”So what do you do with your time, Mom?” Daughter asks.
“You know me,” I reply. “I find things to do.”
Daughter’s voice, all the way down the line from Toronto to Colombo, is as clear as a bell. It’s a free call, thanks to Viber, What’s Ap and Magic Jack.
The suitcases come out of storage four weeks before. I pack in spite of an unhappy Puppy
and head for the airport and a month in Sri Lanka, to visit my Dad in the Land of Dreams.
Dad turned eighty on March 23rd. March 28th marked the first anniversary of Mum’s passing.
This is my dad, a good-looking octogenarian –
He’s adjusted remarkably well to being alone. I miss Mum.
April is the hottest month in Sri Lanka, with soaring temperatures and stifling humidity. A perpetual film of moisture clings to the skin.
It’s snowing in Toronto.
“Aren’t you bored, Mom?” Other Daughter enquires a week later.
Me bored? Never!
Meet the aunties who are not really my aunts. (In the Land of Dreams everyone is your aunty or uncle. It’s respectful.) Aunty Romola lives on the third floor, Aunty Amitha – her friend from Australia -lives round the corner.
The aunties and I walk every morning, just after dawn.
The Ipad and camera phone are an established part of my anatomy. The aunties are very forebearing.
Pause. Click. Pause again. Click. Aunties shrug and move on. Catch up at a trot …
“Our shadows. Look! Don’t move.”
Aunties strike a pose. Aim and tap.
“No backsides, please!” Aunty Romola warns.
I have the routine down pat –
“Excuse me!” (That’s me in one of three languages) “May I take your picture?” …
“They probably agree just because you’re a woman,” my friend Suresh says when I show him my cache of pictures.
I never thought of that.
Aunty Romola squeaks when she sees this one –
“That’s my friend Sharmini’s maid!” she says. “Where did you find her?”
I e-mail the picture to Aunty Rom, who sends it on to her friend, who chides the sweet old lady for posing for a stranger. “Don’t you know they do terrible things on the internet?”
The poor thing is horrified.
Aunty Rom looks over her shoulder. “Did you get that?”
Aunty Romola is beginning to see with my eyes …
She points again. “Get that!”
That is a line of tiny clothing hanging out to dry between a lamp post and a tree.
Not far away, a beggar family is asleep on the tiled threshold of an upscale store.
More Colomber 3-at-dawn moments –
The city landscape is changing rapidy. A handful of remembered landmarks from my girlhood remain –
Lovely old colonial homes –
Are being torn down –
to make way for more high-rises-
This is Mr C.R. de Silva, a friendly retiree from Washington, DC. We often pass him and his wife on their morning stroll. Today he’s pruning the greenery hanging over his garden wall.
This charming gent delights and intrigues me with his impeccable English and private school accent –
(It must be over 40 degrees celsius inside the lottery ticket booth.) I ask about his family. He tells me he’s single and lives alone. He’s inclined to chat and I’d love to linger. The lights change, time to cross Duplication Road. The aunties urge me on.
I ask Dad about Dr Chinniah, who was my dentist when I was a girl (too long ago). Is he still in practice?
Aunty Romola and I bump into Dr. Chinniah on Galle Road.
Only in Sri Lanka!
Doyne and Sunitha are my neighbours in Canada –
during the cold months,
La dolce vita …
I partake of a sumptuous breakfast and warm Sri Lankan hospitality in their fabulous home.
This year Sri Lanka celebrates the Sinhala and Tamil New Year on April 13th and 14th. It’s all about the astrologically pre-determined auspicious time.
For days the metropolis of Colombo becomes a ghost-town. I stand in the middle of Galle Road, the capital’s normally traffic-choked main thoroughfare, to take pictures.
Overnight showers have done nothing to ease the stickiness. The streets glisten with pretty puddles.
Aunty Romola suggests we pop in at Aunty Christine-and-Uncle Chandi’s for a quick visit. Their home is along our route.
Aunty Christine is my cousin Dileeni’s mother-in-law and Aunty Rom’s cousin (and not my aunt at all!). It’s 7:15 am. They are a charming couple, gracious and welcoming, notwithstanding the early hour. They’ve been married for sixty plus years. I meet them for the first time. We stay for fifteen minutes.
Aunty Romola and I walk home holding cinnamon branches from Uncle Chandi’s well tended garden. They’ll serve as plant-props on Aunty ‘s balcony.
Dad sometimes takes an evening stroll at Independence Square.
and I accompany him. Dusk is falling when I happen upon this sweet old lady and her son.
She beams when he tells me her age. She’s ninety something years old.
This young family is happy to pose –
I click and I head towards the walking track to get this one –
and collide into my once-upon-a-time friend, Piyali. Piyali and I met (too many) years ago at a cooking class for young ladies. I’ve often wondered where she was.
We recognize each other instantly. I puff and pant to keep up as, never pausing, she sends me a friend request on Facebook and enters all my contact details into her phone. It’s boiling hot, I’m wilting.
I find out that Piyali’s in Colombo for a few days. She shuttles between Sri Lanka and Abu Dhabi, where her husband works. The timing of our meeting is amazing. She hasn’t changed one bit. She’s a mother-in-law now.
Dad shows me a copy of the family tree on his mother’s side. It dates back to 1670. I find Aunty Romola on it, so I guess she’s sort of an aunt after all!
Aunty Amitha messages me on Facebook . She’s back in Melbourne.
It’s spring again in Toronto. The suitcases are unpacked. I’m home.
Puppy is pleased.
I close my eyes and dream of Paradise. It’s such a long plane ride away.
There’s something about Sri Lanka. It’s …
To Paradise Island, land of endless summer, land of my birth –
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