Dispatches

Two Homes, One Wolf

David Albahari

The immigrant's new home represents success and hope—doesn't it?

One winter morning I put my jacket on and went outside to shovel the snow, but it was so cold I had to go back into the house. I made some tea, hoping that it would make me feel warm, but it did not work. I walked through the house, down to the basement and up again. It did not help. I walked faster and faster until I was almost running, but that did not help either.

And then, while I was racing down the stairs to the basement, I remembered my mother. I have not thought of her for years and now, all of a sudden, while I was almost flying down the stairs, I could think of nothing else. In my mind’s eye I saw her standing in the corner, near the window. She turned to me and said that I should go outside. I replied that I’d rather stay at home. But why? she exclaimed. If a house were a good thing, the wolf would have one.

I’ve heard that saying before. It was one of hundreds she knew. Nothing could surprise her: good news, bad news, births, marriages, graduations, divorces, deaths—whatever happened, she would produce a saying that was perfect for the occasion.

But why did she want me to go out into the freezing cold? And why did she speak against having a house? Wasn’t she the one who adored our old apartment in Zemun, and kept it clean and tidy as long as she could? Mother, I wanted to ask her, isn’t buying a house every immigrant’s dream? The house is the proof of success for family members back home, and it also represents the new owners’ hope that now they’ll feel they belong here.

Soon after that, as I waited at the Calgary airport for my flight to Frankfurt, the man sitting next to me said, “I hate planes.” He then told me, or rather he whispered, as if he were telling me a secret, “and I am afraid of flying, but I have no choice. I cannot swim across the ocean, can I?”

He spoke with a recognizable Russian accent. It sounded almost like my Serbian accent, and when I spoke, he gave me a big hug as if I were his best friend. “I knew,” he said, “that you’re one of us!”

I didn’t know what he meant.

“One of us,” he repeated. “You know, Slavs, Eastern Europeans, who else?”

“How did you know?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I didn’t. I saw you coming this way, sitting down on this chair, and something inside me told me that you’re one of us.” He looked into my eyes. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“I don’t know you,” I told him. “Why would I believe you?”

“But we’re brothers,” he said, “and not only because we’re Slavs. We’re also immigrant brothers. You, just like me, have two hearts.”

I touched my chest. There was only one heart beating in there, I was sure. “No two hearts in this body, buddy,” I told him.

“Oh, yes,” he said, “there are two of them. You know that saying—home is where the heart is? You know it, I’m sure.”

“I do,” I said. “Everybody does.”

“And that’s why immigrants have two hearts,” he said with a note of triumph in his voice. “They have two homes. A new one in Canada and an old one somewhere else in the world. Mine is in Moscow, and where’s yours?”

“In Belgrade,” I told him.

“You see,” he said, “and why didn’t you sell it when you moved to Canada?”

“How could I?” I answered. “It’s my home.”

A female voice invited passengers to board the plane. Afraid that the man might try to sit next to me, I did not wait for him. I got up and joined the line of people who held their boarding passes, then found my seat, sat down, opened a magazine and hid behind it.

Slowly I became aware that something was happening inside me. I touched my chest again and this time I could feel my second heart, beating like mad. So, Mother, I whispered, what should I do with two hearts, two homes and one wolf? But she did not say anything. I tried again; there was no reply. Instead, a voice asked me who I was talking to. I put my magazine down and saw an old woman sitting next to me.

“I’m just trying to talk to my mother,” I said.

“Oh, dear,” the old woman said. “Where is she?”

“She’s up there.”

“Where, in first class?”

“No,” I said, “up there,” and I looked up at the ceiling.

The old woman looked up as well. The plane began to move faster and faster, and we just sat there, watching the ceiling as if my mother, or perhaps a wolf, were to appear at that spot any moment now, soon.

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David Albahari

David Albahari is the author of twenty published books in Serbian; six have been translated into English, including Snow Man (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005) and Leeches (Harcourt, 2011). Read more of his work at davidalbahari.com.


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The 19th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest

The writing contest whose name is almost as long as the entries! Deadline is May 20, 2024.