Christmas vacation loomed, a spectre haunting every conversation, a weight making every exchange fraught with expectation. The population of an international school is inherently migratory, several dozen flocks of geese all congregating together for this one moment in the history of space and time, each collection and each individual always on the verge of taking wing and disappearing into the sky. A holiday meant a great dispersal, a casting of our fragile community to the wind.
People everywhere talked vacation – destinations and ticket prices, buses and trains, planes and sturdy shoes. Many were homeward bound, to America, to the Philippines, to Korea, to England, to Australia. Canadians were thin on the ground, until I happened into conversation with a Newfoundlander.
We regaled each other with mutual Canadian paraphernalia, inasmuch as people who lived in vastly differently places in an enormous country could share a culture. We talked about the cold, about warm mittens and toques, about hot chocolate in a Tim Horton’s mug. We talked about shovelling snow and eating food, about the pristine quiet, about the slang and the voice. Her harsh, nasal, Maritime /a/s and my newscaster southern Ontario prattle betrayed only when I say the words boat and hose.
Nostalgia dripped from our conversation like a generous portion of maple syrup. We could understand one another’s wants, one another’s yearnings, without difficulty. We had a mutual reference point, an understanding of the word home that meant roughly the same thing, or as same a thing as you can get nestled far away in China. Christmas conjured up the same kind of visions, the same legends of Santa, the same kinds of cookies and the same kinds of turkey, the bitter winds and the bursting cold, the soft flutter of a million million snowflakes and the feeling of a down jacket over four layers of sweaters, and the sea of stars that littered the night like sand along a beach.