The man walked into my hostel. I could see it in him that he was tired, but so were all the travelers that walked El Camino de Santiago.
“Hay… habi…habitaciones… para alquilar?” he asks, pulling a wallet from his back pocket.
“There are rooms here,” I say “but they are not for rent, they are for the pilgrims.” I pick up his pack and start to walk down the hall.
“I’m sorry, I’m not a pilgrim,” he says, following me down the hall.
“Yes you are,” I tell him. “You walk El Camino de Santiago.”
“You don’t understand. I’m just hiking- excursionismo,” he says.
“No, no, I understand, I have seen many pilgrims, very few like you, but I have seen you before.” I tell him as we enter his room. All of the rooms are small and they have two bunked beds. I will let him choose his own when he decides to stay, so I set his bag down. “Cafe?”
“Uh, yes please, thank you,” he says. I gesture down the hall towards the kitchen and we walk. He does not say anything so I put the kettle on to boil.
“Please sit, it is getting late and other pilgrims will be coming soon, excuse me. I walk to the front hall and open the door and turn on the light. They will know to come inside to sleep and to eat and prepare for tomorrow.
“The water is boiling,” he calls to me from the kitchen.
“Then take it off,” I say to him as I walk back into the kitchen. “Do not burn your hand. The handle gets quite hot.” But it is too late, he drops the kettle spilling the hot water on the ground.
“Ow, I’m so sorry,” he says.
“It is no trouble, now I will have clean floors.” I smile at him. “Please, run your hand under the tap,” I say getting a dishrag from the drawer I bend down to wipe away the water.
“No please,” he says, “let me.” He takes the rag from my hands and a knee.
“That is why you are here, and that is why you are a pilgrim,” I say.
“Excuse me?” he says looking up at me.
“I am now a very old man, and I have seen many pilgrims. You are hurt but you will not tend to yourself.”
“It’s not that bad,” he says, continuing to wipe the floor. The rag and his hands and the water are steaming.
“Oh nieto, I understand. This is why you walk alone on this path. There are those who would walk with you but you think you must be alone.” I say, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Now go put your hand under cool water.” He stands.
“It’s late, I don’t think I should have any coffee,” he says, wringing out the rag. He hangs it over the edge of the sink.
“Yes, better to turn in. The way is still long for you, for all of us,” I say. “I will see you in the morning and then we will have cafe.” He turns to leave. “Goodnight pilgrim.”
“Goodnight, abuelo,” he says. I walk into the hall and sit in my chair and wait for the rest to come to my hostel. Hot and weary they will stay here for the night on El Camino de Santiago.
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