Near Eyguières, France – February 1, 2017
I don’t notice the man at first. He is just a man dressed in black standing in the next aisle over of the grocery store. Why would he be talking to me? I’ve been in Aldi’s since Germany, they are almost all the same. I focus on finding the candy section.
He is talking to me. I look at him and take a few confused steps. He motions at my backpack and shakes his head. I stand confused for a second. He motions again and says something in French. The backpack? I can’t have a backpack? There are no signs and I’ve been walking through Aldi stores for months with no problem.
I look at him, confused. He looks at me and motions again. Judgement leaks out of his eyes. I shake my head, turn, and leave.
I walk into Salon-de-Provence feeling bitter, noticing every glance, every subtle movement away from me. I know I look out of place with my beard and dirty clothes, with my hiking sticks in one hand. I know I havent showered in days. I know it all. But I don’t always feel it. I keep thinking of that man in the grocery store and the way he looked at me and I see his eyes in every face as I walk down the street.
I stop by the train station to check my maps. A man walks out of the building in a bus driver’s uniform. He looks at me and a smile bursts out of his face.
“Camino?” he says. “Camino de Santiago?”
I blink at him for a moment, my mind catching up to his words, then nod. The man rushes up to me.
“It’s right here, down this street,” he says.
He points in the distance.
“Where did you start?” he asks.
“Norway,” I say.
He laughes and grins.
“I am walking it too,” he says. “In pieces, a little each year. One day I will reach Santiago.”
I smile and nod.
“You’ll get there,” I say.
Everyone walks their own path, their own way. They are all equally valid.
The man reachs out for my hand, my unwashed hand with sunscreen and grime on the skin and dirt under the nails. He takes it in his and we shake, palm to palm.
“Buen Camino,” he says.
His eyes catch mine for a moment before he turns to run to his bus. They are warm and full of hope. I watch him climb the steps and disappear.
“Thank you,” I say.