I remember to brush my teeth this evening and head to the men’s bathroom in this brand new – yet delightfully cramped – albergue perched upon the ass-end of a town that has the comical name of Calle. It seems apt given that there isn’t much to this place aside from an overpriced hostel for pilgrims and a kitsch beer garden that took the Germanic title far too seriously. Much as I love beer, being surrounded by emptied and graffitied bottles seems like I’m drinking dead relatives in a hops graveyard.
Regardless, I have applied fluoride to my brush, but stop before I even begin. Some poor bastard has left behind their money belt. A European, no doubt, I think to myself as I grasp the pouch. It is lightweight, thin, and clearly contains money, passports, and other important documents. I resist the urge to peek inside and gander at the identification card lest someone walk in at the wrong moment and assume I’m a thief.
The Asian fellow with the body of a young man but the emotionless face of a stone statue enters to freshen himself up for the night. His face is pockmarked, lacking a beard, but his eyes have that thousand-yard stare only pilgrims and elderly, bearded wisemen seem to possess. I turn toward him (a walking conundrum – like a shaved Confucius) holding the European man purse.
“Yours,” I politely ask.
He grunts in the negative, waving a foamy toothbrush and a dismissive palm toward me. “A no, a no, a no,” he says, caught in that infinite loop of speaking an unfamiliar language to emphasize a point. He points toward his toothbrush – as if it’s the owner – and returns to cleaning his young teeth in an old face.
I thank him for his repeated denial of confirmation and proceed to track down the owner. I scarcely leave that cramped shitter before a half-naked older chap is hit by the swinging door. He apologizes, but the frantic look in his eye indicates I’ve found my mark.
“Yours,” I politely ask.
“Ah!” he squeaks in pleasant surprise. He looks at me, looks at his man purse, looks at me, and takes the man purse from my outstretched hand. He ignores my pasted toothbrush in the other.
“Ah, thank you so very much!” he says. He has excellent command of the language, only the slightest hint of an accent, and I can’t place him just yet. “This,” he says holding up the man purse, “was my Life. Thank you.”
“No problem,” I say. “Happy to help.”
“I would be – as you say – fucked without this.” He emphasizes the word, like he’s trying to sense my limits by proffering the most versatile curse in the tongue.
He has since buckled the man purse about his bare waist. A damp tee covers his chest; an European banana hammock covers the rest. His legs are the same shade of pale as the slick tile.
The Asian man-boy is furiously brushing his teeth.
“It is very kind,” says the half-naked European, “to return this to me. You could have taken anything you wanted.”
I laugh. “It is Camino,” I say. “We are pilgrims. We help each other.”
“Ah, yes. That is true. I thank you.” He extends his hand and briefly shakes mine. My toothbrush remains unused and impotent. “I am from Slovenia,” he says, not bothering with a name. After releasing my hand, he produces a second tee from Lord knows where and begins to wash it – unperturbed by the Asian man-boy – in a nearby sink. The Asian is equally unfazed by the half-naked European casually washing his clothes. “Where do you call home?”
“United States,” I reply. “New Mexico.”
“Ah, yes!” he exclaims as if he’s ever been to that part of the country. “I was once in California – it is close, no?”
I think to myself how distance is relative and simply agree with him. Easier than explaining geography at this point. Our Confucian pal finally finishes scrubbing his gums clean of any and all filth and quietly exits the bathroom. “A sorry, a excuse,” he says. Given the cramped space, he simply squeezes between us, but my new Slovenian friend pays him no mind as he begins asking me about Trump, healthcare, and Camino.
“Trump,” he says with that European dissent. “What a character, no?”
“He certainly is,” I reply waving my hands (and toothbrush) in dismissive defeat. I haven’t checked the news since Lent but according to other pilgrims, The Donald is being racist or some shit back home. Same shit, different day. “But he will get re-elected,” I add.
The European nods in agreement, moving his head up and down like a sensible person, and thrusting his near-naked groin to and fro for some strange affirmation. He is caught up in his thoughts and fails to notice the quixotic expression on my face.
Even he knows the cult of personality and the rabid ambition the man has for the office. “It is about money,” he says, wringing out his second tee and standing in full. His money belt blocks the full view of his banana hammock, but I cannot get quite past the paleness of his legs. All these weeks in Spain and not a day of sun.
“Yes,” I say, “money. That’s what people care about.”
“Yes!” he says. I touched a nerve as he becomes wholly animated. “But all that shit – the shit we left back home – does not matter.” He holds his free hand high above his head. “A stack of money this tall does not make one happy!”
“You cannot eat money,” he continues. “Money will not cure you of matters of the mind and heart.” His banana hammock flops in agreement as he excitedly moves about within our small quarters.
“And you can’t take it with you,” I add.
“Yes, very true that is. You cannot have it in the next Life.”
He returns to the sink (the Asian man-boy didn’t rinse his out thoroughly and remnants of Confucian spittle decorate the porcelain). He wrings the tee one more time for good measure. “Everyone needs to go on Camino,” he sighs. “It would teach the world of Good.”
“Where else in the world can you have moral philosophical discussions in a men’s bathroom with strangers?” I say. “Now that’s Camino.”
He laughs and with his free hand motions to fist bump. “You are right, American.” Again the banana hammock flops in agreement.
I return the gesture, my hand clenched around my unused toothbrush.