He was so cold and alone and her gaze so fixed and he could bear it no longer.
He reached out to her and took her hand and she gave that slow half smile he remembered and embraced him and once more they walked hand in hand as they had done in another life as the dawn light grew stronger.
There had never been a choice since the day he first saw her in her navy blue silk dress and she laughed and said ‘I always fall for the wrong men’ and his world tipped over and was never righted until this moment.
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?
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.
In May/June I plan to walk the Camino section between Pamplona and Leon, thereby completing my journey from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago over the last two years. Echoing in my mind is the editor’s question of what motivates people to undertake these long solitary walks along the old pilgrimage trails, especially when I told her that my [probably crazy] next idea is to walk from Canterbury to Rome, the old Via Francigena. I could only reply that my motives mirror those of my hero in my novel-in-progress: redemption, forgiveness, reflection alone in silence and, of course, writing and the sheer challenge of putting one foot after the other for days and weeks on end. Plus meeting intriguing characters who come and go and who all have their own stories which we writers plunder for future use. It is difficult to put into words, but perhaps a key motive is that it forces me to see and to experience everything at a slower pace. Nothing happens fast and my senses operate in ways they never do in city daily life.