Monday, June 27, 2011

The Roman Road

Pete stumbled along in the high afternoon sun. The meseta was flat and expanisve with fields of tilled, chunky brown clay. He had already been walking for six hours. His feet felt flatened from his own weight, his toes nearly numb, spasming from the strain of each stride. Pete's legs felt lost and uncontrolable, ocassionaly stubbing the tip of his boot on a rock or dragging a heel. It was as though his legs had the willingness of a child on an endless day of errands.

He was on the old Roman route to Mansilla, the path a brick red color with cobbled chunks of stone. He stopped for a moment looking behind and then ahead. It was straight and flat as the far as the eye could see in either direction. With the crunching of his own steps silenced, Pete could hear the buzzing of a million insects in this quiet space of pause, bees pollinating the flowers that grew on the fringe of the trail between the fields. The barn swallows flew above, their flapping wings discerniable like someone waving a thin branch quickly through the air.

Pete unclipped the waiststrap from his bag and pulled down the front of his sweatpants and underwear, urinating on the edge of the trail. He shook off and tucked himself back in releasing an extra squirt in his underpants as the relief of peeing left his body more relaxed. "Oh, goddamnit..." he muttered to himself accepting this common occurance, which first developed when trying to urinate in empty mountain dew bottles while driving the combine. "Oh well, I got to do laundry today anyway."

Amanda stood off to the side of the trail, monitoring Pete from at least five kilometers back. She couldn't tell if he was moving but figured she was far enough back that she would never catch him. Amanda had been looking forward to this alternative leg of the trip and felt her heart race when Pete said he was going to walk this route too. The Roman road was supposed to be the most desolate stretch and seven hours of Pete talking was more than she could handle.

That morning in the hostel, Amanda laid in bed awake with her eyes closed waiting for everyone to leave, including Pete, until the hospitalero came to wake her. He was terrified as he stood in front of the pale girl covered in tatoos, remembering the old woman from last year, Betty O'connell, and irish lady who died quietly in her sleep. Amanda heard his footsteps as he approached and opened her eyes as she sensed him standing there in front of her. The man jumped, and sheepishly smiled saying "you must go now..." in a heavy spanish accent.

Pete looked at his hands, holding them in front of his body like he was feeling a warm fire. He tried opening them widely but his fingers were so swollen he could only get his hands close to flat. He took out his crinkled, plastic water bottle, the same one he had been refilling for three weeks since he dumped out the carbonated water that it came with. "Smells like a damn swimming pool in here." he said as uncapped it and held his nose to the mouth of the bottle. Pete sucked down the treated water he collected from the hostel sink and flatened the bottle before capping it close and shoving into the side pouch of his bag. The faint sound of a tractor engine hummed in the background. Pete reclipped his waist strap and continued walking, his feet at odds with the gravel crunching with each step, drowning out of the loud silence of nowhere.

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