Laying in the sun in Eauze was perfect, but I’d been waiting for Katherine for over an hour. I wanted to get back on the trail, start walking before the sun took over and scorched the hell out of anything in its path.
As I put on my left shoe, I saw Katherine walking up the path toward me, alone, grinning.
“I figured you’d be thinking about moving on just about now,” she said. “Came along to make sure you stayed.”
“Where is everyone?”
“They’re at the super market. Man, we’ve gone mental, completely overboard. We have officially bought too much food. I hope you haven’t bought any.”
I had just been about to buy something from the bakery, but I was glad I hadn’t. A few minutes later, everyone else piled in, holding hoards of pastries, meats, cheeses, pizzas, fruits, and breads. I wasn’t quite sure how we’d carry the leftovers after we’d eaten.
Ludo came up last, and he held out a hand as I stood up. We hugged tightly.
“Thank you,” I whispered in his ear.
“It was because of you,” he said back, and I shook my head. I kissed his cheek, he kissed mine back, and we released, smiles on our faces.
Then, we began the feasting.
It was nice. Very nice. The old feeling of us three being together was back. Ludo was suddenly very warm, placing hands on mine and Katherine’s shoulders, smiling genuine smiles, and having an overall peaceful, at home calm air for the first time since I’d met him. Katherine was joyful as ever, but I could tell she was relieved that this had passed, that we would be able to crawl into each other’s beds, hug, and tease just as we did before.
When we got back to walking in the early afternoon, Kath and I continued our walk together, going through the 36 questionnaire that was a scientific way to have you fall in love with a stranger. It was simply fantastic to talk that much, give each other stories, to go off topic as one story came from another. We had a long ways to go in the sun, so it kept my mind off of the heat and my ankle/shin as well.
About halfway through the questions, we saw ahead of us beneath a large tree the rest of the group, lounging. It had seemed so quick for a stop, but there was no doubt that’d we’d been walking for just over two hours.
Kath and I sat down, me taking off my boots and ace bandage to air everything out. I lent my book, Writing Down the Bones, to Kath as she had been thinking about writing more but wasn’t sure how to start. I did some corrections in my ukulele book I’d been meaning to do for chord timing, and Lukas came over to me to show some of the pictures he had taken when he found his spot too hot in the sun.
At that point, Ludo and Valerie decided they wanted to start wrestling. After Ludo, who didn’t know his own strength, pinned her down a bit more forcibly than I liked watching, I said, “Well, that’s my cue,” and gathered my things. I’m not a fan of rough housing to begin with, and I had a slight fear that it would bleed into where I was sitting.
I said my quick goodbyes, grabbing the name of the gite we’d be staying at before I left to wander down the heated road for eight more kilometers.
Well. For what I thought was eight more kilometers.
First, I went through a Mancient at four kilometers, where I waited almost an hour in hopes that I’d come across the group again while massaging my feet and leg. When I didn’t, I moved on again, thinking I was paying attention, but…
Instead, I accidentally passed the gite we were going to and continued on into the heat until I realized that I’d probably passed the gite after getting to a sign that my map said was almost to Nogaro. I debated on what I wanted to do. I could go back the extra four or more kilometers to try and find the gite, which I now realized I couldn’t really remember if I knew the proper name or not, or I could go the two or more kilometers and take my chances with finding a gite there. I saw the time and felt how my leg was. Four more kilometers just didn’t seem like something I was willing to do.
So, I pressed on, laughing a bit at the ridiculous nature of what I’d done. It was typical Mallory style, after all, to change course unexpectedly, usually due to a mistake that was made. When I saw the sign for Nogaro, I laughed straight up. I had had this small hope that I wasn’t where I thought I was, but the sign was indisputable.
It was almost 7:30pm, and I wasn’t sure whether anything would be open or available. We’d been told that all gites were filled in town, which was why they’d gotten the other gite ten kilometers before. I suddenly wondered whether going back that extra five kilometers was such a bad thing, but it was definitely too late now that I was ten kilometers ahead.
The walk was brutal. My leg hurt, tremendously, but the gites were all so spread out in the town. The first thing I did was sneak into a gite to rest and grab internet so I could email the group and let them know what had happened. I already had an email from both Kath and Valerie asking what had happened to me, so I sent a group email to Ludo, Kath, and Valerie giving a short story of my stupidity, and that I’d meet up with them eventually, thinking it’d maybe be a day in my head.
The second thing I had to take care of was where I was going to sleep. The gite I was resting at didn’t have an extra room. There were only two other gites in my book that perhaps had open space in town. The other books would have other gites just outside of the town, but I didn’t think I could handle walking much further with my pack and then also my leg.
I was incredibly happy to have my walking stick at this point. As I wandered town, I leaned heavily. Unfortunately, it didn’t gather much sympathy while trying to see if a place was open. Feeling embarrassed to attempt more than the two, and unsure of where the other gite was anyway, I looked up and saw the church in the distance.
The path was uphill, but now that I had a pretty decent destination in sight, it didn’t seem that bad. Just as I was thinking about whether I could get food since it was so late, I passed by an Asian Box. I was happier than a peach leaving with Chinese takeout, having chugged a Fanta and eating two spring rolls before leaving, I was that hungry. I’d just need to find a place, the church probably helping, and it’d all be fine.
The church was closed.
I know because I wandered around to each of the doors that were shut and tried to open them as discreetly as possible, so as not to make it seem like I was trying to get in the church with the desperation I was feeling. It was almost dark at that point. I hobbled across the side of the church to a stone ledge. I noticed a sign for a WC as I sat down, a public bathroom station. I scanned the rest of my surroundings. The church had a little nook with grass and light. It was pretty close to the WC, which was important.
Sighing with reservation, I prepared myself for the inevitable: sleeping underneath the stars with just my sleeping bag to protect me.
As I went into the little area, debating if I wanted a dark corner where the spiders could eat me or be out in the light where the police could see me as a homeless person and shuck me away, I noticed several more doors I could try to get into, which I immediately did. The last door in the further corner gave way as I tried the handle.
I couldn’t believe my luck.
Since it was dark at that point, and I had this feeling I shouldn’t necessarily announce that I was sneaking into the church, I moved as silently as I could with my hands completely full and a bag on my back. I closed the door as best I could without it squeaking. And I used the flashlight on my phone to give a look around.
I was on a very small landing. There were stairs going up and stairs going down. Thinking church attics tend to be pretty okay, I went up first. I scanned my flashlight to the left when I got to the top, then jumped as it came across three dilapidated statues of some saints or another, arms, noses, and other parts broken or whittled away by time. I studied them very carefully, looking even behind them, my mind racing to Doctor Who episodes. I wasn’t taking any chances.
Warily, I turned to the right where another room was.
It was filled with dust, cobwebs, old tables and chairs, and one wall was lined with old fashioned tweed suits and other costumes, all protected by thin plastic bags on each hanger.
Not seeing too much room, I went back down to the landing, then down further to the lower part of the building. There was another door, but it was locked so I went into the room instead. Windows lined the top of the walls, but there weren’t any below so people could see if someone was inside. There were two doors, one leading to an alley outside, the other to the building I had been trying to get into prior on the complete opposite side of the actual church, which was locked. There were two tables pushed together and chairs around the entire square that had been made, although there was dirt like substances along the tables.
I honestly couldn’t tell if this part of the church was used that frequently. More cobwebs were around, but there was also a jug of water and two Easter bunny chocolates in packages at the end of one of the tables along the wall.
I decided to take my chances and sleep there.
I figured God, or one of the gods, really, would understand my plight.
With that, I opened my bag and took out the essentials I’d need, including my sleeping bag. I found a particularly more comfortable patch of hard floor to sleep on, which meant a spot with no cracks or dips that would make it any more uncomfortable than it already was.
I took off my pants, but didn’t want to change into something too clean as I wasn’t able to take a shower. I’d be wearing samesies clothes the next day for sure.
Slipping my legs into the sleeping bag and using my phone for light, I opened my box of Chinese takeout, cracked my chopsticks apart, and dug in.
After the first couple of bites, I started laughing. It was absolutely ridiculous. The entire situation. I looked like I’d just bought a shitty home and used the last bit of my money to buy myself something to eat because I couldn’t afford furniture anyway.
I was able to plug in my phone. I used my jacket as a pillow. I kept my phone on because I found I couldn’t take the complete darkness by myself in such a place.
As I lay down and shuffled my body for the most comfortable position, I felt a pang of missing Ludo. The first thought in my head when I finally found a decent spot was how much Ludo would love to sprawl out in the most inconvenient place to sleep, all to have the experience. It caused me almost to whisper “Ludo” as if he were there. I was so used to the lights going out and him throwing pillows around like some sort of bed storm, it was odd to simply lay down and just expect sleep.
The sleeping was uneventful. Mostly.
I kept waking up randomly when I’d hear a car outside, or someone rummage in the alley when they left part of the church. I would think, “Oh, gods, they’re going to come in. They know I’m here because they see the small light from my phone or something. Try to look pathetic when they find you so they don’t call the police or throw you out.”
But then there would be a small part of me that would think, “Oh, gods, I hope they find me and take me in so I can take a shower somewhere and maybe have a better bed than stone flooring.”
Since I was paranoid about being found out, I had set my alarm for 5am so I could grab all of my things and skedaddle before anyone could ask questions. By 5:30am, I was packing my items properly by a streetlamp by a water fountain. Just before 6am, I was thanking the gods profusely for the nearby bakery open with delicious breakfast and lunchtime items. After 6am, I was on the road, walking a firm pace.
I got to look behind me and see the sunrise.
It was about ten kilometers when I found a gite that I knew I had to refill water on and perhaps beg for a bathroom. I asked the first person outside, who happened to be dealing with a donkey at the time. I thought he was the owner, but he was instead a father of two walking with his wife of six years.
The story goes, seven years ago (literally the day before I met them was their seven year mark), wife and husband met each other for the first time on The Way. He was from Germany, she was from France, but they walked together until Cahors, where they ended their trek, but started a relationship. This year, they crossed the famous Cahors bridge together as a family, signifying their full circle.
How it all works, The Way.
I kept going, taking my time. I’d left early enough, by the time lunch came around, I went to a comfy spot of grass and took a nap, then played ukulele. It was a rather wonderful day.
Until I got to the next town.
I ended up spending two hours trying to find the gite I reserved due to bad directions, wandering back and forth in the heat until I thought I’d collapse in a heap in the middle of the road. Since everything had been spelled incorrectly, no one knew the name of the gite, either, and kept pointing me to a different gite, where the owner wasn’t there to help in the least bit. With my limited French and their limited English, the folk around the area and I found it difficult to help.
Eventually, I ran across a lady who managed to find out that my directions weren’t correct and used her GPS to find the gite. I warily took the directions and walked, limping, to the destination, exhausted more from the end than from the original walk itself.
The new directions had been correct, and I was able to finally set down my bag and breathe easy knowing I had a place to sleep, internet, and a decent shower. Kath had emailed me that morning about getting a church gite in the town just a few kilometers after mine, but I was happy to once again be a bit distant from the crew, despite missing the faces. I wasn’t in a mood to converse, especially after that afternoon, and there was this gut feeling that I was better off where I was for the moment. I’d felt the same pang when I’d looked behind me and saw the sunrise, thinking of how I’d missed being able to do things on my own terms, my own way, not worrying about everyone else around me.
As they were ahead of me, I wanted to meet up anyway, especially since I’d left Katherine after promising I’d walk with her that day. We’d only gotten through a part of the questions for our questionnaire, and I liked us being able to finally talk. It was refreshing and full of great energy.
At dinner, I used as much French as I knew to have at least a bit of conversation. The one lady who knew a spot of English, we managed to talk about my love of writing, and what I was doing on the Camino in the first place. It was nice to know I had a semblance of what was going on when people were speaking French around me. I was broken, but my French stood.
Once the table knew my name, they immediately started to sing a French song called Le Chant de Mallory.
When I left the next morning, the owner of the gite gave me a set of the lyrics in both French and English. It was absolutely lovely.
I met up with the crew again at their fancy church gite. I was told how much I’d missed, from their gite with a pool and dark chocolate to a night of pizza and wine in the church. I’d also apparently missed Ludo running naked in the church foyer.
Apparently, my gut feeling of being by myself for a bit had been spot on.
I was sad to have missed such a good couple of days with them, of course, but I didn’t feel like I had actually missed out on anything in particular. Ludo’s behavior was getting more and more exasperating for me, talking about masturbation frequently, starting to objectify all the women in the area, and hearing about him streaking in the sleeping rooms was just about enough of what I could handle.
Being in a group can be fun, but I was walking to be able to think, too. If all I was thinking about was what was going on with Ludo, I wouldn’t get anything done.
It turns out, the days I’d been gone had been a bit rough for Katherine, too, in some areas. Renilda seemed to have taken the same liking of Katherine as she had of me, acting a bit strange and stand-offish, particularly when it came to Ludo. Both Kath and I surmised her crush taking hold, and feeling intimidated by our presence. Valerie said as much when we’d mentioned the behavior. When she announced she’d be parting with the group that day I arrived at the church, I couldn’t say that I was particularly sad. I’m not one for drama, and Ludo’s behavior had changed drastically since her arrival. I hoped that with her leaving, it would level out.
As it goes, this wasn’t the case. While Katherine and I grew closer, Ludo seemed to grow further away, acting strangely. He stopped giving me kisses on the cheek, or properly hugging me. Whenever I asked if he was okay, he’d reply with the distant words, “Oh, yeah, I’ll be fine.” Which, of course, meant that he wasn’t okay, but would eventually be, and he was simply refusing to talk about it.
No one had any extra information to this change. They said his mood went dark around the time I’d left, and I at first wondered if I’d done something wrong.
The gite we stayed at that night was absolutely wonderful. They had a swimming pool, and I finally got to spend hours in the water as I’d so wished the past weeks. I didn’t leave the waters until I knew I was going to take a shower. It was heaven.
I continued to stay constant in my own behavior, figuring all would come out in due time. I met several new pilgrims who were fantastic. We pooled our money together to purchase a bunch of food, then Raphael, a culinary master, cooked us a vegetarian meal worth every happy moan that come from my throat. I was prodded to play my ukulele, and I happily agreed, having drank enough wine to not even think to get nervous.
As I played, I thought about how wonderful it was to have such a great group of people, all gathered to talk, listen, and sit, connected in a space.
By the time I went inside, everyone was still up, of course, because Ludo decided he was sleeping naked, and my pillow was missing from my bed, which I blamed on him as he had an affinity for throwing around pillows like free ammunition. I found an extra one on Valerie’s bed, but my quick blame seemed to irritate him.
“I’m sorry,” I said, sitting down on his bed. He turned completely away to the wall, squeezing close to it. “Awe, come on. Let’s have a hug!” He grunted, so I lay down next to him, as I used to when he was being grumpy or annoying. “Then I guess I’ll just use your pillow and you’ll have to deal with me here until you accept my apology.” I poked at him, like an innocent poking a hibernating bear. “Ludo, Ludo, come on, Ludo.”
Suddenly, Kath smashed through between us, and I laughed as she settled in.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Ludo asked, and it made us laugh more. He was at his playful anger, and we teased we’d be spending the whole night there. “You always do this, always take my bed, maybe I sleep in your bed.”
“Then it will just be us, that’s fine,” I replied, and Kath grinned. Ludo swung to sit up, us giggling as we lay there.
“Oh, they just want to fuck you,” Renilda said. The mood shifted. I was wondering where the fuck that comment had come from, and Ludo was doing his best to keep his blanket around his waist while leaving the bed between curses and actual anger.
He wrapped Kath’s towel around his waist, then threw everything off of her bed, to which he then picked up her mattress and threw it on the ground.
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this other than a bit disbelief as to what was happening.
“I guess Kath and I will be staying here then,” I said, because there was no way I was going to clean up his mess of a tantrum. It seemed completely out of the blue, and I kept wondering what the hell Renilda was thinking.
He continued to spout angry things until Renilda said, “Perhaps it would fix things if you put her bed back together, then they would leave your bed.”
He did so, but as we got up to our beds, he grabbed his blanket and said he’d be sleeping outside.
“Whoa, Ludo, come on,” I said, trying to block his path. “I’m sorry, okay? Go to bed, it’s fine.”
“Let me pass, Mallory, I don’t want to be here.”
“Come on, don’t be angry,” I persisted. His mood swings were getting worse and worse, this I knew, but I really couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening here. “I’m sorry.”
“I just want to leave, let me leave.”
I let him through the door, shaking my head. The lights were shut off and we all got in our beds to sleep.
A few minutes later, Ludo came back in and lay on his bed.