Something bulges out from the sides of her back and hovers above her head like an extra body part. Shoes dangle from laces tied to a piece of webbing. Her body is weighted, but her spirit cheerful.
I recognize the outline of a traveler before our eyes even meet. We hug and I welcome her inside. She unbuckles the waist strap and swings her pack to one side; it rests momentarily on her right hip, then slides down her side and onto the floor.
I put fresh linens on a pillow from my bed and prop it at one end of our small black leather couch. I hand her a glass of water. We chat amiably about her day, and my heart swells just hearing her speak. It reminds me of being in Spain. It reminds me that my heart now holds countries, and street corners, and seas, and friends, and cities, and beautiful moments in it from many thousands of miles away.
Seemingly from a dream.
But then again, so real.
I can feel them in this moment more than ever before, and hosting her, Nuria, the couchsurfer from Barcelona I’ve just now met, is like being reminded of the sky’s color or the smell of rain on concrete. I now know I have to return.
Europe is forever a part of me, and I want to forever be a part of it.
Nuria flops on the couch, tired from a day of hiking and exploring. Then the familiar routine of settling into a new place; home for the night. I watch as she ruffles through her pack for the essentials — toothbrush, cell phone charger, pajamas and sleeping bag. My housemate hands her our Wifi password on a piece of paper, and I can see the relief as it moves across her face like a cloud uncovering the sun.
She relaxes a bit more now that her means of communication to the other side of the ocean is whole again. I know this feeling. I felt it so many times in foreign places when I had no bridge to home, aside from the internet and my own thoughts.
I tell her “My home is your home,” and a warmth blooms somewhere beneath my ribcage.
We say goodnight, and I fall asleep smiling.
In the morning I make coffee for two and leave a cup and an orange on a little table in the living room. I write her a note and tell her to enjoy the day and that I won’t see her until later that evening.
Tonight is her last night in Oregon. I call and arrange a taxi to pick her up in the wee hours of the morning to deliver her to the airport.
In the living room, me sitting cross-legged on a chair, and her on the couch, she talks about life in Sweden, where she is working on completing her Postdoctoral. Then we chat about love. She tells me how she met her boyfriend. It took two years for their paths to cross again by chance on the subway. And even then, they didn’t exchange contact information. But she found his email by contacting a mutual friend — she was determined.
He replied right away and they met the following day. And then the day after that…and again the day after that. It was as if there weren’t enough days to spend together, so days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and months turned into years — 7 total now.
When she speaks about him, her face shows the calm and content knowing of love, the kind I imagine is as real and as alive as a mountain that withstands windstorms and rain.
Mountains are as forever as we can hope for in a lifetime.
We let silence hold us. And I think of memories of all the couches I’ve slept on and of the people who took me in and welcomed me as family, even though I was a lone woman traveling on the tail feathers of wanderlust, easily excitable and unsure of what came next.
Suddenly, she looks up from her book and asks “Who is Jerry Garcia?”
I play her Touch of Gray by the Grateful Dead, and we grin at each other, nodding to the song.
Eventually, it’s time to say goodnight. She says if she leaves anything behind, I will need to return it to her in person. We laugh and I say “Deal!”
She invites me to both of her respective homes in Spain and Sweden.
I get the feeling, as I sometimes do, that we’ll meet again.
Backpacking Europe: morning in Prague.