It was only my sixteenth day; I would have bet, with real money, that it would have been six or seven more. But time, like everything else, puts on a different face on the Camino, or rather shows its true face. It has been wonderful, terrible, gruelling, easy, profound, irritating, painful, joyful and even hurtful. Perhaps pilgrimage is the Christian route to the Buddhist blessing of instant karma – whatever you need to happen to reveal what you need to know the Camino serves up. You just need to be paying attention.
The last three days have been coloured, although not dominated, by … bullying, I suppose. The incomprehensibly cold shoulder.
Evening One: I am seated at a table reserved for pilgrims in the Benedictine abbey restaurant in Léon, buying the table d’hôte pilgrim meal. The waiter seats me beside a strikingly beautiful young Brazilian of German extraction; no intention on my part. We talk, and discover that she has put the exact same image of the Camino as the new header on her Facebook page as I have. Of the thousands of Camino images on the Net, this seems an extraordinary coincidence. She invites me as an FB friend. We spend the evening in one of those lovely, deep conversations that the Camino offers.
Two nights later I see her again in Rabana del Camino, the last stop before Cruz de Ferro. I stopped for a spot of tourism during the day and when I arrive she is already there, drinking with a handsome young American and two Australian gay men. We drink for an hour or so, big-time bonhomie all round. I play my guitar, the party cranks up, they leave to find more wine, but I just go to bed.
Over the following stretch I keep pace with the four of them – most people average 25km a day, so you tend to move in a loose cohort, seeing the same pilgrims repeatedly.
I say hi when I see them but … the blinds are down. The younger Aussie spends the first morning in blatant pursuit of the handsome American, who does a runner at lunchtime. From then on it’s a club of three and I am not included. It goes on for the next two days. At stops on the road, in the albergué at night, anything I say to them receives a closed response. Uh-huh. Hmmm. By the end of the second day I stop trying. As I pull into the next town I see them gathered around a sign, checking out the map to find the albergué municipal. I say Hi and just keep walking. That night I’m put in a room with Hilary from the States, young Mary and old Joseph from Ireland. When I (Christopher) arrive Hilary derives great value from being with the Holy Family – Joseph, Mary and Christ, all Catholics. We have a riotous evening.
The next morning Justin the American-chaser passes me in the café and, for the first time in two days, acknowledges my existence with a ‘Hola’. I ignore him because I instinctively understand what’s going on.
They want me on the periphery, to define the boundary of their little clique. It’s no fun if you don’t have someone on the outside wanting in. My ignoring them was not part of the plan. This is so familiar – playground politics.
Later, as I enter Villafranca I pass the young Brazilian saying goodbye to the two Australians as they toddle off. I walk past, again having no interest in greeting them. But: I see no hugs, no love you, missing you already, be in touch, blah blah. Can the young woman’s earlier affection have waned?
It seems a little egocentric, but I can’t help wondering whether my lack of interest in knocking on the door of their little clique has taken the energy out of it. Or, perhaps she has developed a slightly guilty conscience, because my rejection has been very clear and, frankly, pretty hurtful.
The next day I run into her in a café in La Faba. She is effusive, says she is so happy to have caught up again. I am so delighted; I feel as if she has recovered from a bad trip.
Why did this happen? The only explanation I can come up with was that I wasn’t beautiful enough.
Hey – we’re the beautiful people, dahlings. We don’t want ugly, old people around.
It was a wonderful experience; a catharsis, laying the demons of the playground. I am, once more, profoundly grateful to the Camino.
PS: This post reached Justin, who essentially confirmed my conclusions in a cascade of increasingly abusive flaming posts on Facebook, culminating in ‘we didn’t want a crazy, middle-aged man following us around creeping us out.’
And yet, when I made a point of avoiding even the appearance of following them, he greeted me. Pleased to attract the ‘middle-aged’ though. Some people would call sixty-six old. 🙂