The brown-eyed girl came first, a Navajo called Annalise. From New Mexico, a dental hygienist, a bad ankle, a chipper little talk talk talker. I was baking bread. She watched carefully.
I put her to work, helping trim the buds on some dried stalks. A big job for people who are sitting down. A great thing to do while someone talks, while The Eagles sing on the stereo, while a storm gathers up in the sky outside.
Autumn blew in overnight over the weekend. Now it's blustery and chilly, and the sky can't decide on sun or clouds or overcast, snow or cold or wind. I took the screens and the canvas roof off the little gazebo out on the patio, I pulled the orange tree and ficus and pony-tail palm inside, just in time. When the ugly storm broke, the patio was waiting for it, stripped half naked and ready for the worst.
Annalise said she'd left a note for her friend in the bar in Calzadilla, that the guy was sure to stop there for his 10 a.m. beer, sure to get the note, sure to get here before nightfall. He's a chef in a restaurant, she said -- he can cook our dinner when he arrives! Him and maybe a couple of other people. Maybe a couple or more people, she said. It depends.
And so yes, they showed up. Michael, the Belgian beer-lover, tattooed and pierced and carrying a flute and drum and juggling sticks in his 25-kilo pack -- a classic Camino character. (these are the kind of guys who built our house, matter of fact.)
Then came Joseph, an older man whose face shone with the gentle severity of San Ignacio -- and yes, he was a Basque, a doctor just back from years of service in Gambia. His ankle was very bad, there was a hole torn in the heel. His Achilles tendon was about half-ruptured. I did some healing juju on it, even though he is a doctor. He closed his eyes and breathed as I did it, just they way you ought to. A real doctor, a real healer, knows how to be healed himself, just as well as he knows how to heal others. He learned that in Africa, he said.
With him was Will, a mild-mannered man from Charleston, S.C., who immediately fell in with the dogs and cat. With him was Santiago, a dark-eyed Murcian who works in Mexico, "moving merchandise." His hair was black and wild, he had prison tattoos, but a toothy smile full of sunshine. There were three more, but we had no room for them. They went to Bruno's place.
Oh, and there's Coco, a shiny black Podenco hound who we are babysitting while his master finishes the Camino. Tim and Rosie tolerate him. Momo Cat kinda likes him, I think. He follows me around like a puppy dog. He likes to eat everyone else's dog food.
All the pilgrims were inordinately happy to see one another, even though they'd seen each other only hours before, they exulted, hugged and kissed, even with packs still strapped on and walking poles in hand, with dogs barking and laundry going up onto the lines. A hunk of veal shoulder for four was sliced with carrots and potatoes into a ragout for seven. Potatoes peeled, buds put into jars and stowed away, writing projects despaired-of and abandoned, Someone produced wine, another pulled out some eggs, some lettuce, a tomato... which quickly combined with some other leftovers into a pan of fried rice and a salad with honey-mustard dressing. The sun went down suddenly.
In the middle of it all, after a wait of three weeks, Tino the Electrician arrived to fix the lights in the salon. The salon by then was stacked with pack-covers and gloves, draped with drying socks and dozing blokes. He pulled some wires out of the wall, climbed up on a chair.
All the lights in the house went out. Someone actually screamed a little scream, which made all the dogs bark madly. The lights came back on right away, and the dogs thought they'd done it.
We set the table with plates of different colors, backup silverware, four bottles of less-than-wonderful vino. Tino fled. We pulled a lawn chair in from outside and everyone sat down to a lovely communal feast, conducted in English, Spanish, and German.
There was just enough of everything. Everyone helped to wash up dishes and wipe down the kitchen.
Everyone went to bed by 10:30. Every bed was full, and Will shared the mattress on the living room floor with Tim, Coco, Momo, and Rosie, who are not allowed to climb on beds.
I retreated to my office, which was very chilly.
I thought I might write.
I fell asleep instead.