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December 3, 2017

The Kindness Of Strangers

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."
-Mother Theresa

     I was starting to get tired. A deeper fatigue. The walking was treacherous. I needed to
"Careful Of Robbers"
pay attention to my feet and watch the path constantly. It was stony and there were dusty chasms in it where earlier rains had formed rivulets
. A twisted foot would mean the end. The heat continued unrelentingly. I was a little alarmed that the sunblock I had was discolouring the material of my clothing and pack. What was it doing to my skin? I wetted my buff and wore it on my forehead to catch the perspiration. The buff seemed to dry immediately. I was watching my water carefully. The ligaments of my knees seemed swollen. Days passed. I dreamed of times long ago. It felt so real. Almost biblical. Maybe I was becoming one with the earth. I felt more withdrawn from my fellow walkers perhaps feeling a need to just concentrate on the process. Food seemed unappetizing. I was relying heavily on packages of mineral salts that I had brought from home. Maybe I wasn't well. I could not indulge in a rest. I had to push on.

     I was feeling waves of homesickness. I longed for the creature comforts of my house,

the relief of green and garden, what was mine and what was my identity. I deeply missed my family. It was like I was dissolving. The sun was beating me into a dull and insensible puddle of submission. The Camino was opening me further, to a place that seemed not really human. I was starting to sense an almost iron will exerting itself upon me that seemed relentless and unyielding. I hadn't really noticed it before. My jaw was starting to hurt. I must have been clenching my teeth.

    I was supposed to be approaching "a charming village" the guide book said. I fought off waves of nausea. I needed to stop. I sat under a tree in exhaustion warily eyeing the garbage around me. I leaned back against the trunk. It was very old. Maybe a Hawthorne. Trees are few and far between and I was appreciating the barky comfort on my back. I was realizing I could care less about the charming little village, I could care less about the Camino, in fact. I could care less about anything. I wanted to just stop. Forever. The world was in slow motion and time seemed irrelevant. Everything seemed irrelevant. The big sleep. I wanted it. Really, really wanted it. I prayed. Funny. I wasn't asking for help. I was saying thank you. Just thank you. Thank you for it all. 

     A large group of walkers passed all in a clump. Something in me was roused. The sun
was starting to abate. Evening was approaching. Somehow I found the strength to stand. A woman placed some raisins into my had. "You need sugar," she had said. Maybe. The charming village appeared and walking into it seemed an endless process. I had help finding my accommodation. They were busy at the counter. I sat on a bench wondering if they would mind if I just lay down on it and slept. I took in the care taken with the design of the place, the stonework, the use of etched glass. I could smell red peppers roasting. I liked it here. The woman at the counter approached looking a little concerned. 

      "I am Maria. Can I get you some water?" I must have nodded for a tall glass with chinking ice cubes was put into my hand. She stared at my manifest. "I hate to have to tell you this but you are in the wrong refugio. There are two places in this town with the same name. This business has been in my family for eighty years. Our good name has been copied by someone else." Rapid fire Spanish was exchanged with her mother who had now joined us. Maria's mother seemed alarmed as she looked me over. She told me to take off my socks and shoes and rest. I seriously did not want to inflict the state of my feet upon her and her fair establishment. She repeated the order in English and hastened away. "You don't argue with my mother," Maria said. Her mother bustled back with a tub of warm water with Epsom salts. "Here," she said and introduced herself as Mercedes. She placed an enormous chocolate that was the shape of a heart into my hand. 

         I promptly burst into tears. Such kindness. It was her kindness.