My German companion and I sing as we walk. She’s into the Backstreet Boys; I go for Fats Domino.
As I follow along behind her, blonde hairs shine on the backs of her thighs. I can’t say why I’m on the Camino to Santiago. I’m not religious other than about music.
She sings “Alle Vögel sind schon” (“All the Birds are Free”). It’s a song about freedom, she says, about trying on freedom like clothes. She also sings “Backstreet’s Back Alright,” and I join in, remembering the lyrics from trying to fit in during elementary school in Mississippi, 1997.
I start singing: “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday.” Like Fats, I hope to one day be less brokenhearted. Make a choice and stick with it.
“What does this mean ‘wheel’?”
“Roll forward,” I say.
“Right,” she says. “Roll over them.”
“Not exactly that violent,” I say, “but yeah.”
I’m always breaking up with my boyfriend whom I love because I think I might want to be with a woman.
If I’m honest, it’s because I don’t want to be naked. Not really. I want to stay hidden. Queer and alone. In a quiet field: dry and clean.
Here’s Spain: Wide-open, brown land in all directions. This must be the area between Burgos and Leon that other pilgrims warned me about.
Our singing fades into humming then silence for nearly twenty kilometers.
The hostel on the map is twice as far as indicated or doesn’t exist.
A creek appears beyond a small, burnt hill. It’s no more than ten-feet wide.
“Come, we wet our feet,” she says.
We both sit with our packs on. I unstick the blisters. Blood on my socks. Tears mix with dirt and sand and find their way between my chapped lips.
The stranger whom I sort of know sits there looking out over the green sliver of water. I squirm, buttoned up to my chin.
We look ahead for what feels like a long time.
Then a wet creeping down my hips. Hot, red blood snaking my dangling legs to the rock and into the creek below.
After walking 300 kilometers, a lifetime of being queer, here it is: I’m coming apart at the seams.
I take one last look at the falling sky, ready to roll over myself when she says, “Der vino.”
“Vino,” I think. Some German thing she’s saying. She’s laughing at me while I’m bleeding.
“Vino. Glug, glug, glug,” she tips her head up to the horizon, hand around an imaginary bottle.
Oh, vino. Spanish. Wine. She’s saying wine. But why?
I’m flat-stunned when the beautiful girl pulls a broken bottle from my pack and pours it into her mouth then pulls my head back softly by my hair. Wine on my mouth, down my chest.
The two bottles in my backpack broke when I leaned back on my pack.
She removes her shirt, shorts, and slides down into the water.
Her calves: two suns pulsing.
Photo Credit: Jessica Kinnison