The Man with the Hat

René Magritte - Man in a Bowler Hat (1964)

René Magritte – Man in a Bowler Hat (1964)

Maybe the man with the hat is my real father. Hiding behind his newspaper four seats away in the train. I spoke with him over the phone a couple of weeks ago, but all I had was this tiny photograph of him. His face was pushed half out of the picture frame by me, a two-year old smiling white-haired chubber. His half-face, dressed with a neatly trimmed beard and metal-framed glasses seems absent, as if he knows this will be the last time he sees me. It is over fifteen years later now, and I am on my way to meet him. I am looking at the square picture my mother only recently gave to me, as if it were a secret file released by a collapsed regime revealing personal stuff from the past.

All I did was ask my mother who my father was a couple of months ago when I saw her at the birthday. She wrote his name on a piece of paper together with his phone number. After that she sent the picture by post.

I look at the picture again. It really is tiny. My mother must have taken it, which might explain his absent look as well. It really didn’t work between the two.

Who is he? What does he look like now? He could also be on his way home to meet me coming from my direction. Will he recognise me? Parents should have a natural gift for that.

The man with the hat looks at me. Nervously I look away. It is not him. I can tell, because I don’t feel anything, at least not recognition.

low light

low light

The empty landscape passes by outside. It is a mild November day and the low sun casts a warm orange-yellow light through the train carriage. A bunch of kids, probably my age, are chatting and laughing, but I don’t hear them.

Upon arrival at the station I merge into the crowd. It is a Saturday and people seem very excited. I get into the tram and manage to get a seat. By now, it has turned dark outside.

Inside the tram I see all faces. This little kid is looking at me, his mum staring outside. Could he tell I am on my way to meet my father? I must look suspicious. No need to worry, I tell myself, soon all will be clear. Weather my father is a wealthy man, an intellectual, an overaged hippy or some bum, it shouldn’t matter. At least I know then and I can move on.

A sudden wind blows in my face when I turn the corner walking into his street. The tall apartment houses on one side of the street are overlooking a canal and an open space on the other side. The rhythmic street lights throw a dark orange light onto the row houses. In one of them my father lives. I look at the piece of paper again my mother gave to me, on which I had added his home address, and checked the number.

Door after door, window after window, the number slowly increases and after about a minute or so I reach the right number. It is not a door facing the street, rather it is a portal with steps upwards towards a little hallway with four doors next to each other. His name is on the right door. I put the piece of paper away and try to imagine what he looks like. I am more nervous than ever before, but manage to suddenly push the doorbell.

At first it stays quiet. I swallow. Then, a gentle ruffle sounds and a hall light goes on. Footsteps reveal a nature not that different than mine. The door opens and the bright light blinds me with me just coming from the dark outside. I can see the silhouette of a person my size and slowly the face of the man from the picture appearing on it. The voice I heard on the telephone asks me if I had a good journey and if I prefer tea or coffee.