Are you ready for another tram story?
Mid-afternoon, I’m heading home on the tram and a woman of hmm, maybe 45, sits opposite me with a girl whom I guess is five. After idly kicking me a few times [the girl not the woman] and after taking off her enormous Frozen backpack and hitting the guy next to me in the face, the girl settles and the woman apologises. The guy next to me flees to another seat.
The girl stares and I stare back. She [the girl, not the woman] pokes out her tongue, I wiggle my ears and raise one eyebrow. I win.
Silence for a time and then the woman says to the girl.
‘Remember what we talked about?
‘We talked about it before, remember?’
‘We promised not to tell mummy.’
Now I’m getting interested.
Little girl continues to look blank.
‘We promised not to tell mummy. Remember? We agreed not to tell mummy.’
‘Yes’ says the little girl, though it is clear she has no idea of what’s going on.’
‘Remember what we promised not to tell mummy.’
Girl ignores woman.
The woman sighs and gives up and looks out the tram window. A few stops later they get off.
My imagination is running hot.
What must mummy not know? What is the big secret? What is the relationship between the woman and the girl? Eccentric aunt? Mummy’s girl friend? A friend giving mummy a break?
What have they done that mummy must not know?
Did ‘auntie’ get drunk during their girls day out in the city and lose the little girl? Fallen asleep? Robbed a bank? Spent the day at the casino? Fed her sugary treats despite this being forbidden?
Okay, okay, the explanation doubtless is more mundane. ‘We agreed not to tell mummy about her surprise birthday present’ or ‘we agreed not to tell her that you wet your pants [the girl, not the woman] or chucked a tantie or’…
Whatever, interesting character observation and a fun way to spend 20 minutes grinding along Lygon Street.
What do you think was too secret to tell mummy?
Tom learns bizarre details of two pilgrim deaths on the Chemin near where he is currently walking. The deaths had been almost an intellectual puzzle to solve, now they take on a grisly reality.
The bodies of two elderly female pilgrims have been found in nearby villages, meticulously posed on the steps of little village churches in positions of prayer. It is as though they have fallen asleep and been taken by the angel of mercy whilst in the act of prayer; calm, meditative expressions on their faces and no sign of struggle or harm. No sign of violence and one could be simply the death of an old pilgrim struggling to reach the church for succour and shelter; two deaths the same is stretching coincidence too far.
Nobody except Tom seems to know or to care.
What is he to do?
Eventually the pieces fall into place. Mel recalls some story of Ralph leaving Iraq in hush hush circumstances and DI Kate and her team track down the truth. Jean in a previous life was a Sobranie Black Russian smoking temptress working undercover for MI and she has more to add to the story. Jeri and Jean are cleared. Bruce is eliminated as a suspect and now only a few of us are left as ‘persons of interest’. Investigations continue around the clock ( as all good police enquiries should do). Will is cleared, to Kate’s immense relief ( for there is love in the air).
Finally the breakthrough! There is a connection of names, dates and places between Ralph and one of the group and after hours of intense interrogation David cracks and confesses. Yes, David killed Ralph!
It is me! For it is Ralph who was responsible for my young brother’s death years ago in Iraq, the victim of a covert US operation gone dreadfully wrong. I could not believe my luck when I heard his name on that first day in Saint Bees; to have him before me and I simply had to wait my chance to perform the deed. I never wanted to kill sweet Maggie and smart and funny Matilda, but I had no choice. They got in the way. Collateral damage, as they said of my brother.
Ah, cruel twist for all such stories have a twist at the end. I have killed the wrong man! It was Ralph’s crazy twin brother who was responsible, not the poor innocent man I murdered! Ralph had not even seen his brother for years as he is a survivalist hiding out in the remotest part of Montana.
There is one final twist, for such stories always have one twist just when you think you have seen the last one. Bruce and Denise worked out long before DI Kate that I was the mad murderer and, under the pretence of offering me kindly morning cups of tea, have been systematically poisoning me with foxglove. Oh unhappy me!
I finish my tale and as the pen falls from my hand and the coldness enfolds me, I have a vision of the group completing their walk in Robin Hoods Bay and returning home without a backward glance to my lifeless body and of Kate and Will in the year ahead, raising a family of little adventurers in the wilds of the Antartic.
Thanks to a wonderful group for being such good sports and fine walking companions who allowed me to pen and disseminate this bit of fun. Thanks guys!
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?
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?
I did not meet the woman of mystery or if I did, I was not paying attention at the time. For three evenings the thunderstorms threatened, but did no more than that. Nor have I yet met a mad monk, though I did encounter a woman when I stopped under rare shade to rest, talking to herself and, unaware that I have a knowledge of French, muttering to herself in French as she looked sideways ‘What does he know? What does he want from me? Why is he here?’. I departed, anxious not to distress her further.
For a day I walked with a person and as is common on the Camino, we told a little of our stories and I divulged that I was writing a novel set on the Camino.
Lo and behold, for the next week I have been met with the comment ‘Oh you’re the guy writing a novel!’ followed by regaling me with humorous yarns of what had befallen them on the Camino and exhortations to include them and their anecdotes in my novel. My reply that I was writing of love and death, not of what happened at dinner last night, invariably was met with the reply ‘put it in anyway, people will love it.’
Sorry guys, your stories will not be appearing. You will have to write your own.
Oh and I am now in Mansilla de las Mulas and things are heating up between my hero and heroine as they begin to learn of each other’s tragic histories.
Keep watching this space!