Her Perfect Place

6th August 2022

I will send her Bushmills.

I woke up to the idea bouncing in my head, adjusting my hips, with little hope of comfort. I will send her Bushmills and tell her it’s made near. Near to where the great souls roam.

The moon had moved in the sky, but it was still dark. I slept again.

We met on the other side of a big mountain in that part of France the French call ‘profonde’. She called from the upper-floor window of her home as she saw us arrive.

Bring her around the corner to Reception.  She pointed left. I’ll meet you there.

She wore her shocked-white hair straight and cropped, without artifice. I would learn that she was seventy, but might have guessed ten years younger, so nimbly did she move. She had the clipped tone of a woman who has dealt with the public for many years.

Following her direction, I arrived into a bustling space of campers – setting up, washing up, dressing up, cooking up. It was that lizard-time of day, when speed now allowed people to enjoy their evening, and relax.

Above the fray, clinging to the hill, lay the tents, curiously strung out, as though something were left unfinished.

This is ‘camping plein air’, where the site is not tamed to the needs of man, nor the field flattened to the needs of sleep. The result is a scattergun of canvass mausoleums, each with a view to the valley, a path to the skies, and a failed negotiation with the ground beneath.

There’s no shop, I blurted out, as she arrived to me. Her jeans were welded to her body, by way neither of fashion nor of vanity. It was how her body was. And I’ve no food.

It was true. I was so focused on gaming the system and getting a last minute cancellation in a gîte, I had forgotten that, if I ended up in Plan B, it would mean bringing my own food.

Not that I would starve. But still. I’ve no food.

We walked up the back field together to access Kaïsha’s space. She directed me as we went, assuming that a man who could not plan his dinner could hardly control his donkey.

I think she’s hungry and tired, she said, ignoring me.

I’m not sure I can stay, I replied, stopping and looking at her.

It was 5.30pm and there were 6kms to the big town below. I need to eat, because tomorrow is another big day.

You adventurers, she said, shaking her head slowly, in disappointment. You adventurers need to know there are limits. The decision is yours. It’s a long trek down with a donkey, and the final two kilometres are steep.

She was a good negotiator. And so was I.

In the empty seconds which followed, I looked at Kaïsha, the valley, the sky.

I’ll stay, I said.

We won’t see you starve, came her reply.

The air between us seemed to relax. And we continued to walk.

Kaïsha’s field was made from a dream. A stack of hay higher than her ears for a night of grazing, a ration of barley for the morning for energy, and loads of the rocky ground Pyrenean donkeys love.

The woman went to the perimeter, to a rushing stream half-covered by its unstable, curling banks. She stooped perilously forward, hands balanced on a tree, to fill a bucket of water.

‘Madame’ I said, insisting that I could fill my  my own donkey’s water bucket.

It’s ok, she said, softening. I’m used to it.

The work being done, and my own camping space located, we walked back down the site together, winding from level to level as the sun turned its furnace down.

You’re from Ireland, she said, referring to our phone conversation where she had noted my phone number. People get lost on the mountain. It’s good to be able to contact them if they don’t show up.

Ireland is where I camped for the longest period in my life, she continued. We were 20 years old, and we camped out for a month.

She looked at me.

We had a Deux Chevaux and the Irish had never seen one before. That was fifty years ago…

We spoke of the island during that time, how it was, where she had been. All over. The west. Kerry. The North. Dublin.

I can’t believe it’s fifty years ago, she repeated, wistfully. My friend, he drove the car. I remember people loading into black cabs in Belfast after the pubs closed, and not knowing what was happening…

I was beginning to slip, the decline on the camp ground was so steep, as we finally approached the Receptiom again.

You’re in luck, she said. It’s pasta tonight. That’s easier to share.

She did not look at me. She did not smile.

Her mind had returned to Ireland.

The Giant’s Causeway. That’s what I loved most.

I looked at her. I thought it was a bit small, to be honest.

Oh no, she replied. It was perfect.

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