Dear Past Me by Thelma Benison

Essay: On my way towards the Santiago de Compostela Church in Galicia, Spain (Church of St. James) via one of many roads in getting there, I found myself incredibly hungry by 5pm – a window of time too late for lunch and way too early for dinner. Most Spaniards by tradition, usually eat dinner from 8pm and way into midnight. Dinner is the main meal of the day and it is expected to enjoy the time leisurely, preferable outdoors if the weather permits.

I found a restaurant that had its doors open. Although empty, I could tell the bartender was stocking up the bar in preparation for the usual crowd later that evening. I was really hungry, and I asked him for any chips or a coke he could find that I could easily buy. Unfortunately, there was nothing available except a beer or a glass of wine.

I must have looked desperate because he asked his manager if he could turn on the grills for me. As I waited, he poured me a glass of wine with a few slices of bread and olive oil with bits of figs and olives. I looked around and found several tall bell jars made out of heavy glass, ship netting and tall ship models along with other medieval artifacts hung against the walls.

The bartender returned and handed me a menu and said in Spanish that he had permission to turn on the grills for me. I knew then I had to order a full meal, so I ordered a beef plate knowing full well he expected as much.

Thankfully I knew Spanish well enough to have a conversation with him. He asked me where I was from and he was pleased to find that I came from LA. To him, California was part of what was known as “New Spain” which extended all the way south past Central Mexico onto Brazil and beyond.  He asked what I did for a living and we kept chatting until my meal was over.

It was then when he asked me if I wanted a tour of the restaurant. I said sure, why not. I knew the church would be kept open till 8 and the sun was still out as it was summer.

He led me down a flight of stairs, and for about a few seconds, I began to panic for I had no idea where he was taking me. The stone stairs kept going down and down in a circular fashion with no windows to jump out of if I had to. No sooner than my next thought, we landed upon a room where witch dolls on broomsticks were hung on the low ceiling just about everywhere. On the chimney mantle, on the walls, on display tables, you name it. There were witch dolls holding their brooms standing against every corner staring at me. Some with smiles and some with a few glares as if on guard.

I asked him why were we here?  He said we were 20 feet below the main entrance and the floor we were standing on was the main entrance in the mid 1500’s.  We then descended another 20 feet an he took me back to the 1200’s.  And then it hit me as soon as I saw the rusted iron horse rings against the stone wall. Suddenly, an old memory came upon me. I began to smell urine and I began to see hay strewn on the dirt floor. There was a donkey and a horse standing there that recognized me. The heat was unbearable, and I remembered the wooden water buckets and I recalled a well nearby.  I remembered this area as a stable for traveler’s with horses and donkeys. This building was not only a restaurant but a hotel even back then. The memory was so intense as if the past came right back to me and I was in it. I looked at my hands and they looked to belong to a woman in her later years. I then saw a small table with a hung mirror over it along with some tarot cards along with a few coins. I saw the clothes I was wearing, my shoes, everything.

My thoughts sped right back to the present. The bartender was wondering why I became so withdrawn and pale. I told him what happened. He smiled and said. This place affects people who have lived and worked here before. They are drawn to this place even without knowing how or why – even if they get here totally by chance. I asked him about the witches and he said, healers are witches. Spain respects the “meijas” (witches) who were known as healers back then. This place has been owned by the same family for over 900 years.

 “Welcome Back!”

BIO: Thelma Benison wrote, “I am an online journalist with experience in writing for the Examiner (currently AXS Entertainment) as a freelance journalist. I have also attended UCLA Writer’s Studio and Creative Writing Extension classes from 2001-2008.”

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