Lost and Found by Rashmi Lekamge

It was the first day at the university after the fresher’s night.  Freedom was all over me like the incessant winds.  Although the Jaffna University was a strange place with fresh and crispy air, it was a new beginning under a brand new sky.

Then, I saw him standing there.  I can still feel the warmth and sincerity of his glance which was familiar and intimate.

He was a good looking Tamil boy with dark complexion and curly hair.  His name was Haran, a third year student at the university.  Just like yesterday, I remember his enchanting glance and the glow in his eyes which bewildered and confused me at the same time.  He spoke fluent Sinhala and his presence gave me great consolation in this unfamiliar place.

Usually, I was not good at talking with boys as I grew up in a conservative convent where I was manhandled by nuns, of course with good intentions.  Our first conversation was discomforting to say the least.  He followed me to the canteen and spoke to me at length and I never got a chance to speak.  Then he followed me to the class like a guardian angel and offered to show me around the university.  I accepted.  It took some time, but, very soon he became my closest friend.

Thereafter, I rarely ate my lunch from the canteen, because he insisted that I eat the lunch which was prepared by his mother.  He was always savior in times of need and I eventually depended on him for everything.

A few months later, he asked me to come with him to the Kovil, and said that he wanted to give me a surprise.  There he introduced me to a lady who looked very dignified and warm.  She was his mother.  From the way she spoke, I assumed that she was an open-hearted sensitive woman who has gained maturity through hardships in life.  The fact that I was a Sinhalese did not bother her.  I visited her every week.  The more I got to know her, the more I liked her.  She told me of her life in Colombo prior to 1983 and how happy she was.  She had had many Sinhalese friends who loved her unconditionally.  However, the Black July had put an end to her happiness.

Although I have heard about that violence against Tamils, I was not interested.  I was an upper middle class convent girl, and I had my own problems.  But, I felt humiliated about this violence now.  It seemed unreasonable to commit violence against these people who are like any other people anywhere in the world.  Through my friendship with her I realized that she sounded very much like my father who was a broad minded person and someone who valued life.  My father, I suddenly remembered, went to Kovil and temple both.  Sometimes my mother would ask him “why”?  He answered with silence.

My mother gave me the usual phone call in the evening and told me that they were coming to spend the weekend with me.  I was worried because I was wondering how to tell them about Haran.  I had kept our blossoming whatever — a relationship? a friendship — a secret all this while.  I did not feel very comfortable talking to them on the phone about Haran.  May be I could tell them face to face.  After all, I am no longer the convent girl, I am an undergraduate now.

On Friday evening I heard the sound of a familiar vehicle.  I was actually glad to see my parents. I sprinted out with booms of happiness.  The next morning we went site seeing.  I took them to the Kovil where I met Haran’s mother.  Of course, the last thing I expected was to meet Haran and his family.  I wanted to introduce my best companions to my parents, so I rushed towards them and asked them to come and meet my parents.  They gladly obliged.  “Appachchi, Amma this is my best buddy in the university and that is his amma.”

I noticed that my father looked nervous and his face lost its brightness.  Haran’s mother’s smile vanished like lightning.  She said that she had to go home immediately and disappeared as if she had been frightened by something.  Haran was astonished.  He could not understand what was going on.

That was how I noticed how my father and Haran looked strikingly similar.  No wonder I felt so warm and protected when I was with Haran.  It was just like being with my father.

Later that evening, my father told me an episode from his past.  How he was in love with a beautiful Tamil girl from the North and how they were violently separated, first by his parents, and then, by the 1983 violence.  Of course he was unaware that the girl was pregnant when they were separated.

THE END

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Clenched Souls by T. Vanthana Mahendra

The day broke humid and dreary. I stared out of the window. The sky was gravel-grey and the waterlogged clouds seemed portentous and menacing.  The wind rattled the windowpanes and the boughs of trees groaned. Lightning scratched the grey cotton wool sky with pitiless claws. Thunder rolled through the landscape. When the rain began, it battered the roof like a hail of bullets and water bled down the sides of every lane.  The bone-chilling cold air enveloped my entire body.

When I realised it would not be possible to go Sencholai Orphanage today, I started to mope. Giving up on some writing I had been doing, I went to my room and grabbed a poetry book written by Vairamuthu. I brought it close to my face and smelled the pages, which carried the scent of withered semparuthi flowers to my nostrils.

As I was flipping through the pages, a photograph fell on the floor. I bent down and picked it up. Looking at it brought on a surge of emotions and a lump in my throat. Bitter despair formed in the pit of my abdomen and my entire body tightened. Tears stung my eyes.

I tried to remember all that we had thought and spoken together. As my head began to swirl, I sank onto the couch and breathed deeply. I felt her presence surrounding me. She was close like I could almost touch her but when I reached out my hand, she disappeared.

I met her while I was a final year Economics undergraduate at Jaffna University. It was a chilly day. As usual the boys were sitting on the stone bench in front of the Parameswaran temple. The temple was the usual place to spot new girls. Clusters of boys were standing on the sidewalk, ragging freshers. They called it “mixing up.” Whatever the name they gave, it was bullying. The freshers were asked to do ridiculous, humiliating things. Ragging included assigning a strict dress code for the freshers – skirts and blouses for the girls and light-coloured shirts for the boys. They were made to sing songs, dance and say “I love you” to a stranger. They were also teased, scolded, made to do sit-ups, talk to trees, slap themselves and do dhyanam and salute the seniors.

The freshers would be picked on or punished if they failed to obey us. Just a few years ago, we were in the same position as the new batch of freshmen, yet we seldom felt pity for them.

Suddenly, I caught sight of a young girl. She was short but had a beautiful, round face. She was walking timidly towards the auditorium. “Hey you, come here!” Mathan, who was sitting next to me, beckoned authoritatively. She reluctantly walked towards us. Her hair was plaited neatly in to two sections and tied with a silk ribbon that matched her skirt and blouse. Her thin eyebrows looked down on velvety eyelashes. I was drawn strongly towards her.

“What’s your name?” he asked brusquely.

“Geethanjali,” she said, her voice quivering.

“Have you ever been in love with anyone?” he demanded.

She seemed dumbstruck for a second.

“Hey, I’m asking you,” he growled.

She wore a terrified and embarrassed expression as she trembled like a frightened pigeon.

“No,” she spilled out.

“Propose to one of us, the one whom you think is the most handsome,” he said.

She was silent and looked at me pleadingly.

“Hey, are you deaf?” he yelled.

I could see tears forming in her eyes. Her lips trembled and eyes drooped.

“Let her go,” I said to Mathan.

“Okay machan, I won’t make your sweetheart cry. Geethanjali, go to your lecture hall,” Mathan grinned ironically.

Feeling relieved, Geethanjali walked away swiftly.

My eyes followed her.  She was just what I had always wanted in a girl. I had finally met the girl of my dreams. I took a deep breath to collect myself.

As the days passed, I got to know Geethu better. A thrill of delight passed through my body whenever our groups hung out together. In the evenings, we used to go to the canteen to discuss cinema, politics and sports.  I admired the fact that she didn’t agree with others blindly. She was a young feminist, openly critical about the dowry system, and willing to challenge the conservative politics which made it difficult for women to become leaders in our community. Sometimes, we would debate an issue until we were both exhausted.

In October that year, we celebrated Vijayadasami in our university. Kailasapathy auditorium underwent a beautiful transformation as it became adorned with fragrant flowers, and was festooned with mango leaves. An intricate kolum was drawn at the entrance. The hall was jam-packed with students. The girls looked stunning, wearing embroidered sarees, bangles, earrings and necklaces. The boys wore dhotis and shirts.

The statues of the goddesses Durga (dressed in red and sitting astride her tiger), Lakshmi (wearing jewels and seated on a lotus) and Saraswathi (attired in a pure white saree and holding a veena) stood elegantly on a decorated plank. The deities were decorated with fragrant flowers and garlands. Several books, tools and musical instruments were placed in front of the idols. The kolu bommais were arranged in the padis that were made of wood and covered with a thick cloth. The kolu was adorned with various deities, dolls, figurines and toys. A small brass pot filled with water was also kept with the kolu. On the top of it mango leaves and a coconut were placed.

Kuththuvilakkus were lit up. The smell of camphor and incense reverberated throughout the auditorium. A priest was invited to perform the holy prayers. The students chanted devotional hymns. After the ceremony, neyvedhyam such as sundal, aval, pongal and vadai were offered to the goddesses and then to the students. There were many cultural programmes performed by the students.

But it was Geethu’s Shiva Thandavam dance which attracted everyone’s attention. I gazed at her unblinkingly the whole time. She was simply breath-taking.

I barely noticed anyone else until the Vijayadasami function came to a close in the evening. As the students were evacuating the auditorium, I spotted Geethu amidst the crowd and waved my hands. I drew near her, looking down on her visage which was as clear as an unblemished mirror. My heart was overwhelmed by her elegant appearance. I couldn’t help but beam at her, as I offered a compliment: “Geethu that was an amazing performance! I loved it!” Her lips curved into a smile. “Thank you, Arjun,” she said, grinning back at me as she said good bye.

Mathan joined me as Geethu walked away. Watching me watch her, he said, “Arjun, you are in love, even I can see that.”

“Yes Mathu, I love her ardently.”

“The entire university knows it, Arjun. If you really like her then go and tell her.”

Machan tomorrow is her birthday. I’m going to tell her tomorrow!” I exclaimed, suddenly filled with determination.”

“Good luck machan, hope we can have a party tomorrow,” he smiled, tapping my shoulder encouragingly.

The next day my heart was pounding with excitement, delight and fear. I wanted to reveal what my heart desired most but I was struggling to find the words to tell her what I wanted her to know. I wished her eyes would see right through to what was in my heart and spare me the effort of trying to speak. I waited for her on the same stone bench where I first saw her but it was over two hours before she arrived.

Geethu came and sat next to me. I looked at her face. Written in her exhausted eyes were the signs of a sleepless night.

“Happy Birthday, Geethu,” I wished her, wondering what was wrong. “Thank you, Arjun,” she replied, her voice downcast. I watched with concern as tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.

“Hey, what happened?” I asked with a tremor in my voice.

Her lips struggled to form a word but nothing came out. Her eyes wandered to the ground, where her tears fell.

“Arjun…Arjun…I…I…” Yet again, she burst into tears. Her face seemed to shrink. She was shaken, stuttering as she struggled to frame even one sentence.

“Hey, you can tell me anything. What is wrong?”

“I don’t know…I don’t know how to…how to tell.”

She took a tissue and wiped her tears from her face. She tried to force her tears back. Finally, she began to speak.

“Our Grama Sevaka, Mr Subramaniam undertakes a series of fundraising programmes to assist the poor people in our village. As a part of it, I performed a solo dance and a group dance in our village welfare centre last week. Raghu is the secretary of our welfare centre. He is a lecherous bastard, deceitful and repulsive. I was not interested in doing the programme because of Raghu but our Grama Sevaka came to my house and asked me to do the dance programme. So, I agreed. I had no clue that Raghu had installed a CCTV camera in the dressing room. He took a video of me while I was changing my costume. Today, when I was on the way to university he threatened me with it, and asked for sexual favours. I slapped him and escaped…” she came to an abrupt halt.

I gritted my teeth. My blood began to boil. I could feel my veins throbbing.  “Come on, Geethu. Don’t worry. We should go to the police station and report this,” I advised her.

“Arjun, it’s useless. He has strong political backing. He runs a brothel but nobody questions him. He can simply bribe the police in order to avoid prosecution.”

“Geethu, somehow we have to report this,” I persisted. Eventually, she agreed.

We were walking towards Parameswara junction to catch the bus to the Jaffna police station when a van screeched to a halt just a few feet in front of us. Before we could react, two masked men leapt out, grabbed Geethu, put a piece of duct tape over her mouth and pulled her into the van. The men covered her face with a handkerchief. As she fainted, I tried to hit them. They shoved me into the van too, and hit me on the back my head. I fell down, unconscious.

When I woke up, I was in a desolate place. The rain was lashing down, and each icy pellet felt like a dagger piercing my body. The cold wind seared my skin like fire. Rain and tears mingled on my face. “Geethu…Geethu…,” I shouted, running around like a madman. Eventually, I found her naked body a few yards away. She lay motionless in a twisted position. Blood pooled around her mutilated form. It looked like she had been assaulted severely. I tore my shirt off and covered her tenderly with it.

As I cradled her in my arms, I mumbled “Geethu, Geethu get up.” When she did not respond, I put my head in my hands and howled.

Suddenly, I sensed wetness on my toe, and it brought me sharply back to the present.

I opened my eyes. My little cat was licking me. I bent down and caressed it. The clock struck twelve. I looked outside to discover that the rain had stopped. I wished to go to Sencholai Orphanage to see my little Geethu. I got dressed and took some story books for her to read. I went outside, the sky had cleared and the sun was now shining as brightly as my little Geethu’s face.  In her eyes, I would always see the very same opalescent lilies that reminded me of Geethanjali. It was all that kept me going.

The Polkichcha by Ruvini Katugaha

The untouched kiribath lay on the white-lace-clad table. The crimson juice of the accompanying kata sambol seeped in patterns on to the Dankotuwa porcelain plate, as if the pale squares of milk rice had bled to death. House flies, like vultures, were slowly circling their prey.

Deviyane mage lokukolla!” An old woman wiping her tear stained face on her saree cried out for the gods to bring her eldest son Anuradha back from the land of the unknown. The village women gathered around her, trying to restrain her arms; her wrists were adorned with expensive gold bangles but her palms were clenched into tight fists.

(Outside in the garden, one could barely make out the figure that stood in the shade of the rustling mango tree. Every now and again, the flowers, happy to flirt with the wind, fell in a shower around it, their fragrance eloping with the adventurous breeze. A sudden cacophony of female voices erupted from the house and startled the intruder. It slowly retreated toward the fence, cloaking itself in shadows.)

thud, thud

The pair of fists had found their target as the old lady managed to free herself and bang her enormous chest in a display of inconsolable grief. The bangles jingled and jangled. These fists had been yearning to do this from the moment the bad news had first come in. According to their TV, LTTE militants had attacked an air force base in Anuradhapura. Scores were dead and many more wounded. Chitra’s eldest son, an airmen, was assigned to that very airbase and now it seemed certain he had become a victim of the Tiger cadres.

Aiyo, my eldest son! We are finished! Those damned Tigers! May lightning strike them down for harming my boy! Bring him back from any Thuththukudiya! My son, my son, I want my son back! Aney, mage loku kola!”

Next to her on an armchair lay another mourner – rather less vocal – pressing a gold-framed photograph to her breast. The colour had drained entirely from her face.

“I told him not to go. I told him not to turn back…I told him that it was a bad sign…very bad.”

The house was full of busybodies running here and there, not sure what their presence was required for and ignoring the fact that it might not be required at all. Some men were conversing in hushed voices on the portico, others on cell phones tried to contact somebody’s somebody in the hope of finding somebody who could tell them about Anuradha’s present condition. Others clustered around the TV watching a replay of the attack on the airbase, each having their own opinion on which news channel’s live telecast was the best.

“Channel five…Put Channel five! That’s the government channel. They might say something.”

“But Channel three is more clear, Lokuthatha!” a teenage boy interrupted his uncle.

“What happened Arjun?” Siyathu mama, Lokuthatha’s second cousin asked Anuradha’s younger brother, the only family member with enough of his wits about him to not be acting like the ants had, the day they had hosed down the red anthill at the edge of the garden.

“Anuradha aiya left in the morning to catch the bus to Anuradhapura military airport. He was running late. Didn’t touch his kiribath even…”

He was still on his phone listening to the redial tone as he spoke to Siyathu mama.

The number you dialled is not reachable. Please try again later. Oba amatu ankayane prathi charayak nomatha karunakara pasuwa amatanna.

“We didn’t know till Kumari nanda came shouting. We turned on the TV and they showed the place had been flattened. Ammi shouted so loudly that the little one ran like a gunshot in to the bed room.”

The number you dialled is not reachable. Please try again later. Neengal alaitha ilakkam pawaneyil illei. Daiwaseyida

Magul phone!” Arjun swore under his breath, tempted to dash the phone on the ground.

Drowned amidst the dissonance of loud adult voices, a tiny boy of three was wedged into a narrow gap between the cabinet and the wall, where the wire of the fixed phone line ended. Chubby hands with white knuckles clasped the receiver and whispered in to the static. His donkey fringe obscured the path of his mutinous tears. He sniffled bravely, but the snot dripping from his nose refused to retreat, running on like brave soldiers on a mission.

sniff…sniff

“Hello? Appachchi…Appachchi?” his fingers kept playing over random buttons on the keypad, as he tried to reach his father. His will power and confidence may have transcended his age, but the phone had no heart and treated all equally.

The number you dialled does not exist. Please check the number and try again later.

There was no one, not even his mother, paying attention as the boy frantically tried to make a call – with one exception.

(The dark figure is still hiding in the far end of the garden, eyes scanning the crowd, waiting for a chance. All but invisible…watching the child.)

“That musala gaeni Ramya. She is a very unlucky woman. I told my youngest son to see whether she was out. Her man died at thirty, no? Coming out whenever our Anuradha putha is stepping out of the house. Always hanging clothes by the fence in that housecoat of hers. Trying to charm my boy, no doubt. Our youngest son saw Ramya on the day of his O/Level exam and the paper was difficult. Huh…my mouth…” Chithra was back to moaning with her entourage.

“When I saw the polkichcha on the fence I knew something bad was going to happen. Unlucky omen you know…Anuradha even turned back to get his charger. His battery was dead. I stopped him and told him to go without the charger. He stood a while watching the polkichcha. He is fascinated by birds you know. Even the unlucky kind. That’s why he loves the air force. I told him not to go today and he just laughed and said ‘don’t be silly Sujatha.’  Aney, when will I hear his laugh again?” Sujatha buried her face in the photo she cradled.

beep, beep Low balance. Need a loan?

“Tsk! I ran out of credit. I’ll use the land line!” Arjun, Chithra’s youngest son went towards the cabinet.

“Where the hell is the receiver?” he shouted. He trailed the snake coil like phone cord back to the heart of its lair, behind the cabinet.

“Chuti baba, what are you doing with the phone? Go play with something else. Bappi wants to make a call.” He pulled at the receiver and it brought the boy in to a standing position.

“Appachchi…appachchi is on the phone…” The boy clung to the receiver on tip toes but his uncle kept the receiver to his ear.

Oba amatu ankaya bawithayae nomatha…

The monotonous female voice categorically informed them in Sinhalese that there was no such number.

“This is not appachchi! Will someone please take this child?”

It took Siyathu mama and Lokuthatha’s combined efforts to drag a kicking, spitting, screaming and biting three-year old boy from the telephone.

“That damn polkichcha! Had to come today. I shouldn’t have let him go…it’s all my fault! All mine!” Sujatha wept on a shoulder.

“Shush, shush Sujatha. Don’t blame yourself. That must be the number of years he brought with him to live when he was born. Don’t blame yourself dear. There is nothing you could have done.” Sopi akke patted her arm soothingly. Sopi was a prominent member of their little village, always to be found at the village well with the same group of women, all of them gossiping their hearts away. She relished being in the thick of the action. “I’ll bring you something hot to drink,” she told Sujatha.

“You fool! Turn the antenna this way. Right, right…Stop! Not that side, buffalo! My right.” Orders were issued by Lokuthatha to a brave lad on the roof holding the antenna in place so that clear pictures could be viewed with no issues.

We bring you live footage from this morning’s attack at the Anuradhapura military airport. It is suspected that near…rrrrrrr…injured and…”

“Hold it! Hold it there…Don’t shake it!”

tssssss…Static hissed.

“There! Gone! Missed the best part. Gal Musalaya! Did you have porridge for breakfast?” Lokuthatha was shouting at the boy holding on to the antenna outside.

(The dark figure scanned the crowd. Waiting for its turn. It shifted from one foot to the other. Hiding well behind the foliage… The figure saw the weedy looking woman in the kitchen…she put the kettle on the fire. It eavesdropped on her conversation.)

“Only three years of marriage. Sujatha’s horoscope had Saturn in the wrong square. No wonder no? It’s a love marriage. Aney sin, for the little one! His mother’s bad luck took away his father.” Sopi akke whispered to a woman with greasy hair that smelled slightly like a thel beheth boutique.

“Which reminds me, akke. I must check my horoscope too. In fact, must check all the family’s horoscopes. I heard that Saturn is crossing paths with Mars soon,” the woman replied.

“Yes, yes…that’s true! You should meet my astrologer. Very precise…” Sopi akke stopped in midsentence as she picked up the stale kiribath from the table. “Aparade, waste of food. This family has always been extravagant wasters of food. Trying to show class, I think,” Sopi akke mumbled as she dumped the milk rice in to the kitchen bin.

Meanwhile on the portico…

Sha! Lucky Arjun. His big brother died early, no? The sole heir to 25 acres of coconut estate and the family home. I wish one or two of my brothers went that way. 12 in the family, no, what to do.”

‘The state has deployed extra medical personnel. Government spokesman Mr. Ranjith…’

trrrring…trrrring…

Everyone froze.

The landline kept up its insistently ringing.

trrrring…

‘…stated that the LTTE is responsible for the attack…’

Chithra’s youngest son Arjun was the first to reach for the receiver.

“Hello?” A long pause as everyone held their breath.

“Oh my God lokuaiya! We thought you were dead! Aha…you got late?…saved by seven minutes? Is everything….”

The frozen bodies unfroze in that midsentence…

“My son! I thought you left me! Just like your father. You were saved because of all the pooja I did for you in the temple. Our family don’t sin, no.  Didn’t I tell you to avoid seeing Ramya nanda? If you had seen her God knows in what ditch you might be lying in right now like the rest of the people whose karma has brought it on them.”

“Ammi, I did see…” He didn’t get to finish describing the chat he had had with Ramya nanda about her rheumatism before leaving that morning.

Ramya nanda had come near the fence while he was watching the supposedly ominous bird. Sujatha had just gone inside to look for the missing charger.

Ramya’s monologue had been boring, but he did not have the heart to say so. He was the only person in the whole village who had enough patience to listen to her go on about her rheumatism – something she knew and unfailingly took advantage of.

Seven minutes of sympathy for a woman considered inauspicious by the whole village had apparently saved his life.

“Anuradha! It’s Sujatha. Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I tell you not to go? You wanted to leave me a widow didn’t you?”

“Sujatha now calm down. There is nothing to worry…”

“Nothing to worry? Nothing to worry? You are telling me that…”

“Akke ask whether all his limbs are intact,” a young man interrupted Sujatha.

“Would he call if his arms and legs were not there?” Siyathu mama barked at him.

“I am running out of coins. Is chuti baba there?” Anuradha said desperately.

It took them a while to locate Anuradha’s young son.

“Here chuti baba, Appachchi wants to speak to you.” Arjun bent down and placed the receiver on the little ear.

beep…beep There was no voice.

Meanwhile…

(The figure saw the opportunity. No one was in the kitchen. This was it! It slowly circled around the target gliding in and out of sight…The kettle’s whistle went off. It heard footsteps, as someone headed toward the kitchen. Panic! Panic! It gabbed a tiny piece of kiribath and bolted.)

In the living room, Arjun looked at the little one’s outstretched arms and expectant face. “Sorry chuti, Appachchi’s money ran out. He will call again tomorrow. Here, Lokuthathe can you turn the volume down?” he walked towards the TV. And that was it.

The traffic inside the house gradually lessened. The unwise ones left first. The experienced ones shuffled and dragged their feet in the hope of being invited to stay and drink some tea.

“Lokuthathe can I come and watch now? My arms are hurting!” the boy bravely holding the antenna on the roof pleaded.

“Then who the hell will hold the antenna? Your mother?” Lokuthatha shouted through the window.

‘We bring to you live footage from the premises of the incident. The military…’

The boy holding the antenna ran in.

CRASH!!! There was a loud noise from outside.

“You buffalo! You let go of the antenna! You little…”

“It’s ok, it’s ok, Anuradha, is safe, no? Why watch all these dead bodies anymore?” Someone voiced his opinion, drifting towards the kitchen.

The only living soul who saw the little one under the bed dialling a toy phone whispering “Appachchi” was the ominous bird, the polkichcha, perched on top of a dead branch with kiribath in its mouth.

The Transfer by Rajika Dasanayaka

“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.

The Inclusive Flowers by Rajarathnem Sivatharshan

A small oil lamp was glowing at the chairman’s office of Inclusive Flowers.  Arun was late.  The alms giving at the kovil took longer than he expected.  As previous years, he went straight to his room and closed the door.  The rest of his employees seem to be busy pretending they didn’t know what day it was.  Arun closed his office door. He removed his shoes.  He knelt on the floor, stretched out in front of Megha’s picture hanging on the wall, closed his eyes, and a tear rolled down his cheek.

Arun and Megha had studied at a secondary mixed school for 10 years and were good friends. They planned to go to Mullai town for their high school studies, but their plans were denied because the school did not want to admit them because of their low caste.

“Arun, What shall we do?” Megha asked towards him.

“What about private school?” He replied.

“Private school!  Do you know how much money you need for that? It would be like a nightmare for people like us.  So, just give up that matter.”  Megha dashed the clothes against a rock as if it was the principal of the high school between her hands. Her elbows were covered with soap and her homemade dress was tucked between her legs to prevent it from getting wet.  Arun stood next to her in the water washing another set of laundry.

“Megha, I have decided to work?”

“Work? Can you? You are only 16.”

“Yes. I met Anwar Bai yesterday and requested him to give me a job.  He said ok.  So, I am going to join his place and wash vehicles and he will pay me 800 rupees a day and I will pay for your class fees from next month.  You can go to private school.”

“Why do you need to pay my education for me?”, asked Megha.

“Because you are my friend beyond that you are…” Arun stopped.

“What tell me Arun?” Megha joked.

“You are my better-half.”

Megha stared at Arun seriously.  She stopped her washing.  “Don’t joke Arun.”

Arun shook his head. “No. I’m serious. You are my angel. I can no longer be without you.”

“Sorry Arun.  This is not a time for talking these matters.  Come to our Pilliyar kovil tomorrow evening at six.”  Megha stopped her work and tied all the clothes together with a bed sheet and put the bundle on her head.

She called out to her younger sister, “Chooty, hurry up. You have to go your science class.” Megha took her sister with one hand and held the pail in the other hand and walked hurriedly towards the shelter.

When, she reached home.  Her mother Parvathi’s voice rose up from the sleeping mat.

“Makal, Can you give my tablets.  I felt my stomach is burning”.

“No Amma. The doctor said you should take those tablets only at night.  So please wait, I will give you a milk-tea soon,” while the tears were pouring out of Megha’s eyes she walked towards the kitchen which was outside their shelter made of cadjan leaves.

Parvathi had been suffering from chronic cancer for the last five years and when Megha was six, her father was kidnaped by an unknown armed group.  Ten years have now passed, and there was still no news about him. Their only monthly income was the 4,000 rupees given by the Government for the widowed mother.  Their hearth was lit only once a day.

The next day, after Megha had finished her work she walked hastily towards the Pilliyar kovil. She was almost two hours late.

“Hi! Arun, sorry I am late. Ok tell me what you want” said Megha in her usual abrupt way.

“Don’t say sorry.  You have been with me all this time.  We have just had a good chat in my dream about our wedding.“

“Are you mad?  What happened to you Arun in the last few days?  Forget about it and come to reality.

“Yes. I am mad because of you. I can’t enjoy my life without you. I need you Megha. I need you,” Arun cried hitting his head on the kovil wall.  “Arun, please don’t cry. You are very close to my family.

“Ok Megha, Thanks.  Just take my request into account?” Arun’s face gradually lightened.

“Megha will you please accept my support for your studies.  Please Megha, please….”

But Megha left saying nothing and Arun sat alone there throughout the night.

After a few days Megha was with a better thought, and she agreed with his second request. Then, Arun joined Anwer Bai’s shop near Mullai. 

Megha joined the private school for higher studies in Rampoor, 120km away from Bharathipuram.  Arun promised to look after Megha’s family when she was in the hostel.  The High School, where Megha got admission, was managed by a group of Christian priests.  She chose bio stream.  The School had strict rules within its premises.  Arun could meet Megha once a month as her guardian.  When Megha met him she would ask about her family and Amma Parvathi’s health.  As she knew about Arun’s additional chores at the poultry farm as a night watchman to sustain the livelihood of her family, she never asked about her Amma’s medicine and daily meals.  Instead, she asked about her sister’s studies. The last five minutes of each and every visit, they would be speechless and share their feelings to each other longing for would be visit.

As the days rolled by, the time came for the A/L exam. Arun hardly spent any time with Megha now and sometimes he sent the class fees through one of Megha’s friends. After two months Arun received a call from the school giving him permission to take Megha to home because A Level exam was over.

Megha was wearing the red shalwar Arun gave on her last birthday.  He went towards her and she hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek with tears.  He was surprised.

“Please forgive me Arun… Forgive me,” Megha said lovingly.

While tears rolled down from Arun eyes, he took her home.

When they reached her home, her sister ran towards her.  Megha lifted her and placed her on her waist and gave her some candies.

“Amma I am here,” she said with a radiant smile. Megha went towards Parvati.

“Makal you are looking like a bride now,” Parvati said.  Arun glanced at Megha and she replied with a smile.

Megha went back to her laundry work as usual.  Arun and Magha met once a week at the river bank of Bharathipuram.  They frequently talked about the nature and future of their village youth and children.

Arun asked Megha, “Why can’t we use our village land for farming, rather than wasting it to bush jungle?”

Megha smiled. “I think, it wouldn’t be an easy task.”

Arun said hopefully, “This is one of my ambitions. I hope I will achieve it in due course” “We will meet and talk again in this regards,” Megha said hurriedly and rushed towards home to give medicines to her mother.

A few months later Arun’s phone rang.  It was Megha’s high school principal, Father Stephan. He said the good news that according to Megha’s best performance in school and her interview with Oxford University previous year, she had been selected for a full time study scholarship programme in BSc Agriculture at Oxford University.

Arun was delighted.  He went directly to Megha’s house. Amma Parvathi was there alone. Megha had gone to the lakeside to wash clothes for tomorrow’s delivery.

Arun rushed to the lake.  Megha was still washing the clothes.  So he began to help her.  Then he broke the news.

“Is it really true, Arun? “ Megha asked earnestly standing still.

“Yes my lovely beauty. It is true.” Arun whispered gladly.

Mega was buzzing over the moon with delight!

Parvathi was even more proud. “Thank God for giving me Megha,” she said silently.

Megha had to leave soon and she needed a passport in a hurry. The one day service would cost Rs.8,000 but Arun didn’t have such a large sum with him. He felt sad that Megha might not be able to go because they couldn’t afford to get her passport in a hurry, as the university would not wait for long.

But Megha had a solution.  The money, Arun sent for her school fees, was used very frugally and Megha managed to save enough even not having evening tea.

When Arun heard this he remained silent for a few minutes.

A week later, Father Stephen brought university enrollment documents and the travel tickets. Megha would leave the next day.  She got blessings from her mother and traveled to the airport accompanied with Father Stephen, Arun and her little sister.  The entrance of the airport had turned sad, where Arun and her sister could no longer be with Megha hereinafter.  Megha kissed her sister’s cheek before she peeled herself away.  Then she waved to both of them watching her before she turned and walked away.

Megha began to settle into her life in London.  She spoke to Arun once a week.  She was offered a part time job in the university library as a library assistant.  Her salary was 1,500 pounds which was more than double a doctor’s payment back at home.  But Megha spent it with thrift, her whole salary was sent home.  Megha didn’t mind being alone, but she did miss Arun and her family.

One phone call made Arun very happy.  Megha was coming home. As she neared her house, she was astonished.  A two storey house was built fabulously with all utensils instead of mud shelter.  Parvathi looked better and she now could walk and do housework herself.  Megha hugged her mother with thankful tears in her eyes.  She knew that Arun had provided her mother’s comfortable life.

Megha’s next mission was to work on Arun’s ambition to turn the land into a fertile ground. Megha and Arun worked tirelessly on the project.  They got involved in having meetings gathering villagers late at night accumulating all of her new knowledge on agriculture.

The villagers were encouraged to work together on ecofriendly farming.  In months small scale integrated farms at Bharathipuram had come up.  She set up loans for them and added livestock farming as well.  They now did both laundry and farming.  Life was beginning to turn around in the village.  As time passed more and more people left the laundry work and turned towards farming.  Megha guided them a lot.

She explained the need for plants to have sun, how to make use of animal waste, to milk the cows and innovative ways to plough the fields.  Megha showed them how to reap honey and make use of earthworms in their work.

As the project became more successful the farmers made more money.  Then one year later, the project was a success, after a while the farmers earned more income.

Suddenly, a severe drought hit the region.  But the river didn’t dry up.  They used Megha’s sophisticated drip irrigation system, dug wells and mulched their plants. Megha and Arun were busy for weeks.

In the meantime, Megha’s intermittently felt some sort of pain in her abdomen.  But she kept it a secret.  The project had to go on.  Arun had to realize his dream.  The success of the project broke caste barriers.  The high caste people agreed to work jointly in the farm with the people of Bharathipuram.  Megha and Arun had nearly achieved their dream.

As Megha’s name became famous due to her innovative endeavor in Eco farming and social integration, she was invited for the Presidential Award at the capital of Sri Lanka.

The change of Bharathipuram village was a lesson for the whole Sri Lanka to eradicate the caste system.  Soon after, she received a human rights award from the British Government.

But Megha was growing worse in her health.  One day when she was alone, she began to vomit blood.  The next day, she went to see a doctor.

The news was bad.  The cancer had proliferated.  Her life was due to end.

On her return Arun met her and began chatting in his usual breezy manner.

“Hey, Honey. I’ve missed you today.  Why weren’t you at office?”

“I had to go to the doctor. “.

Oh really? Why?  Arun asked worriedly.

Intervening to his question, she said, “I too have a question”

“Ok, ask away,” Arun said.

“How much do you love me, Arun?”

“You know I love you more than anything in the world.  Why did you ask?” Arun asked.

She was benumbed.

“Is there anything wrong with you Megha?”

“No. Nothing at all.”  While talking she hugged Arun keeping her face in his shoulder.

“I love you so much Arun.  I am no longer with you.  But I need you,” she began to cry.

She began to cough and Arun’s white shirt turned red.

She fell down to the ground and Arun wrapped his arm around her.  Megha began to speak with a weak tone,

“I didn’t want to be this way but you are my everything please don’t forget the people of our village and surroundings and carry on with a new life.  I will be with you forever.”

Arun kissed her face and said, “Don’t be afraid Megha, everything will be all right.”  But it was too late; Megha’s heart was at peace.

The people were devastated at Megha’s death.  All castes and tribes came together.

The world cried for her.

A year passed.  The village began to grow a flower dedicated to Megha.  Soon the Bharathipuram village became a flower garden.  Everywhere, the smell of flowers reminded them of Megha’s life.  A commercial flower garden began.  Even after death Megha seemed to be with them.

The village began to export the flower named after Megha and that was the beginning of ‘Inclusive Flower’.  Today, the village of Bharathipuram is called flower village.  But every year on this day Arun confines himself to his office and remembers Megha’s sweet reminiscences. His childhood love who changed the world.

The Bus Window by Nirmani Rajapakshe

I take my handbag and glance at the mirror, once again.  My white saree, flung with patterns of vermillion red flowers, outwits this brilliant morning, and infuses me with animated freshness. Mother screams at me because she hears the noise of the bus.  I rush to the bus stand.

“I’m late. He’ll take my seat.” I murmur to myself.

I get into the bus.  Ah, he is there, occupying my favourite seat, looking at me like a conqueror. He would do this every morning, if I get a little late.  Both of us have an incessant yearning to occupy the window seat just behind the bus driver– it is easy to get off, offers the full blast of the morning breeze and the views of the passing towns.  I got the seat yesterday, and enjoyed his sulking face as I insulted him with facial gestures.  Today, he is the winner, and I would have to sulk. He says “Good morning” — possibly a peace offer.  I do not respond, my anger is too great.  But, I cannot help smiling to myself as he looks away.

This is my regular bus to office from Peliyagoda to Colombo, and I meet him almost every day. He is good looking, tall, well-dressed, and has an unforgettable smile.  But, he will not get away lightly today.  I am not sure why I smile when I am next to him.  And I am not sure why he seems overjoyed and nervous at the same time, when he is next to me.

“He’s not worth it.  Why can’t he give me the seat — like a gentleman? I hate him,” I murmur to myself, hoping that he can hear my thoughts.

The Kelani River meanders lazily towards the sea as the bus passes the bridge.  The water is brackish, and large.  Possibly because it has captured happiness and harshness of the people who live in the slums around it.  This scenery offers the only respite from my dull suburban office dealing with financial issues.  One day we can give a better life to these slum-dwelling people.  But, I do not know how.  People do not like to share, I have learned this from financial markets.  But look at us, me and this boy next to me–we do not share either.  We fight, one wins and the other sulks.

He is a gentle Sinhala boy who I knew lived in a boarding house.  I know that the food at this boarding house is terrible.  I have heard him telling his mother on the mobile.  I would love to strangle this boarding woman one day and give him a proper meal, made with my own hands. He talks to his parents kindly, my eyes fill with tears when he addresses his parents as “amma” and “appachchi.”

Though we have been fighting for the front seat, we have never spoken to each other, other than the occasional song of victory: “Good Morning.”  It is very strange how I longed to see him every morning, and would feel unhappy if he is not there.  I think he also feels the same.

The bus gets crowded minute by minute.  He is engrossed in the view outside the window — my view — and I get only a second-hand view.  The bus is not in a hurry.  It would take another thirty minutes to get to the Colombo Fort.  He suddenly looks at me, as if he wants to say something.  I look away.  He looks again.  I do not respond.  I am not sure how I would respond if our eyes meet.  A part of me longs to experience that unknown.  The other part wants to hurt him.  I think I am stuck between affection and aggression – or even love and hate.

A Buddhist monk gets into the bus and the conductor makes a great drama to make sure that the monk gets his reserved seat, which is our seat.  Since the Buddhist clergy do not sit with females I need to vacate my seat.  He looks at me long and hard as I get up.  I for some unknown reason meet his eyes.  I am not sure what the emotion that overcame me.  But I know that his eyes are telling me something … what is it?

I get pushed and pummeled in the bus and that is not a comfortable feeling.  On another day I would have fought and defended my space.  But, today, for some reason I am passive and lost in my thoughts.  I get pushed and pushed and pushed away from the front seat, until I am way at the back.  I do not see the people.  I only see his eyes.  Someone offers me a seat possibly because I look ill right now.  I sit and close my eyes.  I cannot even see him.  He cannot see me.

The first thing that happens is the smell — pungent smell, like gunpowder.  Then, I feel hot. Powerful heat.  Then there is smoke.

* * *

I may have been unconscious for two days.  When I wake up, I am at home, lying on my bed, my mother utters words I cannot hear.  It takes time for me to acclimatize. A Buddhist monk, mother says, saved my life.  But he died.  So did ten other people in the bus.  It was a powerful bomb.  Many people injured.  Some critically.  I sleep again.  Because I do not want to face reality.  I cannot even cry.  I can only be numb to the world.  Where is he?  What happened to him?  How can I go in that bus again?

As I sleep softly, I remember his eyes, what were they trying to tell me?

As I sleep like a helpless infant, I hear him calling his father “Appachchi” with a rare unknown gentleness.  I wake up, crying “Appa”.  My father who is next to me responds immediately.  He is a man of few words, but today he rubs my head and says” Entai Pillai”.  I see a window, a large and a wide window which offers me and him a panoramic view of the whole of Sri Lanka, and the world, and the universe in one go, without us having to fight.

THE END

The Student Leader by Nipuni Sulakkhana

“Where’s he? He didn’t come last night?” someone asked.

“No I called him many times, but it wasn’t working,” there was tension and depression as Kamal spoke about his roommate, Kumar, who was the leader of the university students’ union.

Two weeks ago, Kumar initiated an anti-ragging movement in the university.  Ragging has been a huge problem in the university.  The more the university administration cracked down on it, the more it went underground.  In the name of preserving a subculture some students supported ragging.  At the same time, the majority opposed it and Kumar was their representative.  Kumar was an attractive leader, even though he could not talk Sinhala fluently, he had charisma and had the ability to spell bound a Sinhala student audience.  At the same time, Kumar was liberal and had no racial prejudices.

Kumar’s main theme of the anti-ragging campaign was learning a culture is not ragging.  Kumar overcame many barriers for this initiative.  He had to face tough resistance as he struggled to march forward.  There were threats to his life.  And Kamal expected a violent response from the opposing camp.

“Kumar was dragged into a van”

“At what time?”

“Who saw it?”

“Asoka, in the morning.”

“Let’s go to Police.”

A group of students and the closest associates of Kumar went to the Police station.  However, they were met with the obstinacy of a police officer who told them that there was already a complaint against Kumar over his alleged involvements with LTTE.

Despite the large, motivated and noisy numbers, the students were dumbfounded.  They had no answer.  Ragging is a menace, but many Southerners would say without batting an eyelid that the LTTE was a bigger menace.

Kamal thought about Kumar’s Amma and Appa.  He could remember how they treated him with generosity and kindness when he was in Jaffna.  He vividly remembered how Kumar’s mother brought him his bed tea every morning when he stayed with them.  However, all that kindness seemed to have vanished with Kumar because his mother reacted violently when he told her about Kumar’s mysterious disappearance.

“To my boy, this thing happened because of you.  I told him not to be with you, Sinhalese.”

She was in tragic pain.  Kamal was helpless.

Kamal walked along the deserted roads of the university.  To him the whole campus looked like a graveyard.  Everyone seemed shocked by what happened.  Students were whispering in every comer.  Kumar’s ex-girlfriend Nimali was crying.  Kumar broke up with Nimali because her parents were strictly against their affair.  Nimali was hurt and went into depression and Kumar was very concerned about her during this period.

“Can he be an LTTE supporter?  No I don’t think so.  Whatever his background is, he loved humanity,” Kamal spoke to himself.

Suddenly, he received a call.  Kumar had arrived, a sarcastic voice told him.  Kamal did not know who the caller was.  The caller hung up rudely.  There was some commotion all around him. Students were running somewhere.  Lecturers looked concerned.  The admin staff joined the students.  Kamal joined them as everyone rushed like a river towards the university entrance.

When he got to the entrance there was a sea of people there.  Even the vehicles have stooped, creating a traffic block.  Kamal with the greatest difficulty cut through the crowd and reached the center.  Kumar was lying on the road, with a peaceful expression on his face … dead.