I am sitting in the lobby of a small hostel in the middle of Spain.
„In what part of the world did your soul have the destiny to be born in?“
A wrinkly, sun-tanned man is fixating me with his eyes, smiling aware of the absurdity of his question. He is sitting across the room and his head is leaning against the stone wall. It is only 5 o´clock in the morning, but everybody is getting ready to continue their path to Santiago de Compostella.
„I was born in Germany.“ is my quick reply. It is confusing and disturbing to imagine that this tiny detail of your life – your birth place – is setting the basis for your future. Poor or rich, loving parents or no parents at all, fear or support, violence or protection. Suddenly I feel guilty for my heritage. Buried in tiredness and deep thoughts I am staring down the hallway.
The old man continues: „You know girl, I was born in Africa. My father was from Indonesia and my mother is half Dutch and half South-African. I grew up poor, but as soon as I turned 14 I became a sailor. I have been a sailor my whole life and I have seen the whole world.“
This man fascinates me. I could listen to him the whole day. My friend calls from our room and asks me if I had filled our water bottles for the hike. I nod, knowing that we will leave in less than 5 minutes. Then I ask: “Have you ever been married?”
“Married? Me? Oh no, darling! Marriage is nothing for a guy like me. But don´t get me wrong. I love women. I have 8 kids with 4 different women and I am very proud of each and everyone of them. As much as I tried, my heart belongs on a ship and I can not stay at one place for very long. My family learned to accept that. I always do what I feel like doing. I am not dependent on anything in my life. Never have – never will be. 2 months ago I felt like cycling. I bought a bike and started to cycle. Everyday on the saddle. I went from Madrid to Gibraltar. When I arrived there I did not feel tired. And so I decided to turn around and cycle to Santiago de Compostella. When I arrived there I was not tired either. And I liked the idea of cycling the opposite way on the pilgrim route.”
My friend is now standing next to me. She already put her backpack on and looks at me like she wants to say “let´s go!”. I look at her and put my backpack on, before I address one last question to the old man: “And where are you cycling to?”
My friend starts to walk out of the lobby and onto the road and I follow her, having my upper body still leaned towards the old man´s direction. His reply comes quickly and friendly: “I don´t know. We´ll see what the future brings.” I wave at him and he waves back.
I have never seen him again. He did not tell me his name. I did not tell him mine. We did not know each other and yet it feels like I knew him for ever. Sometimes it is those coincidences that stay in your mind for ever. The sailor, old wrinkly man, father of 8 will be my friend. For ever.