An Unfamiliar Place

An Unfamiliar Place is a story I wrote for a contest several years ago. I am republishing it here for my Creative Writing class and requesting feedback from my Professor. Some of my readers may already have read a version of this story.

An Unfamiliar Place

A dark street in Spain along the CaminoDay 23: The guidebook advertises three alburgues in this village, but as I walk past one, and then another locked door my heart drops. One more chance and its over 16 kms to the next town. Three’s the charm as the door opens on the third refuge.
I find myself in a dark, cold room with a bare wooden table and a bench for me to sit as I wait. Eventually an old Spaniard arrives. He speaks no English, of course, but he smiles a wide and toothless grin.

“Cuánto cuesta?” I ask? “Diez.” Ten euros is the cost for a bed, and that includes dinner. Even if I could converse with this man, I have no further questions to ask. We both know I am staying here, no matter what. I pay and he stamps my passport – proof that I walked this way today. He shows me to a room with 30 beds, but so far I am the only one.

I am a Peregrina, on an ancient pilgrimage in northern Spain. I am walking 800 kilometres, from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, through the Pyrenees’ mountains, the Meseta and the Galicean Mountains, to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. I am alone, it is March and very much winter in this part of Spain. There are others walking this pilgrimage, people from all corners of the world, but tonight I have taken yet another opcion (alternate route) and am alone. I am more than 500 kilometres into my journey, most of those on painfully blistered feet.

I’ve come here for something, to find myself, maybe to find God. Tonight, though, I am only interested in finding a place to stop for the night, a meal and a bed.

Like a true gypsy, my stops are unique but familiar. I pull off my boots and leave them at the door with my hiking poles. Even the filthiest stops do not allow boots inside. I hobble like an old woman to a bunk bed, picking the one closest to the door – easier to make an early escape in the morning should others arrive, although I’m not expecting anyone. I extract my valuables and washing supplies from my pack and immediately go looking for the shower.

Seven PM and I’m still alone. Looks like another quiet, peaceful evening. I’m clean and warm, sitting by a wood stove in a cozy kitchen with my iPod, texting Dad back home before he goes to work. Its morning in Canada. The WiFi is excellent, modern meeting ancient. Toothless man pours me a glass of wine and leaves.

I am explaining to Dad that I am in a creepy ghost town, alone with an old man who is plying me with wine, when suddenly he comes back with a syringe. I know immediately what he wants to do. “Love you, Dad” I text, “but toothless man has a syringe and I’m pretty sure he’s about to do some surgery on me. Adios amigo and I’ll send you an email after dinner.”

Sure enough, he gestures to my puss-filled, golf ball sized blister on my left heel that makes it near to impossible to put my boot on every morning, and makes my eyes tear with agony for the first and last hour of each days walk. He is going to drain it. Why didn’t I think of this? It seems like SUCH a good idea!

I voluntarily give up my foot to this stranger and he sucks the puss out for me. One, two three – I lost count of how many syringes full of vile fluid he pulls out. I am not exaggerating the size of my wound. When he is finally done I feel so optimistic. Tomorrow will be a sweet day. There is nothing but a pile of useless skin hanging from that cause of so much pain now.
“Infección”, he says and I understand immediately. “Si, si” I nod. It is important to prevent infection now that he has opened up the skin. I am prepared. I have antibiotic cream with me. I purchased it at the Farmacia in Pamplona, just as the blisters were beginning to form. We smile at each other, both comfortable now.

Suddenly there is a burst of blinding pain. My entire leg is on fire. I am holding back the screams but I can’t hold back the tears. Crying uncontrollably I realize we did, in fact, not understand each other at all. He has injected my open sore with iodine.
“Perigrina, Lo siento”, he murmurs and this strange, old man begins to massage my leg. He has some sort of cream and he is murmuring and massaging, and I am crying and letting him, and wondering what else he has in store for me in this lonely outpost.

I don’t know how long we two sat there in front of the wood stove, me weeping and him murmuring and massaging, but eventually the pain subsided. The man got up and prepared dinner, chicken paella. We sat in silence together and ate and drank a bottle of wine and smiled at each other. When we were done he gave me an electric heater – the first heater I’d seen on this journey. I carried it to my dorm room, still all mine, and plugged it in. I pulled three blankets off the neighboring beds and climbed into my own sleeping bag. Within minutes I was asleep and oblivious.

The next morning, as I pulled my boot on without pain I couldn’t help but smile and think, now this is going to make for a good story one day.

Maybe I’ve come here to find courage, or maybe joy. Last night was the courage, but today’s walk is joyous without the pain. Hours later I stopped at a local bar for my café con leche and pastry and connected to the WiFi they offered. There were the frantic emails from my Dad, who had spent the night pin pointing his rescue location on a map.

The Anniversary
Van Life

One Response to An Unfamiliar Place

  1. Oh lovely Donna. I remember this story well and thought how brave you were. Poor old Ray I mean Dad LOL. Hugs.

    Nancy October 2, 2017 at 11:27 am Reply

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