Anika is walking in long summer twilight, pacing out to the old ruined church and back through the village to the cluster of houses high in the fields and farms to the east of Ovraby. She sends startled hares running and catches a glimpse of a deer and her young.
She ponders possibilities, future scenarios of this woman from a foreign land living in this small community: never quite belonging because she is a foreigner and yet almost accepted since she married a Swede and speaks Swedish fluently. She is inside and outside, belonging and not belonging and feeling this is a metaphor for her life.
Will she become the local eccentric living alone, not perhaps with a cat, but still a figure of curiosity and sorrow?
Will she stay the tragic figure who lost her husband and chose never to love again? Who chose to remain childless and alone?
Will she stay on the track which presently runs her life and be the successful career woman travelling to and fro, retaining her house in Ovraby though rarely seen and become a figure of envy and respect amongst the village folk?
Doe she have the courage to roll the dice with Tom, that lost soul from the other side of the world who still speaks with the spirit of his dead wife, for Heaven’s sake?
Tom completes his pilgrimage in Santiago and attends the traditional and, for many, emotionally compelling pilgrim mass in the cathedral.
Personally I was unmoved by the experience, albeit I was interested in the rituals and the profound effect on members of the congregation.
Now I admit that I am teasing because I do not wish to give the plot away too much and want you to read the entire novel in a one night sitting, unable to tear yourself away even for a moment, when it appears.
Suffice it to say here that Tom has met the man whom he holds responsible for the tragedy of his life and who is waiting for Tom in the cathedral and seeking absolution.
What is the personal responsibility for an unconscious action, a moment of carelessness which changes lives forever?
How do we forgive someone who has changed our life irrevocably?
How do we learn to forgive ourselves?
Why do we blame ourselves for matters when the rational part of our brain knows that we are innocent of any culpability?
Is it not fascinating how we constantly rewrite and reframe our pasts until we have a narrative which suits us and fits the person we have become: perhaps more accurately, the person we would have liked to become?
How will Tom respond to this plea for help?
What does Lucy think of Tom’s response to this figure from his past?
What has Tom learned from his pilgrimage walk?
This the name which both Tom in my novel and I in the world of walking and writing have given to a man whom I met on the Chemin de Saint Jacques in France last year and who I have fictionalised for the purposes of my novel.
Let me tell you first how I met him in July 2013…
I was walking in Southern France in July, hot and unrelentingly humid all month and no wonder that I saw almost no other walkers after Cahors.
I met him on a lonely track, dressed in what looked like monk’s clothing but which I suspect was simply an old cloak, with a stained and battered canvas bag slung painfully across his shoulders on a wooden stick. He wore old fashioned sandals and walked slowly and unsteadily, yet I saw him day after day until we lost contact.
He said nothing. He glared at me whilst I, in my normal way, nodded politely and said ‘buen Camino’, the traditional form of address.
He did me no harm and in times gone by perhaps he would have been seen as a prophet, a Biblical figure returning from the desert with truths and revelations.
Was he truly angry? Distressed? Lonely? Seeking or holding a truth? I know not, but I have taken this striking figure and embellished him for my story so that he can play a role as Tom strives to uncover the mystery of pilgrims dying on the Camino in circumstances increasingly curious and disturbing.
Now place yourself in the misty mountains past O Cebreiro, one of the highlights for me on my journey across France and Spain.
Anika is in Ovraby (or is she?) and Tom is continuing his pilgrimage to Santiago after they have parted in Astorga with a commitment to meet again in one year. Remember?
He arrives at the famed Cruz de Ferro high in the mountains of Leon with the fossil he has carried with him from Australia and which he will leave at the cross as tradition demands and as his heart desires. It is a moment long anticipated, albeit he has never been able to explain to Lucy, whose spirit walks by his side, what he expects from the action. He is disappointed with the banality of the site; the milling crowds, the noise and the incessant snapping of photos for Instagram or Facebook or whatever. He drops his fossil on the pile of stones and flees.
We do not gain self knowledge or become reconciled by following the crowd or performing rituals simply because others do and certainly we do not attain forgiveness, let alone self-forgiveness, through placing one stone on top of another.
Lucy knows this.
Tom will learn this.
Confession time: I performed the same ritual with the same result two years ago.
I am in Ovraby in Southern Sweden for mid summer in the very village where our heroine Anika lives in the dream house she built with her beloved Anders before tragedy struck.
That tragedy and the aftermath has driven her to the Camino where, you will recall, she has recently met Tom from Australia and where both are trying to come to terms with the past and to believe in a now and a future.
We are in a typical small village, maybe thirty houses with no shops or other services or facilities and where neatness and control and good appearance may hide many a secret. I am not staying in Anika’s house, but the one I have chosen for her is not so far away and fits perfectly with what I have in mind for her.
Mid summer is over, the usual mix of cloud, scudding rain and lovely sunshine plus the maypole at the old mill and the ebb and flow of friends and strangers coming together for a day and a night.
Tom has returned to Australia and they have agreed to meet again in one year.
Will it happen?
The editor told me that my novel draft is Gothic in many of its elements, so I guess I should have foreseen this eerie development.
My hero Tom dreams in Burgos of the woman who will be his lover.
In Burgos I dreamt also; but it was of a faceless pilgrim monk standing by the side of my bed and it was one of those curious waking dreams.
Tom walks the Meseta two days later from Castrojeriz to Fromista pursued by the threat of thunderstorms which did not eventuate.
Today I walked the Meseta from Castrojeriz to Fromista under the threat of thunderstorms which did not eventuate.
Certainly. Yet in Gothic novels nothing is coincidental.
My question is: if life continues to follow art and one becomes the other, when do I meet my woman of mystery on the Camino?
Or must I meet instead the truly Gothic crazed pilgrim?
Let us see what tomorrow brings…
Nothing was said between them as they had their first encounter in a moment of high drama in the ancient Camino hamlet of Hontanas on the famous Meseta, where I passed by some hours ago.
The stage is set.
Where next will they meet?
Soon, very soon.