On the 14th day of walking, I walked over 30 kilometers with two men, Jon and Martin, who started walking ten days ago and now are best friends. Jon is my age and from Colorado. He had an engineering job involving 650 helicopter engines, and Martin is British and retired after a career in IT. I liked Jon and Martin because they said they walked fast and I walk fast.
So we walked 30 kilometers and landed in Cardenuela Riopico. We only stopped one time, and that was so Martin could eat something he was told was blood sausage in a pub in Atapuerca. He liked the blood sausage, or morcilla, and Jon and I had bites and liked it too, and then the old Spanish guy in the bar liked that we liked it and got each of us portions of our own and made us eat them. “It’s local, it’s local, it’s from Burgos!” he yelled in our faces with every bite.
The albergue was cheap and new, and the hospitalero had the grace of a sharknado. He runs and slides all over the place and I can only catch snitches of his fast Spanish–”THIS SHOWER THIS ROOM THIS BED THIS MY DOG THIS MY CAR THIS DINNER YOU WANT DINNER?” When we checked in he gave me my very own roll of toilet paper.
Jon and I explored the town, which took five minutes, and then we returned to the cafe at the albergue, where we purchased massive glasses of red wine and where I ate over half a family sized bag of Lays before realizing they weren’t sour cream and onion flavored even though the bag was green. We sat in a corner cramped with big sofas and a big TV and watched footage of a man escaping from a car underwater and of hundreds of people in China in a wave pool.
There were a lot of flies. Someone asked for a fly swatter and our bartender, who was now watching TV with us, gave one to Martin. Jon requested one too. Martin swatted at a fly and missed. Jon swatted and missed.
It became a contest. I texted my siblings while they swatted the table, the air, each other, fighting.
“I got one! That’s one confirmed kill!” said Jon.
“Agh! It got away!” said Martin.
“Oh, Poisonwood Bible!” I cried, leaping to a bookshelf over Martin’s head. “That’s one of my favorite books! Hey, have you guys read this book?”
“Sit down and be quieter,” said the lady whose view of the TV I was blocking.
“No, Martin, you just sat on it. That doesn’t count!”
“I swatted it.”
A fly landed on my leg. Jon looked at me. His eyes pleaded.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“Got him!” said Martin. “Oh, no.”
Slap! Slap! Slap!
“Hey Martin, check out this video of people swinging in Moab,” said Jon.
Martin watched the video and slapped more.
Another man sat down and a fly landed on his bare, blistered foot. Martin saw it.
“Excuse me,” he said. “May I?” He motioned with all stealth to the insect in between the man’s toes. The man looked down.
“They have a foot fetish, these flies,” said Martin.
The man had no sense of humor. “Well, they must be attracted to the moisture.”
The fly did not move.
“Do you mind?” said Martin.
The man flicked his foot. The fly flew.
John lunged at the seat next to Martin.
“I just killed it!”
“No you didn’t!” Martin looked at the cushion, then on the floor.
John slapped again: “I just killed it again!”
“You can’t kill it again! It’s physically impossible!
“There it is! On the floor!”
“That was there!”
“I think it bounced off the sofa, Martin!”
Martin cocked his head and studied Jon.
“You,” he posited, “remind me of me when I was young and stupid.”
“Aren’t you still?”
“Aren’t I still what?”
“Minus the young part.”
Martin smirked and went to the bathroom. Jon thought.
“Oh no,” he said. “Am I going to be Martin in 34 years?”
The hospitalero was running around setting the table for dinner. He burst out of the kitchen with three baskets of bread and flung them on the table, a chair stopping his momentum.
We kept watching TV.
Martin returned. John called to him.
“I remind you of you when I was your age?”
“Yeah, when I was young and stupid.”
“Does that mean I will live to be old and stupid?”
“That depends on if you carry on throwing yourself out of planes or not.” Jon is a skydiver.
“Three confirmed! Three to one!”
Martin slapped Jon with the swatter. Jon slapped Martin.
Slap, slap, slap, slap.
“There’s a wet spot!” said Jon, directing our attention to the bench. “Do you think I killed it?”
Dinner was served, and eaten, though it was the first meal on the camino I wasn’t confident I could finish. Marco, a Roman waiter, shook his head at the sloppy presentation and the rest of us argued which opening in the wine decanter we were meant to pour from.
Like all communal dinners, it was multilingual and chaotic and friendly and small-talky, but I kept hearing the word “rabbit.” I asked the lady next to me if the meat I thought was chicken was rabbit.
“Oh no,” she replied. “It’s just that I saw a man deliver a freshly killed one to the cook before dinner.”
The front door swung open and in strode the man from Atapuerca who had given John and me the morcilla. He saw us and came over, smiling and shouting and reaching his hands over the table to us.
“Heeey!”s were exchanged. He leaned over conspiratorially and said something we didn’t quite get.
“Oooh,” said the woman. “He says he is the one that killed the rabbit.”
We looked at the man in awe and he gave a smug smile and a little wave.
Dinner was over and some of us went to bed while others leaned back in our chairs polishing off each other’s wine. Marco came to the head of the table with a pack of cards and started doing magic tricks, explaining himself in Italian, Spanish, English, and French and choosing a different person to assist him each time.
And when we had all laughed hard and exited, I was there still. An eight year old kid named Santiago came inside. His parents worked at the albergue. He turned on Spongebob. I watched it with him. It was past my bedtime.