Just to recap: At this point in the journey, I was walking to Finisterre, managing an unidentified illness that included a fever, and feeling powerfully attracted to my walking partner, Meg, despite having a spouse at home.
Enter rain, stage left.
It was pouring. When this happens, and you have miles to go before arriving at the next dry place for the night, the mental game is important. Your poncho starts to steam up on the inside, dampening your precious dry clothing. Your hands get cold. You hear every fat raindrop on your clothes and hat, and the squish of socks in your soggy shoes. You start to tire of navigating around the sticky-mud edges of massive puddles. After a few hours of this, you begin to entertain thoughts of cozy, warm beds and long, hot soaks – and if you’re not careful, you can start thinking yourself right off the Camino and onto a plane home.
If I had been alone – or possibly with anyone else – the relentless rain would have made me whiny, crabby, or depressed – or all three. Despite my preoccupation with not revealing my growing feelings for Meg, her company buoyed me on this soggy, gusty, miserable day.
Truly, everything delighted me. I barely noticed the rain.
Around lunchtime, we happened upon a bar that was a blessing in more ways than one. After guilty hanging our wet stuff on the backs of chairs to drip dry, I discovered that this bar offered a bocadillo with grilled chicken. That sounds like a small thing, but I assure you it was not. A standard bocadillo is a long chunk of baguette-style bread topped with cold ham or cheese or sometimes both, and fairly dry since no condiments come on it.
My mouth was watering in anticipation at the very idea of their steaming-hot grilled chicken sandwich.
I told Meg how excited I was after I ordered. And I lamented how they’re usually so dry and hard to eat.
“You can get mayonnaise on it, you know.”
I was dumbstruck.
“Yeah,” she looked at me incredulously, “you just ask for it.”
This meant I had been unnecessarily eating dry sandwiches for five weeks. After a good laugh, I went up to the bar and asked for mayonesa. Dos, por favor.
When my sandwich arrived, I was truly the happiest pilgrim in all the land and ate every juicy morsel. In my journal that night I wrote, “OMG! The most amazing bocadillo with grilled chicken, tomato, and lettuce. Unreal. It was SO GOOD.” And it was.
Also good were the conversations we had that distracted us from the relentless rain. We dissected political issues and Meg’s perspective from living in England was really insightful. We talked about our respective small businesses and other kinds of work and dreams that called to us. We shared stories about our personal growth and discovered how much inner work we’d both done in our lives. I especially enjoyed sharing about what we wanted to change about our lives when we returned home. I felt (and still feel) so grateful for these deep and meaningful conversations.
At one point, we passed through a town and attempted to follow a yellow arrow spray painted on a manhole cover that pointed right. I was perplexed. We had been walking straight and there was nowhere to turn. Then I realized: the cover had been removed at some point and replaced with the arrow facing the wrong way. We laughed at the silliness of a moveable arrow and our resulting confusion.
Although I kept my head down most of the day to keep the rain off my glasses, at one point I looked up to see a freshly-tilled field with white plastic bags all over it at odd intervals. I wondered if they were meant to scare away birds. As we got closer, I realized that they were not bags at all, but white gulls scavenging for snacks in the fresh dirt. Laughter again. And the happy reminder that the ocean was getting closer with every step.
The day ended with an odd and eventually funny attempt to score a bed at the only albergue in Santa Mariña. It was one of those bar/albergue combinations with outdoor seating (which we didn’t give a second glance in the rain), but the host was so busy running the eating establishment, we couldn’t get a straight answer as to whether beds were available. When we finally got his attention, his slurred words weren’t Gallego, but inebriation.
We were shown to a quiet room that had three single beds in it. Yes! A quiet room! We took it immediately. I was excited to have some space and silence. As we settled in, I strung up a length of clothesline between the door (hinges make handy hooks!) and the far window. In minutes, every wet thing we owned was up there, dripping.
“Maybe this will keep us from having a third roommate,” I mentioned to Meg with an impish grin. A snore-free night would be lovely.
For a short while it worked. Throughout the afternoon, people stopped in to see the room without returning. But later in the day, the rain was still coming and people became more desperate. A young American woman showed up and stayed. She was young and tiny and very quiet. After saying hi, she set down her bag and disappeared for the shower – and, oddly, we didn’t see her again.
Now warm and dry ourselves, Meg and I went to the bar for dinner and sat near the cozy fire at a sturdy oak table. We talked and talked, lingering over dessert and glasses of rioja.
Up to that point in my journey, I was certain that Meg thought of me as a friend and was attracted to men. This made my feelings for her seem safer because I couldn’t act on them. Even if I wanted to, I assumed such an advance would be unwelcome.
While it isn’t mine to share, Meg revealed something about her past that made me question these assumptions. I blinked a couple of times. I couldn’t speak.
Up to this point she had been such a warm listener, curious and supportive, and I wanted to give her the same acceptance about this important personal sharing. But I couldn’t. Because if I did, I knew I would confess my feelings toward her. And I feared it would be inevitable that I’d start an affair. And unravel my life. And break my partner’s heart.
And, all of these consequences aside, there was a part of me that was terrified of giving in to the most powerful attraction I’d ever felt toward another person.
I had to make a choice.
Instead of hearing her compassionately, I pretended that she hadn’t said anything consequential and changed the subject. I abandoned her in a tender moment.
And I abandoned myself as well. The split widened between who I was on the inside and who I presented myself to be on the outside. The attraction I felt was so strong, I didn’t trust myself to even get close to a confession. I concluded that now, after all the closeness Meg and I had shared, I would have to hide myself from her too. Just like I have with every person I’ve ever met.
After dinner, I took a long shower and returned to our room to discover our tiny, quiet roommate cuddling in bed with a young man I hadn’t met before.
From the door, I shot a look over them at Meg and her eyes glittered back with mirth.
“So,” I began cautiously, “are we four in here tonight?”
Meg covered her mouth and collapsed into a pile of silent giggles while I tried to keep a straight face. She later told me that my surprised expression had been priceless.
The duo explained how they’d been separated when he was assigned to the bunk room in the next building and how stuffy it was and how sickly they’d both been. They’d fallen in love on the Camino and shared the same germs for weeks. Now they were ill together and I got off my high horse about our bonus roommate. They were incredibly, pathetically sweet.
They slept all night between me and Meg in that tiny single bed, coughing and tangled in each other’s arms.
I was only the tiniest bit jealous.