“Delft island! Are they mad?” She almost fainted.
He stammered and began to weep uncontrollably. He was confused. They had just got married and he had never seen her cry like this. He held the transfer letter in his hand. This transfer would take him away from her into an unknown dangerous location in the North called the Delft Island. He is a proud sailor of the Sri Lanka Navy, and at times, he wanted action. This was his chance to fights but how could he, when she wanted him by her side. He was confused and worried. For a dashing young athlete who scored goals in every Rugby match, he was not prepared to handle emotions and conflicting thoughts. Why cannot females be like him, he thought.
Appachchi and Amma were more than worried about their son’s imminent departure.
“It’s all because of you Madhu,” Amma shouted at his wife, while crying.
“Amma! Stop it, it’s not her fault. It’s my duty to go there.”
“You are the one who brought us bad luck! Mage putha was with me. You destroyed his life, you musala woman!.” Amma was uncontrollable, just like his wife.
“Women” he sighed.
In Southern Sri Lanka there is a belief that a woman is to be blamed for bad luck that befalls her husband. When that happens she is called musala or unlucky.
So, Shan’s transfer to the thick of the war theatre was suddenly her fault. Madhu was angry, yet she did not express it. How could she? – when the whole world seemed to be against her.
She saw that Shan was helpless. What could he do? He is a young man with lots of energy. He is outdoor and extrovert. Lots of things in life do not bother him. He wanted his wife, and mother.
He wanted to console both of them.
Shan went to his father. May be he would understand.
“Appachchi, what can I do now? Madhu’s awfully upset. How can I leave her? Amma is playing hell. I’m going mad.” His father promised to take charge, and told his son not to worry. That was typical male advice. But Shan needed male advice at that moment.
Shan remembered their past. They first met in the library, after finishing A/L’s. She was the most beautiful girl who ever came to the library. All the others girls were nerds wearing specs. Shan did not go there to read either – he only went to see her. Shan remembered how elegant Madhu looked in her wedding dress. She was a cascading water fall of pure while silk as if she had descended from the clouds. He felt small and unimportant in his uniform next to this spellbinding woman. He looked at their wedding photograph again. He has always loved Madhu and she reciprocated with doubled the intensity. But who is important? Madhu or the nation?
The day before his departure Shan had a long chat with Madhu and tried to console her.
“I’ll be back safely, Madhu. You keep trust on the Buddha. Look after my Amma and Appachchi and take care of yourself.”
She did not say anything.
He promised to call her everyday though he could not do it. She too knew that it was not easy to call. She wept silently.
Amma’s health deteriorated slowly, and she stopped talking to Madhu. Only Appachchi was there for her to talk. Sometimes Amma blamed Appachchi as well: “What do you know about these things ahh …. go and read your newspaper,” she would snap at him.
Amma cried even during meals. Despite her failing health, Amma did all the household work and cut Madhu completely off the picture. That is the way of southern families. Mother-in-law believes that if she hands over the kitchen to her daughter-in-law, she will manipulate the whole family.
Days were too long for Madhu without Shan.
One night, Amma discovered something strange: a silhouette in the garden walking rapidly into the darkness. She knew that it was not a ghost for sure. She went to Madhu’s room, the girl was missing. Amma was worried and puzzled. Where would Madhu go in this deep and dark night?
She planned to get to the bottom of this and stayed awake the following night.
The clock struck twelve. Madhu surreptitiously stepped out of the house. Amma followed her all through the dark until village roads, uneven foot paths, and a narrow niyara of a paddy field and then into the ancient temple in the village. Madhu went to the open Budu Medhura and chased away the darkness by lighting a single oil lamp. As the warm and orange glow of the oil lamp bathed Madhu’s face, Amma saw her peaceful demeanor. There was unarticulated bliss there and that bliss had a calming effect on Amma.
Amma left Madhu and went home.
The next morning, when Madhu woke up there was a warm cup of bed tea for her. As she drank the tea, Amma came in to the room and asked her with much kindness to come and help her make lunch for the family.