Una sorpresa. I liked this new vocabulary word.
Moisés and I finished the pizza and then walked over to the silver hatchback I remembered. Then off we went in search of an unsuspecting Meg through the wooded, curving back roads of Galicia.
Instead of wallowing in my misery, Moisés gave me an adventure when I least expected one. And what an adventure it was! He was a maniacal driver, speeding down straightaways and peeling around corners, often in the wrong lane. He stopped abruptly at places where the Camino intersected the road, instructing me to look for Meg in both directions. In his rat trap of a car, this strong, grandfatherly fisherman swept me out of my gloom, showed me parts of Galicia most tourists never see, and helped me forget my blues with his funny, quirky ways.
Scrunched down by my feet on the floor was his very fluffy white dog.
“Como se llama, tu perro?” I asked.
“My dog? He is Morgano.”
“Morgano,” I repeated. “What does the name mean?”
“Oh,” he seemed to hesitate. “Do not tell your friend this, for she is from England. My dog, he is named for Captain Morgan.” Somehow he was concerned that Meg might be offended by a dog being named after the Welsh pirate.
I reached down to scratch Mogano’s chin and his soft fur was a welcome comfort. He took this affection for encouragement and slowly oozed his way from the floor onto my lap. In a short time, my person was covered by a 20-pound, fur-shedding machine.
In addition to the excitement of erratic driving, the panting dog, and stopping to look for Meg at unexpected intervals, my cough returned with a vengeance.
“You are sick, with your cough?” Moisés asked.
“Yes, it’s been bad for about a week. I hope to visit a doctor soon. I need medicine.”
Moisés took one last puff of his cigarette and then tossed out the window. Though he was clearly a chain smoker, he didn’t light up again for the entire trip.
Flying through tiny villages and through dense woods, we stopped short for a gentleman walking along the road.
“Discúlpeme, Capitán!” He addressed every man we encountered as Captain. “Where is the Camino?”
The older man looked thoughtful and then gave directions in Galego. We sped off with a squeak of tires.
As we drove, Moisés played me the same CD he shared with Meg the day we had coffee with him. It was from a live concert in the woods featuring Celtic/Galician music with flutes, bagpipes, drums, and harps. I loved it. The experience of attending it had moved him deeply and he seemed eager to share it, flipping to his favorite tracks.
Conversation was challenging with my limited vocabulary, but I learned that his beloved wife had passed away several years before. He seemed to have a contented life, but I sensed that his missed her very much. His one son helped with the fishing business and his other son, a teacher, had moved away to a city. Maybe helping pilgrims like me filled a void in his life.
After many stops and requests for directions, we found no sign of Meg. I wasn’t sure what on earth I would say if we found her. I felt concerned that she’d be upset by the intrusion on her solo walk. Me and Moisés appearing from nowhere would certainly be una sorpresa.
Eventually, we arrived in the coastal town of Muxía under sunny skies and a relentless wind. Moisés asked me to look up the albergues in my book on the chance that Meg might be staying in one of them. It felt futile; there was no way Meg could have walked so far this early in the day, but he was thorough. We had a mission.
In the first albergue, no Meg. The second one, no Meg again. At the third (and last) one, I ran into Katrin, my friend from my first day on the Camino. Hugs and squeals ensued. It seemed impossible that so much had happened in my life since we’d first met – and yet here we were. I learned that Meg was also not at this albergue, but my unexpected reunion with Katrin was una sorpresa feliz.
The town thoroughly searched, Moisés took me to see the church of Nosa Señora da Barca. The wind whipped powerfully around us as he pointed out the the beach where the virgin appeared on a stone boat from the sea and another rock that cured rheumatism if you crawled under it nine times. I appreciated his generosity in taking time to show me the sights.
Then we were back on the road, retracing our path to Finisterre, continuing to stop at crossroads to look for Meg. Moisés pulled off at some scenic spots for me to enjoy while he got his nicotine fix, but we never did find Meg.
When he dropped me off at my pensión, I tried to give him gas money and he refused. His needle was on empty, I pointed out, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He gave me a copy of the concert CD instead. Then he invited me to a festival celebration dinner at his house that evening.
By this point, I was exhausted. I was touched by his invitation, but the idea of pulpo, cigarette smoke, and a large family speaking Galego into the wee hours felt overwhelming. I needed rest. I tried to explain this and we went around and around for five minutes – him insisting, me demurring.
What we had in common was loneliness, I think, just different ways of dealing with it.
“But it’s un dia especial,” he insisted, looking hurt. It wasn’t a special day to me and even though I wanted sleep, I finally relented. He would pick me up at eight o’clock.
It was just after five and I realized I no longer had time to visit the church like I’d hoped. No chance to take that long walk to the big, open, empty beach we’d visited yesterday and leave my heart rock. No time to just be. When I got to my room, I drank an entire bottle of water and started coughing uncontrollably. I had never experienced anything like it and felt frightened.
But ever since I found that hardscrabble rock weeks before, I had promised myself I would do a ritual of releasing it. I had to.
Still coughing, I walked out of the pensión and down to the tiny crescent beach just beyond. Alone, I stood on the sand and held the crusty, angular, heart-shaped rock in my hand. I thought about everything it symbolized: the hard heart I’d carried for too many years, all the ways I keep love out, the struggle I feel in expressing my love, my unwillingness to accept help and support, my refusal to speak my truth.
I need to let this go.
I thought about how Meg’s acceptance of me made it safe to risk revealing my true self. I felt miserable without her. I couldn’t imagine my life having a shred of delight without her presence.
Thinking this, I dissolved into tears, finally releasing days of pent-up emotion.
Crying hard, I stepped into the sea toward a submerged rock outcropping. I have to let go of this hardness. I have to live openly, otherwise no love can ever come in. I gasped between sobs.
Into a cup-shaped hollow in the large rock, I set down the heart stone like a pestle in mortar. A wave swept in, soaking my rolled-up pants. The previous day’s ritual was a release by fire, but this gesture was meant to wash away the last vestiges of hardness within me.
The ocean will wear away the rock. This heart of granite will be buffeted by the stone, salt, and friction. Over time, it will eventually dissolve into grains of sand. Harmless, soft, malleable. It will mirror the process happening inside of me. Even if I don’t know how to do this yet. Even if it feels impossible, I know it is true.
Another wave soaked my legs. I returned to the beach, everything appearing wavy and blurred through my tears. In the sand before me I noticed a small, turquoise object. I sniffled, reaching down, and picked up a piece of luminous beach glass. I marveled at how beautiful and smooth it was.
I began to walk and discovered another gem, dark blue. Then another in moss green. Then white. In a matter of moments, I was holding a palm-full of touchstones: glass that had once been shattered and broken, with time had become beautiful, jewel-like and soft. They were a symbol of my future. A gift, a promise from the sea.
* * *
I returned to the pensión, certain that I would not join Moisés and his family for the celebration dinner. I needed to speak this truth. Unfortunately, I had no way to reach him. On my way to my room, I stopped at the kitchen and spoke to the pensionera about my dilemma and my illness.
“Tranquila,” she said. How many time has I heard that word on this journey?
Although she didn’t have his number, she agreed to tell Moisés that I was ill and couldn’t attend. I truly regretted canceling, but felt relieved beyond words. I also inquired about a pharmacy for cough medicine, but she explained what I already knew – it was Sunday and everything was closed. Even as I struggled to fight my emotions, my voice quavered and a tear leaked out.
The whole time, her elderly mother had been listening in and interjected to ask if I had something for my fever. I did. She raised a finger and walked out of view. A moment later she returned with a brown glass bottle and handed it to me, “It’s excellent for coughs.” Astonished by her thoughtfulness, I offered to pay for it but she shook her head saying, “Es por Dios.”
“Moitas grazias,” I said in my best Galego, as my grateful tears poured forth. They smiled motherly smiles and told me to rest. I felt deeply moved to be held up by yet more Camino angels.
I returned to the room that had once been ours, still aware of her presence. I was grieving, but it felt like there was an opening somehow. Some softness.
Packing my bag for the next day’s travel, I went through my things a final time and tossed out the few items I no longer needed. I measured and swallowed the medicine I’d been given por Dios and then curled up on Meg’s bed with my journal.
So maybe this is what love is, I wrote. Releasing, offering, being vulnerable, honoring my limits, and allowing myself to be loved back. Maybe love could be that simple.
By eight o’clock, I was sound asleep.