The blisters started early. A week earlier, my ride to the mission was non consequential, but the trek over the mountains was long and laborious. Monique, on the other hand, seemed to be having a lot of fun, of course, she was the better rider. My mare sensed my and pain and appeared to take gentle careful steps over the rocky terrain.
At one point in our journey Monique broke the silence about her mother. “Daddy, was mama happy in Sint Maarten? So far away from Virginia and friends.”
“I think so kitten. She enjoyed the beauty of the island, and loved working in the youth center. And, you know it was her idea to buy the villa.” My horse took a big step and I bounced in the saddle.
“Well, I think she would have enjoyed Paris.” She turned her head as tear ran down her cheek.
For the first time I saw a bit of emotion from my daughter, she had taken the news of her mother’s death so well I was a bit concerned that her steely attitude was a result of my indulgence. Almost ten years ago we allowed Monique to enroll at the University of Paris on her eighteenth birthday, and other than cursory visits to our home in Virginia, she was, for all intensive purposes, a French resident.
“She would have enjoyed seeing more of you for sure, but you know that she distained big cities.”
Monique grabbed the reins of my horse, so that we both paused on the path and our guides were separated from us. “I miss her daddy.”
“Me too kitten.” My mare lifted his head, telling us to get moving. Monique released the reins and we stepped in front of Monique’s horse.
Our guide held up a hand to stop us, then dismounted. When I approached where he was standing I discovered the reason. Our path ran along a steep ledge. With reins in hand we edged our way nearly two hundred meters until we came to a narrow cart path leading across a valley.
The sun carved a corridor through the valley which ended in the outline of a village. “Jaca,” said the guide.
Monique reacted immediately. “Bandit country.”
I looked at her quizzically.
“Daddy, this area is famous for bandits, robbers, and thieves – it’s been that way through history.”
I glanced at our guide, he was listening to Monique and ginning – my guess is that he understood more English than the let-on.
“Sientase aqui.” He pointed to a fallen log. Another one of our fellow riders to reins of our horses and started following the trail into the village. Our guide pulled a pack from his horse and tossed a small loaf of hard bread to Monique and me. He also had a bottle of red wine from which he took a long swig and passed to Monique while nodding to a steep hill in front of us. “Cuándo nosotros terminamos comer, nosotros andaremos cuesta arriba.”
I caught his jest, when we finished eating we were going to have to climb the mountain on foot.
After a short rest we began our trek, it may have been little more than a kilometer, but walking up the steep grade made it seem longer. An hour later we were standing on the steps of the building.
Monique and I entered a beautiful hardwood great room filled with tables, couches, and chairs – like a meeting hall. I walked to a glass front window. The entire valley unfolded in front of me, and importantly, I also could see, in the distance, the ridge we walked across with our horses.
The guide pointed to the back of the chalet. “Cocina,” and then he pointed up a circular stairway, “dormitories.” With first big smile I had seen on his face he walked over to me and held out his hand and spoke in broken English, “Welcome, mister Garris y miss Garris you are now home, you are now part of us.
Who is us?
He must have noticed my quizzical look. He laughed, “Maurice will explain later.” Then he turned and walked out the door.
“Well, Kitten, I guess we are supposed to stay here.”
Monique ran up the circular stairs. “Daddy, quickly.”
I followed her up the stairs. Three suitcases were sitting on the balcony. Monique was holding the luggage tag of one, tears were running down her face – the tag belonged to her mother.
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