Suddenly, it’s winter. The sidewalks are covered in a skin of ice, which today was overlaid with snow. Feeling psychologically unprepared for this turn of events, I decided upon waking that I would not leave my apartment today. I do occasionally have small moments of wisdom.
In ten days my father will arrive for his semi-annual visit. He will take the five ‘o clock express train from Toronto and I will be waiting for him at the station at precisely nine. When I meet him he will take my head in his hands and kiss my cheeks three times, then we will sit down to smoke a cigarette and he will tell me all about his journey: who he happened to talk to en route, how loud the train was, whether it slowed down or stopped completely and how often. Only then will it be permissible to hail a taxi and drive past the mountain towards home.
Once, having other commitments to attend to earlier in the evening, I suggested that he come from the train station to my apartment on his own. This obviously hurt him deeply and I’ve never made the suggestion again. As I came to understand, the ritual of greeting a loved one after a journey is terribly important to my father, in part, I suspect, because he remembers when the experience of travel was still something extraordinary.
In the village, the whole extended family and a smattering of neighbours would accompany a traveller to the main road, where buses to and from Belgrade would stop twice a day. Drinks would be proffered and gifts given, and when the time came for the traveller to depart there would be a rush of triple cheek kisses and a crowd of people waving goodbye as the bus pulled away. Though my father has lived in large urban centres for almost fifty years, in this regard he is still a villager and always will be.