Another week passed. Santi was as sullen as ever, barely saying ‘thank you’ after dinner before going to sleep. Kepa just sighed as he gathered the dishes so he could wash them in the morning. While his lamb stew was getting really good, in his own humble opinion, he was getting tired of eating the same thing over and over again. How he missed his ama’s porrusalda or the bollos de mantequilla he’d get whenever he had visited Maite in Bilbao.
But today, at least, there was something to look forward to. Dominique was due with another supply run. Kepa couldn’t wait to have someone to talk to who had a vocabulary that consisted of more than just a few grunts. Kepa made a fresh loaf of bread in the hopes of enticing Dominique to linger just a bit longer at the camp.
Just after midday, he could hear the clomping of the horses as they approached. He looked up and, to his surprise, saw three horses, the third carrying
“Maite!” exclaimed Kepa as he rushed to her side. “What are you doing here?”
Maite smiled as she let Kepa help her dismount. “Dominique gave me your note. Since I had the day off, I thought I’d join him on his rounds, see how you are doing for myself.”
Kepa blushed. “You gave up your day off for me?”
Maite blew him a kiss and a wink.
“She’s a keeper,” laughed Dominique as Kepa turned an even brighter shade of red.
“Look, I’m not going to linger,” said Dominique. “Maite, I’ll pass by this way again after I stop at the other camps and we can head back to town. Until then, you and Kepa can catch up.”
“But, what about my stew? I even made fresh bread!” protested Kepa.
Dominique climbed back onto his saddle. “I’m sure Maite will enjoy it just as much as I would have. I’ll be back before long.”
Soon, Dominique’s horse disappeared over the hill.
“So,” said Kepa, “how have you been?” He handed Maite a bowl of stew and a slice of bread.
Maite shrugged. “Fine, I guess. Just working. They work the girls to the bone. I get up at five in the morning to begin cleaning the dining room. Then I help prepare breakfast. After that, I clean the linens while another girl works on lunch. In the afternoon, we all get ready for dinner. Then there is serving all of these demanding Basquos. Sometime around 10 or 11, if I’m lucky, I get to have a bite to eat with the other girls before we clean up the dishes and head to bed.”
Her shoulders slumped. “I’m exhausted.”
She took a bite of the stew. “This is really good,” she said in mock surprise.
“What? You didn’t think I could cook?”
“I knew you couldn’t. You’ve tried, remember?”
Kepa blushed again. “Well, I’ve had lots of practice with this one dish.”
“How are things up here?” asked Maite between bites.
It was Kepa’s turn to sigh. “The work isn’t quite as hard as yours; I’ve only got one demanding Basquo to take care of, but he is the most anti-social fellow. I think you’ve spoken more words since you got here than he has in the last month. It’s just so damn boring up here.”
“Miss your phone?” teased Maite.
“I miss everything!” barked Kepa. He paused as Maite looked away. “Sentitzen dut. I’m sorry. I’m just so frustrated, being up here. What does any of this have to do with the zatia? It all seems so pointless.”
“I understand. I feel the same way. It seems we are being punished somehow.”
“Right?!?” Kepa shook his head. “I can’t believe that these people chose this life.”
“I guess things were… are… even worse back home.”
“Worse than this?”
“That’s what some of the other girls tell me. Life back in Euskal Herria was even harder, with fewer chances of it getting better.”
“It’s hard to imagine, the way things are now,” said Kepa. “I mean, the way things are in our time. Life isn’t so bad at home.”
Maite nodded. “I agree. Funny how things change in just a generation or two.”
“Anyways,” said Kepa after he pulled a squirt from the bota bag before tossing it to Maite. “Have you had any luck with the zatia?”
Maite shook her head before taking her own squirt of wine. “Nothing,” she said as she tossed the bag back to Kepa. “I’ve cleaned all of the rooms from top to bottom. If it’s in the boarding house, it’s hidden very well.”
“Damnit,” swore Kepa. “I just want to be done with this place.”
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