The mystery began on Saturday, a hot market-day morning in Sahagun. I´d parked up by the pilgrim albergue, and so was toiling back up the hill on Calle Constitucion with my shopping-bag full of vegetables and dog-bones from from the butcher. At the top of the rise, across from the Irish pub, the leafy shade of Asturcon Bakery beckoned to me. The little terrace was full of happy pilgrims downing apple tarts. And the lady in charge turned from one of the tables and called out to me: "Rebekah! Stop a minute!"
Like many people in Sahagun, I know the lady by sight. Even so, after five years of buying buns and tarts and goodies at her takeout counter, I still do not know her name. But she knew mine. I put down by bag under the plane tree.
"Did you see Maria Jesus yet?" she asked. "She has something for you, a bottle. A pilgrim was here, must be a week ago, a pilgrim who needed to get it to you, a pilgrim who said he stayed at Moratinos, and said you were very nice, so we knew right away who he meant. He left it here for a while. And yesterday Maria Jesus took it, to bring it to you."
I thanked her for the nice words, and assured her I had not seen Maria Jesus lately, nor taken delivery of any bottles. I bought an apple tart, retreived my bag, and headed home.
"What pilgrim would buy us wine?" I thought. Some pilgrims leave our place swearing never to drink again. Most know we are fond of a dram. We had a big run of pilgrims in June. Perhaps one of them forgot to leave a donation in the box, and only realized it after he´d been on the road for an hour. (I´ve done that myself.) This was a way to get something to us, a thoughtful way to ease his conscience. Maybe. But the donation box was appropriately flush. I could think of no likely suspects.
"Maria Jesus," I thought -- the woman who´d taken the bottle from the bakery. The only Maria Jesus I could recall is better known as "Chus." She is Julia´s daughter-in-law, soon to be mother to Julia´s first grandchild, a fun, talkative woman we see only on occasional weekends. Chus lives in Santander, her hometown is San Justo de la Vega, near Astorga. She is not likely to hang out in bakeries in Sahagun.
There had to be another Maria Jesus around. Someone local. Whoever it was, she had a bottle with my name on it. She´d had it for a day already, and this was Corpus Christi, a holiday weekend, when the families all get together out here on the campo. Wherever the pilgrim´s bottle was, it was unlikely to survive the weekend unmolested, I thought. I let it go. But I felt a prickle of expectation, too.
And late this morning a knock was heard at our door. Under her straw hat smiled the garden lady, another woman I have seen and greeted for many seasons now -- she and her taciturn husband used to run the Escaleras grocery in Sahagun, but retired a couple of years ago to their little house in San Nicolas, the village next to ours. This year, the lady took over the hot, heavy summer brush-cutting and weeding job for both San Nicolas and Moratinos -- a post in the past held by a strapping young man with a hot little Opel. In the spring I interrupted her spading the flower beds and asked her if she needed help. She waved me away, saying she loves this kind of work.
I did not know her name was Maria Jesus. And here she was on the doorstep, with a gift-wrapped bottle in her hands and a big smile. "Don´t thank me," she said. "There´s a note here, stapled on. It will explain, I think."
We thanked her anyway, and took the note out of the folds of the worse-for-wear gift-wrap. It is written with a pencil on paper from a spiral-bound notebook. It says:
"Hello Rebecca and Paddy, it is 17 June 2011 in Sahagun, I am a peregrino from Luxembourg and you don´t know me from Eve, but we have a common acquaintance. An Irishman by the name of John Murphy. He was on his way from the Meditarenean cost and endevored to go to Finisterre and meet Father Atlantic. Unfortunately some problems at home forced him to interrupt his camino. A pitty because we had a similar sense of humor and I got along with him. John must have really appreciated your hospitality, because as we parted he gave me money to buy a good bottle of wine for you. As I was unable to stop at your place in Moratinos myself, I left it to the good hands of this the owner of cafe-bakery Asturcon in Sahagun.
The ways of the camino are mysterious, as you are well aware.
All the best, Marc."
Mystery solved. John Murphy is a perennial pilgrim. He´s stayed with us twice now, is never any trouble, is always almost too grateful. Our cat is named for him.
So, thanks to John Murphy, Marc from Luxembourg, the Asturcon lady, Maria Jesus, and Santiago, we now are possessed of a fine bottle of 2007 Bordon Crianza, a Rioja fit to grace any table. I think we should wait for the next pilgrim to open it. A Texan is expected tomorrow.
Matter of fact, I think his name is John.