The Albergue Municipal in Los Arcos was staffed by volunteers, a Belgian couple. The man, rotund and pink-cheeked, was pleasant enough. I checked in and had barely gone upstairs to my dormitory, Bed #6, when I heard Julio downstairs. The woman was telling Julio that he could not reserve any beds for the rest of the group, though they were only minutes behind and he was holding in his hand both their passports and Camino credentials.
“You are saying,” Julio said, “that if a person comes, first time on the Camino, has cancer, you cannot put her near her son?”
“It is not allowed to make reservations in advance,” she said. ”All Spanish outside,” she said, motioning to him.
Julio made a face to me and then motioned at himself to calm down. He walked back to Table #1 to fill out his papers. “Bloody hell,” he said. ”They don’t know what they are doing.”
“Volunteers,” I said, trying to placate him and avoid a scene.
The husband sidled up to us and said, “Yes, we are volunteers.”
Julio digested this for only a moment. “If you are volunteers,” he said, “then you have no right to complain.”
Soon after, Mom and the others arrived from their 20km hike. Mom looked exhausted. “It was so hot!” she said. “I had to borrow Carrie’s pant legs because my sunburn was so bad.” I jumped up to fill out the forms they needed to sign at Table #1 so that they could then be permitted to approach the table of the Belgian woman, Table #2.
She sat there with her arms crossed and cited to Julio one made-up rule after another, many of which don’t exist in other hostels. This went on for some time. My mother stood there clutching her papers next to Julio, who was seated.
“Do you speak English?” she asked my mother. My mother nodded. “So what’s the problem?” On her visage was the implacable calm of the righteous.
Mom was confused. “I don’t have a problem,” she said quietly. “I’m just waiting here.”
“He arranges everything for you?” the woman demanded, pointing to Julio. “Even though you speak English? Why do you not handle this yourself?”
“I’m sorry,” Mom said. ”I am just feeling sick and he has been helping me out.”
“Then how can I help you?”
“What I have you can’t help,” Mom said.
Mom’s back was turned to me, so I didn’t see when she began to cry. Now I moved in and spoke to the woman.
“You have a future in bureaucracy,” I told her. I’m not proud of it. “But now it’s time to have a little compassion. As we have told you several times now, we are a group. Julio told you that she has cancer and wants to be near me. Now, do not speak to her again.”
Mom was just trying to escape, though, blindly stumbling down the hall, so I helped her upstairs and left Julio to deal with the aggressive Belgian. We could hear him laying into her for some time, apparently without result, and then he came upstairs, agitated, and in Spanish recounted to Marie Anne his agitation. He ended with a single word.
It took him some time to calm down. I heard him singing in the shower, and it did not sound like the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” so that was good.
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
I knew the skillful thing for me to do would be to remain upstairs for a while, so I wrote this post.
So Mom and I will sleep in separate dormitories tonight, that the earth may continue to spin on its axis.