The conductor walks up and down the small train – just one car – clipping tickets, nodding to old acquaintances, selling tickets to those who get on at the small stations.
Every day he travels from Karlovac to Bubnjarci and back again, following the river, passing under the castle on the cliff at Ozalj, winding along and across the border. The scenery changes more regularly than the clientele – always high school kids and old bakas. But the river runs fast, the river runs slow, sometimes swells and sometimes drops low. The trees, luscious and green in spring, turn into matchsticks in the winter, casting their forlorn fingers into the air toward the absent sun.
But always the same teenagers, year in and year out, never changing, only speaking more English. And a never ending supply of old women heading off to visit old neighbours, grandchildren or the market. If one passes into the arms of God, another takes her place. Such are old women.
After Ozalj, no one new ever gets on at any of the few very small stations. No more tickets to clip. The conductor sits down, pushes his satchel to the side and pulls a book out of his jacket pocket. It is an old and battered copy of Great Expectations. He leans into the aisle to get better light. Little by little, malo po malo, he makes his way through it in the few peaceful minutes between Kamanje and Bubnjarci. That Estella, he thinks, she’ll break Pip’s heart.
But at this rate he won’t know just how badly for at least another year, or maybe two.