Tuesday, 24 March 2020
Saints on Lockdown
Things were falling into place. I had the abdominal surgery, finally. Ollie left. I booked a camino, a ferry to England for a family wedding, house- and dog-sitters for the holidays.
Then St. James and all the apostles came down with a virus, and the world and the Camino de Santiago closed down until further notice.
Spain is on its second week of lockdown, but daily life in Moratinos is not very far off its normal rhythm. We are accustomed to living hermetically, using what's in the cupboard, making something new out of yesterday's leftovers, not going any farther from home than our feet will take us. It's not unusual for us to not see anyone else for several days. We rather like it that way.
But knowing I cannot go home if my mother or my children need me? Having policemen ask where I am going, asking to see the receipts for the groceries in the back, to prove my trip to town is necessary? Having to take turns walking the dogs in the morning? Seeing the news channels full of horrors, reading emails from fellow camino workers undergoing Intensive Care in hospitals...
The light is changed. The birdsong has shifted pitch.
No church on Sunday.
No vermouth after in the bar.
No bar. No cars on the road.
No pilgrims. Only birds returning from Africa, snow geese honking overhead on their way to Finland, moving north, not west.
Last weekend, I helped FICS and a few other agencies clear all the pilgrims off the Camino. Lots of phone calls, tears, drama, trauma, logistics, wrangling. Many good people disappointed. A few entitled jerks in complete denial. Languages, embassies. A nice break from the ordinary, doing something useful. They are all gone now, at least all the foreigners are -- they're either holed-up in a town along the Way, or gone back home to plan for another day.
No one's allowed to run around loose any more.
We haven't walked on the Camino since then. We go over to the Promised Land in the morning, our dogs are now our passport to exercise. We have not seen any law enforcement anywhere. We haven't seen anyone at all. There is no one out there to infect.
Until yesterday evening, when a Moral Dilemma came to the door and rang the bell. I pulled my scarf up over my nose and opened it.
His name was Jonay, from Gran Canaria, heading for France. He had ID, but no pilgrim credential. "The Camino is closed," he said. "It's just a road now, and it goes the way I am going. I need to sleep. Can I sleep here? You have a barn, a shed? I'm perfectly healthy. I have my own food. I will stay well away."
Paddy appeared behind me. I looked at Paddy. He is 79 years old, immunocompromised. He shrugged, turned around, and headed back to the main house.
This man was illegal. This man might be infected, he might infect us. His virus might survive on surfaces for up to six days.
This man has no home, no money, no place to sleep. He was clearly exhausted. The sun was going down. A cold breeze passed through my sweater and into my bones.
"You can stay in this little apartment here, apart from the house," I said. "Just tonight. My husband is at risk, see. And what you are doing, walking out here, it's against the law. I am an immigrant. I can't take chances with the law."
"I know," he said. "The Guardia know I am here. I meet new ones all the time. So far, so good."
He put his things inside. I went back to the main house and put on the teakettle.
Two Guardia Civil patrol cars came roaring up the driveway, sending the dogs into a frenzy. I opened the door again. Four masked men alighted. "A man is here," one of them said.
"Yes," I said.
The man came out.
"Come out here. Keep away from the lady," the policeman said. "Madam, cover your nose." I covered my nose again with my scarf, and leaned against the doorway.
The policemen barked at the man, but kept well away from him. They checked his ID. They asked where he'd been, where he was headed, why he was out there, didn't he know?
He told them. His camino geography was off. The cops jumped on that, they gave him a hard time, told him he's subject to a 1,200 euro fine.
"Fine me all you like, I have no job, no money. There's nothing you can take from me," Jonay said, clearly frustrated. "I was a firefighter, but now I'm out of work. I am not a criminal. I've done nothing but walk."
The police finally left him here, but warned him to keep a distance, and clear out in the morning.
Jonay apparently slept deeply all night, and in the morning he cleaned up after himself and swept the patio. Then he went on his way east.
I am glad he stayed. It was the right thing to do.
I donned my gloves, glasses, and mask, and disinfected the little apartment. I contemplated the Jonay Dilemma.
Maybe he is a bad man, a fool, a scofflaw vagrant. Maybe he put us at risk. Maybe I was foolish to let him stay.
Maybe he brought us the germ. Maybe I will get sick now. If Paddy gets Corona Virus, he will die. But what the hell, he says ... if doing the right thing is going to kill me, maybe it's time to die.
It occured to me that maybe Jonay was St. James, the original Santiago, patron saint of this pilgrim path. Legends say he pops up in times like these. There may not be pilgrims out there, but this is the Camino, after all.