She was gorgeous. More vibrant, more alive than any woman known or dreamed about since long before I settled for marriage. She talked brightly and I listened whilst lying in the hostel bunk. Half-dressed yet wholly entranced.
That evening we spent hours chatting, which clearly annoyed the Italian guy she had been walking with earlier in the day. His name I can’t remember. Hers I’ll never forget. She was Galician but had been working in London. For Angela, for me and for many before us, the walk was a time to clear the head before reaching the next fork in the road that life would bring. Here was a place to pause and think before taking an irreversible decision.
The simple regularity of the trail, the eat-sleep-walk, monotony of the days made contemplation easier. Many souls had passed this way, taking stock and arranging troubled thoughts into some kind of order.
We spoke, intense yet hushed, until well beyond midnight. About everything and nothing. About people and places. About the past and about all the glorious futures. The dim warmth of the common room became exclusive to the two of us until, eventually we acknowledged fatigue and the need to put boot to path in the morning.
Early the next day we shared a breakfast of coffee, juice and toast in the café around the corner. The shabby surroundings enhanced by her luminous presence. As I rose and shouldered my battered rucksack, she kissed me once and handed me her number on a scrap of paper.
I had planned to stop that afternoon in Santo Domingo but pushed on until darkness and exhaustion forced a halt.
Later I pressed the paper to my cheek before sadly, silently, dropping it into a bin.