have to stop thinking you can plan it like this! The plan was supposed to be me walking with you for six days, and I lost you after two! The plan was for you to only walk an extra week and now you’re walking to St. Jacques! The plan changes.”
We went back and forth like this for a while, trying to talk it out, Ludo upset with himself and the situation. The couple we’d had lunch with came up. We explained the situation.
Four brains thought about the different options he had. I felt, of course, mine was the best option.
“We walk to Beduer,” I said. “You can get your bag to be shipped to the next gite we stay at after tonight. You could walk the whole way without a bag, get to Carjac easily the next day, take the bus to where you need to go, or at least see a doctor. Then you can get to your family reunion, then back on the trail as planned.”
“No,” he said stubbornly. “I carry my pack.”
I wanted to smack him upside the head.
He got a call from his cousin, who said he could pick him up from a train station in another town if he could get to one.
“Ugh, this is taking too much time away from the trail,” he growled, still pacing. “I will never come back if I am away for a week.”
“Ludo,” I said, now angry. “Is that really who you think you are? You think that after all this fucking time you’ve put into this fucking trail, you’ll suddenly change your mind and stop walking? That you will allow your family to stop you from getting back on here? That after all this fucking progress and change you’ve been through, you’re just going to say ‘Fuck it’ and throw it all away? What the fuck is that? And if you don’t think Kathrine and I will be annoying you mercilessly to be back on this trail, you’d have another think coming.”
He looked straight at me, angry at first, then shaking his head with an angry smile you give when you’ve got nothing else to say because the other person is right. “Fuck you,” he said, only in French, chuckling. “Fuck you!”
I stuck my tongue out at him.
Finally, we got to the plan of him getting to Beduer, then hitchhiking back to Figeac to see a doctor and/or get on the train.
We began to walk, Ludo still wanting to break something. Rightfully so. I had to remind myself that I would feel the same way in his position. I just wasn’t sure if I’d be so stuck on the plan when it wasn’t an option anymore.
I probably would be.
“Do you want me to help with the pack?” I asked. “I could carry the front and you could lift the back so your chest would have a rest.”
“No,” he said, Gaston Stubborn as ever. “It is a game. I must carry this to the end.”
“Stupidest fucking game I’ve ever heard of,” I muttered, and walked up ahead.
We only had 1.5km to the gite I wanted to originally stay at, but it felt longer. I was trying to hide my own feelings of the situation. I was angry at Ludo for not saying something about his chest in Figeac. I was upset that he had to go through so much anguish, but that he felt he had to suffer or else he wasn’t doing the Camino right. That he wasn’t willing to slow the fuck down to make sure he was okay for fucking once. I knew we were supposed to part today, but I was upset on him leaving like this. Part of me wanted to go with him, but I knew that wasn’t rational.
‘He finally got what I knew would happen to him,’ I’d think one second. ‘This is what happens when you never take care of yourself, refusing to think you’re worth slowing down for.’
The next, it was ‘What if he has to get surgery? What if that means he can’t come back on the trail?’
And after that: ‘What the fuck, I have to say goodbye, don’t fucking cry, you’ll see him again, you’re being stupid and should be focusing on hiding this mess of emotion.’
When we made it to the gite, everyone started talking French. There was a flurry as the people at the gite got their phone to call for the doctor, Ludo and the couple talked about what they’d be doing next for food, and I sat, trying to stay silent and wondering what the fuck was going on. I heard something about 7pm, and then there was more phone calls and talking in French.
Suddenly, they all stared at me. “So, what will you do?”
“Me?” I asked. “I don’t even know what is going on right now. I can’t speak French.”
It dawned on Ludo that of course I couldn’t understand what had happened in the past five minutes, and he hung his head for a second before saying, “I have a doctor’s appointment at 7pm in Figeac. I will hitchhike with this gentleman-” he pointed at the guy who owned the gite “-to Figeac soon. These guys are going to the next place for the night. Will you stay here?”
I gulped. “How far is the next gite?” I asked.
“Is it flat?” I meant the path.
I looked at Ludo. “I’m going with them.” I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t stay there. I didn’t want to wait. It had to happen quick.
“You ready?” the girl asked.
I nodded and got up. Ludo did, too.
I took his face in my hands and looked him straight in the eyes.
“Do not let this break you,” I said, dead serious. “Do not let this break you, okay? You’re coming back.”
He put his hands on my shoulders. “I won’t. Are you okay? Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.” I tried not to scoff and failed.
“I’m not worried.”
“Yes, you are.”
“I’m not worried, it’s fine, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Don’t worry, please.”
I yanked him into a hug, kissing his cheek, and we squeezed. I tried to keep myself composed, just holding him. When I thought to let go, he didn’t, so I held him back longer. I don’t really remember if we said anything else. I think we both kept telling each other that it’d be fine. It felt like a long time. But it wasn’t enough.
We recluctantly pulled apart eventually. He said something about me being emotional, so I playfully smacked him on the cheek. I turned to put my pack on. When I got it all clicked together, we looked at each other once more and gave sad smiles.
“I’ll catch up to you,” he promised.
“You always do,” I said back.
“Maybe,” I teased. He was sitting, so I gave him another half hug. “I’ll see you soon.”
I stalked away a bit before turning back. He was watching my departure. I could tell by his shoulders that he’d somewhat accepted his fate.
“Cheer up,” I said. “If you come back quick, I’ll kiss you when I see you.” He shook his head, looking at the ground with a smile.
And we walked away.
It took us two hours to get to the next destination. We called ahead while walking to get me a place for food and a bed at the gite we were going to.
It was a long, long walk. I kept thinking about what had happened, working through the rest of my emotions. And my feet were in pain.
When we got to the gite, Volets Bleu, I was running on empty. I sat down and was pretty silent while we ate, the food delicious and vibrant, like all the food in France. The guests could tell I was pretty broken.
The lady next to me had been walking from Germany, on the road for about 12 weeks. She said she had decided that she wasn’t going to walk any longer, that it had become too hard. She was going to take vacation elsewhere.
We had sorbet.
I asked the rest of the group if they minded me taking a shower, and they kindly said they didn’t.
The owner of the house, full of vibrant life and color, brought me to my room in the attic with the others. Everything was in pinks, greens, oranges, and blues. It was as if I’d painted and decorated my own home.
As I washed, I suddenly started crying. It was too much.
I cried for the pain in my feet. For the heat that had pounded my back for two days. For all the kindness and love I’d received without asking in the past two weeks.
For Ludo’s pain.
For my own.
I couldn’t seem to stop.
I kept thinking of how I’d told Ludo, over and over, that the plan always had to have a Plan B, even C, sometimes all the way to Z.
I cried over Plan A.
I dried off, feeling particularly vulnerable, and went to ask about washing my clothes.
The two ladies who owned the gite were sitting at the table. They asked about my credentials and settling the money for the night, so I sat and spoke with them for a while.
She had started the gite not knowing anything about The Way. As people continued to ask her for water and food throughout the day, she began to realize what it was and changed her business into a gite for the pilgrims instead. They’d been doing it for fifteen years.
She asked about how I came to the Camino and I told her how I’d quit my job and was hoping for confidence in myself and believing in what I could do.
She stamped my credentials, put her fingerprint through the stamp in blue, then wrote “A wonderful way, full of stars, for Mallory.”
I had never told her how much I loved the stars.
I went to wash my clothes, and while I used my hands to soap everything down, I heard an accordion start to play beautiful music.
I started to cry again, sloshing around the water in an attempt to mimic a wash cycle.
As went to hang the clothes up, Esther, the owner, had the accordion attached to her back, and she yelled out, “Mallory! I am going home for the night! Happy Camino! You will find the way!”
I went over to her to give her a hug, and she whispered in my ear, “Oh, Mallory, you sweet thing, starting over is okay. Starting over, a new beginning, what wonderful things will happen! Such things you deserve. Oh, darling, are you crying?” She pulled me back, and I was. “Oh, Mallory, oh, darling, so much love for you. So much love. You will go, and you will come back one day. Or you will stay!” She squeezed me tightly. “You are always welcome.”
“Merci,” I said, tears streaming down my face.
“Chao, Mallory. Chao!” She got into the car and rolled down the window. “Chao! Mallory! Chao!” She called it all the way out of sight. I continued to wave.
I sniffled as I hung the rest of my laundry.
I made my way up the stairs, feet tender, beaten.
I curled under the soft, cotton sheets. It all felt like home.
It had been a long, hard day.
I closed my eyes, waiting for the next.