What a strange idea to think that I was on this train, rhythmically clattering along towards the Bogota central station, to be met by Dylan, who would have just disembarked from his clattering train arriving from the South of the country. He, in the course of his first journey away from home; me, in the course of revisiting my past, before children, retracing my footsteps along paths he had now trodden for himself.
You first came to the Andes in your twenties. You always wanted to go to Colombia because you knew so little about it and because Catalina was so interesting and she talked with such pleasure about the family finca and the school there. It was a secret destination. And a foreign language. No one would be able to track you there. No one to tell tales, to criticize, to prevent you. You were in a place where you were free to be yourself. You came to realize, however, that if you have no witnesses, no accomplices, you are no one and Everyman. You are a person with no discernible history. Everyone assimilates you to their own world – they take you as one of them (if they like you) or they see you as distinctly different (if they don’t.) But you are only you if someone is there to recognize you.
Some months later you met Enrique – at the central railway station in Bogota. You liked the gentle look of him, his quiet command of the situation. You invented a question to ask him – about a hotel or something and you felt so foolish when Catalina arrived, hugging you with delight. You thought you would never see him again. You could not believe that the tremendous joy of seeing Catalina could even be slightly overshadowed by meeting and losing a stranger.
It was as though this “overshadowing” was a premonition. Your friendship with Catalina shrank in the same proportion with which your connection to her mother expanded. Milla was a strong, wise woman whose knowledge of the world’s networks was reflected in the deep brownness of her expressive eyes. She loved train trips. She found in you the perfect pretext to get away and to accompany you to that Southern village which the guerrillas have now occupied.
I clambered down the steps with a heavy travel bag, onto the platform. I didn’t know if Dylan would be waiting. He wasn’t there and I was glad. I had a little time to remember and to savour – the striking smell of Colombian petrol fumes as they belch out of the buses; the buses that are driven suicidally fast. The Indian-looking street kids with their looks of grim determination, obliging everyone to give them at least something. The chilliness of the air and the dryness – the first time I ever understood that the dry air of Johannesburg, like the dry air of Bogota, was connected to it being situated on a high plateau.