All those months after the wave of terror and flames had struck and then withdrawn, we were allowed back to go about and search the wreckage for any belongings. The whole enemy force had been taken down and the threat was finally over. I took a little detour, a harmless trip down to the beach. “Well, the whole bombing raid is over, isn’t it?” I told myself as I trudged heavily up the dunes and finally skirted round a palmyrah grove as I headed towards the surf.
It was such an old, well-used path, but the pain in my gut told me that everything had changed for the worst.
The waves were rolling around calmly as I kept looking out there.
Small boats had been put out again, the storm that had been here, the ceaseless tsunami of thunder and fire, had claimed hundreds. This was not the tsunami of the Mahavamsa, for men could be worse than hallowed deities when it came to enraged killings. Ah, how the memories keep coming back! I could almost see the fishermen returning triumphantly on that very important day in the middle of the year. It was like their physical clocks were set on cue for it. The celebration during which they brought no catch, but still bounded happily onto the beach to embrace their wives and children, worship their elders, visit the temple with their meager amounts of flowers and lamps. I well remember Sita, my little sister, as she would run every day up the beach and the forest. Here, she and her friends would go about the important business of picking all the flowers that they could possibly hold. The old frangipani offered enough shade for us all, and we gathered under it after school, just to listen to the songs of the sea.
I sat down heavily as I wondered about the festival of Vesak.
We had always been celebrating the triple miracle, the Birth, Enlightenment and Parinibbana of the Buddha, my over-religious grandmother with far more zeal than I. She had always acted like a woman a third of her age, running to the temple on her walking stick, always trying to make a bigger offering to the priests, it was, admittedly strange. Until that one day.
The dull thunder of gunfire and the screams of the dying had torn through the air that day, and the fires had risen sky-high as my world collapsed that fateful Vesak day. My grandmother had gone to temple. And well, you can probably guess the rest…my relatives, my father, all there, but at least some of had managed to leave our flowers, our white clothes, everything behind. But why did this happen? We had prayed, we had done good, we had done everything that the Buddha taught us, but why on a Vesak of all days did the people whom I love so much, have to leave me?
Quickly I held my head.
A spur of energy that felt almost like the cold touch of a drifting ghost, fluttered by me, and I walked quickly to the forest path, to get away from that nightmare. When the enemy boats launched themselves out and attacked, firing at everyone, taking no prisoners, killing before asking questions. Those men were demons! Well, I’m not stupid.
We’d all heard about the war in the north, but could it ever reach as far down as where we lived? This was some cruel quirk of fate, no more, no less. And today. “It’s Vesak.” The voice that came out of me sounded lifeless and dull as I looked back. An old, stooped man was making lanterns, in my favorite “atapattam” or octagonal shape. Maybe this was not what we should be doing, lighting up lamps and dressing in white and crowding up in a bana hall on just one night.
Perhaps we remember the Buddha’s Triple Milestone by actually following his teachings.
I couldn’t smile though, at this revelation. I couldn’t, and I never ever would.