D taught me how to roll and smoke cigarettes. This was the day we would reach Santiago. The walk seemed a little tame. I felt I was just getting warmed up and the walk would end. Then I spotted a big blue dustbin on the side of the path with a yellow arrow on it. The arrow pointed the way. If the dustbin were turned, the arrow would have pointed the other way and would have faced the trees. That was wrong. If the dustbin were placed with its opening on the ground, the arrow would again be in the opposite direction. I mock asked myself: was this my Nirvana moment? Was I learning a lesson from a mere dustbin? But, it did teach me, that to point the way, one needs to be in the right position.
Since were walking through open fields, we had the company of cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, ducks. P came up to us as we gathered for a juice at a cafe. She said, ‘The cows look so happy. Happy Cows!’ Now was this another epiphany? I stopped musing and we took some cow pictures. We walked on. I was surprised that the milestones had vanished. Earlier every half kilometre was marked, now nothing. I lost a sense of how much I had walked, after all the walking today was a mere 16 kms. Yet, it seemed unending.
It became 2 in the noon and we reached a monument. Two curved embracing half S shapes with a tall stand behind them for pilgrims to hang their water bottles. Okay, so that meant we were almost, casi, there. I turned and took the road again, the town spread out below the hill.
Red roofed Santiago. I could not see the spires of the church. After the Gothic churches of Barcelona, I did expect a big Cathedral. Then I thought it might be just hidden from view. Enough had happened on the journey for me to believe in miracles. I even thought maybe the more than a 1000 year old St James Church is small, very small. After all God lives in the heart, the walking had reinstated my faith. As I walked, calculating time I had walked with expected kilometres, adjusting for fatigue and slowness, I reached the outer edge of the town and was completely disheartened. Not here, not again! So many Information Technology companies that increased the walk into town by more than seven kms. That is why the milestones were missing on the last leg. Where is the Cathedral? The material world has come in between the pilgrim and his Mecca.
Walk. walk. Walk a little more. Walk some more. I reach the edge of old town Santiago. That is when the atmosphere changed. It goes back in time, towards a medieval world. Narrow winding streets and even the air. The light changed from white to glowing. I saw the twin spires come up as I turned into Ruis Das Casas Reais. I approached the Cathedral through a path next to which stood a man in kilt playing Scottish tunes on his saxophone. I turned left and was in the presence of the Cathedral Santiago de Compostella. My eyes couldn’t see its top, I backed away, and some more. European people are taller, but by the edge of the courtyard I got a full view of the Church. Wow!
I registered for the Compostella certificate and asked, ‘How many Indians so far?’
The lady at the desk tells me, ‘None from India. Over a hundred thousand people came here this year. No one gave their address as a place in India. Over all seventeen Indians, but from the US or Australia or Europe. Come again!’
I said, ‘I will. and this time the 750 km, 31 day walk.’
I forgot to ask for a statue for myself. The certificate was my statue. That I was here, that my body was exhausted but had held up, that my spirit had soared, was enough for me. Next day at Mass I remembered the last Church I had visited over ten years ago in Vijaywada. I met N, who said she had had wine. I met many fellow walkers. I did not see Jo. Outside, in a souvenir shop I met Michael. He held a toy duck in hand for his child. He smiled ear to ear. I thanked him for showing me the path – for being my Archangel. The Museum behind the Cathedral maps all the pilgrim walks all over the world. It had all that I know from India. The upper stories depict the story of the iconography of St James. Thank you Sir! You walked a long time back what I walked now. But, you created the path. I only followed your St. James Way.
The next day was a strike. As forbidding as it is in India. The TV screens showed fires and violence. The world was in strife, will remain so perhaps, but one can do one’s job and have a peaceful meal. Someone would open a shutter and smile at you. This time it was a Russian matron. P and D had to reach Madrid for a connecting flight. Nothing was moving, but again, in pure faith, and on moving, we found a car service. I hosted dinner that night for us. The bottle of beer had the image a pilgrim with the walking stick. The bottle said: Estrella Galicia Xacobeo. Roughly translated it means: The Jacobean Star of Galicia.
My Camino was not yet over.
Tags: Buen Camino Santiago