Miracle at Lourdes
Ed walked through Heathrow Airport. It took him ninety minutes to go from one terminal (Madrid) to the next (Montreal). The black strips on his Achilles tendon held his leg together. He limped a little, towards the end, but the Spanish osteopath had done a good job on his damaged leg. He made it to his next flight with ease.
Thirty years ago Ed had visited Lourdes. It wasn’t a pilgrimage. He was passing by and took a side trip on the way through. He watched old ladies, on their knees, rosaries in their hands, ascend the Via Crucis towards the cross at the top of the man-made hill. Then he went into the sanctuary. He stood there whole, unhurt, curious. A wave of hatred rose up from those who sat in wheelchairs or kneeled at the altar, praying, hoping for healing to descend. Ed needed no healing. He was whole and complete. Ed made the sign of the cross, bobbed his head before the high altar, and left.
Next day, a Saturday, Ed sat in a café, somewhere, downtown, in Lourdes, and he asked for a cup of coffee. An enormous barman towered over his customer, a stark rock on the sea shore, and showered the table with his displeasure. He was big and antagonistic. Ed sipped at his coffee. Then, after a moment or two of thought, he went to the bar.
“Excuse me.” No response. Ed tried again. “Excuse me … can you help?”
“What?” The barman flicked the glasses beneath the counter with his cloth. He refused to look up. An ice block, he froze Ed out.
“Uh, I’m a stranger here. A foreigner. Could you help me … ?”
“What?” the man mountain flicked at the glasses and turned his broad bluff shoulders to meet Ed’s face.
“I’m Welsh,” Ed said. “Gallois. Du Pays de Galles. I would like to see a rugby game tomorrow. Could you tell me where I might go to see a good one?”
“Welsh? Les petits diables rouges? Rugby?” The barman straightened up and snorted. “Why didn’t you say so?”
He took a deep breath and gave Ed an analysis of every game taking place next day in the region. Then, raising his shoulders and giving Ed a beaming smile, he said, “Jean, le petit Gachassin.”
Ed had seen Gachassin play for France, against Wales, in Cardiff, but he had lost track of him. Le petit Jean had gone to Bagnères-de-Bigorre when they were in the third division, had seen them rise through the second division, and now they were playing their first game in the French first division against Mont-de-Marsan.
“And they have Roland Bertranne,” the big man said. “A future colossus for France. Go to Bagnères-de-Bigorre and watch them play.”
Ed did. It poured with rain. He got soaked. But he saw some scintillating rugby.
Thirty years after that visit to Lourdes, Ed took the train from Avila to Madrid. He planned to spend the night in a hotel and catch the early morning flight first to London and then to Montreal. There was only one problem. He had injured his Achilles tendon and could hardly walk.
The hotel Ed had chosen sported a notice on the reception desk. Massage Service Available. Ed thought about it for a long time. No, he didn’t call for call girls when he traveled. Nor call boys. Massage service: what did it mean? Ed took the plunge, phoned, and made an appointment.
Half an hour later: a knock on the door.
Ed opened it.
“I’m the osteopath. You called?” A handsome young man stood there, his eyebrows raised.
“Yes,” Ed said. “I did. Uh, um …” his face turned red. “Er, you’re not gay, are you?”
“No,” the osteopath said. “Are you?”
“No,” Ed said.
“Thank God,” the osteopath smiled. “I’ve had six requests from gays today. I don’t do that thing.”
“Nor me,” Ed said. “Come in.”
The osteopath entered the room set up his folding bed, and helped Ed on to it. Then he examined him, slowly and carefully. They spoke Spanish at first and then, in a moment of illumination, the osteopath told Ed how, for two years, he had been the physiotherapist for the rugby team at Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Then they spoke in French and ran the rule over their heroes, le petit Jean Gachassin and Roland Bertranne.
The osteopath treated Ed for an hour and a half and charged him for an hour.
Next day, Ed walked through Heathrow Airport, a long, long walk and suffered no pain.
What could Ed say? Serendipity? The good finding the good?
Finally he put it all together and found a phrase for it: the Miracle at Lourdes.