The sky was blue, the sun was warm inside the walls of the Peaceable. I chopped down the blackberry thicket out back where the chickens are hiding their eggs. I had the back gate open, to clear the way to the brush-pile. The hens pecked round the green sprouts just outside.
Two men appeared at the gate from off the road outside. The chickens fluttered and squawked. I stood up and said hello.
"Is there an albergue in the town?" one of them asked, through broken teeth.
"No," I told him. "Nothing here for pilgrims. Do you need anything?"
"We aren´t pilgrims, at least not real pilgrims. We´re heading the other way, to Burgos," he said. He was giving me an opportunity to send him away. An honest man, I thought. Lots of travelers pretend to be pilgrims, even though their tennis shoes and bags and bluejeans give them away.
And their weariness. Pilgrims look tired-out. Homeless people are weary.
"Come in and have a coffee," I told them, wondering if I felt like having company. Paddy was ensconced in the kitchen, tapping away at the computer. I peeled off my gloves. My fingers were bloody, even though the gloves are the heavy-duty rosebush kind. I was ready for a break, too.
With coffee they relaxed, and the bigger one, Geordi, started talking. He spoke Spanish with a choppy regional accent I first thought was Basque. They are Geordi y Ivan, brothers, from Girona, up north of Barcelona. They shook Patrick´s hand, they gave me kisses of introduction. In ten minutes we knew their family was split up, their father in Catalunya, their mother in Lugo, way out west in Galicia. A year ago they lost their jobs when the fruit-processing plant closed. Their van was repossessed, and finally they were turfed out of the house by the evil stepmother. They hit the road, looking for work.
"Any kind of work. I can wait tables, pick fruit, short-order cook," Geordi said. "My brother knows all about inventories, warehouses, sorting things out. We worked at a campground for a while, in Ciudad Real, making salads and repairing things, but the campground closed down. We helped with the olives in the south ... but all those jobs are going to the Moros, the Morroccans, the foreigners who work for nothing."
I put some cookies on the table. They vanished. Geordi and Ivan had said "no, only a coffee," but they were hungry.
And they needed to talk. Or at least Geordi did.
They were in Madrid when they heard there was work in Toledo, building a new railway. They had no money for the bus or train, so they walked there, along the highway. Ninety kilometers, three days. In August.
They worked there til the job ran out. They headed north to their mother´s place in Lugo, stopping in the capitol to pick up some warm clothes from the big Caritas charity warehouse. The sleeves are short, Ivan said, holding up his arms -- but the clothes are warm, and free. His green sweater bore an embroidered logo from Xacobeo 1999. A holy year on the Camino.
While his brother talked Ivan excused himself. I thought he might be heading for the shower. I found him out in the back yard with the gory gloves and the sickle, finishing the gardening job I´d started.
Lugo is cold, Geordi said. Their mother´s little apartment isn´t big enough for long-term guests. There was no work for them up there, either. So they´re headed back east, hitching rides along the national road that parallels the Camino, bumming food and coffee and cigarettes, working wherever work can be found.
If I had been on my own, I would have fed them and then politely moved them on. But Paddy was home. And Paddy invited them to stay for dinner, stay overnight if they wanted. They said yes, thank-you, and washed their clothes and bodies, they ate a stewed rabbit with great relish, played with the dogs, and then slept for 12 hours on beds with real sheets and blankets. It made a change, Geordi said, from meals of sandwiches, and bedding down in bank lobbies with the ATM machines glowing overhead.
Geordi and Ivan moved along this morning. They let themselves out the back gate, back onto the highway. They were not effusive in their thanks, and that is how it should be. They have their dignity, those two, even if they don´t have money or jobs or nice clothes.
They are another kind of pilgrim. They do not walk to discover their inner selves, or to ponder the next step in their personal evolution. They don´t tie themselves into knots wondering if someone else´s pilgrimage is "authentic," or if they are getting enough B-vitamins from the Menu del Dia.
They walk to survive.
In my eyes, that is about as authentic as it gets.