The fourth chapter of Koluwa’s Story, which is finally going somewhere.
Suwaris was the fisherman the family bought their weekly supply of fish from. He would choose the best of the catch and bring it right to the family’s doorstep. If Saturday’s catch was good enough, he would shout “Maalu Maalu” from the top of the lane and whenever other families stopped him, he would say, “No no! I go to the Wickramatunga Missies first. Then I’ll come to you. That Missie is good to me. And I’m their faithful fisherman.”
That Sunday Suwaris seemed to be disappointed by the previous night’s catch. He didn’t shout out “Maalu Maalu” and instead knocked on the gate. Koluwa, who was tending to some roses, shouted, “Who is it?”
“Suwaris! No good, yesterday was. The sea is failing me. Aiyo!”
Of course Suwaris only complained, about the emptying seas and harsh weather. His knee aches and high blood pressure tales were told to the Missie while he sliced the Seer fish. Suwaris had been a man of the sea for decades now. He smelt of the sea, salt and fish. He loved his boat, the “Black Princess” more than his own daughters. Once he had proudly said, “Now look Missie, my Black Princess has never failed me. If she had, I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale, no? But those girls, aiyo! Missie, they steal every red cent I make. I swear on my mother’s grave.” And he would spit into the drain even though the Missie always showed her displeasure over the act.
Koluwa ran to the gate and smiled at the old man.
“Ah Maame! How how? Wait, I’ll go call the Missie.”
“No no, Missie must be busy, no? Come have a chat with this old man. Now my children, those ungrateful ones, no time for me. Unless of course they want something. Not my Kalu Kumari, ane no demands.”
“That’s because she’s a boat, na. If she was once of your real daughters, you won’t have a cent with you.”
Suwaris laughed. “Yes, true, my son. Now you have no family to take care of yet.”
“Not again! Even the Mahaththaya was talking to me about this. I wont do anything stupid, Suwaris Maame. You know that na.”
“I only keep telling you because you are like my own son. We got married and had big families because we didn’t know any better. But this isn’t the life I was meant to have…”
And then Suwaris happily recounted for the thousandth time the other life he could have had. Suwaris was from a poor family, and his Aunt used to cook for a very wealthy family. Seeing the young Suwaris, who used to accompany his aunt to the house on Poya days, the lady of the house asked about his life. When she heard he loved art but couldn’t afford to buy paint and brushes and what not, she gave him ten rupees to buy some things for art. Of course, when Suwaris was a small boy, ten rupees was a very large amount and the chances of the Lady giving a poor boy ten rupees were quite low. The story continues though. Suwaris, not knowing any better, gives the money to his father, asking him to take him to the book store. Suwaris never saw the money again, and never did he go to that house again. How true the story is, Koluwa didn’t know. And he never would. But he liked listening to Suwaris as he retold the story over and over again. Last year’s version the exact same as today’s version.
Once Suwaris has finished his story he smoothed Koluwa’s black and well-oiled hair and said, “When I look at you, I see hope. Anyway, enough with the time-wasting,” as if Koluwa had been the one to keep him waiting, “go and call your Missie.”
While the First Lady bargained with Suwaris, Latha watched with fascination as Suwaris finely sliced the fish. The cubes were equal in size and Suwaris sliced the fish as if he was merely running a blade through air. The pink flesh and slight smell of death made her nauseous. The blood on the wooden cutting board made her quite faint. Yet, she couldn’t take her eyes off Suwaris’ knife that looked more like a sword. Slice after slice, cube after cube, Suwaris never stopped talking.
And in Suwaris, Latha saw her father. He had earned a living, if it could be called that, by tending to various odd jobs. There were a few houses he always went to and they never failed to give him some task. Pluck a few coconuts, sweep the garden, reorganize the pots and burn the garbage. Latha’s father looked into all those jobs. And as his feet bled and hands itched, as the sun burned his back, Latha’s father never stopped working. The sweat made his dark skin glisten and the dust dirtied his sarong. He worked and worked, even though the pay was just enough for a meal or two. During the rainy season, Latha’s father sat on the kitchen step, sipping hot tea. He couldn’t find work during the monsoon, and would spend his days humming to him self. They were always sad songs and once the rain seized, the kitchen step would be empty again. His humming wouldn’t fill him small home.
Then a monsoon came and there was no one to hum sad songs anymore. Or sit on the kitchen step and sip tea. He had gone to ‘handiye kadey’ to buy some dry rations. The political mess was worsening and prices were rising. “Better to buy some stuff while we can still afford it,” he had said as he looked for his slippers. They were worn out and needed to be replaced. Sometime later, a boom made their small house echo. It was thought to be planted by the terrorist group that everyone feared. It was planted in the handiye kadey, under one of the benches. It was meant to cause some level of damage to the big shot Minister and his troop of slaves. The Minister was, in hopes of winning some votes, visiting his village. The very village he hadn’t visited since he got elected that very first time. How the village people had trusted that man.
He was the postman’s son. The bomb was meant for him. But the bomb took Latha’s father instead.