DAY TWENTY ONE: 29 October 2012 from Itero de la Vega to Villalcazar De Sirga
It was a bitter cold morning leaving Itero De Vega a ghost town of cruelly pollarded trees, an uninspiring invitation to the day. A lonely pilgrim path carved through wide expansive of agricultural land. A mere handful of walkers all day.
After a short stretch resting my aching feet at the foot of a forlorn stone monument in a deserted Castillian villlage I was taking tentative steps towards a bridge to join a riverside walk when a little white van came out of nowhere, skittering across the bridge and coasted to a stop metres from me. A jaunty Spanish flag suckered to the windscreen fluttered me a hello and the occupants, a middle aged man & his wife gesticulated earnestly in my direction. For whatever reason I immediately thought of Fred West & his wife Rose (a British serial killer couple who preyed on young women over a 20 yr period from 1967 -87) and a cold shiver touched me on this sunny autumnal day. My very being is threatened; my external self an aged hobbled pilgrim in neon orange football jersey a guise for my guileless, nubile feminine, clad in lacy gossamer. The driver’s door opens and my middle aged flat-chapped rustic chap jumps out with an agility that belies his age. He raises an apple in my direction; it feels like the apple of temptation but I am Eve and he is Adam. He hastens towards me and grabs my arm. ‘I am a friend of pilgrims’ – he shouts in Spanish. He waves a solid, threatening lump of carved pewter in my direction. Come he hustles & exhorts as he draws me towards the back of his van, my heart is thumping. I am torn between curiosity and palpable expectation of being whisked away to unspeakably wickedness. He reaches into the van and tenderly picks up a bunch of grapes. Here ‘these are muscatel, my grapes’. I take them, wondering have they being poisoned, then he pulls out a bucket loaded with miniature sweets and these too are thrust at me; cafe, lemon, mint for my throat. And almonds, do I want almonds?! I am overwhelmed with the variety of poisoned pills being pushed in my direction but yet I am polite. ‘No gracias’. He looks at me perplexed – ‘Why do you want nothing from us? We want to give to pilgrims.’ In that moment I am caught between the terror of that part of me that is wary of anyone I dont know and the poignancy of human connection. I open my hands for the sweets and I stuff the apple and almonds into my pockets. I call him after him and ask his name – Pepe a friend of pilgrims for 12 years. A sadness overwhelms me, to see my default reaction.
I am more emotional today than I have been on all of the days of this walk. As I step into the quietness the walk along the river bank. I wonder if perhaps the sweets are just that. I tentatively eat them; the toffee, the coffee, the caramel, the lemon, the mint. The sweetness soothes me, slows me, I cant help myself I want to lie on the ground, listening to the river, looking up at the trees. A vague thought of being drugged crosses my mind but I choose to loose myself in the autumnal earth and watch the birds in the business of the heavens.