You know you have to get up tomorrow and do it all over again and you don’t think you can with your feet feeling like every bone is broken and you wonder if you might need a hip replacement too when you get back home but you get up off the bed and stand and moan and put one foot after the other and think of the wine the paella your friends waiting for you or perhaps they’re not waiting at all but dragging their aching bodies around in their rooms thinking of tomorrow and how they’ll have to walk another twenty or thirty kilometres again and thinking of the wine and paella so that when you get to the bar you’ll all be there at the same time showered and changed yet bleary-eyed and cactus with seemingly broken-bone feet and muscles so tight they wrap like an iron girdle around your thighs and you’ll all fall over each other trying to get to the wine first so you can just sit upright at the table and not want to lie prone on the floor or a bench seat with eyes closed and a sort of white haze in your head that keeps insinuating itself into your present in a sort of what the hell are you doing here and do you think you can possibly go on but then it will come as it always does the memory of the walk the hills all bald and green and sweeping and the drift of fog over the valleys below the thin ribbon of the trail on the next hill and the passing pilgrims with their Buen Camino! and it’s just enough to keep you going with the hills so steep that they force you to look down at your feet at the ant just passing your boot the beetles the pebbles the flattened moss on the path dendritic like tree roots like twigs like the veins in your body and one lonely purple flower persisting in a pebbled dry brown landscape or the fat black slugs as thick as a man’s thumb and at least ten centimetres long inching their way across the dusty surface and the roadside adorned with wild strawberries blackberry bushes tangled bracken fennel and rosehips olives grapevines chestnut trees and walnuts or almonds and you forget the sun beating down and the ache in your hips the sweat on your upper lip in rivulets between your breasts and in your eyes and your glasses sliding down your nose forget that you’d wanted to give up not thinking of the distance already covered or how each step takes you closer and even though you know there will be no falling to your knees when you arrive in Santiago de Compostela you know that the silence and struggle of the walk will all mean something in the end and that you will want to live this unrushed rhythm this life of walking perhaps forever and that the world you will return to with all its perceived urgency will not be like the slow nothingness and silence of your head in the clouds the path beneath your feet so you make your way down the three flights of stairs trying hard to look like the sort of person who would contemplate walking nearly eight hundred kilometres across the top of Spain over the Pyrenees for godsakes! well the foothills at least and then on and on and up and up then down that knee jerking descent into the village on that first day and now it’s just down three flights of stairs and of course you can do this simple walk though you are sure your ankle is twice its size and your knee has that old odd ache that comes and goes and is now more coming than going and then you’re there and they’re sitting waiting after all and they turn as one and you all give the look that says what the hell have we got ourselves into and like an ancient crone you drag yourself over to the table and sit carefully arranging your thighs and hips into a comfortable position and lean your elbows on the table and sigh and you all sigh then laugh so loud heads turn and the bottles of wine arrive and it’s like the elixir to combat all struggles has been delivered and you all raise glasses and drink and laugh and remember the reasons why you’re all here and none of the ones that could let the gloom take you knowing that you are a team with these three and you remember the wind turbines cutting lazy arcs through the warm air the chiming bells on cows and goats and unicycle man on the path and the dogs and the woman pushing a pram and the young Italian boys with their jerseys open to the breast bone flashing past on their smooth fast bikes the road signs that always seem to indicate further distance than you’d thought possible given how far you’d already come and the great mound of sorrow at Cruz de Ferro they’d said take a stone of your sorrows and leave it there how it took you by surprise the ferocity of it the weight there beneath your feet in the pebbles the rocks the photos and plastic bracelets and cards and religious mementos the footsteps echoing back through the centuries full with the lives lost and how we are all that sorrow all human all one and then the girl in tears because she’d lost not one but five and you’d hugged her a stranger and didn’t ask for details that’s not what she wanted just to know that we are all one we are all in this together all struggling blistered and sunburnt and human and telling ourselves we can do this we can go on because Life is El Camino with all its hills and valleys and wild beauty and pain and you walk yourself into the glory of a sunset that stains crimson and apricot over the brow of the hill and you know again why it is you have come.
About the Author: Keren Heenan is a writer and Arts teacher living in Melbourne Australia. She is the winner of a number of Australian short story awards and placed 2nd in the Fish Prize 2015. She has been published in Australian journals and anthologies, including: Overland, Island, Wet Ink, Award Winning Australian Writing, in Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual (UK) 2014 and Fish Anthology 2015. Find Keren at kerenheenan.wordpress.com and follow her on twitter at @keren_heenan.