Robert Ward

Jean-Yves the Penitent (pg 283) Jean-Yves the Penitent (pg 283)

I first met him over dinner one night on the meseta, a wiry man in his forties, with a high, balding forehead, a gentle manner and a wise laugh. He introduced himself as a former member of the French Foreign Legion. I guess I didn’t take him quite seriously, for I said, “So you used to destabilize democratically elected governments for a living?”

To which he placidly replied, “Well yes, there was a certain amount of that.”

For Jean-Yves, the Camino was a time to think out his future. He had retired on full pension. He had a new name, a new identity, a new history. He was still young enough to chart out a second life. “I have a resume,” he said. “A detailed and very impressive resume of the imaginary places where I have worked. If anyone calls a phone number on the resume, someone in an office somewhere will answer and tell them what a splendid employee I was.” He was thinking of starting a counselling service for others in his circumstances. There were a lot of them, he said, and many had trouble adapting to dull civilian life.

In most respects, Jean-Yves was a thoroughly modern pigrim. But he was also something older: a penitent. “There are things I have done that I don’t feel good about,” was how he put it…

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